'Invisible Man' Star Oliver Jackson-Cohen Comes Clean on His Invisible Man Role
[This interview contains spoilers for The Invisible Man]
The Invisible Man’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen is finally revealing the particulars of what he shot as the film’s titular character. Despite appearing in only a handful of scenes as Adrian Griffin — the abusive and deceased partner of Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia Kass — the British actor was still on set for the majority of production in Sydney, Australia. However, when asked about his involvement in scenes with The Invisible Man, Jackson-Cohen had to keep a lid on the specifics throughout the film’s recent press tour.
Heat Vision breakdown
As it turns out, Jackson-Cohen facilitated Moss’ performance at times by standing out of frame in scenes where Cecilia sensed The Invisible Man’s presence. Additionally, he even spent some time in a green screen suit in order to interact with Moss during the film’s many showdowns between The Invisible Man and Cecilia.
“It’s quite funny because you rarely see Adrian, but Lizzie [Elisabeth Moss] and I definitely felt it was important that I be there. I was there on set an awful lot, and I just think it helped her,” Jackson-Cohen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She’s a phenomenal actor, but we just sort of felt that if we’re gonna do this, let’s do this properly. So, I was there — sometimes in a green suit — which is the most embarrassing thing you can ever wear. I definitely wanted to aid in making the terror that Cecilia experiences as real as possible.”
Jackson-Cohen also just wrapped The Haunting of Bly Manor, the much-anticipated follow-up to Mike Flanagan’s hit Netflix anthology series, The Haunting of Hill House. Even though there’s plenty of carryover from season one, Jackson-Cohen is relieved that the second season didn’t opt to play the hits of Hill House again.
“What Mike did with Hill House was brilliant, and we were very fortunate that it was so well-received. But, you can’t really top that or try and recreate that,” Jackson-Cohen explains. “Exploring something entirely different for season two and changing the location was the right thing to do; it’s set in England. It was quite strange because you saw people that you knew, but we had a whole new cast that came in, too. But, it’s great because it doesn’t feel like we repeated anything that we did.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Jackson-Cohen also reflects on The Haunting of Hill House scene that shook him the most, the research that went into his role as Adrian Griffin/The Invisible Man and shooting The Invisible Man’s ending.
Have you hosted any “OCD buffets” since wrapping The Invisible Man?
(Laughs.) Every day! You’re invited to my next one. I love a good OCD buffet.
I resorted to grocery store sushi after my screening because I was so tempted by the sushi on the screen.
That’s not good. That’s really not good. Are you alright? (Laughs.) Originally, that dinner scene was ridiculously long. We were doing these takes that were fifteen minutes long or something. There was so much food and so much eating that had to be done. I was eating raw steak at one point. It was pretty brutal.
Have you seen The Invisible Man action figure boxes that the studio has been sending around with nothing in the action figure slot?
I’ve just landed back in London, and Lizzie just sent me a picture of it! It’s so brilliant. It’s so funny because I feel like the press get all these things. So, I’m going to speak to marketing afterwards because I definitely want one of these. It’s so funny.
Your childhood dream of being an action figure has finally come true.
(Laughs.) I know! You see that? It’s kind of incredible.
Since you got the role, have friends, castmates, reporters, etc. pretended not to see you whenever you arrive somewhere?
The amount of jokes that have come in — right from the get-go — have been like a tornado, and they’re still coming in. It’s so funny. When we were first shooting it, we all went on a hiatus for like five days. So, I went back to London from Australia, and I went to dinner with a friend. They were like, “What are you doing?” and I said, “I’m doing something in Australia.” And they were like, “Oh, cool, cool. What’s it about?” I was like, “Oh, it’s about domestic abuse. It’s really interesting.” They were like, “What’s it called?” and I said, “The Invisible Man.” Then they went, “And who do you play?” and I said, “The Invisible Man.” And they laughed for a good six minutes; they just thought it was hilarious. They were like, “I can’t believe you’re doing this massive movie, and they’re going to take you out of it. Of course that would happen to you!” (Laughs.) It’s been very funny.
Growing up, when you envisioned your career, did you expect to thrive in the genre space like you have?
I don’t know, actually. It’s been really interesting. I’ve had so many conversations in the past couple of weeks about the genre space. I love the genre as an individual, and I genuinely think that there are so many interesting stories to be told in that space. Because of that, I think there are vastly more interesting characters. With The Invisible Man specifically, there was never a point at which my ego ever came into it as “Oh, I’m not actually going to really be in the movie.” What Leigh Whannell has written and the dynamics of this relationship were really fascinating. Adrian, as a character, even though you don’t really see him, still had to have a backstory. Lizzie and I still had to figure out their relationship’s whole backstory, their nuances and how they operate. I find it really, really interesting, and I think that’s what’s happening in this space. I did this show last year called The Haunting of Hill House, and fundamentally, it’s a horror show. But, it’s actually about childhood trauma. So, I think that there are really interesting characters there, and there are really important stories that can be told and made palatable to an audience by exploring the genre. You’re really able to get these messages across in this genre as Leigh has written a movie about gaslighting and surviving domestic abuse after escaping an abusive relationship. I think I’ve just gravitated towards the characters that are offered in this genre.
