The Hamish Linklater Guide to Midnight Mass<\/em> Violence and Blood-Sucking

Thee following story contains massive spoilers for Netflix’s Midnight Mass.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN was Hamish Linklater’s first horror movie. It was also his last horror movie.

“I had two friends over to my house, and we put the VHS into the VCR, and I watched for… I don’t know. Then I spent the whole time upstairs, and my friends were sitting downstairs,” the star of Netflix’s Midnight Mass said over Zoom after choosing to put a hat on so he would stop playing with his uncharacteristcally-long hair. “And I’ve never come back downstairs since, basically.”

It’s still in the early times, but if the universe possesses any sort of fairness, Linklater should be on the precipice of what we usually call a moment for his work in Mass, the latest series from writer/director Mike Flanagan (the Haunting series) and, yes, a horror. Linklater may still be best known for his role as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ brother in 88 episodes of The New Adventures of Old Christine, but I suspect that’s about to change. He’s revelatory in Midnight Mass as Father Paul—creepy, scary, and compelling all in one as an outsider priest who changes everything in a remote island town.

Linklater has worked in darkness before, though, whether it be as a villain in the trippy sci-fi of FX’s Legion, or as a sex offender in his other 2021 project, Amazon Prime Video’s Tell Me Your Secrets. But horror is a tough one. In fact, his partner is longtime American Horror Story star Lily Rabe—and he can hardly even watch her in Ryan Murphy’s hit series.

“I don’t have any idea what her performances are like,” he says with a dry sense of humor. (So dry, in fact, that I only found out later in our conversation that he actually was watching this season of AHS.) “It’s too scary for me, in general. But it’s a great vehicle for allegory, and for talking about the times, and culture.”

And it was the latter part of that answer that drew him to the role in Midnight Mass, which comes complete with big church sermons, and shows off his massive range as a performer. It also came complete with the trick he’s been looking for to finally become a horror fan: “read the script beforehand.”

“When you’ve read the script, you know when things are going to get scary,” he again says with a deadpan. “So you don’t get scared.”

We caught up on Zoom with Linklater, where he talked landing the Midnight Mass role as Father Paul, the show’s ending, and blood-sucking techniques and coincidences.

When you were getting ready to play Father Paul, did you any sort of research ahead of time? Or any influences from any other movies?

I think if you’re just doing your basic actor work, of playing positive intentions, and going after your positive objectives, and it turns out that you’re a serial sex offender, or a bloodthirsty priest, that stuff sort of takes care of itself. The mixing of your positive intentions, and the genre’s evil over/understanding makes for a nice smoothie, I think, usually, and performance.

I watched Raul Julia in Romero, and, I was just like, play him as the hero, with the real noble version. And I wanted to say those words. I wanted to do those sermons so badly, and I wanted to do that AA scene so badly.

We get a couple of those AA scenes with you and Zach [Gilford]’s character. Were those almost more fun, because it’s more like a play? It feels like maybe the energy is more intense.

Yeah. Those scenes are like [George Bernard] Shaw plays, because it’s like one long essay argument that you’re making, which has a lot of different chapters, and sections, and cul-de-sacs that you go off on. But it’s about craving, it’s about guilt, it’s about addiction. And being at peace with all these things we call sin, in a way that can make you live in a more positive. Yeah, and it was cool.

Zach and I live really near to each other. He went to college with Lily [Rabe], and they were scene partners all the way through college. We have two kids that are the same age, and then by random happenstance, we got cast together in this thing. And it was like Oh! Oh, all those scenes are so playable, but I was nervous about it when I didn’t know who the other person would be. It was so lucky that I got to do those with him.

So, I’m about to shift gears a million degrees in another direction, and ask you something very specific about your character, and your performance: what is it like to suck blood from a person’s throat?

[LAUGHING] You know, you just hope that your diabetes is OK. You have to have a little appetite for corn syrup, and hopefully they’ve put in the zero-calorie blood, because you do sop down on a lot of it.

What’s really tricky is getting the right mix for foamy, frothy barf. Just a little bit of Alka-Seltzer, enough soda water, just the right amount of pink thrown in there. [STARTS TALKING WITH FULL MOUTH] Put it in your mouth, wait for them to say ‘Action!’ and then [SPIT GESTURE]. And then it’s going to be too drooly, or too frothy. That’s really the tricky bit of vampirism that they don’t teach you about in school.

