A cinematic journey like A CURE FOR WELLNESS takes you to abstract places, uncomfortable moments and personal introspection that rests on the border of a dream and the dark reality of what the treatment for wellness truly is.
Meeting with two of the lead actors from the Gore Verbinski project, A CURE FOR WELLNESS, Jay Kay had the chance to speak with the doctor himself Jason Isaacs who plays Director of the Wellness Center Volmer and the mysterious object of health that resides on the spa grounds Hannah played by actress Mia Goth for Tom Holland’s Terror Time during their press day in New York City.
A master performer, who has played so many different roles on so many different stages in his nearly 30-year career. He is a craftsman of layered, powerful, smart and textured characters that come alive in the moment that can manipulate the viewer with a simple word, wave or watchful eye. Playing a study in nefarious characters from such films as THE PATRIOT, THE HARRY POTTER franchise and PETER PAN, Isaacs’s performance of Director Volmer is a character that will haunt you, charm you and make you redefine the idea of miracle cures and treatments.
Terror Time: When the viewer watches your performance as Volmer, there is a father aspect in the character on many levels. What power does that have?
Jason Isaacs: He’s a father to everybody there, he’s a guru. He’s kind of a life coach as it were. He’s got that absolute certainty that makes people follow him. I think as the world seems to get more complicated and as people are looking for simpler and simpler solutions. The more difficult and complicated life gets, the more or drawn to these people who sell us in this lunatic binary answer of, “Don’t worry, trust me and I will make everything alright.” I think that’s what’s going on in this film for most of the leaders and business Titans never leave the spa.
TT: You are a father on many levels as Volmer in A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Did you draw anything from your personal life as a father to bring to the character?
JI: Oh, who knows. (Laughs) I don’t think there is much in my life that overlaps with Volmer’s life. Anytime you are Listening to someone or trying to compassionate or kind, you can’t help that bits of you leak through. He’s a caring guy this Volmer, he’s a caring fellow. All of these people are his children in many ways.
I don’t know if I sit down and say or use this bit of myself. I will use this bit of someone else or I will use this bit of a guy I met on the subway. (Laughs) You trying to build a three-dimensional interior life based on what you know has happened to them. Then you throw it all away as you get into the scene and you see how the scene plays. It’s all about being in the moment. You plan anything to carefully you might as well put in the animatronics on screen.
TT: What were your thoughts while you were reading the script and what were the conversations like with Gore Verbinski about the adapting that arcane medicinal practices such as the eels and “spa” equipment in a modern day setting and storytelling?
JI: When I first read it, I thought this man was sick and twisted and needed psychiatric help. When I spoke with him, it’ll turn out to be true but it also seemed to be a laugh! (Laughs) I don’t know where it came from but I wonder what you look like when he tries to make it real on screen because it reads great! But is it really possible to do with they got there? The design is so magnificent with Gore creating such this visual feast that in many ways the film works as a silent film. It’s extraordinary with the look of the thing. However, when it came to the story lines and the story, it both fantastical and what my patients are doing is ripped entirely from the real world. This notion that people want simple solutions and happier to put themselves into someone else’s hands because they can’t handle how complicated life is. That made perfect sense to me also.
TT: The line and theme in the film that the “wealthy have wealthy problems” are brought up early in the film. You as Volmer, give them something that they could not acquire, earn or take. That kind of power is pretty incredible and it really plays well into the storytelling. Can you talk about that aspect of your character and the angle of it in the overall story?
JI: Sure. I look around the world and the movies, not a message movie but a few entertainment buddies built on these truthful boxes of things, we recognize because that’s why stores work for us. I look around and people are less and less happy. We generally as a society, but not everyone on the planet we have more stuff. Things work better. We eat more. We die later and people are more and more miserable. There more medicated and there seeking solutions more and more with the leisure that comes with having free time and spare money. Means that people are continually thinking that maybe buy a shortcut to happiness or being content, when the old fashion answers are right there staring us in the face, so I think that taps into something but also I think they can imagine this when they start writing the parallels that would come from people wanting simple solutions some very powerful and possibly crazy figurehead telling them a simple binary solution that they need to trust and believe in him and he would leave them through. I don’t think the modern-day parallels occurred to them when you start writing you two years ago, but it’s very present.
