Aside from being one of the very best shows on television, Game of Thrones has helped launch the careers of many incredible actors and propelled others to stardom, introducing American audiences to a slew of them. One of my favorites is Rose Leslie, who played the stubborn badass archer kissed-by-fire, Ygritte, across three seasons of the HBO phenomenon. Rose is now in the midst of launching an American film career. That begins with Honeymoon, a horror movie from first-time director Leigh Janiak. She stars opposite Penny Dreadful star Harry Treadaway. The intimate psychological thriller chronicles a “soppy” gooey lovey-dovey relationship and its slow, painful disintegration, taking place on that singular marriage rite of passage: one’s honeymoon.
On the morning after the Emmy’s, I was lucky enough to find some time with Honeymoon star Rose Leslie and her bewitching Scottish accent, before she was whisked off to the set of the Vin Diesel blockbuster The Last Witch Hunter. In the following discussion, Rose reveals her opinions on the horror genre (can you believe that the woman who played Ygritte is a self-described “wimp”?), discusses the massive differences between shooting Game of Thrones and Honeymoon and proves that I know nothing about Scotland.
PI: Not too hung over from the Emmys?
Leslie: Ohhhhh, see now that we’re getting into that territory…no, I’ve had lots of coffee, thank you. It wasn’t a particularly late night for me.
[commence communal giggling]
PI: I wouldn’t tell anyone. I have to start by saying that Ygritte is my favorite character from Game of Thrones, and I’m going to miss you on the show.
Leslie: Aw, thank you so much, that’s a lovely thing to hear. Thank you.
PI: I was wondering, what did you take away from Game of Thrones and how has that informed your career?
Leslie: I felt very touched, because on my last day, I was given Ygritte’s bow and arrow to keep. They had changed the handle, personalized it with a silver plaque that said “Kissed by fire,” along with an emblem of a rose, and it was really lovely, and very considerate and just charming. That kind of sums up the entire crew and my experience for three years, because I had a blast on Game of Thrones and truly, truly loved it. And having been a part of such a global phenomenon enabled me to knock on doors that I was never able to knock on before. It’s given me a chance to be represented out here in America, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. So it’s been great.
PI: What then, drew you to Honeymoon? On the surface, Honeymoon looks like another cabin in the woods horror movie, but really, it’s a psychological relationship thriller.
Leslie: Yes yes exactly. It’s an examination of a relationship. One that seemingly starts off with a strong relationship, well it is, it’s an incredibly strong relationship, where these two people are totally enamored by one another, and obviously, quite clearly, in that honeymoon phase. And then the cracks starts to appear and that was something that drew me to the project in the first place, because there is such a transformation within these two characters, who are so intimate from the top and have to be throughout the film. Never before had I worked on something where, I know it was on screen, but it felt like a theater piece, because it was so intimate. And you were leaning so much on the other person, and it was just really a fascinating experience.
PI: You touched on the word I was going to use to describe the film: intimate. It’s almost even claustrophobic at times.
Leslie: Yeah, yeah.
PI: A movie like this requires a lot of trust with the director [Leigh Janiak] and [costar] Harry Treadaway. Did you know them beforehand and how did that trust develop?
Leslie: I had never met Leigh prior to reading the script. We had a couple of Skype chats and then I read the script, and she’s a remarkably intelligent woman, and I trusted her in the sense of, even though, no not even though at all, I know it was her directorial debut, but she said such insightful things about one scene or another. There was a real depth there, and it wasn’t just going to be these two people within their own sickening bubble of love. It was actually gonna be more than that.
In regards to Harry Treadaway and myself…we knew each other very briefly prior to working together, because we happened to go to the same drama school [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, or LAMDA]. So that’s how we knew one another before. So there was already, I hesitate to use the phrase, foundation of trust, already, but it was a lovely thing in knowing there was a link there.
PI: I imagine making Honeymoon was almost the exact opposite experience from working on something as massive as Game of Thrones. There were only four actors in the entire movie, and primarily it was just you and Harry. How was that like, and was that one of the reasons why you jumped in?
Leslie: Yes, exactly. It was because I had never really ever come across a project where there was so much hanging on these two people to basically get it right. I think that there was a risk in casting, you know there’s always a risk in casting a movie, but particularly for this, because it had to work at the beginning of the film, to actually feel some real empathy for the characters throughout. To really want to fight for them by the end of the transition, and to be involved in their world. That was something that appealed to me greatly, because Game of Thrones is not such an intimate shoot, and obviously with it being the colossal machine that it is, there’s a huge crew, and amazing equipment, and the production value is so high, and it’s a real, real privilege, and yet Honeymoon was a very different entity, and that was incredibly insightful. And also, a lovely thing to be a part of just because I was able to experience two different seeming worlds, even though they’re both with a camera onscreen in one way or another. It was a great, kind of like, balancing of the scale.
