Why Mia Goth's Pearl And X Characters Look Identical, According To Ti West [Exclusive]

Ti West's film "X" was released back in March and, perhaps unexpectedly, ended with a trailer for a prequel film that was already complete. Now, "Pearl" has been released in theaters only five months later. And, as it turns out, West isn't done. "MaXXXine" is coming soon, too. 

The premise of "X" is that a group of enterprising adult filmmakers in the 1970s have to trek out to a remote farm to shoot their latest opus. There are many conversations about the integrity of indie filmmaking and the liberating importance of porn movies. During shooting, however, the very elderly owner of the farm, Pearl, skulks around the production, titillated by the sex, but also longing for years of lust lost. Pearl ends up snapping and going on a killing spree. In an odd bit of casting, both Pearl and Maxine, one of the film-within-a-film's actresses, are played by Mia Goth. 

"Pearl" is about the title character's life decades earlier on the same farm. The barn is new, but Pearl is still struggling with her very natural libido in a repressive, limited environment that doesn't allow her to express it. As the previews point out, this will lead to Lizzie Borden-style axe slayings. Also, "Pearl" might have a mystery on its hands. Why are Pearl and Maxine identical? In "X," there appeared to be a thematic mirroring of the characters — one character is sexually free and the other is repressed.

In a recent interview with /Film, West explained to BJ Colangelo that the two mirrored character might have a nuanced connection. 

Kind of the same person

/Film asked West directly about the meaning of Goth's double casting. As Pearl in "X," Goth is outfitted with a full-body old age suit, and is nearly unrecognizable. As Maxine, Goth only sports wonderfully garish makeup. Why cast Goth as Pearl, and not hire an octogenarian actress? West explained that he and Goth brainstormed the double casting together, and agreed on the two characters' similarities. In a metaphorical way, Pearl and Maxine occupy the same conscious space. It was only a gulf of several decades that dictated their paths. Swap them out, and the stories would be the same. West says that audiences can have it both ways. In his words: 

"I think it's a little bit of both. I don't know if it's more the former, but to speak to the former is to say, Mia and I, when we were making 'X,' part of the reason why I wanted her to play both roles was we always thought of it as, "They're two different characters, but kind of the same person." That was always interesting to me in making 'X,' prior to even knowing we were going to make 'Pearl.' I thought that it conceptually was really appealing."

West is likely a fan of Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" from 1966. That film is about an actress and a nurse who abscond to a remote island when the former (Liv Ullmann) is suddenly struck mute in the middle of a stage performance. The nurse (Bibi Andersson) has to cure her, but the two women end up psychologically merging, their personalities blending together. Sexuality is a large part of "Persona," and West has made a trilogy of slashers with a similar theme.

The craft

West also admits a secondary reason for Goth's double role, and it has nothing to do with character or theme. West just wanted to face a technical challenge. What are the logistics of having one actress play two roles? How long would it take to design and apply full-body makeup? How does one shoot a scene wherein Pearl and Maxine interact? One of the centerpiece scenes of "X" depicts Pearl sneaking into Maxine's bedroom at night, stripping down, and climbing in with her. The special effects that put two Goths in the same scene are impeccable. West admits that this particular film had just as much to do with exploring technique as it did with sexuality:

"'X' was very craft-driven for me, and I wanted to put the craft that people that make movies on display, special effects makeup being one of them, and performance being one of them. Just conceptually, that idea seemed to fit the movie, and I didn't know if we'd be able to do it until I met Mia. All that just seemed like an interesting challenge."

So Pearl and Maxine look alike because they are essentially the same person on two different timelines, yes, but also it was just fun to ply the talents of a hardworking and creative makeup FX team. Also, Goth's own talents and willingness to play both roles certainly helped. 

One can only speculate as to how Goth will play Maxine again in "MaXXXine," but time will tell. "Pearl" in currently playing in theaters. "X" is available for rent online.