By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Mia Goth joins a stellar, mostly female cast in Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 classic horror film “Suspiria,” now in limited release in theaters.
Goth plays a member of a world-renowned modern dance company, which turns out to be run by a coven of witches. Set during the waning days of the Cold War in dreary East Berlin, the all-female troupe attracts aspiring dancers from around the world. One of them is Susie, a young dancer from Ohio (played by “Fifty Shades of Grey’s” Dakota Johnson). Though self-taught, she blows away Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, “Orlando”), a renowned choreographer and leader of the Helena Markos Dance Company. Susie is immediately brought on board and soon replaces the lead dancer in the company. Her remarkable dancing skills both literally and figuratively destroy the previous lead. Goth’s Sara is assigned to show the new girl the ropes of the dance company but gradually she becomes skeptical of the darker forces at play within the company—including the unexplained disappearance of another dancer—and she surreptitiously takes her concerns to an outsider, a big no-no in this tightly knit group.
For Goth, a model as well as an actress (“Nymphomaniac, Vol. 2,” “A Cure for Wellness”), getting a chance to work with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker (2017’s “Call Me by Your Name”) was a no-brainer. The British born, Brazil-raised model and actress also relished the opportunity to work with a cast of talented actresses.
The lithe, porcelain-faced beauty spoke about taking on the role, working with the acclaimed filmmaker and her extraordinary co-stars and how it’s OK for women to be witches.
Q: Had you seen the original “Suspiria” before signing on to this?
Goth: I hadn’t, no. It was only once I got to Italy, and I started talking to Luca (the director) and going around to his house and just started having a better understanding of this world and what it was that he wanted to create. He told me to watch (the original). I saw it in the best way possible because here I had Luca, who’s a master in his own right, telling me how to watch this film in the best way and how to watch for certain things and how to enjoy it in the best way.
Q: What were some of his suggestions in how to watch it?
Goth: When he pointed out colors and how vivid they are, and how much of a fever dream it’s like, that then loaded with the music, and how everything’s happening all in this one building, it’s a real experience.
Q: “Fever dream” is a good description. How did the role come your way? Did Luca Guadagnino want to cast you specifically for Sara?
Goth: Originally, I had a Skype with him, and it was such a big deal for me, I remember it was in the month of November, that’s how important it was for me at that time. And it was just a general conversation, it wasn’t one role in particular. But he shared with me a little bit about what it was going to be about, how it’s a female-led story, and how he could very much see me in the “Suspiria” world. When we finished that conversation, I was really excited and hopeful, and it was only 10 months later when I was on another film set, and I did an audition for Sara, a self-tape. I hadn’t heard anything, and then after my movie I went to visit my family in Brazil, and I was in this tiny little car, we were driving through the countryside of Minas, outside of Rio, and I got the phone call from my agent with two percent battery, and she’s like, “You got the job!” Yeah. So literally, two days later I was on a flight to Milan, learning how to dance.
Q: Speaking of the dance, how was it learning the choreography? Had you danced previously?
Goth: I hadn’t, no. But it was fantastic, it was one of my favorite, most enjoyable parts of that film, that whole process, was learning how to dance, and learning about this world that, up until that point, I had been very naive about. And those are my favorite kinds of projects, when you’re able to dive into a whole new world, and new a completely new skillset, and you have the opportunity to just immerse yourself in it. I think it’s so wonderful, and really such a luxury. These dancers, they were fantastic, there were about 10 of them and they really welcomed me in. It really did feel like I was part of a dance academy.
Q: Few feature films have a predominantly female cast. What was it like working with all these other actresses in this film?
Goth: It was quite surreal, because all of these actresses are so incredible and really at the top of their game and what they do. We were in this abandoned hotel that hadn’t seen anyone in close to 40 years, we were in the middle of winter, there was something very cinematic that was happening off-screen too. We were all there for one another, there was no competition, there was no weird relationships or vibes happening, it was really, we were all just supporting one another and we were all in it together. Yeah, I loved it.
Q: “Suspiria” is so dark and intense, were there moments of levity during the filming process, either between takes? How did you decompress from the intensity of the scenes and the dialogue and so forth? What was that like for you?
Goth: Yes, it certainly is a dark and intense film, but I also think there’s very beautiful moments that are quite tender in the movie, where it explores friendship and relationships between women, and the idea of mother and what that represents. That’s important to point out. I remember when we were doing all the dance sequences, we would have to stay warmed up, and it was very intense, and it was a very dark. It was just difficult, we had been building up to this moment for a long time, to get to this point with the dancing, and we were all there massaging each other and stretching and helping each other. There were moments like that that ran throughout the whole film, where we were always supporting and being each other’s safety net.
