Ginger Nuts of Horror
23 years after a child disappears in Wales, Matilda travels to Wales, determined to explore this mystery, even if it means unraveling her own identity. In the process, she uncovers long buried secrets in this remote community – including one secret more bizarre, terrifying and dangerous than anything she could have imagined: Dark otherworldly forces are gathering – they have been waiting many years for Matilda to arrive.
If every life is a story, then for most of us, it’s our parents who write the opening chapters. They record and remember our early childhoods as we cannot, acting as trusted witnesses to our lives.
But what if you discovered that your parent might have lied to you? That almost everything they’d said about their own history, and yours, might have been untrue?
Requiem takes its inspiration from the psychological horror films of the late 1960s and ‘70s - Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now, and The Innocents, avoiding easy answers, and instead playing on uncertainty and ambiguity.
It’s also a rumination on the nature of memory, identity, and loss, hinging on a universal truth: that when a parent dies, a part of you dies with them.
Requiem is written by Kris Mrksa (episodes 1-4 and 6) and Blake Ayshford (episode 5). The series is directed by Mahalia Belo, produced by Susan Breen and executive produced by Willow Grylls, Elaine Pyke and Charlie Pattinson for New Pictures, Kris Mrksa and Christopher Aird for BBC.
To celebrate the launch of the new show Ginger Nuts of Horror brings you a set of mini interviews with the cast members of the show. We also have a guest post from the show's creator (here) and you can read our review of the show here
What immediately hooked you about Requiem?
I really liked was the fact that it was a psychological drama, but in a sneaky way. Matilda is a girl from London in Converse trainers, whose life suddenly spirals into this giant mystery. Requiem starts off with the banality of everyday London, and then it suddenly goes, “Woah!”
How would you describe Matilda?
She has a big hole in her chest. Something huge is missing from her life. A lot of twentysomethings are looking for something in external images, but an integral part of Matilda is empty. I worked with the image of there being a breezeblock missing from the middle of her.
How pivotal is Matilda’s relationship with Janice?
That’s the key relationship in the whole drama. Like a lot of single-parent families, they’re friends, as well as a mother and a daughter. Matilda is filled with grief about Janice’s suicide. She is now at a crossroads in her life. She can either fall apart or she could channel her sadness into an obsessive search for her true identity. That’s a much more bearable way of dealing with her grief. I love working with Joanna, who plays Janice. She’s completely unique, a genius.
How would you characterise Matilda’s bond with Rose?
Rose shape-shifts for Matilda. Claire, who plays Rose, is amazing. Her talent is quite scary. She can reveal her soul in a scene – I don’t know how she does it. In one scene with her, she was so emotional, I just couldn’t stop crying and ended up in the toilet!
What was it like working with Mahalia?
It was brilliant. She created an amazing, quiet, empathic atmosphere on set. She was the calm in the eye of the storm and made you feel you could go further with your feelings. When rhetoric has lost its force, we can make feelings a priority - and that’s Mahalia’s bag.
You are in virtually every scene of Requiem. How did you cope with this enormous workload?
It was very tough. I remember thinking once, “Where are we in the scripts?” It’s very hard to remember where you are because you’re jumping around all the time. We were shooting all six episodes simultaneously. It was quite surreal.
What else was hard about the shoot?
Because Matilda is a state of shock, her skin is very thin. She doesn’t know who she is, and that has taken off a layer of her skin and put her at the mercy of the world. I didn’t realise that until I had a week off in the middle of filming. During that week, when I wasn’t so vulnerable, I remember thinking, “Why am I crying?”
How do you hope that the drama will be received?
I hope audiences will fall in love with this world and want to keep coming back to it. I hope they will feel like we did when we made it – intrigued by this strange thing that doesn’t look like anything else.
Requiem really is unique, isn’t it?
Absolutely. In this day and age, drama can be homogenous and formulaic. I love to watch formulaic dramas sometimes and know what I’m going to get. That is one of drama’s responsibilities. At the same time, I think it’s great to do something like this, which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. It’s fantastic to make something that is so bold.
Please outline Hal’s relationship with Matilda.
Hal is a wet blanket, but he’s a nice wet blanket! He loves Matilda, but it’s hard to tell if she knows that. She probably does when Hal sits and talks to her for ages, but it’s the last thing on her mind at the moment. She has other things on her mind and other fish to fry! They were bonded before, but when they go on this quest together, they reach a new level of intimacy.
What does he love about her?
Hal is fascinated by Matilda. She is an incredibly talented musician and a bit of a rock star in the classical music world. She’s gutsy and fearless. Everyone is understandably attracted to her.
