This Friday, A24 releases the powerful new horror movie, The Witch, which was written and directed by Robert Eggers. His debut feature stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, a young woman who is uprooted alongside the rest of her family and forced to relocate to a plantation on the cusp of an ominous forest containing otherworldly dangers that threaten to tear her entire family apart.

Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with both Eggers and Taylor-Joy at the press day for The Witch; here’s what the duo had to say about what inspired Eggers’ directorial debut, preparing for the project, and much more.

Robert, I know your background before directing was that you were working in other aspects of filmmaking in terms of costumes and stuff like that. How much did having that kind of visual background help you to prepare for making The Witch?

Robert Eggers: I always wanted to be a director when I grew up. I was doing theater for awhile; I was directing theater and designing sets and costumes just because I knew what I wanted and this was part of the way I did my thing. I realized I could make a living designing for other people, and so that was what I was doing to pay my bills and trying to get my career going as a director. It was great. It was great fun and excellent experience and I was on set a lot, which was really helpful. Just being on set a lot in itself was helpful, but then also I knew where to spend the money and how to spend the money. I knew that when I hired [Production Designer] Craig Lathrop and [Costume Designer] Linda Muir that they were the perfect people to do this on a budgetary level.

Even writing The Witch, I knew what I was getting myself into. For example, the meeting house in the beginning of the film, I knew I was never ever going to be able to afford to have shoes for all of those people. In conceiving the scene there should never be a moment in that scene where we would need to earn having a wide shot to show the whole community. If that beat was needed, I was in trouble because I couldn't afford that beat. So we had to find ways to work around issues like those.

Anya, what was your research process like for the role of Thomasin? Did you dig deep or was it more about embracing what was there in Robert’s script?

Anya Taylor-Joy: I would love to be able to tell you that I buried myself in research, but I didn't. There was something about the script that just made sense to me. It was strange, I've actually thought about it quite a lot and when I opened up the script it didn't seem weird that it was in that language. As soon as I was reading, it never went off in my head that, "Oh, this is written in Old English." It was just incredible to be there. Rob made the world real for us, and so we just got to go in there and every day just believe in what we were doing. Everything about the world pushed you deeper and deeper into it, so it felt quite easy to do that. 

I've always been pretty acquainted with the idea of magic though, in which I mean that I love fairy tales and I love magic. I also really like dark fairy tales, so it felt like the perfect first film for me to do. I do believe in magic, but I'm not scared of it.

Robert Eggers: For me, not that I'm a lone person who believes this, but it's like these pre-Disney fairy tales are really great unconscious explorations of family dynamics. To think about these pre-Grimm stories where very often the stepmother is a biological mother too, that's really interesting subject matter to me and I wanted to turn that up to 11 here.

So basically, when I had finally done some short films that weren't totally garbage I had some people who were interested in potentially developing a feature with me. I wrote a lot of scripts that were too weird and too strange and too dark and too genreless, so I realized I had to do a genre film. It seemed to me that if I wanted to do something in this climate, I needed to do a genre film, so what's going to be personal to me, what's going to be something that I'm not going to compromise on? I'm from New England and New England's past is very much part of my consciousness and I've always been obsessed with witches and had lots of witch nightmares all through my life.

I felt like I had a way into this that would be unique, and by going back to the source material and understanding basically that in the 17th century, the real world and the fairy tale world were the same thing. It's not just about being called a witch meant that you're a bad person—this was heavy duty.

In terms of the mythology, if you're making a movie about vampires or werewolves, you don't really have to worry about upsetting vampires or werewolves. But when you're dealing with this material that delves into witchcraft or Satanism, how conscientious of that community do you have to be when you're making a movie like this?  

Robert Eggers: Okay, this is definitely difficult to talk about without offending someone, but I'm very, very, very conscious of this. Religion, the occult, mythology, folks as fairy tales—they're more important to me than films. One of the advisors on this film, not only is he an extremely celebrated colonial historian, he also wrote a book about practical white magic and he thought that it was all right.

And here's the thing, I understand why modern witches and Wiccans protest the constant idea that Hollywood's only showing an evil witch and that's fair enough. I definitely do want to say, though, that I think the witch that I'm showing here is specific to the past. Even if you think that evil witches only exist in the minds of ignorant people, they did exist in the mass consciousness of the early modern period. The ramifications of people’s belief in the evil witch as a reality has gone throughout time, and it's messing upwards of today the fear of female power and turning that into a monster. That's why this is important and I think that even Wiccans could potentially appreciate what we’ve done with The Witch.

Thomasin, for me, was just a beautiful character, and I thought the way you handled her was so wonderful, Anya. I love the fact that even though this is a movie set hundreds of years ago, everything about her story would work if she were transplanted into a modern movie. How did you guys work on making sure that she felt grounded and remained the emotional center for this movie, in terms of making sure that even though she has this transformation at the end, you still want to follow her despite everything that has happened throughout The Witch?

Anya Taylor-Joy: First of all, I want to say I love the way that you talk about characters because that's the way that I talk about characters. I feel very lucky to have been given the chance to tell her story because characters are very real for me. The environment that she's in allows you to follow her in that way despite whatever your feelings about the ending may be.

She's in a situation where she's just attacked from everything: the environment, her family. Everything that's going on is basically against her. I always saw her as this bright flame that every three minutes someone's pouring a bucket of water on her literally just again and again and again. It's easy for a lot of people to identify with that. We've all had days where things aren't going our way and you root for somebody that seems to be a bit of an underdog or a bit of a scapegoat for a lot of things, no pun intended.

I hope that you follow her because that's something I always really deeply care about, and no matter how flawed a character is or whatever is going on, you have to want them to find some sort of freedom or to get to a certain level of self-actualization.

  • 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.