Did you work with Mike, or with anyone, on your blood-sucking technique?

I think… being terrified of horror, sure. But I think there’s something so sensual and sexual—I mean, True Blood and Twilight—there’s something so sensual and sexual about that. I was drinking some blood off the floor, and I made this sort of slurping noise. And it just felt so creepy, but it’s also like, I would think about the blood on the floor like I’m a kitty, and this is my milk, and let me just taste that.

I mean, it’s fun. You do start to get into it. The first scene I had was doing the confession—my first scene that I shot, where there were nine pages of confession. It was a series of monologues in, I think, the third episode. But when he describes the encounter of the angel, and feeling the wings, and the arms, and this sort of overwhelming thing—it’s so sensual, and overpowering, and I think that’s useful for the bible side of it and the horror side of it.

“I was drinking some blood off the floor, and I made this sort of slurping noise. And it just felt so creepy, but it’s also like, I would think about the blood on the floor like I’m a kitty, and this is my milk, and let me just taste that.”

I want to also ask about the actual ending. Father Paul gets shot in the head and comes back to life. I know you said you were playing him straight and as the hero, but he sort of has a turn once he comes back to life when he’s sitting there. Did you see that as an earned turn or was it too little too late?

Yeah. Jeez. Yeah. He thought he was doing the right thing, and he figures out he was not. I don’t know if there’s…I mean, then you get into forgiveness, and, let god sort him out. That’s a good question. I don’t have a real good answer for that, whether he deserves forgiveness at the end. I know he didn’t want that to happen to his community.

Because he discovers what the iterations of this thing are, as it goes along. And that sort of changes his course. First, he thinks it’s like, Oh! We’re just gonna have some wine, and then everybody’s gonna live forever! And then he’s like, Oh, we’re gonna drink some wine, and then everybody’s gotta die, and then they’re gonna come back, and then they need to keep drinking…

But he really does think he’s had this encounter with a true meaning of the scripture, and that’s what he’s there to evangelize.

I do also want to say that the last 10-12 minutes of Episode 6 are some of the most thrilling and compelling television I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t want to broadly ask what was filming that like, because I’m sure there was so much going on. But what was the most important part for you during that sequence?

They planned for that for three months, because we shot the end over four days. So, they had it planned out to within an inch of its life. But then, you know, stuff happens. And also, they moved it as far away from the beginning of the schedule as they possibly could, because they were hoping Hey, maybe Covid will go away, and it’ll be OK to have a big congregation full of people eating each other. So, there was that added danger.

You just wanted to move things along as quickly as possible, so that everybody can get their mask back on. It’s not like You know what? What if my character said…or Wait, just give me one more take, because I feel like I might say something different this time around. We were just really well taken care of by Mike. But violence like that is like staging an orgy. There’s very little sexiness to it. There’s very little violence to it. It’s all about safety, safety, safety, safety.

But that’s, like, the worst thing by far. He should know better. I mean, Father Paul should know better by the time when he takes Rahul’s son from him. I mean, there’s got to be some doubt coming in at that point. That was the part, when I was reading the script, and we got to that part, I was like Oh my god. Oh no. Oh no. Put it away. Too intense. Of course, it has to go here—it has to go here for it to be a good show. But it was just so painful.

It was really heartbreaking. So, I just have one more for you. I know you said you don’t watch when Lily, your partner, is in horror movies. I’ve been watching this season of American Horror Story and I think it’s great, and I think it’s a funny coincidence that her character in that, and your character in this both drink blood. And I’m curious if you two ever discussed that.

[LAUGHING] I have watched this season, and she is spectacular in it. That episode where she turns—I guess Episode 5—is, I think, some of the best stuff certainly that she’s done on that show, but some of the best stuff she’s ever done.

I think I knew I was doing my show, and then she found out what her season was going to be about, and she was like ‘You’ll never guess what my season of Horror Story is going to be about!’ And I was like Oookay. And she was like ‘Yup!’ And we didn’t really talk about it again! [LAUGHING]

Well, I’m a horror fan and loving both.

And Finn [Wittrock], her husband on the show, I babysat him at Shakespeare and Company. He lives right around the corner too. There’s a lot of weird connections in this ‘hood over here.

That’s cool though. Must be some fun block parties.

[LAUGHING] Fun playdates, really.

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