You Are Not My Mother Star Hazel Doupe Celebrates Halloween's Irish Roots [Interview]

Hazel Doupe is in practically every scene in "I Am Not Your Mother." Kate Dolan's feature directorial debut is a horror movie, yes, but it's also a coming of age story centering on a girl named Char dealing with issues at home. There is a lot of weight on Char's shoulders, and Doupe shows that internal discomfort when she's on screen, whether she's wandering the streets of Dublin or wondering what's happening with her mother (played by Carolyn Bracken).

Char's mother has been replaced by a changeling, and stories of changelings have a long history in Ireland. The creatures will steal or replace people, for a variety of reasons. Recently, we discussed the folk tales with Doupe, as well as Halloween's birth in Ireland.

'We're making a movie here'

You've said before you were nervous during your first week of filming. Why is that?

Well, I knew that this film would rely on Char a lot, would rely on her internalizing her emotions. Even though everything's contained within her, you still need to be able to see that on screen, see whatever's happening inside. I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders because every scene is with Charlotte. I felt like you can lead a film like this in any direction. And if you choose the wrong direction, you're screwed.

I had a bit of a chat with Kate. I remember I was sitting around for the first week, keeping myself away, trying to stay in my head, trying to be a real actor. Kate came to me one time and was like, "What's going on? What's wrong?" I was a little bit upset and she was like, "What's going on?" I was like, "I feel like I'm about to let you down or something." And she was like, "We're making a movie here. It's not like we're dead." And that just immediately snapped me out of it, I was like, "You know what? You're actually so right."

Carolyn Bracken, who is an amazing person and an amazing actor, plays Angela in the film. She gave me little tidbits of information, words of wisdom as we were going through shooting. She's just a well of wisdom and one of the coolest people I know. She said something that stuck with me one time. She said, "Filmmaking has got to be the most important thing in the world and the least important thing in the world, both of those things at the very same time. And it's hard to balance them." She just said it in a very profound way, a way that I can't reiterate, but it made me think. I met Kate and I met Carolyn on this set and they both have influenced my life in very positive ways. So, that was my first week on set, and the rest is a dream.

That was very nice what Kate said, though. Another director could've said, "Use that fear in the movie!"

Kate's a very free person, I think. Even with her script, she was kind of like, "I'm not precious about the words, play around, obviously follow the arc of the scene, but use that natural chemistry that you've got." She might have said that if I wasn't so upset, she might have said, "Use that stuck feeling that you've got." It was her directorial debut and she did a really nice job managing everything that was going on. There were all kinds of things happening and all different steps along the way, because we were filming during level five lockdown, which was the hardest lockdown that we had in Ireland. So there were all kinds of things that cropped up that she just managed with steady shoulders.

For you, was it very relatable to the life of teenagers depicted in the film, often just wandering the streets of Dublin?

Yeah. Well, Kate grew up in an estate, I believe, and that's what she wanted to emulate. She wanted a film that was set in Ireland that had an Irish quality to it that wasn't set in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and wasn't relying on isolation to put you on edge as a viewer. I thought that was the perfect way to go about it, to put it in a housing estate where you have everybody around you, but you're the kind of family that no one really interacts with because of your way of being.

You're still isolated even though there's everybody around you. It's kind of "Rosemary's Baby"-esque, that you're living in these apartments and there's everybody around you, but they're all kind of weird.

I couldn't relate to that because I live on a main road also in the middle of nowhere, but I never really wandered the streets as a kid. I was not really allowed to do that because I would've gotten run over, but I can imagine what it was like. It was really nice to pretend that I was that person, that I was a bit of a latchkey kid or whatever.

'You're on your own, see you later'

Like Kate, were you told a lot of stories about changelings growing up?

I know Kate's grandma told her a lot of stories when she was younger and that definitely, as we can see, influenced her as a filmmaker. I was never really told those stories when I was younger. When you grow up in Christian, Catholic Ireland, you're not taught to look for the pagan or the Celtic roots in yourself.

When I was probably about 16, I started becoming more in touch with nature and investigating that side of it, and it was really fun. It's interesting: The more you research about it, the more you're like, "Whether or not these myths are real, they affected people in a very real way. They had very real consequences." You need to know to respect them as well as find them exciting and interesting and all of those things. I think Kate did that really well. She didn't go too far in the horror direction, I don't believe. And she stayed through to the mythological and folklore side of things.

Like you said, these stories led to very serious consequences, and in the grand scheme of things, not all that long ago, either.

Yeah, definitely. When the Catholic Church or when the Christian messengers came over and kind of took over Ireland, that's when we started to be not so inquisitive and not so curious. So when something like that cropped up, it was no longer communal, like, "Let's huddle in together and be afraid of this thing and it's going to be okay and we're going to get through this together." It was like, "You're on your own, see you later. I'll set you on fire in the house."

How about the history of Halloween in Ireland? Did you and Kate talk a lot about the history there?

See, I wasn't aware that Halloween started in Ireland until starting on this film, because Kate knows a lot now after all of her research. She properly deep dived into it and she's able to tell us pretty much everything about Irish folklore now. I knew that it was named Samhain before it was named Halloween. You forget that Irish people influenced the world a lot. It was really nice to find that out. It was really cool to know that this treasured holiday that I absolutely adore comes from my country and my culture. It's embedded in my culture whether I like it or not. So it's not me hopping on the bandwagon. It's actually a need to celebrate this time of year, which is really nice.

I think that's the case for everybody, because you don't realize how much of the world Ireland has populated. I feel like we do make up a large portion of the gene pool in the world. Yeah, so everyone is a natural Halloween celebrator. No one's jumping on the bandwagon.

'I was scared of her'

To conclude, you and Carolyn share a wonderfully unsettling scene, the dance sequence. What do you remember most about shooting that sequence?

That was the one scene that I was most excited for, and same with Carolyn. I know that was her most anticipated scene. We came on to set that day and the vibes were electric. It was very cool. Our composer, Dee Hexen, had created a soundtrack for that scene, and we played it to get into the mood of it. The actual song that's over it is a different one now. It actually made it even more eerie.

There were all kinds of sounds in that scene. It was really just guttural and primal and you could feel the energy from it when we played it on the speaker in the house and everybody could just feel, "Whoa, this is something magical, this is electric."

I remember knowing exactly how the scene was going to go. There were no real surprises for me. I feel like I'd imagined it in my head so much that when it actually happened, it was literally a dream coming to life. Do you know when that happens? And you wake up from a dream and then the dream starts to plan itself out and you're like, "Whoa, this is all happening exactly how I imagined." It was amazing to Carolyn work on that day. I was scared of her.

"You Are Not My Mother" will be available in theaters and on VOD on March 25, 2022.