Theo Crain is one of the coolest characters on The Haunting of Hill House — and not just because she can feel the “cold spots.”
The middle child of the Crain siblings, she creates a bridge between older brother Steven and sister Shirley, who don’t believe in ghosts, and younger twins Luke and Nell, who do. As a child psychologist who specializes in trauma, she would be the first to tell you that each of the Crain siblings represents one of the stages of grief, according to their birth order: Steve is denial, Shirley is anger, Luke is depression, Nell is acceptance. And Theo, middle child that she is, is bargaining. She’s also a bundle of contradictions.
Actress Kate Siegel (who is now eight months pregnant) put Theo through a SYFY WIRE therapy session for us, and also shared what it was like shooting while pregnant and what it takes to scare Hill House showrunner (and her husband) Mike Flanagan.
I hear congratulations are in order? I was trying to do the math, and I think you must have been pregnant while filming…
Yeah. Hilariously, I found out that I was pregnant while we were filming episode six. That long one-take episode where I have to fall down. [Laughs]
Did you find out before you fell down, or after?
We rehearsed it over the course of six weeks, because we were on hiatus for the holidays, and then the stand-ins and a skeleton crew came back early with Mike and started rehearsing, and they were able to show us what the episode would look like. Not with any of the official VFX or anything, but we were able to see how the camera would move. The stand-ins had memorized all of our lines and done most of the boring work for us. And then we took about two weeks to do the rest of the rehearsals from there, and it was the day before we were shooting it.
I was working out with our stunt coordinator, and we were doing it over and over and over again. And there had been some interesting math with my cycle, so I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to take a test to make sure.” And I told Mike that night, because we were going to be shooting the episode the next day, and the terror in his face was like nothing I had ever seen! He was like, “I’ve just been throwing my pregnant wife on the ground all day!”
And it probably takes a lot to scare Mike…
Right? It does. So I’ll always have that. That’s what scares him the most. And it was so sweet. [Laughs] So it was, um, quite a surprise, but I liked it because Theo had a secret, and I had a secret, too. There you go!
You also got punched…
I also get punched in the boob! Yeah, that was a funny day. Elizabeth Reaser, we’ve known each other since we did Ouija: Origin of Evil together, and she called me up at the end of the day and said, “I can’t believe my job entails punching a pregnant woman in the boob all day.” Movie magic!
Hopefully you weren’t too sensitive there at that point.
At that point, it was more funny than anything else, because it was just all so new. I didn’t get really sick until the end of shooting. [Laughs]
Were you sick during the Red Room scenes?
I was super sick during the Red Room scenes. When I was back in bed with Trish, when we were doing the Red Room fantasy, I would have to stop between takes to go puke in a trashcan. So Levy Tran, who played Trish, is the real hero, because she’s hearing me dry heave behind the set, and she’s still willing to get back into bed with me. [Laughs]
That scene was so creepy, because of all the hands. It must have been Theo’s biggest nightmare…
It’s like Theo’s experience of intimacy, the dark side of intimacy, and it’s a very claustrophobic feeling. We had just tons of people all around the bed pulling me down. It was a really uncomfortable scene to shoot, but it was a great representation of how Theo feels about the needs and desires of others.
You have an amazing scene where Theo breaks down and tries to explain why she touched Kevin, the numb and nothingness she was trying to expel. What was it like shooting that?
When I got those pages, it was so beautifully written, it was such a gift. There are certain things where you go, “I can’t over-rehearse this, or it’s going to start sounding like a soliloquy.” I think the writing was the door that I just walked through, because it’s such a human feeling to be scared of dying alone, and that after death, there’s nothing.
We were shooting that at like 3AM on the side of the road, on location, and I could really tap into a lot of exhaustion. It’s one of those things where you have let yourself be a fool and let it all go. You have to let go of all these weird things in your head about being a good actor, or being a good coworker, all the way back to being a good daughter. You just have to be okay with making a mess.
