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Celia Weston Interview
Q: Tell me a little bit about Lady Ambrosia and why she's kidnapping children.
A: Well, obviously a very disturbed individual, and, even though I have a double major in psychology, I don't know what the label would be for her beyond neuroses, I mean, I think it's a psychosis; a psychotic situation that she would ever reason her behavior into action. But she is sheltering children, she thinks, from a very hard and damaged adulthood because of her experience with her own son whom she has raised and kept tied with apron strings and has also drafted into this collusion; this heinous life of eliminating children on their twelfth birthday so that they don't have the hard experience and anguish of adolescence and adulthood. And these are children who are damaged in physical ways, we don't know – we don't get very specific as to why these children are here – unwanted, orphaned and handicapped in physical ways. So she has reasoned this mission into a reality, just a horrific reality, and her son is her partner in it, and so is her husband.
Q: Since her reasoning had something to do with her own son, what happened to him that would make her want to do this to other children?
A: All of that is made pretty clear in the story. There was a brother, another son, and the two of them were in a boating accident. The older son was the golden boy in whom they had invested all their dreams and hopes, and for whatever reason the younger son was physically damaged – and I guess it's up to the viewer to decide his mental capacity – but he's for sure been victimized and subjugated by his mother that he as subscribed to her demands all of these years. That was the beginning of it, her grief over the loss of the healthy boy, and her mandate then to make a life for the damaged child. That's where all the complexity lies in her and how disturbed she is by what life has dealt her that she could go to this, I think, psychotic extreme and absolving herself of it, too, because she takes in all these children and nurtures them and she's like the Earth Mother, and they have this beautiful communal life together of arts and crafts and loving nature. So I'm sure she's absolved herself by giving them a wonderful first pre-adolescent life and, in her mind, she has to spare them the heartache of what's ahead.
Q: What made you want to take on this role?
A: Well how often do you get to play a woman with this duality to the world – a woman who seems so selfless and mindful, and so socially devout in accepting her responsibility for children no one else wants, and then the other side of it, she's a murder. She's a mass murderer of children. What's not appealing to play that? That someone offers it to you, and has the trust in you to play the stuff out of it, and I haven't been offered a killer role before.
Q: How do you get inside the head of character like this?
A: I'm sure you've heard actors say this before, but you get in trouble if you start judging your character. That's who you are, and that's your reality and that's what you play and you have to be in every moment of it, and you have to make that real. You can't play an attitude. I couldn't be twisting-an- imagined-mustache-over-in-the-corner-like villain. She doesn't see herself as that. She sees herself as their savior. So that's what you play. You play what's real to that character and their brain, no matter how disturbed or sick. You get in trouble when you start judging and deciding you have to indicate to the audience who this person is. The audience is too smart, and one of my pet peeves is to see a portrayal with the assumption that the viewing public en masse is about an 85 IQ. We all know those shows. This is a very smart show. But I would never, in any portrayal, pander to the audience as if they can't get what you're doing.
Q: Had you worked with any of the cast members of the show previously?
A: No, not with anyone. I'd never met James. Mark Blum who plays my husband, and I his wife, I've certainly known for a long time as a fellow New York actor, I'd never met him either. Gabriel Ebert, who plays our son, I had not met or seen, he's had mostly a stage career so far. He won the Tony Award for his role in Matilda The Musical when it first opened – guess it's been a couple of years now that it's been running. So we'd never met before either, but the three of us together, that was really very enjoyable and Gabe and I are now friends, too. We had theater tickets for Saturday but he got a television pilot, so that's the best reason to not be able to use your ticket. [Laughs.]
Q: What kind of physical look did you, or the costume and designers, want to bring out in Lady Ambrosia? And did you want to use your own Southern accent or go with something different?
A: I have my own Southern accent if they're paying for that. I didn't have one with Lady Ambrosia, and as far as wardrobe and hair and all of that, these producers are very hands on, and even before I came on those decisions were made. I certainly had some input, but largely they had decided on the colors that wanted to use; there's the element of the butterflies and they were using the colors of the butterflies and the woods and they wanted to carry that out in my wardrobe. I have lots of layers because the exterior shooting we did, for as much inclimate, very warm, weather as we've had in New York this winter season, of course that day it was 20-something degrees outside, so I have a lot of layered clothing, and then for continuity I had to have that, for the most part, inside as well, and there were color tones that were chosen for that, for their world. So, no, I didn't have a lot of input that way.
She wears very little makeup because she's an Earth Mother. That's her priority. I think they wanted my hair a little longer, and I did have some hair extensions, so that was fun. I felt very Beyonce [laughs] – only in my head mind you, there's no similarities.
Q: Well she does indeed work her hair.
A: I work to keep mine on. [Laughs.]
Q: It's interesting that you didn't use your own accent, particularly since we're seeing so many non-Southern actors playing with those accents on a lot of TV series now – and some aren't very good for where the characters are supposed to be from.
A: It's really gets under the skin of a Southerner in the worst way when that happens – and there are so many Southern accents. I do pride myself on having a good ear, and I can pretty often, really pinpoint from what state and how far east or west in that state someone is from, but people are doing a generic Southern accent, God bless'em. If you have a really good dialect coach, if you have a good ear – it's like trying to sing – if you don't have an ear for it then it's a very hard slough to get on top of an accent.
