Rises From the Ashes in She Will
by Jay S. Jacobs
If you’re a young, aspiring actress and your first major film wins the Oscar for Best Picture, how do you follow it up? For Alice Krige, she put together a well-respected 40-year career in film, theater and television (and the occasional video game or cartoon).
Probably first really noticed in the 1980 Oscar-winning film, Chariots of Fire, Krige has had a wide-ranging and intriguing run of roles – often, but not always – in genre films. For her follow-up to Chariots she starred with Hollywood royalty like Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvyn Douglass, John Houseman and Patricia Neal in the thriller Ghost Story. She has taken on a wide variety of roles in the likes of King David, Sleepwalkers, Silent Hill and Thor: The Dark World.
However, she’s perhaps best known for playing the Borg Queen in several Star Trek films and series, including Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Voyager and the recently released second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Her latest film is a psychological thriller called She Will. Directed by respected artist Charlotte Colbert, it co-stars Malcolm McDowell, Rupert Everett, John McRea and Kota Eberhardt. Although it traffics in certain horror aspects – witches, murder, devastation, nightmares – it is actually a much deeper character study of a woman whose life is still being ruled by a childhood incident when a much older man sexually abused her.
He was a film director who made her a star (played by McDowell), but she has been carrying the guilt and heartache for decades, to the point where it has not only affected how she deals with people and life, but it has also literally and figuratively eaten away at her body and mind.
A few weeks before the debut of She Will we got together on Zoom with Krige to discuss the new film, career highlights and surviving the pandemic.
What was it about the script for She Will that intrigued to you?
There were a number of things. It’s a script with many, many layers and many, many threads. Rather a very unusual tapestry, put it that way. With regard to Veronica, I was just very moved by her predicament. What happened to her as a young woman, or young girl of 14 or 15, which obviously she was at that time. If I think back to when I was 14, or 15, it might have been something that was never mentioned, was never ever discussed. In an early draft of the script, there was actually an influence that the encounter leaves her with a sexually transmitted disease so that she cannot ultimately have children. That somehow got weeded out in the various edits and cuts. But suffice it to say, there was significant trauma that is suppressed. It leaves her with a whole lot of buried anger, a profound mistrust of intimacy.
Where we find her when we meet her, as someone whose anger has expressed itself in her body as cancer. She’s had a bilateral mastectomy. She holds the world at an arm’s length. There’s this icy rude facade, which keeps people at bay so she can never be hurt. She goes up to Scotland. She’s accompanied by this young woman who she really doesn’t want as a companion. But Desi (Kota Eberhardt) has been hurt as well. Desi’s reaction is to reach out to help other people. That journey of Desi’s, it’s very unusual to see that between a younger and an older woman. Really platonic affection develops. I found it very, very moving that Desi’s tolerance and patience and empathy finally melts Veronica’s protective barrier.
Yes, that’s true.
I also thought the whole metaphysical side of it… the landscape where we filmed [was] the Cairngorms in Scotland. We were actually not far from the home of the last two women who were burned as witches in Scotland. We were in that landscape. It was as if the landscape offered up that that mystery and energy and power. You don’t often see in film this…. It was nothing ever spoken about, but it was really explicit in the imagery that you see the cosmos. You see nature and the Earth. I mean, she picks up handfuls of mud. The mud is a potent force. It’s man or woman between heaven and earth. I just found it very, very powerful. It looks at the human predicament without overly stating it in any way. Just through the imagery. Through evoking this powerful cosmos and this powerful nature and placing us within it.
The first time I remember seeing you was in Ghost Story. In certain ways this film reminded me of that. Beyond just the haunting part, but just the fact that a woman was mistreated by men, and she took her own supernatural revenge on them, although, obviously, Eva in Ghost Story was more of a villainous character. In the 40 years between those movies, is it sad to you that these stories are still going?
Yes, but perhaps there’s a note of real positivity. It’s very interesting that you should make that connection, because you’re not the first person who has said it. Of course, you’re quite right. But for me, the story is not a revenge story. A lot of the reviewers have latched on [to that] – and I think also the advertising is saying she gets her revenge – [but] I don’t think she was after revenge. Her actual words, when she appears to him, he says to her, “What do you want?” She says, “The truth.” Yes, she wants him to tell the truth, if only to himself. I thought Malcolm [McDowell] did a masterly performance, because he had very little to work with. But in that moment, when he’s sitting at the bar with his head in his hands, I got the feeling that this was a tortured human being. For one moment, he was actually looking into his past. Because if he’d done it with Veronica, you can be sure she was not the only one. You’ve got the feeling that he was haunted by his own actions. He reaches out to her and then he whacks her on the head with a bottle. At that moment, he unleashes the furies as it were. In Greek myth, the furies pursue you to your death. Well, the furies pursue him to his death, [due to] his absolute inability to tell the truth.
