Mia Goth on ‘A Cure for Wellness’ and Filming a Nude Scene Surrounded by Giant Eels
“I’m a bit nervous,” Mia Goth shyly admitted when I asked how she was at the start of our interview earlier this week. “I’ve never really done anything like this before,” she said of the press junket for A Cure For Wellness, set up in the basement of a lower Manhattan hotel. Goth made her film debut in 2014 as Charlotte Gainsbourg’s protege/lover P in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Vol. II. Since then she’s had roles in Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest and the BAFTA nominated The Survivalist, and last fall her Elvis-themed wedding to husband Shia LaBeouf was live-streamed for the whole world to see (albeit supposedly on accident). But the new Gore Verbinski horror thriller is her biggest movie to date.
The film follows Dane DeHaan’s stock broker Mr. Lockhart as he visits a Switzerland spa known for its rejuvenating water supply. There he meets Goth’s Hannah, the youngest person at the institute; she warns him that no one ever leaves the spa on the mountain. Described by the institute director (Jason Isaacs) as a “special case” patient, Hannah eerily wanders the grounds humming a mournful lullaby.
What ensues is a demented series of events, including a scene that finds Goth naked in a bathtub full of slithering eels. I thought the eels we’re just CG; they were not, as Goth assured me. The 23-year-old British-Brazilian actress told me about shooting the bathtub sequence, the underwater training she got for the aquatically-heavy movie, and her upcoming roles in a Claire Denis sci-fi thriller and Luca Guadagnino’s remake, or maybe not-a-remake, of Suspiria.
I love that your character has a trajectory where she’s very naive and innocent when we meet her and eventually gains ownership over her body by the end of the film.
That’s something that really did draw me to Hannah and to the project. I liked that she did have some sort of arc. And it’s something I connected with also because it is a coming of age story for Hannah in many ways. I was 21 when I was filming it and so at that time [I], and still am, leaving my girlhood and going into womanhood. So it was nice to be able to draw from my own life and turn some things up, turn some things down to try and honor what was written on the page.
She’s described as a young woman who looks like a girl. How did you decide how to navigate the mystery of her age? Did you play her with the mentality of a prepubescent girl or of a young woman?
Me and Gore, we didn’t really want to give her an exact age. It’s more the fact that she’s been incredibly sheltered her entire life. She’s never really been contaminated by the world outside and as a result of that, she had a very peculiar way of looking at things. She’s maintained a very child-like innocence to her, and that’s what I was trying I guess tap into and understand more about. She has a real way of looking at things, and she’s forever curious and intrigued by things and she asks why a lot. So I just tried to understand that part of her, and that’s what Gore also spoke about too.
This film is such an original concept, but were there any classic horror films that Gore brought up as inspirations for the film or your character?
The Shining a little bit, but not so much. He really did want to make an original film. But he didn’t give out many references. He was very proud of the fact that it is a very original film because it’s not based on a book, it’s not a spin-off, it’s not a sequel.
Yeah. So he just wanted to put his own mark on it and I think he achieved that really well.
This is only your fourth feature film. What was it like to work with a director like Gore who’s had such a huge and varied career?
It was awesome, and just super terrifying at first. I just had a great time. To work with Gore and Dane and Jason, it was a big deal for me. I’m just starting out. I auditioned and then I got the call and I was in the DMV. I just remember pretty much everything about that day. It was very significant for me.
How did working on a big budget project like this compare to your previous work on Nymphomaniac and The Survivalist?
Yeah, definitely bigger. I definitely felt that, and we had a lot more time. I guess that’s just because there was a bigger budget, which was nice too because you really get to connect with these people, both the cast and the crew. You really do become a family. But in terms of the work, in terms of the scene work and the relationship between the other actors, that was pretty similar.
I think one of the things that makes this movie so scary is Gore’s visual style. It’s very menacing and suffocating. What was it like to be with him on set when he was creating at atmosphere?
I learned a lot. It was exciting for me too. You know, he helped define the genre back with The Ring. And so to just listen to him and see how he works, a lot of the crew that he had for Cure For Wellness he’s worked with for a long time. So they were sort of a family already. Him and Bojan [Bazelli] who’s the cinematographer who also did The Ring, they had a great relationship. They didn’t really have to communicate much to understand what each other’s thinking. So to kind of see that and see how he’s able to operate such a, I felt, big movie and stay so calm and centered. I learned a lot, it was impressive to watch.
You do a lot of crazy things in this movie. You’re in the sensory deprivation tank floating in water a lot. What was it like to film that?
Well I wasn’t in the sensory deprivation, that was Dane.
Oh right. But you are floating underwater at a few points, right?
Oh yeah. That was cool. I’ve never done anything like that before. That’s one of the great things about this job, is that you’re always getting to try new things and have new experiences. It was difficult at times, you have to really train yourself. That was cool too because we had these water training sessions where we would learn how to hold our breath under the water for a long time. I got up to a minute and thirty at one point. You kind of go into this meditation kind of state when you’re under water. Yeah I had a lot of fun with that.
There’s also the nude bathtub scene. But I assume those eels are just CG?
Those are real eels! But they made a cast, like a mold, of my lower half. Then I had to stay in a very odd position for a few hours. Then I would drink a Coca-Cola or watch a movie and I couldn’t scratch my nose. It is just very uncomfortable.
Wow. So the eels never had to touch your body?
No, but then I saw how they – it’s kind of a process I really didn’t understand because the upper half is me. Then they put the eels with the cast and they did CGI and made it pretty believable.
The movie has a surprise ending that could be read a few ways. Without spoiling too much, do you have your own interpretation of that last shot of you and Dane means?
Well I think that’s really for the audience to decide on what they want to take from that. I think that’s part of what makes the film brilliant, and so exciting to watch.
It’s rare to see something so weird and open-ended in big studio horror movies.
It is. Gore is not underestimating his audience. You have to come to the movie with your head turned on. He’s not spoon-feeding the audience everything they need to know and I think that’s the best kind of film.
In just four years your career has really taken off since Nymphomaniac, and you have two projects with big directors coming up. What it that been like to watch that happen in such a short period of time?
Pretty crazy. At the same time I really do feel like I’ve been working for a while, doing other roles and kind of getting to this point. So I feel proud because this is what I want to do and I’m getting the chance to do it. So I just feel very fortunate.
Do you think you’ll do more big budget American movies in the future, or do you see yourself working with more arthouse and foreign directors?
It’s kind of hard to say. I’m all for art-house foreign directors, I think they make terrific films and I’m also for the bigger budget movies. It just depends on what the character is, the director, the script. Just take it movie by movie.
Is there a genre you want to explore that you haven’t done yet?
Well I signed on to a movie called High Life.
Right! The new Claire Denis.
I play a convict and we’re in space exploring black holes and reproductive possibilities. It’s a sci-fi, and I’ve never done anything like that so it’s definitely going to be a challenge and I’m very excited for it.
I can’t wait for your Suspiria remake with Luca Guadagnino. You recently said that it’s not really a remake. Will it follow a different storyline?
See I never realized that people would hear that – Yeah, that’s my interpretation of it. From watching the original that Dario Argento did and then being on set every day and seeing what it is we do, it is nod of the hat to Argento, but Luca takes it to a very different place. I can’t say too much about it because we’re still filming it. So I guess people are just going to have to wait and see, but I think they’re gonna really enjoy it.
A Cure for Wellness opens February 17.