PI: Where was Honeymoon filmed and how long did it take?
Leslie: Because it’s an independent movie, it was so tight, there was such a strict deadline. We shot in North Carolina, and we literally had about four weeks’ worth of six day weeks, we only had one day off a week, and it was just so intense. As you say, it was like jumping into the deep end with the project, and only really coming up for air once we wrapped at the end of the four weeks. We completely submerged ourselves into this world and into the realms of Bea and Paul, and just wanted to focus on the crumbling and the dissolving of this relationship, slowly but surely, and using a microscope into that.
PI: You’ve referenced, sort of the two halves of this movie: the honeymoon phase and the crumbling of Bea and Paul’s relationship when weird and creepy things happen. Did you have a preference as an actor? Did you like to play the light-hearted stuff or the descent into horror?
Leslie: I personally loved the middle ground, where we weren’t so soppy and in love, not that it was soppy, but we were all over each other. But there was a middle part that was very interesting to me to play the subtext and subtlety of the cracks beginning to appear, and the distrust and the walls beginning to crumble between them and kind of playing that. Where everything is okay on the surface but Bea is in real turmoil underneath. That was something I really enjoyed playing, far more so than the blood and gore at the end.
PI: That was also my favorite part. Perhaps this is a better question for Leigh or Harry, but your character [Bea] is the one who gets body snatched or taken or something has happened to you. We’re all curious and skeptical, along with Paul, when you return. But I really liked, that, if anything, Paul was just as creepy in his response, that it kind of went both ways. Was that intentional?
Leslie: Yeah, do you feel that was because he didn’t run off and freak out, and take the car keys? Is it because he stayed; is that just as creepy?
PI: That’s partially it, but it was more so due to the intensity with which Paul reacts to Bea’s changed presence, and the almost abrupt switch that goes off with his character, along with the riff on the jealous boyfriend/husband stereotype, when we’re introduced to Bea’s former summer fling Will, and taking that a different way. I thought maybe something was wrong with Paul as well, perhaps Bea’s disappearance was misdirection, and that Paul was the changed one.
Leslie: Yes, yes, when I was reading the script, I was wondering: was Paul the one going mad or was Bea the one going mad? Is it both of them, or…is there actually something out in the woods that attacks her? I thought that was very clever too. It’s a testament to Harry being able to complete all those separate emotions all at once, really, because you’re right: you get freaked out by him and his reasoning behind his actions, or the actions themselves, than just seeing him as the pathetically jealous husband.
PI: Are you a fan of the horror genre in general, and the body-snatching subgenre that this is a play on?
Leslie: Yes, I am a fan. It’s very interesting to play the body snatching element. I feel, when it comes to the horror genre, I’m harking back to my sentiments before of me being far more of a wimp than I like to admit. I prefer, and am speaking to, the psychological thriller side, rather than the gore and blood of horror.
PI: That’s the scarier stuff anyways.
Leslie: Exactly, it messes with your mind!
PI: With Game of Thrones and Honeymoon, you’ve definitely been a part of some decidedly adult, dark and gruesome things on camera. Is that something you look for, or is that just how it’s worked out?
Leslie: With Game of Thrones I absolutely responded to the character, loved the character, and knew that the book series was incredible and was so happy to be able to play Ygritte. As an actor I look for roles that have a certain versatility, so that as an actor I don’t totally become stale, and I am displaying different ranges as it were. It definitely keeps me on my feet, and makes sure that I don’t slow down in any way. But for me, it’s really about the writing, first and foremost.
PI: What’s next for you after Honeymoon? I know you’re shooting The Last Witch Hunter [starring Vin Diesel].
Leslie: Yes, that’s what I’m shooting in Pittsburgh, exactly. So that’s where we are shooting until December; it’s a lovely long shoot. I’ve already shot a couple days, and it’s been great fun, so that’s the next project. [She also stars in Sticky Notes, a drama starring Ray Liotta, arriving in theaters March 1st, 2015.]
PI: Before we go, I have to ask a question about Scotland. It was probably my favorite place I visited when I went backpacking, and when I return (AND I WILL), where should I go…what treasures off the beaten path await?
Leslie: My home city is Aberdeen, so I highly recommend it. Did you go to Aberdeen?
PI: I unfortunately did not. I went through the highlands but not up to Aberdeen.
Leslie: I recommend traveling further north and going to Aberdeen, because it is a beautiful city, with a lovely beach, and some great cultural aspects, there really is. There’s beautiful countryside outside of it as well, the tracks up through the hills are absolutely beautiful.
PI: Scotland is unfairly beautiful. Thanks for the tip and for taking the time to talk with us!
As aforementioned, Honeymoon comes out On Demand, and in theaters, this Friday, September 12th. Be sure to check it out, and read our review.