Exclusive: Rose Leslie Talks The Last Witch Hunterby Brad Balfour
October 21, 2015
Scottish Actress Rose Leslie may not be the serious geek genre fan that Vin Diesel has been ever since he discovered the fantasy role-playing game Dungeon and Dragons when he was a kid. But thanks to films like the upcoming The Last Witch Hunter and three years on Game of Thrones, Rose Eleanor Arbuthnot-Leslie’s racking up substantial creds to develop a growing fan base and attend a few cons along the way.
With a facile skill at picking the right storyline, lead character and set of associates, 48 year-old Vin Diesel has established a substantial career and fan base for various franchises: xXx, the Riddick Trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy and the biggest blockbuster of recent years, Fast & Furious.
Now Diesel is kicking off a new mythology using the classic “witch” archetype that will turn out, what he hopes, will be another hit franchise. So Vin (born Mark Sinclair) becomes Kaulder, The Last Witch Hunter, an immortal tasked with maintaining a fragile truce with the witches who live among us. Centuries ago, when they were under the sway of their demonic Queen, the witches were vicious supernatural creatures intent on unleashing the Black Plague on humankind until she was slain by Kaulder and his band of fellow hunters. Now, renegades seek to resurrect the Queen while Kaulder tries to stop them with an assist from Chloe (Leslie), a witch with unique powers who believes the Queen’s ascendence will offer nothing but Hell to pay for all involved.
Directed by Breck Eisner (who had done the clever Thoughtcrimes and The Crazies), the film revels in monsters, spells and arch characters played by the likes of Michael Caine and Elijah Wood. The 28-year-old Leslie’s experience through working on Games of Thrones and Downton Abbey lends her hip witch enough gravitas to make her a solid cohort to join the fight for the world’s salvation.
The following Q&A is drawn from an exclusive conversation with the striking redhead at the Four Season Hotel a few hours before she joins Diesel, Eisner and Wood on stage at New York Comic Con for a panel to preview the film.
I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that you grew up in Scotland with castles around you. Did you feel that in some way you were fated to play a role like this, a witch who is familiar with castles and dark landscapes?
Rose Leslie: From my childhood on, I’ve been home grown [in an environment] to become a witch — or at least, to play one. It was my destiny. Well, I was going to say that I had an incredibly privileged childhood. Growing up, at home it was wonderfully fun because I was unaware just how warm other houses could be because my house was very, very cold.
I’ve been in one of those old castles like we see in the film. I have also been in an old Irish house, so I know what it’s like… Drafty!
RL: Have you? Was it cold and drafty as well? I grew up in the middle of the countryside; that helped myself and my siblings. It really played on our imagination, because all these creaky corridors and dusty rooms were so fabulous.
Although the film is set in New York, how was it shooting in Pittsburgh?
RL: I was told from the very beginning that we would be shooting in Pennsylvania. I remember being ecstatic at the fact that it was going to be shot on the East coast, particularly in the fall. I’ve always heard that around the fall time on the East coast it is just divine. So I was excited about exploring
Did you see the town and explore it at all?
RL: I did. And I went to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous house, Falling Water… Oh my god it was beautiful, utterly stunning.
When you did Game of Thrones, did you first travel to Scotland or Ireland in preparation? Or did you do the reverse? As a result of doing a show like Game of Thrones, did you go and explore there?
RL: Wait a minute, have I explored Scotland and Ireland because of it?
In preparing yourself for the mental experience of doing the series…
RL: That would have been utterly useless, because we were shooting in Iceland. I think, yes, growing up in Scotland definitely prepared me for cold long shoots out in Iceland.
But you’re right, particularly around the British Isles, it’s so mesmerizing and so beautiful. You can find places that look otherworldly, particularly in the Scottish Highlands, and obviously in northern Ireland, of course. And southern Ireland, there are some wonderful peaks and walks and it’s just so beautiful.
Do you feel that all these things have prepared you for your acting career? You have an interesting resume, going from Downton Abbey onward. You keep moving back and forth from the past. Here is the present, yet you’re playing a timeless character.
RL: As an actor [you need to have] different experiences…
That pushes you deeper into some sort of a past that’s inherent in your cultural experiences.
RL: That’s very interesting. I’ve never really looked at it from that perspective before.
Certainly, I’ve always looked at projects whereby I know that they are going to be delving into new experiences and interesting material, of course. Then obviously, I like the kind of characters that inspire me. That’s something I look for, and its just fallen into place with all these difference genres.
What in the script inspired you to give your character her style and textures? Did they allow you the room to elaborate on your character, and give her your own unique spin?