Actors aren’t supposed to judge their characters, but how do you not do so with someone as monstrous as Adrian?
(Laughs.) Listen, I think I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t done so originally on the page, but in order to find a way in, you have to not. Again, even though you don’t see him a lot, Leigh, Lizzie and I had a lot of conversations about how to portray him. When you do see him as the villain, there’s a version of him that very much could be a mustache-twirling villain, and it’s a testament to Leigh because he’s written a script that is so grounded in reality and incredibly truthful. These people that operate this way — these narcissists and these sociopaths — have so many different facets to their personalities that they can switch on and off. They know how to manipulate and be charming. They even know how to be self-deprecating — and it’s all an act. With the research that we all did, most people like this have something in their childhood. So, I just had to find a way in that way and justify what he was doing — even though it’s horrific. This is a rife problem in the world, and there’s a responsibility to tell that as truthfully as possible. I definitely take no joy in hurting other people, but I had to just find a way into it.
It sounds like you dove pretty deep into domestic violence, narcissism and gaslighting research.
All of it, yeah. We’ve all come into contact with people like this. The thing that I found really eye-opening about narcissists was from an expert in narcissistic personality disorder. While it’s often incredibly intelligent people who get stuck in these cycles with narcissists, she was saying that if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and you leave them, the narcissist cannot compute that you’ve hurt them by leaving them. So, it becomes about revenge. It becomes about, “I have to hurt you because you made me feel so much hurt, and I can’t handle the hurt. So, I’m going to hurt you more than you can hurt me.” That way of operating was terrifying to me, but it’s a very truthful way of operating. Leigh was brilliant. He gave us about three weeks in pre-production where Lizzie, Leigh and I sat down in a room and completely hashed out their relationship, their cycle and everything that went on. Then, we would go away in the evenings, read up and watch documentaries. And then we’d all come together with these stories that we’d come across. So, it was a very collaborative process in that respect.
In scenes where Cecilia senses and/or talks to The Invisible Man, I would wager that you’re out of frame in some of those moments. That way, Elisabeth and her performance could feed off of your presence. And since you haven’t been able to talk about it yet, I also have a feeling that you donned a green screen suit at times during the fight scenes and physical interactions. Was that the case?
(Laughs.) Yes, definitely. It’s quite funny because you rarely see Adrian, but Lizzie and I definitely felt it was important that I be there. I was there on set an awful lot, and I just think it helped her. She’s a phenomenal actor, but we just sort of felt that if we’re gonna do this, let’s do this properly. So, I was there — sometimes in a green suit — which is the most embarrassing thing you can ever wear. All of your dignity gets thrown out the window, but I definitely wanted to aid in making the terror that Cecilia experiences as real as possible.
Was that your fist that went through the car’s sugar glass window?
(Laughs.) It wasn’t. They wouldn’t let me do it. That’s not my fist, but it’s me grabbing her throat if I remember correctly. I was completely out of breath as I chased the car. I’ve now learned to never ever accept a role where you have to run. (Laughs.)
Do you think Adrian, as The Invisible Man, is present in more scenes with Cecilia than just the ones where it’s implied or shown? To me, it’s completely plausible that he was present during the reading of his will or the scene where Cecilia surprises Sydney (Storm Reid) with tuition money.
Oh, definitely. I think that’s what he’s feeding off. This is what these people do; they feed off that power. Really early on, Leigh said to me, “Being invisible is the ultimate power if you really think about it. There’s no consequence.” So, we went through the script and discussed how he enjoys the whole process. He enjoys seeing her happy for a brief moment when she’s trying to rebuild her life. He also enjoys the fact that he’s about to ruin it. So, I do think he is there even before she suspects that maybe he could be.
For the OCD buffet scene, what kind of conversations did you and Elisabeth have since the power dynamics are quite intricate?
We had a lot of conversations about that scene. The biggest thing was what he was actually planning to do with her and what she was actually planning to do with him. There’s so much at play. The original version of that scene was really a lot longer. I said it already, but it was probably about fifteen minutes. We just needed to be very, very clear about how many times we’d been in this situation and what’s at play. I remember reading this article where this woman had been stuck unfortunately in this horrifically abusive relationship, and she said, “Every time I would leave, he would cry, and I would see a little boy. So, I’d go back because I could help him.” All of it was manipulation, and that kind of stuff called to me. I thought that was so fascinating, and that was definitely what I was trying to achieve by pretending to be normal, engaging and caring. It’s all manipulation. There’s so much going on in that scene, and it’s quite frightening.