TT: Can you talk about performing and challenges with the medical props, equipment, and location in the film? Again, they have an arcane feel to them but they are another extension of your character of Volmer.
JI: Well, there is a very complicated and fabulous prop that did not work on the day and it was a real instruction to watch Gore who is a master of craft in every way but also, he is a master of people management. He’s done these gigantic movies that take a long time to shoot and there was a piece of kit that didn’t work, the tank Dane goes into. It was a big day! Lots of extras there and they had a lot of production meetings leading up to. Almost everyone I have ever worked with in my life would have blown their top, gone crazy, screamed at people and made them fix it. Gore went ahead and said, “We’re not going to shoot it today.” He stayed very calm (Gore) and I asked him, “How did you do that?” Gore said, “I’ve been around in a long time and I knew it would not achieve anything and it would have thrown the day.” For me, that was really impressive.
Those pieces of kit, they look magnificent but they don’t work, obviously. They need to look like do like in film sets they look like houses but the bathrooms don’t flush. Which is a mistake make on a lot of sets? (laughs) One of the other things that come across is the palette and color scheme are all magnificent.
Another thing that does not come across on screen but probably comes through our performances it’s the worse place in my life I have ever been to shoot. This place we were shooting outside of Berlin is haunted. It’s haunted. It’s the most haunted place German if not in Europe. It’s the place roll the first World War One soldiers came to rehab including Hitler and he put the SS there and the Nazi’s who either were damaged psychologically or physically. Then when the Russian’s took it, they sent their political prisoners there and they fried their brains. They gave lobotomies or electroshock treatment or drugged them until they were zombies to keep them quiet as well as various mass murders there. So it’s not only haunted, it’s jinxed and there is something toxic as well as horrendous. You can hear the screams of the previous torment in the soil and in the works. I for one saw and heard things I never wanted to think about again while I was walking around not on camera. I’m pretty sure that fit into the sense of dread on camera.
TT: It gives A CURE FOR WELLNESS that authentic horror aspect with life truly imitating art. Thank you so much for the time to talk about the film.
JI: Thank you!
Angelic, soft and questioning, Mia Goth portrays the enigma of wellness and protection in Hannah. Building relationships with both Volmer (Jason Issacs) and Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), the mystery of who Hannah is and why she is not treated is one of the dark story arcs of on A CURE FOR WELLNESS. Making waves with her performances in Lars von Trier NYMPHOMANIAC Vol. II, as well as Milja in the film festival darling THE SURVIVALIST and soon as Sara in the remake of SUSPIRIA, Goth has a unique beauty inside and out to match the performance talent as the young girl moving into womanhood in Gore Verbinski’s A CURE FOR WELLNESS.
Terror Time: Talk about working on a smaller film like THE SURVIVALIST and with a filmmaker Stephen Fingleton versus working with Gore Verbinski and on A CURE FOR WELLNESS? How has that transition been?
Mia Goth: Well, I think just in terms of being a much bigger budget movie everything is a lot bigger and a lot more moving parts. I was quite overwhelmed at times, however, being a fan of Gore’s for quite a while THE RING is one of my favorite movies. So, to get to work on it was a big deal as I’m just starting out myself really. It was pretty overwhelming but every day it was so exciting I get to do. The funny thing is, that Gore thought this is his little film and I thought this was my master film.
TT: In the scope of his body a film work, it really is!
MG: It really is! (Laugh) To also see how he deals with the set, he’s very calm and always and he has this really nice energy too. He’s always able to stay really calm when everything is going off. You can see why he is been able to deal with such bigger budget movies also. He’s got just a real skill for it.
TT: With that being said, does it for you build that trust with him overall? His ability to not only to stay calm but being building that trust and the ability to lead the cast including yourself, Jason Isaacs and Dane DeHaan among others?
