Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays two characters in the horror movie Mama, but his biggest challenge was acting against an actual ghost. Because Mama was real, not just some CG tennis ball chasing around the actors. It was a real actor, wearing creepy make-up and giant latex fingers, who stalked the sets on all fours.
In our exclusive interview, Coster-Waldau describes what it was like working with a real life creature. Plus, get a good look at Mama with one very spoilery picture below!
What do you think is scarier, feral kids or ghosts?
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: The combination is scary. But the ghost, the ghost for me. However, the kids in this movie really freak me out.
When you first see the kids after they've been stranded in the woods for several years, they look like little rat people. Was that CG?
I think it thinned them a bit, and maybe made the eyes a little darker. But the movement is all the kids. They may have sped it up a little, but the kids did all the motions. They had a movement coach work with them to get all their actions down. [When they start scratching at me] I told the girl playing Megan that you have to hit me for real. Or else it's too difficult to pretend. And she went for it!
In the movie you play two characters, Jeffrey, who is a very bad man and does some very bad things, and his twin brother Lucas, who later gets the girls. What's it like holding a [fake] gun to a kid's head?
That scene was... You know when I read the script, I liked that it had such a dark beginning. It's a different story in a way, it's almost like those stories you read in the paper — "father loses it and kills his family" — and then it becomes this different story. I wanted to show the craziness. But I also wanted to see if we could find the little point where [the audience] could look in and see a lost soul. Of course, it's disturbing when we did it. And the actress is such a sweet little kid, and then we pull out the gun — yeah, it's nice. The scene worked... That sequence was the most difficult emotionally to do, because it's a disgusting place to go. He wants to die, and clearly he has to take them with him because they won't be able to survive alone. It's disgusting. it's just horrible. I have kids myself.
There are a lot of references in this movie to the idea of "unfit parents." The first parents are unfit, and then later your other character Luke and his girlfriend Annabel (played by Jessica Chastain) are also called unfit parents by others. The creature was definitely an unfit parent. Why was this theme important?
I like the entity, the creature, the ghost, that they gave her a real, emotional motivation. It's not just something that comes out of nowhere and comes to hurt us. She wants something. I thought that was interesting. Together with the other mother, Annabel, who just doesn't want these kids at all, she wants them out of her life. That conflict is interesting.
It feels like the mothers in horror movies are always the compelling figures fighting to protect children, and the fathers are always a bit clueless, why?
I don't know, but it's like that saying about about bears. If you run into a bear cub in the wild you just have to pray you don't run into the mother. There's just something very deep and fundamental desire to protect your kids, no matter what. I think the bond between a mother and her child is incredibly strong.
What did the Mama character look like on set? Was a lot of her CG?
No, no, most of it wasn't CG. We had this amazing Spanish actor performer who was Mama. His name is Javier Botet. He has this insane body — he's like the skinniest guy I've ever seen, and very long-limbed. Then they had the special FX team from Pan's Labyrinth who did his head, so he had four or five hours everyday in make-up, so he came out every day looking more or less like Mama. But without the flowing hair, they added that after. But he was there to shoot. He had those crazy movements. It was weird the first time we saw him on set because he has a crazy look... He had these latex fingers and he would touch me like this [wraps fingers around his neck] — it was disgusting. And Jessica, she has these fights with him. It was all him.
Mama will hit theaters on the 18th of January.