Lily James and Armie Hammer on playing “morally ambivalent” characters in Rebecca

James and Hammer play the leads in Ben Wheatley's new Netflix adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel.

Stills from Netflix's Rebecca with Armie Hammer and Lily James

Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s iconic novel Rebecca has arrived on Netflix, with Lily James and Armie Hammer taking on the lead roles – previously played by Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier.

Advertisement

The novel remains such a classic and enduring text for good reason, and one of the aspects which makes it so interesting is the nature of the characters at its centre, who the audience discover have been responsible for some very reprehensible acts.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press, James and Hammer revealed what it was like to play such morally ambivalent characters, with James saying that the second Mrs de Winter nevertheless reacts to events in a very human fashion.

“For me, the moment when you see that ambivalence and you suddenly sort of question this character that’s been leading you through is when she finds out about what Maxim did, and her preoccupation is only that he still loves her,” James explained.

“And you go ‘woah’, and that’s where you think this is not what it seemed and these people aren’t what they seemed. But I also think its really human that she’s sent herself insane and it’s so important she really clutches onto her sanity that she wasn’t crazy and that he did love her.

“That is more important to her, so it’s morally ambivalent, but it’s also deeply human and that was totally why I wanted to play her.”

Hammer said that he agreed, but added that when playing a character who might be morally ambivalent, it’s crucial not to think about that too deeply.  

“I think that when you’re in the middle of playing him, you’re not afforded the opportunity to say this is a morally ambiguous character,” he said.

“You have to sort of go ‘I align myself completely with this person’s point of view and this doesn’t feel ambiguous to me at all, this is what makes sense to me’.

“Because if you come at a role with ambiguity, I think it will look kind of vague, like you don’t have maybe enough of a point of view.”

Given the stature of the performers who have played their roles previously, you might wonder if James and Hammer went back to study the likes of Fontaine and Olivier before stepping into their shoes.

And while Hammer said that he avoided watching the previous version, James admits she went back to view not only the iconic Hitchcock film, but also various TV versions.

I did watch the Hitchcock film before and, in a way, I kind of wanted to draw from it as much as possible,” she said.

“I kind of felt, why not draw on everything that’s out there? Not only the Hitchcock film but there’s the TV show that Joanna David did, and she’s triumphant in it. It’s very faithful to the book and it’s super beautiful and like, the most pure [sic] version of the story you could get

“So I kind of drew on everything. I thought why not? And I could steal stuff!”

Advertisement

Rebecca streams on Netflix from Wednesday 21st October. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, visit our TV Guide, or find out about upcoming new TV shows 2020.