Yes, it’s sad.
But I think it’s changing; truth is being told. The one thing about the sea change that’s happening now, there is a conversation. We could add to it. I know this has nothing to do with She Will, but we are looking as societies at what male dominance has done to women over the centuries. But let us not forget that most men have been equally dominated by other powerful men. Perhaps not sexually, but certainly forced to go to wars they might not have wanted to fight in. It’s about not just looking at men subjugating women, but powerful men like Putin, forcing their will onto other men as well. You think of all the wars that men have been obliged to be soldiers in. I’m pretty sure many of them didn’t want to go to war, but they had to.
Veronica was in a very bad state both physically and mentally. As an actress, how difficult was it to get into that kind of headspace?
I was actually given a lot of help by two friends who had gone through the experience of breast cancer. Not mastectomies, but surgery. One of them refused chemo completely. Her courage and her determination to be well was a huge inspiration. She gave me this fabulous image. Not knowing the script, she said, “You’ve got to be a phoenix rising from the ashes.” Of course, that is an image that is mirrored in the burning of the witches and the rising from the ruins of what had happened to her and the consequences in her life. I shared that with Charlotte. It was an image that we both held on to.
Also another really significant part of my wanting very much to play the role was that Charlotte didn’t ask me to put myself on tape or to read for her. She just asked to meet me. We immediately were on the same wavelength. It’s the first time I’ve been directed by a woman. We became partners in the journey. I really felt as if we were doing it hand in hand and step by step together. Not that I haven’t had that experience of other directors as if we were going hand in hand on this journey together. But it was it was it was a real meeting of hearts and minds. That was a very joyful thing.
This was Charlotte’s first film. She’s actually better known as an artist. What was it like working with her? Do you feel that she came into it knowing what she was doing as much as some of the other people you’ve worked with who’ve had a lot more experience?
She’s made short films, so she wasn’t new to the filmmaking process. What was lovely was that it was obviously an adventure for her. There was a wonderful sense [that] every moment counted. Every moment was bright. We had a wonderful cinematographer, Jamie Ramsay. It felt like me and Charlotte and Jamie, and then of course, Kota when she joined us for those scenes. It was a real a constant flow of communication and exchange. We shot very, very fast. I worked for five weeks. It was every day, sometimes six days a week in really severe conditions, because we were shooting up a mountainside in November in Scotland.
Was this during the pandemic?
It was just before. It was November, and the first 10 days of December of 2019. Poor Charlotte had to edit the film remotely which could not have been much fun.
Just on a more personal level, everyone had to deal with that for the last two years. How did you survive the whole ordeal, the pandemic and everything?
I was extraordinarily blessed. I live in a very, very small village in deep in the southwest of England in pretty wild countryside. My little village took lockdown very, very seriously. I didn’t see another human being, except on a Friday night when we all came to our front gates to cheer the NHS, the National Health Service. We all had groceries delivered. We pulled together. We would all do a big order because delivery slots were hard to come by. I’m not often home. In fact, I’m never home for that long. It was an incredibly beautiful spring, a very, very slow, beautiful spring. My husband and I had four or five, great months together. I felt terribly bad because every day we listened to the news. Every day the numbers were climbing. You knew that people were dying, and doctors and nurses were on their knees.
It was… it is… a horrible thing.
We were safe. I mean, actually my husband (director and actor Paul Schoolman) and I got COVID. In February of 2020. We thought it was flu. We were doing a play together in London. It was four and a half weeks or five weeks. It was eight performances a day. It was a 90-minute play. It was no break and extremely intense. We were so high on adrenaline that we just thought we’d got flu. I almost lost my voice. Clearly, we had a bug, but we were so high on adrenaline. There is this this concept of doctor theater. You can be dying, but you walk onto the stage, and something happens. You do the performance and you come off and you collapse in the wings. It’s a real thing. The camera rolls, and you’re there, right? (laughs) You can fall apart when they call cut, but for that moment…. So we got through it. The whole country locked down 10 days later. We were at home in the countryside. We were exhausted. We just thought it was the play.
I wrapped She Will on a Saturday, and I started rehearsing Persona on the Monday. Rehearsed through Christmas and opened in the last week of January. Played through to the end of February. I just thought I was exhausted from the play. In fact, we realized that we haven’t had flu, we’d had COVID because my husband developed long COVID. That’s been a journey. Thankfully, he’s emerging from it. But it’s been it’s been terribly difficult, the consequences. So, I have so much sympathy for people who are who are struggling with long COVID because it shows up differently in the way that COVID got people differently. It was highly specific to each individual. Whether it impacted your heart or your lungs or your brain. Some people it crossed the blood-brain barrier, and they were hallucinating. I had a friend who hallucinated, wildly. In the same way long COVID is different for everyone. There just doesn’t seem to be a solution for most people. How did you cope, or did you lose anyone?
