Nell Tiger Free Scared the Crew with Performance

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Nell Tiger Free Scared the Crew with Performance


For the uninitiated moviegoers who catch The First Omen this weekend, Nell Tiger Free’s performance will be something of a revelation. For fans of M. Night Shyamalan’s Apple TV+ series Servant, her performance will further expand on what they saw for four seasons.

The English actor, who’s also known for memorable roles on Game of Thrones and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Too Old to Die Young, plays American novitiate Margaret Daino in Arkasha Stevenson’s prequel to Richard Donner’s 1976 horror classic, The Omen. The story centers around Margaret’s arrival at a Rome orphanage and her discovery of a wicked plot to spawn the Antichrist. But as Free’s character dives deeper into the disturbing conspiracy, her own personal demons begin to resurface, leading to a scene that pays homage to Isabelle Adjani’s famous subway scene in Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession (1981). 

Free ultimately needed just two takes to pull off the showstopping scene, and she feels a form of twisted pride due to the profound impact that her performance had on the First Omen crew.

“There’s something so satisfying about releasing parts of yourself that, society-wise, you should keep hidden. It’s this real animalistic rage that I tapped into and let come out, so it felt amazing,” Free tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And it was really satisfying to see a couple of people walk off set because they were so uncomfortable. People wouldn’t look me in the eye afterwards because they thought I was evil. So I loved the experience.”

The Omen franchise is most known for the line, “Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you,” and Free didn’t realize until now that her Servant character, Leanne Grayson, had referenced the words of Omen screenwriter David Seltzer just months before she, as Margaret, would hear a variation of the iconic line on the set of The First Omen.

“That’s a pretty cool connection that I didn’t even think of. Wow,” Free says. “I don’t think anybody else has caught onto that.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Free also discusses the ending of Servant and why she had to partially stretch the truth about how much she knew regarding her character’s arc in the preceding seasons.

After Game of Thrones’ Myrcella, Too Old to Die Young’s Janey, Servant’s Leanne and now The First Omen’s Margaret, you’ve been put through a lot these last nine years. Have you checked in with yourself? Are you still sleeping alright? 

I’m alright! I’m hanging in there! I’ve been poisoned, shot in the head and set on fire, but I’ve loved it all. It was great. I’m at my most comfortable when I’m in the strangest situations. And to answer your question about sleeping, I will be sleeping immediately after this. 

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 20th Century Studios’ The First Omen.

Moris Puccio/20th Century Studios

Early on in The First Omen, Margaret witnesses a “birth” that causes her to pass out. Did they shoot your coverage without you having to observe that grisly sight? 

Yeah, a lot of that scene was done with a dot on the camera, but I did get to see pieces of it before I shot it so that I knew what Margaret was seeing. And on the other side of the glass, there was always movement and activity. So there were some moments where I was actually watching [the pregnant character] convulse like that, which was really helpful for my performance because it was shocking and visceral. So there were moments, but I didn’t get to see that shot live.

Were you shocked by what Arkasha got away with in the current R-rated cut, especially in that scene? 

No, because I know Arkasha. (Laughs.) So I wasn’t surprised. I know how much she cared about every piece of this movie remaining intact. She didn’t want it chopped and changed. She didn’t want it diluted in any way. I would never say no to Kasha, personally, just because I trust everything that she says. So I’m not surprised that she managed to get everything she wanted in the movie.

There are various shots of jackals and spiders having physical contact with Margaret. Were you able to pass that work off to a double, or did you endure it all? 

I endured some of it, for sure. I definitely had some one-on-one time with the jackal, which was a fabulously scary experience. The moments where it’s macroed in on her stomach, sometimes that’s me and sometimes it’s not. I actually forget which ones are and aren’t me, but most of it is all me.

(L-R): Director Arkasha Stevenson and Nell Tiger Free as Margaret on the set of 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN.

Moris Puccio/20th Century Studios

Margaret has a few scenes where she has these uncontrollable spasmodic episodes, but the showstopper in the street pays homage to Isabelle Adjani in Possession. Is it virtually impossible to not feel humiliated as hundreds of people watch you wig out? 

To be honest, I felt the exact opposite. That was my biggest worry going into that scene as well, but you have to rid yourself of all of that if you’re going to do scenes like that. You really do. You can’t be self-conscious because being self-conscious will kill it. It will kill it dead. So I felt the opposite. During and after, I felt empowered and I felt strong, emotionally. There’s something so satisfying about releasing parts of yourself that, society-wise, you should keep hidden. It’s this real animalistic rage that I tapped into and let come out, so it felt amazing. It really did. And it was really satisfying to see a couple of people walk off set because they were so uncomfortable. People wouldn’t look me in the eye afterwards because they thought I was evil. So I loved the experience. It felt real and like we did something cool. 

I heard you did two takes of it. Could you have kept going? 

Physically, I actually don’t know if I could have, but I promise you that I would’ve tried. If Arkasha asked me, I would’ve tried. Each of those takes were around six or seven minutes long so, by the end of it, it was nearly 15 minutes in total. We also had more to shoot afterwards, so I think they wanted to not kill me. (Laughs.) So we only did two takes, but it’s all one shot or one continuous shot.

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 20th Century Studios’ THE FIRST OMEN.

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

My favorite line of yours, as Margaret, is “Who said that!?” The abrupt timing and ferocity was just so well done. Is there a story behind that moment? 

