DISCLAIMER: There are mild spoilers for Hulu’s Matriarch.

What happens when confronting your personal demons morphs into a tangible fight for survival? One woman finds this out the hard way. Ben Steiner wrote and helmed the upcoming horror flick Matriarch, which stars Jemima Rooper as Laura, a woman afflicted with a mysterious disease after surviving an overdose, and Kate Dickie as Celia, her enigmatic mother. Sarah Paul, Simon Meacock and Nick Haverson round out the supporting cast. 

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Ben, Jemima and Kate for Hulu’s Huluween virtual press junket about the impetus behind Matriarch, crafting a toxic mother-daughter relationship and squeezing out a full-length feature on a quick turnaround. 

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This interview is condensed for length and clarity. 

Melody McCune: My first question is for Ben. What inspired you to create this story?

Ben Steiner: Originally, it came from a short I did for the first Huluween in 2018. It was called Urn and had a toxic mother-daughter relationship at its heart.

Then, Hulu asked me if I could expand it into a feature, and I jumped at the chance. Matriarch has nothing in common with Urn apart from that toxic mother-daughter relationship. I live in Bristol, which is in the west of England. I’ve lived in it for eight years. It’s still relatively new to me. I’m into the landscape around here, which is damp, swampy and sludgy and anciently mystical. So, that got pulled into it.

Laura wears a checkered jacket while standing in an office and looking pensive in Matriarch.

Matriarch — Laura (Jemima Rooper), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

The third element is the goddess herself, which ignited the whole story. It’s based on a male monster called the Worm Eater. The Worm Eater was the original type of matriarch I’ve drawn on several times over the years and is a demonic, anti-father who menaces his son at night with this mouthful of worms and weird tentacle thing. He wanted to be involved in this. But when he came into the arena, he became female. 

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It was only late that I realized that with the goddess, the “mother,” the Laura character and Celia character, I had inadvertently written, or conjured, the triple goddess archetype of Maiden/Mother/Crone. Laura is the Maiden, and Celia is the Crone. Then, the goddess is the Mother.

MM: For Jemima and Kate, what was it like getting to develop this complex mother-daughter relationship?

Jemima Rooper: We had a day of rehearsals before we started shooting, where we all met. I think we met Ben for the first time in the flesh that day. We started looking at the scenes, and I felt, I don’t know about you, Kate, but so unprepared at that point.

Celia stands in the living room of her house while smiling eerily in Matriarch.

Matriarch — Celia (Kate Dickie), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

I didn’t know how I was going to get going with this. It felt like the beginning — you could see the journey was ahead, but I wasn’t sure how to get there yet. By the time we got on set, we were friends. Then, we had to do difficult stuff, but we were able to have a laugh about it and look after each other. Ben was brilliant and listened to us and gave us leeway. Many writers and directors, especially if they’ve done both and they’re doing both, can be quite [inflexible].

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If we were trying to work something out or didn’t get something, he’d let us play with it. We got to a great place where we had a lot of fun but could support and carry each other through some of it.

Kate Dickie: It was a really collaborative thing, wasn’t it? Finding a tone between Jemima, me, and Ben, and finding what tone to set because it is such a wild script. That day was great, as you said, Jemima, because we both came with a toolbox with different things for our characters, but until you gel them together and work with Ben to work out what the tone would be … yeah, it was interesting. A very collaborative process. 

Abi stands in a field during an overcast day while looking somber in Matriarch.

Matriarch — Abi (Sarah Paul), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

BS: I was going to say, you say it onscreen as well, not in terms of the quality and depth of your performances, but also in terms of getting the stuff in the can.

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We were rattling through an awful lot in not enough time. They’re both really good, but they were great together. There were scenes where we did it twice, and I got two takes of everything done and could rattle through it and move on. 

There’s that scene where after Laura’s stormed out of the house, she’s met Abi and comes back in, and it’s in one shot. It’s shot from the kitchen through the doorway and into the hallway.

They’re both framed there, but it’s one shot with the dialogue, and that’s it. We did it twice, which wasn’t what I had in mind, but I was like, “We’ve got half an hour to get this scene.” It’s all beautifully lit by Alan C. McLaughlin, the DOP. They nailed it the first time, but we did it twice, just in case. If they hadn’t worked together so well, that kind of thing wouldn’t be possible.

Thank you, Ben, Jemima and Kate, for chatting with GGA!

Matriarch will stream on Friday, October 21, 2022, only on Hulu

Movie Review: HELLRAISER

Melody McCune
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