Then when I got to work on Snow Falling on Cedars, the director, Scott Hicks, told the dialect coach: "'She's perfect. Don't bother her.'" That didn't come from anything I said, but he was perfectly pleased with it and didn't want the notion of anybody else messing with it. It's tricky with a dialect coach. Sometimes you can get into line reading. Sometimes what you're being told may not be completely accurate. It's very fragile, so I've been lucky to have a good ear and a means in which to study before I get to set.
Q: Were you a fan of The Blacklist before you started working on the episode?
A: I had never seen it. I knew it was a big hit show, and I always thought James Spader was such an interesting actor. When I was offered it, several weeks before we started work, way before Christmas, and I had said something to my niece about it and at Christmas in my stocking were the DVDs for the first two seasons. So I binge watched before we started work, so I came to an understanding of who everybody was and the premise. It has so many die-hard fans, really devoted, who were tickled that I'm their favorite show.
I've had so many texts coming in since they promo'd it last week, so I'm very excited that my family and friends are excited about it. I'm still close with quite a number of my college friends and I don't have a computer. I don't email. So I don't do a mass release of my schedule or have a website or any of that. So I'm always grateful that they manage to find out on their own and spread the word.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you find James Spader's work interesting – what is it about him, as an actor, that you find interesting? And did you get to do any work with him during the episode?
A: Not then, because he is the busiest man in show business. They were shooting two episodes at a time, and you know how verbose his speeches are when he speaks, and how specific and how much exposition is in each of them. We didn't have hang time like that. We were ready to go, and everybody took their places and we got it done. But I think he's made some interesting choices. He doesn't make the obvious choices. I loved Secretary. I thought that was such a special film that he made with Maggie Gyllenhaal. The part he did in Lincoln. He was so specific, and he just doesn't make obvious choices and that's what I try to work on as an actor.
Sometimes you're with a director, especially on a television show, where they want the most basic, obvious choice, and they're befuddled or worried about something beyond that that's different. But I think he's very brave to always go for that, you know. And that's why he is where he is because he has a unique, exceptional, provoking discipline in his choices.
Q: Some blacklisters get their comeuppance in the end – and others survive with the possibility that they could even come back in a recurring role. How do things leave off with Lady Ambrosia?
A: Oh no, there will be no return of Lady Ambrosia. They're complete with a maggots demise.
A: Yeah. Mmmhmm. We didn't know about that. We knew we were gonna meet our maker, Gabriel, the son, and I. When we were actually in the well, and this well was very tiny, we were waiting for everything to be ready for us to crawl into a door like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we overheard props talking about, "'Oh yeah, and then we'll set the butterflies and then we'll do the maggots…'" And I turned to Gabriel and said, "'Maggots!'" We hadn't heard anything about that, but we were both good sports, and they used a kind of a worm, I call'em show biz maggots, because they're bigger so you can see them. But they really are a worm.
But Gabriel and I were really good sports about it, I think, if I have to pat ourselves on the back. And it wasn't horrible, horrible.
Q: Do you know how many worms were in there with you?
A: No. It wasn't like they were all over our faces or anything like that. But I think we really just dealt with it. It's what they needed and so we went with it.
Q: Ah, they never tell you this is part of the glamorous life of an actor…
A: [Laughs.] And for good reason, I think. I don't think they knew how good humored we be about it, and we were good sports. But I'm sure they had to worry about "'what if…'" if we weren't. That'd make for a long day. But when they were crawling on our hands for the close up, and going up my sleeve and all, Gabriel said, "'Are you alright?'" And I said, "'I think I have a little throw-up in my mouth.'" And he said, "'Really?'" He was so concerned. And I said, "'Oh no.'" It really wasn't bad at all.
Q: Well, besides the maggots, were there any other memorable moments?
A: I thought the crew members were great sports, too; hair and makeup, they have so much on their plates, and they are just very helpful, and respectful and made me feel very integral, and I appreciate that always. And I thought the child who does the main child's work, she was remarkably patient for what she has to go through, so hats off to her; how still she had to be, and her cocooning. And the beautiful butterflies that we had to work with, the whole science of it was interesting to me.
They're in hibernation; they keep them at this low temperature so they can go to sleep, and just when you need them to not fly away, but start flapping their wings, they're warmed up by the lighting. I thought it was just beautiful. How often do you get to have beautiful butterflies just land on you, and sit on your cheek? That was just thrilling.
Q: Do they have to put anything on your face or your body to get them to land on you?
A: No, they are placed because they are asleep, and so they're in little envelopes through which, of course, they can breathe, and the handler knows just how to take them out carefully without injuring them and placing them where they're wanted, and of course they eventually start moving around and start flying around -- which they want them to do, too. But on occasion, when they wanted one to be on your hair or your hand or your cheek, or something like that, then they managed to get a shot. It was very interesting. And I don't know what kind they were. I know what they're supposed to be which is not a friendly butterfly – whoever heard of a carnivorous butterfly? But they exist. These were not they. But they are a character in the plot because they're supposed to be carnivores from South Africa.
Q: And so they eat humans…
A: They eat meat. [Laughs.]