The secret is out: in Ti West’s bloody, boisterous “X,” a ’70s-set slasher about an ill-fated group of filmmakers who set out to film porn in the world’s worst location (an isolated farmhouse owned by a pair of pissed-off, puritanical elders), star Mia Goth is saddled with two terrifying roles.
In the film, Goth plays both starry-eyed stripper Maxine (who is hoping that the porn will rocket her to fame) and the rage-filled Pearl, one half of the older couple who owns the property the film is being shot on (and who steadily reveals not only her murderous intentions, but the reason as to why she so hates the young and sexy).
Hot on the heels of the film’s SXSW premiere, West himself (and distributors A24) pretty much broke the double-role news with the revelation that he had already shot a prequel to “X” starring Goth, who returns to play the younger Pearl. The story will allow Goth to explore Pearl’s earlier years — West told IndieWire it would be about “how the cabin where the massacre of ‘X’ takes place was a boarding house during WWI — without the heavy makeup and prosthetics she took on for “X.”
But, from the start, Goth said she was driven to find the character underneath all of that, seeing Maxine and Pearl as, if not the same literal character, then the same core woman.
“I saw them as the same woman in many ways,” Goth said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “They were just at different stages of their life. It was very important to me that she didn’t come across [as a villain]. I had a lot of sympathy toward Pearl [and Howard, played by Stephen Ure], and it was important that even in this world that they’re in — in a slasher film — they wouldn’t be presented as horror tropes or they’re seen as the monsters. That wouldn’t have been interesting for me to have played at all.”
Goth’s dedication to keeping Pearl from slipping into villain tropes was top of mind from the start. She said that, during early tests of the prosthetics she was set to wear for the role, she balked at pushing things too far.
“There was a time when we were doing the prosthetics and we really pushed it. She didn’t look human at all,” Goth said. “I said to Ti, ‘That doesn’t interest me. That just doesn’t interest me as an actor.’ We scaled it back a little bit and we found the right balance that worked for the film. Then it all felt really good, but it was a pretty cathartic experience.”
Co-star Jenna Ortega didn’t even recognize her the first time Goth put on the Pearl gear. “I didn’t realize it was her!,” Ortega said. “I am so impressed by Mia [already], but I think just watching the dedication that she put in this job and how successfully she pulled it off, I gained even more respect, if that’s possible.”
Goth said she would film one scene as one character one day, and then return to play the other role the next. She might not have been literally playing against herself, but that’s certainly how it felt, and the experience was exhilarating. For her fellow castmates, it was a crazy mix of terrifying and impressive.
“It was almost like working with a different actor, whereas as soon as you got on set, there was really no other way to address her, but other than ‘Pearl’ or ‘Maxine’ or whoever she was at the moment,” Ortega said. “To watch someone work like that, it’s really awe-inspiring. It made going to set that much more exciting, because you know you’re going to see something really incredible that day.”
Fellow star Brittany Snow was taken with how deeply Goth managed to slip into both characters, building them from the inside out.
“It was so incredible to see Mia transform not only her face, but her body,” Snow said. “Her physicality was completely different. It was not only frightening because the prosthetics and the makeup was so frightening, but it was really frightening to look into your friend’s eyes and not really see her. It was very strange. I had to really look at Pearl and I couldn’t see Mia.”
Snow added, “That’s a mark of a great actress but also, it’s the mark of just how terrifying this character was. It was really easy to play off of, too. I completely forgot I was working with Mia. It was amazing.”
An A24 release, “X” is in theaters now.