RL: From the start, Breck [Eisner, the director] was incredible and very elaborate in his vision of what he wanted us to do. With all the actors, he was very good at communicating with us about this world he wanted to create, really.
I was aware, of course, that I could create the background for Chloe. But we definitely came to the same conclusion that she had to have grown up fierce and that she has this background having run away from home… So Vin was brilliant in allowing me to stretch and explore that side of her.
What spells can you cast now as a result of all this?
RL: In terms of learning potions and hocus pocus, unfortunately, I don’t know any. I wish did though. I wish I could just snap my fingers and there’d be fire coming out of there.
At least, aren’t you glad you didn’t have to dress up in that elaborate outfit like the Witch Queen wore?
RL: Absolutely! Oh my gosh, when I first saw her in her costume — which is an AMAZING costume — I did think, “My god, that is cool,” particularly with the spine coming down the back.
But yes, watching the actress playing her, lovely, lovely Julie [Engelbrecht], I was watching her, and my God, it took her a solid five hours every morning [to get ready]. On the third day, I was like, “I’m so happy that I just have [to wear] jeans and a leather jacket.”
Did you have a leg up with Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who plays the Warlock Belial — enemy of Kaulder — because you have some roots in Iceland? Who else had any Iceland chops?
RL: Well, I am enamored with that country now. I have a deep deep love for Iceland and so Darri, he could not escape from me. From the beginning, knowing that it’s his home, I just pounced on him and he’s a wonderful, welcoming man. So we had a lot of chats about Reykjavik, the countryside, these waterfalls and glaciers.
I can imagine that this is a pet project of Vin’s and that you were going to have to pass before Vin Diesel’s judgment. He seems like he can be pretty easy to deal with. What was that like?
RL: I flew out to LA to meet him a couple of months prior to shooting, so I knew that this was going to be a little bit of a vetting. But he was very welcoming from the beginning. I went round to his house and met his family and children. They were all really very lovely.
I don’t hear about that happening with a lot of other auditions, where you go around to the A-list star actor’s house…
RL: No, you don’t usually do that at all. I felt grounded having been there and welcomed into his fold.
We chatted for hours about the concept of the film and where he was coming from and what he felt was the vision he saw for the entire movie, its scope and the arc of these two characters. He was really kind to me. It was great how he depicted the entire thing.
It must have been interesting that your character was in a way, also auditioning to be Kaulder’s — Vin’s character— sidekick as well. Did that help give you that sense of “You’ve got to take me. I’ll be your — what do they call it when the little black cat works with witches — familiar!” You were like his familiar?
RL: I’ll be his familiar? Yes, maybe you’re right. It was like that, art imitating life or was it life imitating art? Anyhow, it was great and that’s when I first became aware of his extensive knowledge of dungeons and dragons and other fan things.
He’s a real geek, a real fan isn’t he?
RL: He is a REAL geek. Yeah, he just knows everything about it…
Have you become geeked out? You can’t help it being around Vin and having been in a fan favorite like Game of Thrones.
RL: I’ve tried, man, oh I’ve tried, but I’m completely out of my depth ever since the first time that I tried to speak to [Vin] about it. I’ve now kind of learned to stay well clear. There’s a different language to it and you know, if you can’t keep up, get out.
But you’ve done Game of Thrones for what, three seasons?
RL: Three seasons; three years in a row. I related to Ygritte — the fact that she is so strong and ruthless, as well. I feel that Game of Thrones, as a show, is one of the frontrunners for showing dominant female characters and making sure that men answer to women, rather than the other way around.
What do you think about the fact that you are being called the next “It girl?” Are you ready to be the next “It girl?”
RL: I haven’t even read that they’re calling me the next “It Girl.” I was unaware that I was an “It Girl.”
Now you have to contend with it. What does it feel like?
RL: Now that I’ve go to contend with it, I think that this is a huge kind of privilege that is something you’ve got to live up to. I would certainly love to have that longevity in my career. I think that that boils down to choices and making sure that you chop and change and star in different genres.
With that in mind, are there preparations being made for the sequel — which is inevitable…
RL: Oh, no way. They do leave it open for a sequel, don’t they?
There’s a point in the film where you are in a car with Vin that looked like it drove right into an episode of Fast and Furious [laughs]. I’m sure I’m not the first to point that out now.
RL: [laughs] yes. I watched it for the first time only a couple of days ago, and when the car did that big spin, I was so chuffed that Chloe is that good a driver. And then I was like… That’s me! I did it in one take. I can handle myself behind a wheel. Yeah, exactly, that’s so true…
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