Oliver Jackson-Cohen has managed to carve a meaningful array of characters throughout his roles; the latest being Luke Cain from the Netflix thriller series, The Haunting of Hill House. An adaptation from the famous Shirley Jackson’s novel, the series “follows siblings who, as children, grew up in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country. Now adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy and must finally confront the ghosts of their past.” The Untitled Magazine sat down with the British actor to talk ghosts, childhood trauma, and his early beginnings.
What inspired you to pursue acting?
I don’t really know. I don’t think there was a particular movie that I watched that inspired me to do it but I remember realizing that it was a place that I could hide and be whoever I wanted to be. It was a place that I could disappear into and explore whatever I wanted to explore without any limitations. So I think for anyone, that’s quite an exciting idea. And then it stupidly turned into an obsession. So here we are: 31 and rummaging through a dressing up box.
You were part of the theatre group YoungBlood alongside actresses such as Carey Mulligan, Imogen Poots and Ophelia Lovibond – can you tell us about some of your experiences as a young actor working with them and how that has formed your style?
YoungBlood was such an amazing time. It’s kind of nuts to think that that amount of young talent was all in one group! And everyone’s gone on to have really interesting careers! I went to a French school where there was no drama section, so YoungBlood to me was a bit like a lifeline. I think for all of us, it felt like a place where we could just have fun, make mistakes and experiment with whatever we wanted and I think that that, as an actor, is very important. Also, we all became a family – our whole weekend social life was geared around one another and going to YoungBlood, so it was a really special time. We all are still in touch which is really nice too.
You have a long list of TV and film credits to your name already – what are some of the roles you have played that really resonated with you personally?
I think that Luke in Hill House has probably been the most personal to me. There is an isolation to him that I really resonated with. I think what Mike Flanagan has done here is very clever – exploring childhood trauma with the metaphor of ‘ghosts’ because all of us have varying scales of difficult childhoods and it is definitely something that, universally, we can all relate to.
Both “Man In An Orange Shirt” and “The Secret River” were also very important roles to me. It’s all about people trying their hardest to be what they think they should be or what society tells them they should be and, again, I think that’s something that resonates universally, not just with me. They were also very special filming experiences.
Can you tell us about your role in Netflix’s new show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE?
I play Luke Crain who is the youngest of five siblings that lives in Hill House. The first five episodes follow each sibling 20 years after leaving the house, over the same 24 hours. It tackles how that traumatic experience has shaped their lives. Luke has a twin, Nell, and they were subject to the most traumatic experiences in the house. So, as we meet Luke in the present day he is very much dealing with PTSD and has developed an opioid addiction in order to cope.
The new series is a thriller, based off adult siblings who, as children lived in a haunted house… how are these characters affected by their childhood?
I think what’s very interesting is the way in which Mike has tackled how these childhood experiences differ from one sibling to the next. You have the eldest, Steven, who puts it all down to mental illness and doesn’t want to believe anything strange happened in the house and that is his way of coping. Then you have Shirley, who needs to keep moving forward and be very practical in order to cope. The show is basically a study on what losing a parent and trauma does to people and I think it’s very interesting how each sibling is affected differently. As I said before, Nell and Luke are struggling to move forward the most. Struggling to just function. It really is an amazing exploration of the varying degrees of childhood experiences and how some just can’t simply move past it. They are stuck in that place from 20 years ago and don’t know how to get out or move on because it’s impossible to move on if nothing makes sense. Luke is very much in that place.
How did you get into character for the horror sequences?
I think all of us had to approach it as you would with a drama and just try to put yourself in that position and make it feel as real as possible. It was a very long shoot, nearly nine months, and I definitely feel it was probably one of the most harrowing shoots in terms of character because you need to keep all of that stuff alive for that amount of time. I think it was emotionally exhausting for everyone. Dealing with terror and grief and drumming that stuff up for a long period of time, you end up with a sort of emotional hangover where you know none of its real, yet it feels SO real!
You have a history of acting in horror stories, such as the television adaptation Dracula, where you performed opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and The Raven alongside John Cusack… what draws you to these type of roles?
I think it genuinely isn’t to do with the genre itself but rather the characters within those stories. I have loved playing all of them to varying degrees but, again, I think it’s about being part of an interesting story that is the biggest draw.
What can we look forward to from you next? Any daring new roles on the horizon?
I hope so!! There is a sniper sitting on my roof ready to take me out if I say anything, so we shall see!!