And the shame, that many people, myself included, care about making a mess, from when we were kids. And you can tap into that, the embarrassment, the shame. I may not have touched my dead sister and know what it feels like to experience the finality of death through my superpower, but I do know what it’s like to be deeply embarrassed. And so I tried to go with that, and make it as accessible and human as possible.
Let’s clear up, though, what exactly happened with Kevin. Shirley assumes, as did a lot of recappers and reviewers, that Theo tried to kiss Kevin. The way Theo explains it to Shirley was that she just wanted to touch someone. So did her trying to touch Kevin include a kiss?
We all went back and forth about that, about exactly what moment we were capturing. Theo just wants to touch someone who hasn’t experienced trauma, hoping that it might get her out of feeling this terrible, empty loss. And I think of it as Theo kind of lunging at Kevin, just trying to grab him. It looks like a kiss, but there was no kiss in the shooting of it. More of a lunge, no kiss.
Regarding Theo’s “superpower” — psychometry or touch telepathy — where do you think it comes from? Is it purely genetic, passed down in the family? Was it triggered by being in Hill House, or by holding hands with a ghost?
What I like about it is that it fits into this Hill House question of what is a ghost. You could ask the same thing – what is the sensitivity that the Crain women experience? They all of course have a certain amount of sixth sense that has passed down from their mother. Shirley has the night visions. Nell sees through time. And Theo has this touch sensitivity to the past. And so what I play with is this idea that one of two things are true – that the house kind of woke up what was already dormant in Theo when she held the hand of the ghost.
But there’s also this preternatural explanation, as Steven would love to call it, which is that Theo has so pushed down her empathy, feelings, and experience of the world, that the only way she can explain how she understands other people is through this power. She’s so removed herself from feelings that it comes out that way.
If you want to be someone who believes in psychic powers and women who are a little witchy – which I love – you have this outlet to say, “Yes, Theo has this magic ability, given to her by ghosts in this evil house.” But if you’re a scientific type who really believes in the psychology of things, you have another explanation: Theo has totally repressed her sensitive side so deeply that she has created this experience for herself, where she touches people and she thinks she’s seeing into them.
If she doesn’t want to examine her own feelings so much, why do you think she became a therapist?
There’s a theory that a character is revealed in contradiction. It’s just the way people live in the world, and the moment you really learn who a person is when they seem to contradict themselves. And Theo – our clenched fist with hair – is a walking example of that. Everything she is, she is the exact opposite. She is cold and removed, but she’s also sobbing by the side of the road. And Theo experienced the trauma of her siblings along with her own trauma, so she would carry along her own recollection of that last night in the house, plus every time she was playing with Steven, or Shirley, or Luke, or Nell, she would touch them, and she’d have their trauma, too.
Theo as a child grew up holding on to childhood trauma, and became very intimate with it, and probably wasn’t as repulsed by it as adults, because it’s so heartbreaking. And as a middle child, I think Theo is naturally a helper. So when you put those two things together, it kind of feels like the only thing Theo could have done with her life. She has all this deep experience with childhood trauma, and she desperately wants to help people.
Where did you get all those amazing gloves, by the way? I think Theo is going to spark a new fashion trend.
[Laughs] I had so much fun with that! Lynn Falconer, our costume designer, latched onto the gloves right away, and at our first fitting, we geeked out over racks and racks of old vintage gloves. I know people talk about the brown ones that are half-gloves – those are vintage. And Theo has a pair of green cotton gloves that she wears around the house, and those are great because they’re sturdy and comfortable and very protective. There are the New Year’s gloves which are studded, and we got those from Barney’s.
We just tried to find the perfect glove for every outfit, and it’s such a fun accessory, and it’s perfect for winter. And so many gloves now have touch-sensitive fingertips. You can still text. So I just highly recommend it. I think everyone should dive in. I would love to bring gloves back!
Before I let you go, congratulations are also in order for achieving “legendary status” on Twitter for your reply to someone who questioned your relationship with Mike Flanagan.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. [Laughs] I’m on Twitter. I was following that closely. I’m watching you all! [Laughs]
October 25, 2018
by Jennifer Vineyard