'The Haunting of Hill House' Star Oliver Jackson-Cohen on Creating His Character's Painful Journey
"It was by far the most intense experience I’ve ever had," the actor said during a sit-down for The Hollywood Reporter In Studio.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter In Studio, actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen opened up about his experience working on the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. The 10-episode adaptation of Shirley Jones’ novel of the same name became a hit with both critics and audiences after it was released in October 2018. This type of cultural impact felt similar to another little Netflix series you may have heard of called Stranger Things.
"It was insanely overwhelming when it first came out," Jackson-Cohen said. "I was just like, 'yeah we’ve sort of done this show on Netflix, and maybe people will watch it,’ and then it just turned into pandemonium for like three months," Jackson-Cohen said.
The show centers around a family who are tormented by ghosts and forced to flee their house after a tragic event. The timeline toggles back and forth between their time at the house two decades ago and present day where the hauntings continue for the family members, each dealing with the experiences in their own way.
On a surface level, it’s easy to label the show just as straightforward horror, but there’s also a very present element of family drama that anchors the story. "In a weird way this show is sort of exploration about childhood trauma and the aftereffects of what that does to you as an adult," Jackson-Cohen said.
On the show, Jackson-Cohen plays Luke Crain, one of the youngest members of the Crain family and twin to Nell Crain (Victoria Pedretti). As an adult, Luke battles a drug addiction, which he mainly uses to numb the trauma he has experienced. "The fact that he has an opioid addiction is kind of the last resort — it was inevitable that that was going to happen because he’s just struggling and he’s struggled his whole life,” the actor said.
Jackson-Cohen did some research to prepare for the role, but actively avoided leaning too far into the typical drug addict role so often seen in film and on TV. "[Luke’s] whole life is built on this idea that there’s a constant threat. He’s never ever felt safe. So I thought it would be sort of one-dimensional if I focused on the addiction part,” the actor said.
One particularly tough scene for Jackson-Cohen takes place in a car at night where Luke asks Nell to get out of the car, run across the street in the rain and buy him drugs. This proved to be difficult for the actor to shake off even after the cameras stopped rolling. "I got out the car and something really strange happened where I just sort of stood in the middle of the street and then…it’s quite embarrassing but I just started kind of shaking and just started freaking out,” he said. “I just could not calm down. I think once you’re building that stuff up for hours and hours and hours it kinda has to come out somehow."
When asked for his thoughts on what a season two would look like for the Crain family, Jackson-Cohen squirmed a bit at first and then gave a careful, thoughtful response: "With season one and with what happens to the Crain family, I think that it’s been explored and I don’t necessarily know where you would go.” He then added, "with Luke Crain specifically, I feel like there’s so much of me that I put into that, so I think it’s always quite sad if you have to say goodbye."
The Haunting of Hill House boasts a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for a 2019 Writers Guild Award for best new series. A second season, titled The Haunting of Bly Manor, is in the works.