A Sense of Hysteria and Chaos: Frances O’Connor and Emma Mackey on Emily | Interviews

Just as in Emily’s book, Wuthering Heights, the setting is tremendously important. We first see Emily literally caressing the moor grass. What was important to you in portraying the environment the Brontës lived in?

FRANCES O’CONNOR: When I was 20-something, I was doing a film in London, [Mansfield Park], and I had a couple of weeks off because the director got sick. I already was a bit of a Brontë geek, so I went up to Haworth, where the Brontës are from, for the first time, and there was something about visiting that landscape that for me was incredibly evocative, and you could see where that world of the book came from. Landscape is associated with emotion a lot of the time, and I really wanted to put that into the film. And so, the environment had to be a place that felt very evocative and also elemental with the wind and the rain and the birdsong so that you really felt immersed in the world. One of the things I felt was very important was that the sound also helped us feel immersed in the world, whether it’s the actor’s breath or the moving movement of the costume. We foleyed a lot of that so that you really felt you were inside it.

Because that’s how I felt when I read Wuthering Heights.

The sound design is absolutely superb. I loved the way the sound of the rain and the birds comes in and the way that the sounds of the birds come in. During the sermon, we feel really drenched in that rain when the sound comes up. 

FO: That’s in her imagination. She’s imagining it while he’s talking about it. And that’s the imaginative power that she has. We got very lucky. I was introduced to Niv Adiri, who works with one of my friends who’s an editor. He’s done “Gravity.” He did “Belfast” last year. He’s a really creative sound mixer. We wanted to do a soundscape that could push out into something more impressionistic and, other times, just be very real. And so, there are moments where we create almost like a vacuum, so there’s no sound. And then a window would open, and then you would be thrown into the sound of the birds and the wind and the rain. We played with it, really, in terms of making it evocative for the audience.

I also loved the lighting in the film, which felt very authentic to the period, just candlelight and sunlight. How does that affect your performance?

EMMA MACKEY: It was very freeing. I didn’t feel like I was ever placed. I don’t remember ever being on a mark. The cinematographer, Nanu Segal, fashioned this L-shaped arm that she attached to the camera with candles, so in the evening scenes and when the characters were in bed, it was incredible. And it didn’t even clock at the time. I didn’t think, “What’s she doing? What is that contraption?” But it was great. I think specifically when Charlotte and Emily are in bed, and they’re telling the stories, and Charlotte’s telling her to keep her stories to herself, and it’s embarrassing, that first kind of sister-off that we have, that was all candlelit. That’s what gives it that hue. I don’t ever remember being told it was my close-up, so when I saw the film, I was like, “Oh, bloody hell, it’s quite a lot of my face.” That’s quite a good sign, I think. I wasn’t self-aware. The lighting and the way that the camera moved were so key to that being the case.

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