Oliver Jackson-Cohen on Building His Own ‘Bly Manor’ Villain and Those ‘Hill House’ Comparisons

From ELLE

Spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor episode 7, “The Two Faces, Part Two,” below.

The Haunting of Bly Manor has no shortage of ghosts, apparitions and otherworldly villains, most of them working both as literal threats and metaphorical representations of guilt, grief, and denial. But the most memorable and complex of all the baddies haunting Bly Manor is Peter Quint, a suave Glaswegian valet who’s hiding a whole host of dark secrets behind his rakish smile.

After briefly appearing as a frightening specter haunting the manor, Quint is introduced in episode 3, “The Two Faces, Part One,” as a fantasy of an urbane 1980s man, shopping for tailored menswear and premium whiskey in west London to the sounds of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Even as the fantasy is undercut with the revelation that the luxury goods are for his boss, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), Peter still retains an air of effortless confidence. That easy surface charm belies a dark, singleminded determination to get ahead at all costs—and to escape his own past, no matter who he takes down in the process. That charm also enthralls Wingrave’s newly hired au pair, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), whose tumultuous affair with Quint ends up destroying her.

Jackson-Cohen speaks to ELLE.com about Quint’s toxic relationship with Rebecca, the machismo he wears as a mask, and how he compares to The Haunting of Hill House‘s Luke Crain.

Luke really goes through the wringer in The Haunting of Hill House—heroin addiction, deep grief, a near-death experience—so you had a lot of heavy stuff to play. When you were approached to return for Bly Manor, was it important to you that Peter Quint be a very different kind of character?

On Hill House, Mike [Flanagan, series creator] used to always feel sorry for Luke and apologize [for] days when I had to be in floods of tears and all that. But it’s my job! It is my job, at the end of the day. So with this, Mike called me as he was standing outside the Netflix building, I think last February. Nothing had been announced, they were still talking about what they were going to do [with season 2]. He called me out of the blue and said “Hey, I’ve got this idea. It’s Turn of the Screw, do you want to be in it?” He said he wanted me and Victoria [Pedretti] to be in it. I went, “Yeah, of course, who do you want us to play?” And he went, “I don’t really know. I think Victoria will play the nanny and then we’ll figure it out with you.” Coming on that early was kind of incredible, because we got to develop Peter together.

What did that process look like?

Well, Mike initially said to me, “He’s the villain,” and my immediate response was, “Okay, but why?” In the book he is this kind of threatening specter, so how do we make him human?

Read more