I was lucky. I did not lose anyone, and I never got COVID, to my knowledge. I did have friends who had it. My next-door neighbor had long COVID, and it was horrible for her. So, I know exactly what you’re going through.
Fortunately, my husband’s come out of it, finally. In fact, we did something – and I really don’t know why we didn’t do it before – but we went to a very, very good homeopath. That was what finally turned the corner.
Do you mind if I ask you about a few of your earlier roles? I know that you’d done a little bit of TV and one foreign film, but your first major film was Chariots of Fire which ended up winning Best Picture. What was it like to be part of that film? How did it feel when this film was supposed to be a little small film won?
When the film opened in England, I was in America doing Ghost Story. I missed all the palaver of the opening, because I was buried in upper state New York or wherever I was. When the film opened in America, I was in the West End, in a Bernard Shaw play Arms and the Man, eight performances a week. Again, totally absurd. I was oblivious to the fact that it was opening in America. When it won all the Oscars, I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was so frightened. (laughs) It was such a huge thing. I was playing a Cordelia with Michael Gambon. Tony Sher was the fool. I was surrounded by these amazing Shakespearean actors and actresses. [Ed. note: Others in the 1982 RSC cast of King Lear included Jenny Agutter and Pete Postlethwaite.] I was so stressed, hoping that I would be okay and that I wouldn’t let the side down and all of that, that I was oblivious to the fact. I eventually realized it in had won Oscars. But frankly, I was so distracted by what I was going through, the challenge of Shakespeare at the Royal Shakespeare. It was my first professional experience of performing Shakespeare in a big season. I was playing Cordelia and I was playing Bianca in [Taming of] the Shrew, and Miranda in The Tempest and Roxanne in Cyrano [de Bergerac]. So, I felt as if I was climbing Everest. The last thing I was thinking about was Oscars and Chariots of Fire.
Speaking of great casts, Ghost Story had some real legends of Hollywood history. Most of your role was with their younger versions of their characters, but you did have a certain amount of time with people like Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas and Douglas Fairbanks? What was it like being on film with such legendary actors?
That was the most amazing privilege. They were absolutely exceptional. They were gallant. They were gentleman. They were kind to everyone. They were funny. They were consummate professionals. It was really an extraordinary privilege as a new actor. I wasn’t that young, because I started when I was 25, so I guess I was 26. I wasn’t young, but I was really new to the industry. You couldn’t have had better role models. And Pat Neal, of course, was wonderful as well. They were giants of the industry. We were filming that section of the film in upper state New York and Woodstock, Vermont. And in Saratoga Springs, where we started. We were in a big old hotel called the Gideon Putnam [in Sarasota Springs, NY]. It was a summer stock sort of town; the race is in summer stock. This hotel had been wrapped up for the winter. They literally opened our bedrooms, and one huge ballroom for us and I suppose a couple of drawing rooms. They took off the wrappings, the sheets, the dust sheets and whatnot. Craig [Wasson] and I sat at this huge round table, they must have opened the kitchen for us. Every night we listened to them trading stories. It was extraordinary.
What an experience.
[Director] John Irvin did a really generous, thoughtful thing. We rehearsed for a week. As you quite rightly say, I had very little onscreen interaction with them. On the last afternoon of rehearsals, it was a Friday, he said, “Okay, today we’re going to sit around a table, and we’re going to read the script. With Fred and John and Douglas and all of them reading their young selves with Alice reading Eva. Then Craig read himself as the two young men, but they read their young selves. So, I had one fabulous afternoon where I sat around a table with them and worked.
One of your other most well-known characters is the Borg queen, who has been several different Star Trek properties. Star Trek is such an iconic thing with so many rabid fans. What is it like to be part of?
She was a fabulous character to play. Absolutely. Kind of iconic. I had such a grand time playing that role. (laughs) But I must say something that I always say, which is, I always think of it and refer to it as a collaborative performance. If you think about it, you can’t think of her apart from how she looked. So, [makeup artist] Scott Wheeler created her head and make up, her face and Todd Masters made the suit. She’s inseparable from that, from how she looks. They gave me an extraordinary gift. They gave me half the performance, really. Also, another thing that was wonderful, The Next Gen company, I really only worked when we were on set with Jonathan [Frakes] and Brent [Spiner] and Patrick [Stewart]. They were ever fabulous. They were funny and professional, but totally not jaded by the fact that they had played these characters over a period of years, still searching for the truth of the moment, which was fabulous. Of course, I met everyone else on the press tour, which was grand. Then I met the whole Star Trek universe of conventions. It just went on unfolding and getting better and better. It was an absolute gift on every level.
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