How has it been working with Lydia?
It’s been fantastic. She’s really, really talented. She’s very devoted to her work – which she needed to be in this part! She worked so hard on Requiem. She’s like Mahalia; she really cares about what she’s doing – everything else is background noise. It was really easy to do things with her because we both wanted the same thing; we both wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be. Sometimes lead performers get too paranoid about themselves, but Lydia is not like that at all. She’s a real team player.
How did you find it filming in the eerie old house which plays such a vital role in Requiem?
It was really quite strange and spooky. It’s one of those old houses where you walk in and can’t help feeling, “What kind of things have happened here in the past?”
How did the Welsh locations enhance the drama?
We went to some very remote, very beautiful places in North Wales and that really helps because you’re so far away from everything. It also helps because it creates a travelling-company vibe. Everyone is in it together and feels very bonded. It harks back to the time when actors were travelling players, going around the country putting on plays. That was a very nice extra element to making this drama.
What impact do you hope that Requiem will have on its audience?
I hope viewers are really transported by it. It’s a brilliant mystery, which wraps up very satisfyingly at the end. It’s such an achievement. Mahalia cares so much about what she’s doing, and that doesn’t always happen in TV. Above all, I hope people really invest in Matilda. When scary things happen, viewers find it even more scary when they really care about the characters, and I think that will be the case here. This drama is unique. We put a great deal of effort into Requiem, and it really felt like we were making something special. I very much hope viewers will agree.
What made you so eager to be involved in Requiem?
I met the director, Mahalia, and I found her really exciting. I loved how she talked about the piece and I adored her previous work. She's a very special director.
The character of Rose drew me to Requiem. She tells a very complex and painful story and that captured my imagination. Rose is a woman who unfortunately and against her will is defined by the catastrophe of her little girl being taken.
How has that affected her?
She seems to be happily married with a young son and appears to be functioning. She is presenting herself to the world as doing well, considering the awful things that have happened to her.
But what's really going on with Rose?
People get good at this - she's hiding the fact that she is absolutely churned up inside. Every day she is acutely aware that she is pretending. She must think about her tragedy all the time, even though on the surface she is happily making a cup of tea for her husband.
What changes for Rose?
Her world is turned upside down when a young woman comes to her claiming to be the toddler she lost all those years ago. Rose is pushed to the limit, not daring to believe that this is the girl she loved so much. Playing Rose, I have to go to some dark places in my imagination, but I feel an acute responsibility towards the people it's actually happened to.
Does the atmosphere remain very dark on set when you're filming these tough scenes?
No. It's a paradox. I'm a great believer in keeping it light and free at work - and that translates into messing about on set. I had a lot of difficult scenes with Richard Harrington, who plays my husband.
What is he like to work with?
He is an inspiring actor, but he's by no means precious. He doesn't take himself too seriously. He's relaxed and fun. So we managed to keep it very playful between us. The environment created by Mahalia meant I felt completely safe and trusted everyone. Some scenes were quite painful to shoot because they were violent or exploring the most painful feelings about a child going missing. But Richard is such a lovely guy, it was a real pleasure working with him.
Did you have any particularly hair-raising scenes?
Yes. Rose has a very wild, remote place she goes to when she's feeling trapped and she wants to be on be on her own. She copes by going to stand on the edge of a beautiful precipice in the Welsh mountains to check she's still alive. It was a very dangerous, sheer drop. I had to be rigged up by stunt people and attached to a post in the ground. When I had to turn around and walk, I froze. I've watched the scene, and it doesn't look that scary. But believe me, it was!
What leapt out at you when you first read Requiem?
It’s very rare to read something of that complexity and intelligence and originality, which is peppered with these extraordinary characters who all feel completely authentic. They all have very strong drives. The story has so much to say. The great thing about Kris’s writing is that he doesn’t seem to judge his characters. He is also prepared to examine things that a lot of other writers are perhaps afraid of. He’s an outstanding writer.
What else did you like about his scripts?
They have very strong female roles which are not dependent on anyone else for their identity. One of the themes of the drama is the search for identity. Matilda is on a quest for her identity, but Sylvia already has a very strong sense of who she is – even if it’s incorrect.
How would you characterise Sylvia?
She’s a very rare bird. She is very original and idiosyncratic, but also slightly enigmatic. Part of the pieces is to do with things not being what they first appear to be – and that sums up Sylvia. She is driven by her calling and believes in that intensely. It is her vocation.
What marks out Mahalia as a director?
