It’s a been quite a life-changing few years for Morfydd Clark. After breaking out as a troubled and God-fearing palliative care nurse in A24’s wonderfully unsettling and critically lauded psychological horror Saint Maud, which was finally released in 2021 after several pandemic delays, the fast-rising Welsh actress headed straight to Middle-earth, fronting The Rings of Power’s ensemble cast as the young and fearless Galadriel.
The second season of Amazon’s megabudget J.R.R. Tolkien prequel wrapped earlier this year, but before donning Galadriel’s battle armor for another orc battle, Clark found the time to venture back into creepy genre territories with Starve Acre, getting its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 12.
From Brit director Daniel Kokotajlo — whose hugely well-received 2017 debut Apostasy earned a BAFTA nomination — and based on the book by Andrew Michael Hurly, the gothic horror sees Clarke star alongside Matt Smith as a couple living in rural England in the 1970s. But what appears to be an idyllic family life is turned upside down when their young son starts acting out of character, leading to a growing obsession over folkloric myths concerning the land around their remote farm house and dark, sinister forces being unwittingly allowed inside.
For Clark, coming from such a major production to a small indie project — one where the “whole crew can fit in one room” — was a special experience. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the premiere, the actress discusses her growing horror library and why she’s fascinated with that cinematic world.
Congratulations on Starve Acre. It’s a wonderfully creepy film. I think it actually creeped me out more than Saint Maud. How do you rank the two?
This is what I always just love about horror in general, because everybody has their own particular thing that makes them be like, “Oh.” I like that about Black Mirror as well. I love asking people what their most horrific Black Mirror is because it’s quite revealing. I think horror is really interesting like that. But I find them both pretty horrifying. I found the relationship with Juliet and her sister very horrifying, because I have a sister so the idea of families being torn apart by a malevolent presence or old trauma very disturbing.
In the space of a few years, you’ve made a fantastic psychological horror and now a more folksy gothic horror. Are you more attracted to these sorts of films?
I think I’m attracted to how fragile we are. And I think that’s something that’s explored a lot in horror. But also I think that the not-listened-to part of any group, which kind of often in horror it’s the woman, something bad happens to them. And I find that quite fascinating. I’m interested in why Millennials and Gen Xers are obsessed with horror as well, and I think it is because we’ve spent our lives being like “I feel there’s a monster,” be it climate change or anything happening politically. So I find that horror and the supernatural and horror stuff can tap into real life in a really interesting way. And there’s also something cathartic about it, about going to the depths of darkness and then turning off.
And have they started to come to you? Saint Maud was obviously hugely well received. Did Daniel approach you after seeing that?
Yeah, I was really lucky that I was approached by Daniel, which I still can’t believe that happened. I was familiar with him from Apostasy, so was very excited, but was also super excited because this couldn’t be more different from that. I had lots of chats with him about the character in the story. He’s a very gentle, empathetic, kind person as well as being really creative, and I feel that you need that gentleness when you’re exploring awful things. So I read the script, but then after speaking to him I was like, yeah, this is a guy that I’d like to do this stuff with. Because you definitely need your environment to feel safe when you’re doing this stuff. But it’s nice to be seen as spooky and freaky. It’s definitely interesting to explore.
There’s something so incredibly creepy about the setting of Starve Acre — the farm itself and the time period really add to the chill factor. Do you feel that at all when you’re making the film or does the fact you’re in the middle of a production with people around you plus lights and cameras nullify it?
Yeah, I think you definitely do get creeped out. And that house we were in, it’s in the valley so you couldn’t see anything but the fields around you. There almost wasn’t a horizon despite being in the middle of nowhere, which was quite eerie. You really did feel like you were trapped in openness. And those kind of sets are so such a weird mixture of having to be very serious at times, but also you’re doing ridiculous things. Everyone exhausted but elated and hysteria is only like a second away. And we also had a lot of animals.
Speaking of animals, without wanting to give too much away, there’s a particularly terrifying hare that crops up later in the film and your characters grows attached to. Was it a real hare or animatronic?
It was a mixture of many things. There was a real rabbit — a type of Belgian rabbit which is massive. I’ve never held a rabbit like that. But the main hare performance was a puppet with an animatronic face. There were five puppeteers. It was really amazing. We wanted it to seem as real as possible but to the point that it was uncanny and creepy. It was wonderful to work with puppeteers because it’s like such a particular discipline. And also you’re working with a gang, so it meant that whenever the hare was there, the room was full. Because there’s me, Matt, Erin [Richards, who plays her sister], the dog, the animatronic hare and then five puppeteers in blue suits, so it was quite a particular experience.
I noticed the hare didn’t blink at all. It really freaked me out.
Apparently you can’t actually do it with a normal real hare because apparently they die of nervousness. That’s how I feel doing press!
So did you shoot this after the first season of The Rings of Power?
Yes. I’d just come back after the first season and this was my first job. And to be doing something where the whole crew was in one room was lucky.
How did it feel going from such a ridiculous huge production to a small indie?
There’s something really special about indies, particularly ones that are filmed in one location. Saint Maud was as well. As I said, all the crew and cast could fit into one room and you do become incredibly close and your’re in your own kind of cabin fever experience. You’re working long hours, you’re trying to get this thing done, and you’re in this creepy house that they’ve picked for its creepiness. It has a particular bonding experience. The elements were also against us and it felt, if you were that way in inclined, folksy and horror-y.
The Rings of Power was such a huge production, and Galadriel was one of the central characters, if not the most central character. How did it feel being front and center of such a major show?
I think whatever the size of something you just are still a cog in it all. And you always feel more like that the bigger the show, because there’s so many people who are making it. So I think in the end, you kind of still feel like a thread in the tapestry.
Have you found that more and bigger roles have come your way since The Rings of Power? Saint Maud is the film that got a lot of people talking and is sort of considered your “breakout,” but after going from that to such a major production did you start to notice more offers come through?
Both happened at the same time. But I feel very lucky where I am right now, because I’ve done things that have expressed who I am, so the people who want to work with me I think understand me. So like Daniel reaching out to me — I think he knew that I would be a kind of kindred artist with him. So it’s nice to be at this point where I am known to a certain degree. The thing I love about this job is that you get to meet so many people and be deep within each others minds. I’m really happy that I seem to have a nice moment where that’s continuing.
You’ve got an Evelyn Glennie biopic and a new Hamlet coming up. Any other creepy gothic horrors on the horizon?
I’m not being super creepy at the moment. But that means I’ll be fully charged when something comes along.