Kristin Scott Thomas was so determined to play the frightening housekeeper Mrs Danvers in the new Netflix feature-length version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca that she pestered the producers until she was cast.
She told Variety: “As people have said, I think I’m perfect for this role. I was literally pestering Eric [Fellner] and saying, ‘You have to hire me!’ Every time I would see him, I would ask, ‘When are you going to offer it to me?’ I was not subtle at all.”
Mrs Danvers is central to the classic 1930s tale of a young woman (Lily James) who is romanced by eligible widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) in France and is soon engaged and whisked off to his mansion in Cornwall. Only, the spectre of his untouchable dead wife, Rebecca, shadows her at every moment, especially as Mrs Danvers constantly reminds her she’s not worthy of her former mistress.
The Netflix version of Rebecca is directed by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Free Fire) and has tonal and narrative differences to the Rebeccas that precede it, most notably the classic Laurence Olivier/Joan Fontaine 1940 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Wheatley needed no convincing to cast Scott Thomas. “Danvers is a character that needs to hit the ground running,” he said. “It needed someone who could look into the audience and command their attention. I also wanted to explore a more sympathetic Danvers. For me, she is the moral centre of the story. It needed Kristin to pull this off. She is a commanding performer who can navigate through complexity and intensity with ease.”
From Gosford Park to Darkest Hour and even Four Weddings and a Funeral, Scott Thomas is perpetually associated with austere, elegant and intimidating characters. Perfect, then, for Danvers?
“I’m not sure how to take that,” she laughed. “But oh well, if the glove fits.”
She continued: “I think it’s going to be a Rebecca for a new generation. And it’s wonderful to keep a story like this alive.”
Both she and Wheatley wanted to make Danvers more three-dimensional than the usual glacial characterisation of the housekeeper.
“We don’t talk about it in the film but there are hints of her relationship with Rebecca,” she said. “We wanted to ask, What is her relationship with Rebecca? Is it one of lust? Is it one of love? Is it one of possession? We really enjoyed playing with those ideas.”
Scott Thomas herself would be intimidating to most directors. Her awards, her roles, her life is the stuff of an actor’s dreams and it is difficult to imagine her suffering fools.
Wheatley, however, found the opposite. “She’s intimidating only in that she is at the top of her game and you don’t want to sound like a fool when you are talking to her. She’s very sweet, of course, moment to moment, but it’s always there, as it is with any actor at this level — the ghost of all their work, all the amazing roles and experience they have. I loved working with her.”
Rebecca streams on Netflix from Wednesday 21st October