She’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with. She always has time for actors. She set up rehearsals so all we all felt we inhabited a very specific place. Mahalia is interested in “otherness”, that slightly ineffable, indefinable quality in people. But she also ensures that the story is rooted in a very identifiable reality. Her notes are really good, too. They help to crack things open. She’s a very special director.
Why do you think we are all so interested in the idea of the unknown?
Even if we say we are not, we are all fascinated by the possibility of another dimension. The mystery of life is riveting. We are all searching for the answers to the Great Unknowns. It’s a very human quest: Why are we here? Where are we? We are always trying to explain and rationalise things – that’s a human impulse. Science will take us to a certain point, and were relieved about that. But then something else will leap out of the bottle, and we can’t explain it. In Requiem, Matilda is searching for her identity. But on a larger level, it’s about how we are all looking for our place in the universe.
What do you hope people will say to each other after watching Requiem?
I hope they will be very intrigued and entertained. I also hope they will be moved and fascinated and ask questions. I really hope it makes people curious. I hope it makes them wonder, “What does it all mean?”
How would you describe your character?
I would hate to say that Aron was ordinary – most people are until you put a microscope on them. He doesn’t seem very emotional, but there is more to him than meets the eye. He’s overly protective of his wife after what she’s been through. He tries to keep things together, but he certainly does the wrong things sometimes, and can turn to violence. He’s not necessarily a bad man, but he’s put in bad situations when he tries to hold together the sanity of a wife who’s lost a child.
Was it hard to perform the scenes of domestic violence?
Absolutely. The scenes were very tough to act out. They were true to the script, which examines how someone can treat the person he loves most with such contempt, but filming them was certainly exhausting.
How did you deal with those scenes?
Claire and I have worked together before, and we have a very good relationship. She is a brilliant actress who is able to deflect anything and give back what she gets. However much I screamed at her, she’d throw it back at me. She gives a beautifully effortless performance as Rose. It also really helps that we have a very similar way of working. We both want to muck around when the camera is not rolling. Whatever bad feelings are portrayed in a scene are very quickly dispersed with a laugh or a wink.
What was it like working with Mahalia?
It was amazing. From the moment I met her, we started to excavate the text. She’s such a lovely person to work with. You can meet directors in auditions and get on very well with them. They have a spark and indulge you. But then they can find the confines of a set very restrictive. They have to carry so much on their shoulders, and you can see them tensing up. You’re almost left to do it on your own because they have bigger battles to fight.
What is different about Mahalia?
She is special because she really focuses on the actors. She makes you think about things profoundly and laterally. She created a very productive atmosphere on set. She had never directed anything of this scale before, but she never faltered during the six months’ shoot. She also cast impeccably – we all got on like a house on fire. Working with her was a very nourishing experience.
What is it about Kris’s script that is so intriguing?
It is not what it first appears to be. It’s about how fantasies and cultures can be created and the lengths that people will go to in order to protect their community. They are quite prepared to create a reality within a reality.
What will audiences find most striking about Requiem?
At its core, it’s a very human story about a missing girl, and no one can be apathetic about that. If you watch this drama, you have to have heart and soul. It will certainly pull at your heartstrings.
What did you like about Requiem when you were offered this part?
As soon as I read the script, I thought, “This is brilliant and intriguing.” The horror elements sent shivers down my spine. It’s the most daring thing to put back onto the agenda the concept of evil. But this is done superbly. Kris has the bravery to say, “There are forces at work that have nothing other than naked power, greed and murder at their heart.” I thought, “This is just fabulous.” It’s really, really exciting to be involved.
Tell us more about what makes Requiem such a gripping series.
It’s a great human drama. It’s about who to trust, who to care about, who to receive care from, what happens within a community and how the people within a community can infect each other with venom. It’s also about place, landscape, the traditional order of British society and how the remains of the feudal system can poison a community. If you’re in that community, do you gravitate towards the light or the dark?
What do the far-flung Welsh locations add to Requiem?
The remote North Wales village where Matilda ends up is a metaphor for isolation. It is a place that is cut off from the rest of the world. Life in the city is anonymous, which has given Janice and Matilda a chance. But as soon as they lose that anonymity, they’re vulnerable. Once you’re being surveyed in a village, you’re at risk. So the village is a symbol; it indicates that Matilda is not at liberty to pursue the truth.
What you think viewers will gain from watching Requiem?
