How do you play an invisible man? That’s one of the questions that immediately come to mind when you think of the classic Universal Monster and the men who have brought him to life. Leigh Whannell’s vision is a far cry from the 1933 Claude Rains version, and we have seen Kevin Bacon’s take on the evil and invisible antagonist in Paul Verheoven’s Hollow Man. This time it’s up to The Haunting of Hill House‘s Oliver Jackson-Cohen to take on the mantle. Alongside his director, the young British star is excited to do something completely different. The film’s big twist is that here Jackson-Cohen’s character is the villain, an abusive and powerful man who is desperate to destroy the life of the woman who dared to leave him. According to the actor who’ll be bringing the terrifying vision to life, it was the only way the story could be told.
“It’s an amazing space and amazing script, it’s such a genius kind of story. I think it’s the only way to do it. It completely turns the story on its head and Lee’s written such an incredibly solid script. I just think to go in by telling it from this woman’s point of view of something we’ve all experienced, you know, these relationships that are incredibly dangerous and toxic. To kind of look at it from that point of view and base it, in reality, is a genius way of handling the property.”
Bringing the character to life in a way that felt authentic and grounded was a challenge for Jackson-Cohen who sat down with IGN and a small group of press during a visit to the Sydney set of the Blumhouse film. However, the hook of invisible man Adrian Griffin being a sociopathic billionaire who can charm as easily as he can terrorize inspired the actor to find his footing.
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“We’ve seen the villain so many times, so I think as an actor, you always want to try and think of the most interesting way. To me, it was a sort of a no-brainer when I read [the script] that I wanted to — these people who are narcissists and are so controlling in relationships, they are incredibly intelligent — make Adrian so good at performing, and pretending to be so charismatic and to fool people into a false sense of security. That’s the direction we’ve gone with him, which I personally think is the right way to do it. It’s been really good fun because we kind of want to mess with an audience as well, and mess with them going, ‘Wait, but he’s not… he didn’t seem to be a bad guy. He seemed nice.’ But then he does these horrific things.”
The setup for the new Invisible Man relaunch is a timely one that has echoes of the Me Too movement and emotionally driven horrors like Midsommar that dare to lift the lid on emotionally abusive relationships. Finding an antagonist worthy and fitting of the story was vital and that’s where the concept of a San Francisco tech billionaire came from, someone whose wealth, unquestioned power, and absolute arrogance becomes the ultimate weapon.
“[That aspect] is hugely important. I think that Leigh said when we first having conversations, ‘It’s the ultimate power: to be invisible.’ I mean, we all stay in these apartments in Sydney. And the other day, I was sort of doing that weird thing when you’re on your own and you’re like having a conversation to the air. When you don’t think anyone is watching, or you’ll be playing music, and you’ll really be hitting a note that no one should ever hear. And I did think what if someone was sitting in that chair? There’s something sort of inherently terrifying about that. I think for someone like Adrian, it’s the ultimate power, but it’s also the decline of his grip on reality and his grip on any kind of humanity and I think it is because of that wealth and power.”
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That realism and dedication to doing something entirely new led to their tech-heavy take on the character. Though Jackson-Cohen’s lips were (mostly) sealed, he did reveal what separated their take from the H.G. Wells novel and classic Universal film that inspired it.
“I think where Leigh is very smart is that our film is not potions and magic. It’s a very probable story that is quite timely as well. So I think approaching it — and specifically with this abusive relationship and how it isn’t necessarily a physically abusive one, it’s an emotional one — I think that’s something that speaks to so many people, because we’ve all been there or we’ve witnessed friends that are going through it. When someone says something to you and you kind of you can rationalize in a way. It’s about that, it’s about this woman getting out of this relationship that is toxic and then trying to deal with the aftermath of that.”
Fans of Netflix’s hit word of mouth horror series The Haunting of Hill House first discovered the actor as Luke Crain, the drug-addicted son of the clan, whose life has been devastated by the strange happenings he was party to as a child. His empathetic performance and heartbreaking rendering of the damaged young man seems to make him a prime candidate to bring something layered and possibly relatable to the dark role in The Invisible Man, but Jackson-Cohen is quick to explain that the only way we’d see that side of him is if it was a way for Adrian to gain control.
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“I think that the way that Adrian operates he could play on that as a performance, knowing full well, exactly what he’s doing. The whole thing’s about manipulation. I think that that’s very true, again, of these relationships. I watched all these documentaries on women and men that stay in these relationships and why they keep on going back and it was really interesting. There was this woman that was interviewed, and it sounded so horrific what was going on in that particular relationship. But she said, ‘Every time I would go and say I’m done, he would cry. And it would hook me back in because I didn’t want to see him so broken.’ It’s all a tactic, so what’s been interesting with this is playing around with that idea of how much manipulation? How much you can get her to believe?”
With such a lightning rod topic at its center, how does Jackson-Cohen think that the film will resonate with victims of domestic violence and abuse? He’s hopeful that it will be a cathartic experience elevated by a strong central performance from his co-star Elizabeth Moss.
“I hope that the film resonates with people that have had similar situations. And, you know, the way that Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) was written, She is such a strong woman. And the thing is that a lot of what’s been so interesting in sort of researching this is that so many of the people that are in these relationships, it’s not because they’re weak, it’s because of this sort of mastermind power that’s been sort of hooked on to them, that is still impossible for anyone that’s intelligent [to escape]. And a lot of these people that are stuck in relationships like this are incredibly intelligent, and Celia being one of them. She’s a very smart, strong, intelligent woman.”
The Invisible Man hits screens on Feb. 28 in the US and UK and Feb. 27 in Australia.
Source: IGN.com The Haunting of Hill House Star on Becoming The Invisible Man