Spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor Episode 9, “The Beast in the Jungle,” below.
Like all the best ghost stories, The Haunting of Bly Manor is really about the human mind. Over the course of nine episodes, the series explores heartbreak, denial, shame, dementia and anxiety, all through the prism of a haunted house in the English countryside, where an American au pair is hired to take care of two orphaned children.
Victoria Pedretti’s Dani at first glance looks like a classic Gothic archetype – the naive ingenuous walking unsuspecting into a trap. At Henry James The turn of the screw, which inspired the series, the housekeeper appears thus at the beginning, but proves to be increasingly unreliable and perhaps unstable. The central question in the news is whether the governess’s horrific visions are real or are a symptom of insanity. There is no doubt in Manor of Bly whether Dani is sane or if the ghosts that haunt the mansion are real, but her sanity is central in a different way.
Dani de Pedretti is innocent but guarded, her effervescent personality belies a coiled spring of tension stemming from years of guilt and repression: Dani is a queer woman who came of age in 1970s America, and desperately tried to make people want what society has told them. should. When the illusion became impossible to sustain, she told her childhood fiance and best friend, Eddie, why she couldn’t marry him. Seconds later, he died in a bizarre car accident.
“The one time she decides to talk to her confidant, the person she loves most in the world, he fucking died!” Exclaims Pedretti when we catch up on the phone. “So she takes this as a message that, hey maybe you should lock that and throw in the key. ”
But repressed truths have a way to emerge, and Dani’s anxiety continues to bubble to the surface after arriving at Bly Manor, tormenting her with terrible visions that have nothing to do with the actual ghosts of the mansion. It isn’t until she meets Jamie (Amelia Eve), the blunt but insightful gardener of the house, that she begins to heal. Pedretti talks to ELLE.com about portraying anxiety as a strength rather than a weakness, how Dani’s costumes reflect her shifting mindset, and how Dani’s romance and Jamie anchors the series.
When we spoke on set earlier this year, you were talking about the comparison between Nell in The Haunting of Hill House and Dani. You said they had both been silenced in different ways.
For very different reasons, they both had to be very careful who they chose to talk to, as they tended not to be believed. Nell tries to silence her family, even though she wears her heart on her sleeve and can’t help but try to bring her family together to understand the truth of what is going on. But in Dani’s case, she keeps quiet because she knows full well what it is to be a queer person in the 1980s. She doesn’t want to be silenced or pushed aside, so she does. does it to itself, I guess.
Even before seeing Dani’s story in America, she clearly wants to reinvent herself. What exactly is she looking for when she takes the job at Bly?
I think we all deserve to be able to reinvent ourselves. It gets harder and harder as the cancellation culture and social media assess who we are, what we’re supposed to say, feel, and do, and how others are supposed to respond to it. But there is great joy in regaining anonymity and being able to be whoever you want. There’s something really powerful about the way she convinces herself that if she plays that role, she could be that thing, when in the end that’s not true. There is a version of ourselves. Although we all play many roles and parts in our existence, there is something that ties them together and that is who you are as a person. And she ultimately serves everyone better when she is herself. That’s what she needs to learn.
Dani’s anxiety attacks are a big part of the burden she carries at the start of the series. What did it mean for you to portray this experience?
That’s a really precious thing to show, because… what the hell is this? An anxious heroine? Where have I seen this before? And that’s true. There are a lot of people who are extremely sensitive, do extremely difficult things, and have a big impact on the world. They don’t need to be sidelined. She is capable of so many things, clearly. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to describe it. Especially compared to a character like Dani, who ends up really, really confronting him. Because most of the time when you see it, it’s in relation to Eddie. That kind of eviction. She is starting to feel good. And all of a sudden, she’s back in memories of why she doesn’t deserve to feel this, and she has this deep fear. He throws her into a spiral. But when it comes to real things to be afraid of, she’s always there, ready to go.
I sometimes think people with anxiety are better prepared for crises because they spend so much time preparing for the worst case scenario.
I think this is absolutely true. Anxiety doesn’t mean we are weak. It means that every now and then you have an irrational fear of things. That doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to fight it and deal with it. This is not your main characteristic.
Dani and Jamie’s love story is such a joy to watch. What has been your experience in building this relationship?
There is something really beautiful about the way Jamie and Dani meet. Not immediately for love, but at first they create a sense of camaraderie. They gradually see how they are specially prepared to be there for each other. They just have the tools. Dani is having an anxiety attack and Jamie’s instinct is to say exactly what Dani needs to hear. We are very lucky when we find these people who don’t make us ashamed of who we are, but rather say, “That’s cool. It gets like that sometimes.” They slowly build trust and boundaries with each other, and they take it day by day. As Jamie eventually puts it, even in all the chaos of life and the tragedy they know how to await them, it’s still worth being together.
Dani’s wardrobe changes a bit throughout the season. How important were the costumes to you in character building?
She finds herself more and more comfortable as the season progresses. A certain gaze was very important for her to hide her authentic self. But as the series continues, it breaks some of the facade and questions the functionality of the shit it does. How much am I hiding by erecting this facade? Very little. People still see through it, and it is true for all of us. At the end of the day, we can’t control how people see us. If we try to do that, it’s pretty unproductive.
Running after the kids, dealing with all those crazy things at the mansion, makes her try a little less [her clothes], but she still likes to turn a look. Even as this continues, she loves fashion and she loves to feel feminine and really loves to express herself creatively. I always remember the costume she wears when the Lady of the Lake shows up. She wears this dark pink speckled sweater with brown pants and a ponytail, but she still wears those big ass earrings she adores. Because they make her feel good. There are some things that will not change.
Dani’s monologue in the finale, where she says she feels like being stalked by this beast and it will eventually catch her, felt like a metaphor for a lot of things in real life. How did that resonate with you?
I guess the greater parallel would be like cancer or a parasite. Something inside of you that is slowly invading and taking away your source of life. But also just death in general – sometimes I’m struck by the fact that I’m going to die. But in terms of filming, I tried to tell it more in my imagination about what it would really be like to be in this situation. I chose to make it more tangible and physical in the way I imagine things.
The season is a matter of memory. Owen’s mother dying early on from dementia feels like a very deliberate choice as the series continues to explore these characters who are trapped in their memories.
Ghosts have been portrayed in many ways over the show’s two seasons. But I think there’s something very significant about the idea that no matter if something continues or not, we have these experiences that left an impression on us and we keep them. We keep them in our memories. The great loves of our present and past lives, but especially past ones, have had an impact. When it ends, it doesn’t stop. He is always there. And I think it’s a very real and beautiful feeling. Whether it’s death or a breakup, you don’t forget it, even if you do.
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