I hope people will experience a real thrill. We’re subjected so many options these days, so you have to be very bold to thrill people – and Requiem is very bold. It’s all too easy to bring something out of the drawer that is similar to something else. But this isn’t similar to anything else. We appear to live in a completely rational world. But I don’t think that rationality answers all our questions, and to watch a drama which gives us a chance to grapple with that idea is great. Requiem is a thrilling and intelligent drama. But it’s also very scary. Don’t watch it alone or in the dark!
What drew you to Requiem?
The scripts were terrific. The moment I read them, my curiosity was piqued. There is a very strong mystery at the heart of it. It’s genuinely spooky and mystifying. There was a real buzz going around the industry about these scripts, and I can see why. There is so much going on in them. Kris writes in such a bold, original way. You have to back that. I thought, “Even if I don’t get the part, it’s been great to read these wonderful scripts!”
Talk us through your character.
The idea of haunting and being haunted is a strong theme in Requiem. Matilda is haunted, and Kendrick is haunted. He is haunted by the disappearance of a child in an old case. He was under duress at the time and faced a power greater than him. He still behaves in a way that is haunted. Ostensibly we think that it’s because he didn’t solve that case, but there is actually more going on …
What else is troubling Kendrick?
He is haunted by a lot of internal stuff. I love the subtext of this drama. We’re never quite sure who anyone is at any particular moment.
How does the drama create such a spooky atmosphere?
It doesn’t have a world-shattering budget for CGI, so a lot of the spooky elements are conjured up through suggestion. It’s all about the power of the unseen.
What were the rural locations like to shoot in?
Fantastic. Wales is wild. We saw many stunning parts of the country, and I was filming with delightful people. I loved the whole experience. It was a real treat.
How did you find it working with Mahalia?
She’s an extraordinary director. She has great taste and a wonderful visual style. Her ethos is very cinematic and poetic. On set, she’d very calm and focused. She has tremendous certainty without being aggressive. She’d give you very selective notes, but they were always spot-on. I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but when you meet someone who has ‘it’, you recognise it immediately. Mahalia definitely has ‘it’.
Do you think audiences will be compelled by this drama?
Absolutely. I can’t think of anything else like it. This is a project close to all our hearts. Kris’s story-telling is brilliant. I think audiences will really take to it. It poses those eternal questions: Is there anything else? Are we alone?
Do you also think viewers will be chilled by Requiem?
Definitely. We like to be scared. It’s a visceral experience, venturing beyond our comfort zone. Stepping into that dangerous territory is a thrill. Requiem is like a classic movie such as The Omen. It preys on our faith. This is beautifully done. I watched the first episode in the dark, and I was terrified! I hope we scare the bejesus out of viewers!
What attracted you to Requiem?
The script was just so different from anything I’d seen. As actors, we read a lot of similar scripts. This one stood out because it’s gripping from start to finish. It’s totally absorbing. Also, it’s the sort of part I’ve never played before. I thought the casting was amazing as well. So saying yes to Requiem was a complete no-brainer!
Tell us about Mahalia’s qualities as a director.
I’d heard great things about her, and as it turned out, she is something special. She has a terrific eye. I’m always thrilled when new female directors come to the fore. It’s still a very male-heavy industry, but people like Mahalia are breaking through, and that’s got to be good news.
Is she also good with actors?
Definitely. What I love about Mahalia is that she has no fear. Some directors will hold back with actors. But even though she is a new director, Mahalia is not afraid to tell very experienced performers the truth. She has no qualms because all she wants is to make the drama better. Because of that, everyone is happy to take direction from her. We know she won’t let us be rubbish!
Can you expand on that?
The great thing is, you know she's got your back. She's as concerned with the performances as she is with the pictures.
That's important for actors. We often feel out on a limb and like a small cog in a big machine. But Mahalia makes every contribution feel valued.
What particularly caught your eye about this part?
I love the fact that my character only has a surname. She's not written as a woman, but as a person. For me, that's vital. Kris does that brilliantly. He just writes people. He doesn't go in for gender stereotyping. That's great. I'm so tired of playing the wife of someone.
How would you characterise Graves?
She's very straightforward. She's dragged into this case very unwillingly. But she cares about her local village and wants to solve the mystery for that reason. I also like the fact that she's not tortured or ambitious. There is no angst about her. She's not a secret alcoholic.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
Richard Harrington and I have a fight at one point. I was offered a stunt woman, but I very foolishly turned it down. I said, "Yeah, I can do that," and six hours later, I was nearly throwing up and passing out with exhaustion. Stunt people are there for a reason! By the end, I was absolutely battered, a mess. My driver had to help me up the path to the hotel that evening. All because I had an ego and thought I could do my own stunts. I'm sure that six-hour shoot will end up as three seconds on screen!