I’m glad that you guys abandoned the bandaged man look of previous renditions. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if that bandaged man homage at the hospital was actually you underneath it all.
It’s not me. That’s actually one of our PAs called Michael Knott. He was a really, really big fan of the original 1933 movie. So, they got him in the bandages. I think they shot him twice. If I remember correctly, they shot him with the sunglasses on and then with the sunglasses off. I think Leigh made the right decision to not have it so on the nose.
Since Leigh is also an actor, would he provide more specific performance direction than most directors, or did he trust his actors by giving you space?
I think it’s actually both. He knows what he wants, and he understands what you’re having to do because he approaches filmmaking with feeling. He said something to me really early on that I thought was brilliant, and I think it’s a testament to him. He said, “When I write my scripts, I’m aware that it’s 80 percent done. Then, I hire you guys to bring the final 20 percent and finish it off.” He hires people that he admires and trusts. There was definitely a feeling that your contributions were valued. The interesting thing was that we were both on the same page for what we wanted from Adrian — right from the get-go. It made working with him a really enjoyable experience. I do think that working with someone who’s acted does help. He’s able to express direction in a language that you immediately understand as an actor.
When Adrian meets his graphic end, were you able to shake that off for the most part?
No, not at all. (Laughs.)
Actors often tell me that the vibe on set tends to be lighter when everyone knows a heavy scene is imminent. Was that the case for the final showdown?
The whole set, throughout filming, was light. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a shoot. Lizzie is so professional, but she also likes to have a laugh the whole time. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much on a job. There definitely was a lightness. Leigh also had a lot to do with it because he is such a charming, funny and witty man. We had a really great time shooting. The set can’t be as heavy as the material, otherwise we’d just never go back to work. There is something weird that happens, and I don’t understand it. I feel like I die quite a lot onscreen, and there’s something in my brain that cannot understand what’s happened. Every single time that I know I have to die, I get incredibly quiet, and I feel depressed for about twenty-four hours afterwards. You just feel very fragile. Dying seems to really mess with my head whenever I have to do it, but Lizzie and Leigh were around to make jokes and all of that.
Shifting gears, you’re part of a scene that stuck with me long after watching it. It’s the Haunting of Hill House car scene where Luke is trying to convince Nell [Victoria Pedretti] to buy him heroin one last time while en route to rehab. Regardless if you’re a method actor or not, did that scene linger for you as well?
Oh, yeah. Oof, that’s a brutal one. I remember shooting that. It was a night shoot, and we were shooting so much. We got into this car to do the scene, and it was genuinely quite horrific. We did Victoria’s coverage first, and we turned around and did mine. I think I did two takes, and then Mike [Flanagan] came outside and went, “Great, we’ve got it.” And I went, “Let’s move on.” I then got out of the car, walked in the middle of the street and started shaking. I just kept on saying to this poor PA on set, “Where’s Victoria? Where’s Victoria? Somebody needs to find Victoria.” I just sort of fell apart. When you’re doing stuff like that, you sometimes don’t know what’s real and what’s not. There were a couple of scenes, specifically that one in the car, that do stick with you. Victoria and I still talk about that one. Even though you know it’s not real, it was real for that brief moment. Playing Lee Crain was one of the greatest joys. I love that character, and I was very lucky because Mike let me put so much of myself into that. An awful lot of Luke is my experiences and my past. The whole experience of shooting that was very therapeutic in a way but also quite painful at times.
Was Flanagan ecstatic when you landed the Invisible Man role?
(Laughs.) He was, he was. He’s so happy to see everyone from the show thrive, especially Victoria. Hill House was her first role out of drama school.
As far as The Haunting of Bly Manor, it’s a completely new story based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. You and Victoria are obviously playing new characters. Even though there’s plenty of carryover from Hill House, I presume it felt like a completely different show, especially since you shot it in Vancouver?
It did. Yeah, it did. It was quite strange at the beginning, but I think it’s right. What Mike did with Hill House was brilliant, and we were very fortunate that it was so well-received. But, you can’t really top that or try and recreate that. Exploring something entirely different for season two and changing the location was the right thing to do; it’s set in England. But, it was quite strange because you saw people that you knew, but we had a whole new cast that came in, too. It was quite bizarre at first, but it’s great because it doesn’t feel like we repeated anything that we did.
The Invisible Man is now in theaters.
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