Rose Williams on the Horror Thriller The Power and Returning to Sanditon
From writer/director Corinna Faith, the horror thriller The Power is set in London in 1974 and follows a trainee nurse on her first day at the East London Royal Infirmary. With electrical blackouts sweeping across the country, making an already creepy environment even more terrifying, Val (Rose Williams) is stuck working the night shift in a nearly empty building and quickly learns that there’s a lurking malevolent power that will force her to confront her own traumatic past in a way that she could never be prepared for.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Williams talked about being drawn in by the message of the film, getting into the headspace of someone that is processing trauma, the experience of work in an abandoned psychiatric hospital, exploring the physicality of the character, and her new appreciation for horror. She also talked about returning to the TV series Sanditon, which was picked up for a second and third season after having initially been canceled, and what she’s most enjoyed exploring in Season 2.
Collider: How did this script initially come your way?
ROSE WILLIAMS: The first time I came across a script, it was just the regular process that you have with an agent, where the script comes through. I was really drawn to the project just within the small description that comes through with the audition breakdown. And then, I absolutely loved the script. It was such a specific world that intrigued me, not only for the genre, but for the time period, for the location, set in the east end of London, for its supernatural quality because that’s something I’ve always been interested in and drawn to, and for the meaning behind the film and Corinna Faith’s message, so I was really, really hoping to get the part. I sent a tape first from L.A. When I got the script, I was out in L.A., and then I came back to the UK and I had a really great chat with Corinna about her vision and the story, and abuse, and ghost stories and the origins of ghost stories, horror, and the character of the world that she had created and had been researching. We really creatively clicked and we stayed great friends ever since. I respect her so much, as a filmmaker, a writer, and a woman. It’s been a really, really amazing gift, this project, from shooting to the creative relationship that continues with Corinna. I feel very lucky to have been given the part.
This seems like the kind of script that is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Were there also things that made you nervous about shooting it?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, getting into the headspace of somebody with a spirit and getting into walking in the shoes of somebody that is processing trauma in a very heightened, visceral way, through the metaphor of being possessed was interesting. Especially coming from doing a show like Sanditon, which is wonderful in its own world of Austen and there’s a lightness to that, to then go into a world of darkness, where the world of darkness is there to explore abuse and to walk with this character through experiencing trauma and exploring female rage, I wasn’t necessarily scared. It was more bracing myself for a different kind of creative experience than I’d ever been through and touching on subjects that were more raw than I ever have in a project before. Corinna was incredibly compassionate, empathetic and protective of me and of everyone involved. It was a challenging place to shoot, in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. It’s serious subject matter and a serious place to shoot, but Corinna was protective of everybody in that space.
What did it feel like, the first time you walked onto this set? Is it something where you gradually get more comfortable, or does it always feel a bit unsettling when you’re in a location like that?
WILLIAMS: Personally, I felt, from the beginning, that the space definitely had a different temperature, emotionally and energetically, to other buildings. It definitely had that feel about it, that there was an impression of pain and suffering and a sense of loss. It was abandoned. You could walk through it and the offices still had papers and equipment. When I speak about it, what’s most important to me is having respect for every soul that passed in that space and having respect for every patient that spent time there and person that worked there. I enjoy ghost stories and I enjoy learning about the supernatural, but I take it very seriously because I think and feel for those people that either lost her life or lost themselves psychologically. That’s something that I have an incredible amount of sympathy with. It was about connecting to the space and wanting to have an emotional understanding of the people that were there. My main focus was respect of the building and of the people that came before. It definitely informed my performance and it was definitely felt throughout the crew.
The second part of the shoot, we shot on the other side of the hospital, where the temperature really did drop. You hear this when people talk about one haunted spaces, but the temperature literally dropped and it felt like a degree colder. I definitely felt more of a presence on that side of the hospital, and that was echoed throughout the crew. There was an occasion when the generator broke down while we were shooting on that side, which happens in the story in the film, and then the backup generator also broke down. And then, out came electricians and they said, “We don’t understand like what went wrong here. It doesn’t make sense, as to why these broke.” I do feel as though there was an energy about that, that has an effect on the process, potentially.
