As Harry Potter continues to dominate the public’s mind when it comes to witches and wizards, people may forget that the tales of these mystical figures date much farther back in our cultural history than the Boy Who Lived. Vin Diesel’s The Last Witch Hunter is in theaters now, and it reminds us that not every story about magic and mystery is as charming as the wizarding world of Harry Potter tends to be. At this year’s New York Comic Con, we sat down with Rose Leslie, who plays Chloe in The Last Witch Hunter, and chatted about her experience on set, and the differences between the worlds of big budget television and big budget film.
You’ve had plenty of roles, but people know you best from Game of Thrones. Because of that, and a movie like Honeymoon, which was kind of horror, did you have trepidation about joining this film, which lives in those two worlds?
Rose Leslie: I suppose, yes. I think at the beginning I kind of did think that it’s rather fun to be able to spice things up and move from genre to genre. Certainly with this project, having spoken with [director Breck Eisner] about it prior to accepting it—the world that he wanted to create, this mythology of witches and humans living amongst each other, and the humans being utterly oblivious to it—it kind of struck me as a rather cool premise.
As that human, you are then unaware that the man selling you coffee at the end of the road, who’s always sold you coffee, is a witch. He made a very stern point that this was a world that was forever interchanging, and I loved that concept that we are modern day and then we’re kind of in a medieval era, and that shifting was something that appealed to me a lot.
Was it also easy to say, “Of course I’m up for this if Michael Caine is going to be there!?”
I know! And when I heard that, I kind of just wept for joy. I was jumping up and down; it was insane. Being a British actor growing up, he is an icon. He is so inspiring, and having went to drama school, he is the man. That is the foundation, he is the pinnacle; he’s up there. And as a result you’re like, “What am I doing in project with him?” It sealed the deal.
But I’m sure everybody else on set gave you the same feeling too.
They were great too, exactly, of course!
I find we’ve come to a place in society where we think we’re advanced, but people are still acting like women’s suffrage never happened or people act as if racism is over and doesn’t exist. So it’s important that there are strong female roles out there. Game of Thrones is one that has them; Chloe’s a strong female role. What if the same situation came up where you had a great director that you wanted to work with, an amazing script, they resurrected Marlon Brando and Lauren Bacall to be in the movie, and everything like that, but your role was basically the damsel in distress. Sould that turn you away from the project?
It would. It would absolutely make me as a woman now—and it doesn’t necessarily strike me as something that I would enjoy if I were to play someone who falls into that stereotypical pitfall, the damsel in distress, and there has to be a man who comes out and saves her.
I think that is obvious and I think that the way that I love to invest myself into a storyline or a character, there’s obviously got to be that challenge. But when it doesn’t necessarily take [that challenge], and you don’t conform to our society, we’re not really broadening our mind in that respect. So, I like that we focus on the fact that women are now taking a hold of it and are forward [looking].
It’s always been there, but this is important. The Internet’s ruined everything. You can’t search for anything anymore without running into some horrible things.
And also making people think about it as well and making it prominent in everyone’s mind, absolutely. Also, it’s bloody boring to play the damsel in distress! Where’s the joy in that? No, get yourself out of that shit!
That’s what I wanted to hear!
With a project like this—some people believe that witchcraft is real, and there are Wiccans out there—did you feel like you had to delve in deep into the history of all that?
I did some research prior to when we first started shooting. I did some research on the Salem witchcraft and reading up on that, and being aware of the prosecutions and the hearings. The court hearings were just terrible where there’d be no proof at all, predominantly women, but not all, and then the final executions. Not only did it make me incredibly sad, but it also put me in a dark mood, so I almost put that aside and leant on the fact that I kind of want to give Chloe her own little twist.
Being aware of everything that happened back in the 1690s wasn’t really going to inform how I was going to play Chloe, because she’s a modern day witch. But it threw me into a dark place for a while because it was so horrid!
I think it’s also funny because while there are villains in the Harry Potter world, and there are good witches in The Last With Hunter, I think people are now stuck in that world that witches and wizards are Harry Potter, and that’s all it is. I can imagine that you have to find that balance to where you want to see that world.
Exactly. That world is the same with witches and humans living in the same planet.
Did Breck himself turn out to be the kind of director you’d expected? Do you expect him to care more about the visuals than the performance for you?
I thought he was brilliant and had ever since having that first little Skype chat. He loves to delve into rehearsals. He was brilliant at opening up a dialogue with all the actors but also particularly, if I approached him, he would always give you the time of day.
There was a great collaboration in making sure that Chloe was an outcast, and she wasn’t obvious and that had to be something different, and sort of appealing. He was just great at allowing you to play, allowing you to explore that and kind of pushing you in the right direction. That collaboration was just superb with him.
Game of Thrones puts plenty of money into their budget, but now going into the film side of it on a big budget, did you expect it to come out any differently than it did?
Stepping into this all, as this is my first studio film ever, the scale and scope of the project has been an education for me. In terms of working on Thrones and now this, I feel that the amount of quality that HBO puts into Thrones, it’s of such high caliber with the cinematography and the direction, the locations, the cast, the storylines, it is very much on par with my experience on those particular movies. It was brilliant, and being on set on Thrones, other than being unbelievably cold in Iceland, but the way the huge machine works, it’s very well oiled.
When I came in, you had mentioned that you’d never been to New York Comic Con. Obviously you’d done other Comic Cons before. Is the experience kind of different doing it for film than for TV?
I don’t know! I have not done it yet! [The panel is] later this afternoon. For Thrones I did three years in a row in San Diego, and that was an amazing experience. For maybe two seconds, I felt like I could be Mick Jagger, and that was just fabulous. It’s incredible to just immerse into that world of passionate people. People are so passionate about characters and all the different projects with the time and effort, blood, sweat, and tears [put] into their costumes and get ups, and it’s just awe-inspiring. It’s amazing!
Anything else coming up that we should keep an eye out for? I have always been a massive fan of Luther.
It’s is in season four and is coming back, and I play a new kind of member of the team this Christmas. So, I’m hugely proud to have been a part of that. It’s the same team of all the previous three seasons. That is probably the best moment of my career. I was so happy to be a part of that team and a part of that project, and it’s nitty-gritty, pure drama.
The Last Witch Hunter is in theaters now.