The Manor Star Barbara Hershey Shares About Scares And Swears [Interview]

Growing older can be a little scary. Not only do you have to worry about your body and mind potentially failing you, but people just treat you differently. Older folks are often pushed aside, their voices ignored even when they're screaming. That's the premise behind the latest "Welcome to the Blumhouse" movie "The Manor," starring Barbara Hershey as an aging dancer who is forced into a nursing home after having a mild stroke. She thinks something supernatural might be killing her fellow senior citizens, but no one's particularly keen to listen. Directed by Axelle Carolyn, "The Manor" is a nerve-wracking story about what happens to older people when society leaves them behind. 

I had a chance to chat via Zoom with the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning Barbara Hershey, who opened up about the kinds of roles she looks for, playing a retired performer, and the best parts of making horror. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

"Older people can be interesting. They have more life behind them."

So tell me a little bit about your character, Judith. Was it fun, or a little scary, playing a performer forced into retirement?

Oh. Well, I felt for her. Yeah, for sure. Lots of dancers have to face that at some point or another, so it's not a surprise to her. I think the bigger surprise was when she started having health issues when she got this little stroke at the beginning of the film and the diagnosis of Parkinson's, which is a progressive disease. So that made her check herself into this nursing home. I felt for her a lot. In fact, I think she was pretty brave about her decisions that way.

We really don't see a lot of protagonists who are a little bit older. How do you feel about setting this kind of story in a senior living center and following a protagonist who's a little bit older than what we might traditionally see?

Yeah, I loved it. That's one of the reasons I did it. The fact that she swears, and she's fun, and she's vital, and she's angry, and she's full of life. And I loved that, that she's a whole human being. And hopefully the audiences see her that way, not just as an older person. Not just with some prejudice that film in America often views older people.

Older people can be interesting. They have more life behind them. That's all that really is going on. So I liked it for that reason. It's one of the reasons I did it.

So you mentioned the swearing. Did you have fun swearing so much? And was there any particular phrase that you just loved getting to say?

So much fun. I loved it. I'd get giddy with it. I don't know why it was such a release to me. I would really, literally, be laughing after those scenes because I just loved swearing. I don't swear much in my life, but on that film, I sure loved it.

"It's wrapped in horror, it's wrapped in fun."

What drew you towards "The Manor" and towards this script and this story?

Well, the character, like I said, and the script itself I thought was really interesting. I like psychological horrors. I thought it was not typical. I wasn't sure where it was going when I read it. I like to read a script the first time without anyone telling me anything about it, because it's your only chance as an actor to experience the film as an audience hopefully will experience it in this innocent way.

And it took twists and turns I wasn't expecting. And especially the ending, I found very provocative yet satisfying. So I thought there was a lot to it. I also like that it explored themes without hitting the audience over the head. It's wrapped in horror, it's wrapped in fun. So I think it had a lot of ingredients that were intriguing to me as an actor.

You've started doing a little bit more horror or in recent years, I've noticed looking through your filmography. What drew you towards scary movies initially? And how do you feel about them now that you've had a few under your belt?

I'm always going for the best that's being offered to me. And I'm always going for the characters that interest me, so the genre doesn't sway me one way another. I don't have prejudice against horror films, but I'm not necessarily looking for horror films. But the psychological ones, I can enjoy.

And certainly, I guess the good ones, for me, are character-oriented, and I approach them like any other film. And they can talk about subjects in ways that are satisfying without being obvious, that's wrapped in horror, and wrapped in something exciting. So I like all of that.

"I don't know which is worse, the monster outside or the monster inside."

Tell me a little bit more about how you felt about balancing the psychological and supernatural elements of the movie.

I think as [my character] starts experiencing these horrific things, she believes them absolutely. It's absolutely, they are happening. But when she begins to doubt herself and think maybe this is what dementia feels like, maybe this is what going crazy feels like, her self-esteem hits a big low. And I found that really interesting. She basically hits bottom. So I don't know which is worse, the monster outside or the monster inside.

Ooh... And tell me a little bit about just filming this. I know a lot of times horror films tend to have a little spooky things that happen on set. And in the movie, there's the spooky cat, that kind of thing. Did you have any unusual or frightening experiences filming this?

No. No, we fortunately didn't. Yeah, we were shooting in this house. And Axelle [Carolyn, the director], I don't know if you had a chance to talk to her, but she's a great horror fan. And her love of horror really influenced all of us. And we all had a really great time with each other. It wasn't a scary experience that way. It was just, we had a good time.

That's wonderful. And what do you want fans to know about "The Manor"?

Yeah, that older people are just younger people that are older. There's nothing fearful about it. I have more fun now than I used to have. I'm more relaxed than I used to be. If you're healthy, it's not a fearsome thing.

"The Manor" premieres as part of the second installment of the Welcome to the Blumhouse anthology series on Amazon Prime Video on October 8, 2021.