Fans didn’t think that they were going to get any more seasons of Sanditon, so it was a happy surprise when it was announced that it was renewed for Season 2 and 3. When and how did you find out that the show would be returning, and were you surprised at all that you’d actually get to return to that role?
WILLIAMS: There had been conversation back and forth, since it got canceled, and hints of it and rumors of it, but I really had thought that it had gone away, so it was a huge surprise. It was a conversation towards the end of last year. I’d seen pieces online that said, “Oh, is it going again?,” but I left it up to the universe, and then it happened. I’m shooting it right now, actually. We’re almost finished shooting Season 2. We have two more weeks. And then, we’ll start on Season 3. I’m very much back in the world of Sanditon, and grateful to be there.
We’ve heard that your character will have two new love interests this season. What can you say to tease those dynamics and how the show will be different when it comes back?
WILLIAMS: I’m not sure how much I can say. I can say that Charlotte comes into her own, in a new way. There will be characters that you know and love, but there are new ones that are definitely introduced. Having the army into Sanditon definitely creates a new environment. I’m working with this lovely actress called Rosie Graham, who plays my sister, so that’s lovely to explore. Jane Austen, herself, had a younger sister called Cassandra, and in my imagination, I wanted to bring that influence of Jane and Cassandra to Charlotte and Alison. It’s nice to explore that sister relationship. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait and see when it comes out.
One of the things in this film that I was most impressed by, in The Power, was how you really have to contort and twist your body a fair amount, which is not necessarily an easy thing to do or people wouldn’t be so in awe when they watch contortionists. What was it like to figure out how to approach that and how far you could push your body without hurting yourself, during those scenes?
WILLIAMS: That was something that I was actually really excited about and wanted to do. I really wanted to push as far as I could go with that. In the audition, I was like, “Can I show you how I would imagine that?,” and I went for it. I’m quite flexible, naturally. I’ve always loved to dance and I’ve always wanted to use and explore physicality with a role. We took a couple of days with a movement coach with Corinna and myself to really choreograph that sequence like a dance. I’m inspired very much by friends of mine who dance in the style called Flex dancing, or “bone breaking.” It’s amazing, what they do. They’ve gone on tour with Rihanna and Beyoncé, and done a bunch of music videos. I’ve always had such admiration for how they push their bodies and the way in which it is disturbing, but at the same time, it’s beautiful. It’s otherworldly, but also animalistic. So, I wanted to try to bring a bit of that to the possession sequence. For Corinna and I, it was important for that sequence to make sense, story wise. In that main possession sequence, Gail is showing how she was abused. She’s reliving the abuse. And so, we wanted to capture how disturbing and evil, but it wasn’t disturbing movements for the sake of it. It came from imagining this spirit showing Val what it was like to be abused.
You’ve previously talked about being a fan of horror. Is there a type of horror that you find yourself most drawn to?
WILLIAMS: As a teenager, I was interested in horror films, and then I took a hiatus because I didn’t want to get scared anymore. And then, it was Corinna who reintroduced me to horror with a fresh perspective. She sent me an amazing list of references and films that she was really inspired by, including old Jack Clayton movies, Korean and Japanese horror movies, like A Tale of Two Sisters, and [Robert] Altman movies. Three Women was a big influence for this film. Horror that has a moral message behind it really allows the viewer to let their body be scared. It can be weirdly healing to experience fear and terror in a contained environment and to allow the body to feel through it. It’s a specific skill and creative talent to be able to create that amount of suspense and feeling. It’s so specific. Corinna has a real and true understanding of the genre, and she taught me about it and how to see it in a new way. It’s really a thank you to her influence.
The Power is available on VOD, Digital HD and DVD.