MG: Ya, for sure and also it builds trust knowing that he has made such an incredible film with THE RING. So, the work with him on the genre that he helped define, you automatically feel safe. Plus, he has the entire film in his head. That was really impressive as I never seen that before. The storyboards each day and so knows exactly what he wants from each shot. It’s quite a rare thing to find a director who is so particular and meticulous about what he wants at the same time he is able to let his actors have freedom and explore their characters. So the final balance is one of my favorite things.
TT: You’ve talked about THE RING a couple times already during our conversation. As you were reading for the role Hannah and you were cast in the film, did you have any expectations for Gore after seeing THE RING?
MG: I had the stuff to live too. I mean Naomi Watts is phenomenal! I knew a lot of the crew that was going to be working on A CURE FOR WELLNESS had worked with Gore for a long time before this movie. So, there was a family kind of relationship with a lot of people. I was walking into quite a family sort of setup. Well the expectations I had, I thought this is going to be a really great experience and that was proved right.
TT: When Jason Isaacs had spoken with me before, he had said it wasn’t his favorite set to work on for a number reasons including the supernatural aspect. How was it for you working on the different locations?
MG: I loved working on locations! I always do. I think it helps a lot, especially where we were shooting in two different locations in Germany as the Castle Hohenzollern served exterior and Beelitz served as the interior of the spa. These are really quite grand, spooky & overwhelming places. They kind of become characters in themselves. They kind of help do a bit of the job for you because there’s already that tension, that eeriness to it. I enjoyed it a lot, I loved it!
TT: Your character of Hannah goes through the process of really becoming a woman in the film. The character is protected, treated differently and kept in the dark throughout the film. Can you talk about taking on the situation and did you connect at all personally to Hannah with this coming of age?
MG: That’s one thing I did connect with the film, not the aspect of protocol but the leap from girlhood to womanhood. I found that was something I can really relate to. I was 21 when I was filming this and the journey for Hannah is at times terrifying, sometimes it’s exhilarating and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. I felt that me going from my own girlhood to womanhood, I perhaps could draw from my own life and honor the character of Hannah through that. I think that’s a universal thing. I think women all deal with that being a woman comes with a lot of power and responsibility, sometimes that can be quite overwhelming at times. In terms of the protection aspect, actually, I was forced to grow up quickly. So, that was quite nice for me to be able to tap into my own inner child. I really enjoyed that.
TT: When you read for that part, talked with Gore about Hannah and found out the focus of the narrative for the film, did you think about these kinds of arcane medical practices being adapted for a modern day world and it would affect?
MG: That is not Hannah business. She’s a very naive and innocent young girl. She protected from that world so she has never had to question anything. The ideas and concepts of lies and selfishness are completely foreign to her. So, if someone tells her something, she just believes it, she has to believe it! That’s her hope. That’s her motivation. That’s what keeps her getting up in the morning. That’s what drives her and in many ways, Hannah and Director Volmer are each other’s and we’re each other hope. So, as a result of that, I try to keep Hannah’s world quite pure. I keep it innocent and childlike. I tried not to get her into these themes you are talking about.
TT: That is a brilliant answer and something I had never realized because of the aspect of keeping her away and giving her the space to keep her pure which is a theme for the film.
MG: The why she asks. The way that she looks at the world, she’s forever intrigued. She’s forever curious and she could look at a piece of bread and look at it for ages and ages. So I was really trying to understand thought in those aspects and she looks at the world. How she questions things and asks why?
TT: what if I would’ve been distant. That introduction of the variable that is Dane’s character Lockhart, when he comes into the life of Hannah that complicates everything on many levels between you two. Can talk about that change in relationship and mindset for her?
MG: Well in many ways after that first meeting, that’s when the unraveling begins for us. We are sort of a pin prick to one and another. It’s after that meeting that we start to question ourselves and the surroundings as well as position in it. It’s really from that moment that both our journeys together as well as separately start to happen and they are completely opposite people. I saw Hannah in many ways as the purity that everyone in the film so desperately seeking and Lockhart is what everyone is trying to run away from.
TT: Thank you so much!
MG: Thank you also for the support!