Q: Was it easy for you to get into the character of Sara? Because she goes through this big transformation, she’s like the cheerleader of the group at first, and then she becomes skeptical about what’s going on after a while. What did you like about her arc? How did you dive into that character?
Goth: That’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to Sara, is that she really does go through a journey, she does have an arc. All the women in the story are very much three-dimensional characters with their own traits and faults, and that was really interesting. I love how much she goes through. I love that you hit every range of emotions that are possible, and that was a real challenge. It scared me, because I felt like she was quite different to me, and I had never really experienced her world in my own life. That was quite daunting to me. But I kind of overcame that just by my prep free dance. I saw that as my main prep. The more I could incorporate myself into this world with these girls and these dancers, the easier it became for me to understand her. And especially with the costumes, which were incredible, I’ve never experienced putting the clothes on for the first time and finally understanding who she is and where she’s from, because they’re such luxurious pieces. You instantly change how you stand, there’s an extra pride and confidence that comes with having the chance to wear beautiful clothes like that.
Q: Tilda Swinton plays two different characters—the head of the dance company and an elderly male psychotherapist. When you were acting alongside her, did you feel like you were dealing with two different actors?
Goth: Yeah, absolutely. She makes it seem so effortless, which I think is just another sign of what an incredible actress she is. She makes it seem so easy, but it’s really difficult what she did. I actually felt really grateful that my scenes were more with (the character of) Lutz than Tilda, because I’ve always been a fan. She’s one of my favorite actresses of all time, and it’s hard to not just watch her. With Lutz, the physical barriers made it easier to get into the scenes.
Q: You shot the interior scenes in Milan, Italy, and then the exteriors in Berlin. How long was this process for you?
Goth: We actually shot in Varese, which is a town outside of Milan, like an hour’s drive. It’s a small little town. And when you’re in an environment like that, when there’s really nothing else going on in the area that you’re in, you do become much closer. Because there aren’t any other outlets, you just have to really rely on one another. And we were there for four months. And then we went to Berlin, and we were in Berlin for two weeks. But it was a long film, I think it’s the longest film Luca’s ever done, because he had just done “Call Me by Your Name,” and that was a five-week shoot over the summer. I love that about our film too, it is a horror movie, and usually they’re done quite quickly and cheaply. But we really did take our time to make a quality movie.
Q: What’s the subtext to this story? What do you think Luca is trying to say with this film?
Goth: I think he’s trying to say that all women are witches, in the best sense. If you define witches to be a woman with magical possessions, then I think we all are. We give life, we nurture life, we’ve flourished in a world that was never really intended for us to begin with. I don’t think there’s anything more magical than that. It’s very much a celebration of women and giving these wonderful actresses a platform to do what they do best. It’s also a character study into how women interact, and the beauty that comes from sisterhood-like relationships, and the beauty that comes from that.
Q: What are you working on now?
Goth: I’m going to Rome next month, and I’m shooting a short film with Luca, and Julianne Moore and Michael Shannon, which will be really fun. Then I have a movie called “The Devil All the Time” that’s shooting in February. It’s based on a novel. It’s about a set of characters who live in rural Ohio in the late ‘60s. They don’t know each other very well, but the only thing that links these lives together is the fact that they’re all deeply religious, and it drives them to do fanatical things in the name of their god.
Q: Are you going to have an American accent for that?
Goth: I will. Which I’m terrified about, because American accents are so hard. It’s quite subtle and very specific. I have a lot of work cut out there.
Q: You’ve worked with some great directors like Lars von Trier and and Gore Verbinski. Is there some aspiration of yours to direct at some point? Would you like to do that, or write?
Goth: To be honest, right now, no. I still feel like I’m trying to find my sea legs in all of this, and I’m still perfecting my craft. I’m still quite new to everything. I just want to work on being the best actress that I can be. That’s where my priority is.
Q: Obviously, Luca Guadagnino was very impressed with you, since he’s invited you to do another film with him. What was your impression working with him?
Goth: He’s wonderful. I’d seen his “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash.” I’d followed his films for a while, and then I met him and we instantly clicked. He’s so passionate and very blunt, he always says what he feels, and I love that, and I think perhaps that’s because I come from that myself with my own family, being Brazilian, they’re very colorful, you never have to second guess yourself, and I think that’s a really great trait to have as a director. It means that the people that are working around you, with you, never have to second guess you. He’s just a really lovely person, and makes beautiful work. He’s always inspired about the world around him. I love him.
Q: Do you still consider Brazil your home base?
Goth: I go back to Brazil. I have my grandma there, and my aunts and uncles and friends, but no, I’m based in L.A.
Amazon Studios has released “Suspiria” in New York and Los Angeles theaters, and will be expanding the release nationwide Friday Nov. 2.