There’s an earlier scene in the movie where Margaret’s having a night terror or vision, and this voice comes in and starts parroting her and mimicking her or speaking alongside her. It’s something that she’s experienced since she was a kid, and in that moment, she’s been put through so much that she snapped over it happening again. It’s real rage. She’s angry at the things that are happening around her. She’s not even scared anymore in that moment. It’s like, “Just leave me alone.” So we tried it a couple of different ways and that ended up being the way that landed the most.

The First Omen ends in a place that alludes to more story. Would you be keen to see that story unfold? 

Yeah, of course. I would love to see what happens next if there is a happening-next. I’d be happy to stay in this universe a little while longer, so whatever they choose to do will be the right thing.

The Omen’s most famous line is “Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you,” and on the eighth episode of Servant’s final season, you performed Laura Marks’ line, “It’s all for me, Julian.” 

(Free’s eyes widen in recollection.) Oh yeah, I did!

Did you know at that point on Servant that you’d be making a prequel to the movie that inspired that line? 

I didn’t know that during 408. I think I found out in 410 that I was making The First Omen, but that’s a pretty cool connection that I didn’t even think of. Wow.

When your casting in The First Omen was eventually announced, no one from Servant reached out to say how weird it was that they wrote that line for you?

No, you’re the first person who’s mentioned this to me. I don’t think anyone else has caught onto that. 

Well, we’ve gotta talk about the end of Servant just because I’ve spent half my life talking to you about it. 

(Laughs.)

[The next seven questions/comments contain spoilers for Servant.]

You once mentioned to me that you weren’t told Leanne’s full arc ahead of time, but when you eventually shot the ending, you said that it confirmed your earlier suspicions. So you really anticipated the “fallen angel” reveal?

Yeah, I did. To be honest, I kind of knew from the beginning. 

You lied! 

Yeah, I kind of did lie. I kind of knew from the beginning because [M.] Night [Shyamalan] said this one thing to me on the first day. And when he said it to me, I thought, “I think that this is the trajectory for the whole thing.” And it was. So I kind of knew. It wasn’t confirmed, but I knew deep down what it was going to be. 

But they did pull the rug out from under us [in 407]. I thought, “Okay, they’ve switched it over without us knowing, and she has actually just been crazy the whole time.” And then they pulled it back. So I think I knew the whole time. It was just never confirmed, so I didn’t fully lie to you, I promise.

Yeah, Uncle George (Boris McGiver) briefly convinced Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Julian (Rupert Grint) that she was an unhinged con artist. Would you have been disappointed if she wasn’t supernatural to some degree?

Initially, when I first read that [407] script, I was disappointed. We didn’t have the other scripts after it yet, so I was like, “What!? She’s not!? Oh my God.” But then Toby [Kebbell[ and I talked about it more, and he was like, “Listen, if she isn’t [supernatural], what a performance. You’ve come from it the whole time thinking that you’re supernatural, and if you’re not, then it’s a great impression of being a lunatic.” So he was just being lovely and trying to spin it for me in a way that I would be excited about it. But I liked the fact that it ended the way it ended and that it was what it was.

Nell Tiger Free as Leanne Grayson in Servant

Apple TV+

Returning to the one truth that Night told you at the start of the series, did he use the term “fallen angel,” or did he vaguely define it?

I will never tell. (Laughs.)

I once used the phrase “a fist and kiss” to describe how Leanne saved Julian’s life after he overdosed in season three, and I’ll always remember how much that phrasing cracked you up at the time. 

(Laughs.) I remember that! I laughed about that for a while.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when that fist-and-a-kiss moment came back for the final reveal involving Julian. Did that catch you off guard as well? 

Yeah, that one actually did catch me off guard. I caught onto it a little bit towards the end because there were some whisperings behind closed doors, but it did surprise me that they ended up going in that direction. 

We’ve talked about Myrcella’s death in the past, but I was surprised to learn that you haven’t actually seen Game of Thrones yet. Have you at least watched Myrcella’s death scene, as well as Janey’s and Leanne’s?

My family would watch Game of Thrones in our living room, and even on my episodes, I would just leave the room. I was like, “No, I can’t let it in.” I was very, very self-conscious then, and I was terrified of doing a bad job. But I came into the room for the death scene because I was curious, so that was the only time I’ve ever seen [Game of Thrones].

I haven’t watched Janey’s [death scene]. Leanne’s, I did see. I was curious about a certain thing that I didn’t know was going to happen until the end. So I was curious to see what they ended up doing, but I haven’t seen Janey’s yet.

[The spoiler section for Servant has now concluded.]

Last year, I asked you about Carrie Fisher’s long-delayed final movie, Wonderwell, which you co-starred in at age 16. Well, it finally came out that summer, so did you and Sebastian Croft make a point to watch it together?

We were in different countries when it was released. I flew home a day early from where I was so that I could sit and watch it with the rest of the cast. We were kids when we made that film, and we’re all so close. [Sebastian] is my best friend, and we all met on that film. So it just felt like such a fun revisitation of our childhoods. To see us all captured at that period of our lives, it was just a fun thing to go back and see.

As I expressed at the start, you’ve been put through quite the wringer in your young career, and I hope that you get a chance to play something light soon. If you had your druthers, what would you want to do next?

I don’t know. I didn’t know that I wanted to do this film until I saw it. It is hard because there’s so much amazing stuff out there that’s waiting to be written or has been written that I just haven’t seen yet. You read great things, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like the right next thing. So I’m just waiting to have that experience again of knowing, “Okay, this is what I want to do now.” So I don’t know if it’ll be another horror, but it could be.

***
The First Omen opens in theaters on April 5. 



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