Opening this weekend is Robert Eggers’ hauntingly transcendent The Witch, and during the recent press day for the film Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak to two of the film’s co-stars, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie.

In The Witch, Ineson and Dickie portray parents who must move their brood into the dangers of the wilderness after being ostracized by their community. The duo discussed their initial impressions of the project, collaborating with up-and-coming director Eggers on the immersive film, and how their characters fulfilled and challenged them as performers.

I can see now why anybody would look at this script and want to do it, but I'm curious, when you first saw this and were approached for this project, what were your initial reactions and what drew you in as performers?

Ralph Ineson: For me, considering it's such a powerful period piece and it's kind of a horror piece, too, the thing that struck me when I first read it was how modern the concerns of the family are, they chimed in my head. The character that I play—his dilemmas as a father, of trying to make it work, desperately trying to make his choices work for his family, trying to justify them.

That was my very first reaction to it, was that I really felt for this guy who nobody else does when they watch the film. They all think he's horrible and maybe he is, but I felt a lot of sympathy for him and the position he's in and the choices he makes, whether they're good or bad, they just seem very, very real.

Kate Dickie: Yeah, I was the same. Reading the script, you read a lot of scripts and you can enjoy them and you go, "They're good," but this, it felt like it just grabbed me and pulled you into the world. I just loved the whole story, the drama of the family; I was also interested in what it was like to be a woman then, too.

You had to either defer to a husband or defer to God, but had not much say in your own life. I just find that really interesting, and I just loved the drama of the family falling apart. I find it really truthful and believable and real, and it was interesting to see what it would be like for a family living in the edge of this world.

As artists, what do you hope audiences take away from your characters in The Witch?

Kate Dickie: That's a good question.

Ralph Ineson: From my character's point of view, it's all about that pride of recognizing why you're making the decisions you are and don't try and hide behind something else. That's what William does. He justifies everything by, "It's God's will. It's God's will," and actually it's not at all, it's your own pride. There's nobody else making you do this, these are actually your decisions, just own up and take responsibility for your own decisions rather than try and pass it off on somebody else.

Kate Dickie: Yeah, because Katherine didn't have a lot of choices in her situation. I couldn't question my husband because he's the head of the family, and then from him, it's God. If I started questioning Ralph’s character, I'm not being a good Puritan. But at the same time in the film, my character isn't a good Puritan because she is questioning everything and she's crying all the time, she's not just saying, “This is God's will and I'm accepting it.” She was complicated.

Something else that was very complicated was the mother-daughter relationship in this, because you can see how Katherine comes to resent Thomasin for a lot of different reasons.

Kate Dickie: Yeah, it was complicated in lots of ways. That was interesting to me because Thomasin losing the baby, it was exacerbated because Thomasin's just getting to the age where she can start bearing children, having her own children, where her whole life's beginning and my character's childbearing years are over. That was my last baby, I'm not going to have anymore, and so I'm watching Thomasin become this young woman and everything that I'm a bit jealous of.

So there were so many levels to try and tap into without making too much of each one. Yeah, Katherine's really unhappy in the movie. She'll probably annoy people with her grief because it is so excessive.

Well, not “annoy”, that's the wrong word. I just think people probably will think, "Oh, cheer up!” [laughs].

Ralph Ineson: There was a line in the script when Caleb has just glimpsed his mother as she's lying on the bed crying, and the line is, "A sadder face has never been seen." And I was always intrigued to know, because I wasn't even filming that scene with them, I was always intrigued to see what it was. It's an amazing shot, and I've never seen a sadder face, the shot of her crying on the bed at that moment.

Kate Dickie: I know, the pressure—I was like, "Oh, God, Rob. A sadder face you've never seen. I'm going to have to get this." But when you get so immersed into your characters and into their lives that you just stop, you kind of forget that you're playing them. And the detail of the costumes and the sets were so accurate that we were spoiled for all the details, weren't we? We could draw easily from everything Robert and the production provided us on this.

Ralph Ineson: I often get asked to play these “butch, macho man's man” characters, but I very rarely get asked to cry, and that was something I was quite worried about before we started filming this. Thinking, "Oh, that scene where he's about to start to cry, it's very emotional," thinking, "Is that something that I can just do on set?" But because of the nature of the work, the people you're working with, Rob, the immersive nature of the design of the film and everything, it was just so easy to do all those things. It came much easier than I expected.

With Robert being a first time feature filmmaker for this, sometimes that can come with a little trepidation for actors in terms of being able to trust the director who maybe isn't nearly as tested as somebody who has a few features under their belt. What was that process working with Robert like, and what did you see in him as a storyteller that he brought to The Witch?

Ralph Ineson: There was obviously going to be a certain amount of lack of experience, but experience is not always a great thing. In a sense, it's instinct, an artistic instinct, which is considerably more important. Reading the script—he sent out a lookbook as well when he sent the script, a big folder with all sorts of wood cuttings and etchings and pictures from the period, just to get the visual side of it. With that and the script and talking to him on Skype a few times before we came out to do it, you could just tell that there was something really, really amazing going on with him. Just the nuts and bolts of experience, the experience of filmmaking, we saw secondary compared to what he obviously had.

Kate Dickie: And that vision he had.

Ralph Ineson: So I wasn't in any way worried about it, I was just excited to be in his first film and that's great for me. Because it's become one of my proudest moments in my career, for the next however many years I'll be able to go, "I was in Rob Eggers’ first film." And I think that will be a big thing to say in ten years’ time when he’s moved on and is doing more amazing work.

Kate Dickie: Yeah, I really think it will, too.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.