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Carla Gugino – The Fall of the House of Usher

In recent years, you’ve worked a lot with Mike Flanagan, on the Haunting shows and The Fall of the House of Usher. He has a very unique approach to horror.

He never wants to do the “surface” version of anything. He, for whatever reasons, has such a strong connection to this particular genre — to explore really profound issues, and the conundrum of being a human being. The Haunting of Hill House explores familial trauma, generational trauma, what you carry with you, and ultimately forgiveness and redemption. And it has this love-filled sentiment at the end — which has always been kind of a “no-no” for horror. I think it’s one of the reasons that show resonated so strongly all around the world. Certainly, Usher is exploring power and the abuse of power, and how eventually it’s going to come around to some form of accountability . . . He tells very profound stories within a really entertaining genre.

The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix. Pictured: Carla Gugino as Verna.

Those themes could be tackled in a more “grounded” drama. But what does horror add as a storytelling tool?

I think with horror, there are certain requirements that you have to fulfil. You have to scare people and you have to really play into the element of surprise — and once you’ve accomplished those two things, you can be as smart as you want to be. If you’re doing a straight-up drama, sometimes things can become either heavy-handed or too on-the-nose or “pandering” in some way. Sometimes people think it’s disguising [your message], but you can enhance it by putting it into a heightened environment . . .

Playing Verna in House of Usher, where did you begin — given that she’s not human, so she doesn’t have the typical human motivations and frailties? She’s this Faustian deal-maker toying with us mortals . . .

I’ve played “strong” or “powerful” people, but to play someone whose life isn’t really affected by the outcome of something is such a strange and interesting prospect. One incarnation of that could have been a fait accompli kind of thing. Like, “Oh, I already know what’s going to happen” — and that’s really boring. What I realized was, Verna still remains incredibly curious about human beings. Human beings are these really unpredictable creatures. There are a couple of characters that’s the case with, where she thinks she’s going to get one answer [after offering a deal], she’s pretty sure — but in the many, many, many centuries she’s lived, maybe one per cent of the time, they surprise her. And she’s always looking for that.

You’ve worked so much in television, but they all tend to be short-term projects. Was that by design?

Absolutely. I didn’t want to be on something for a very long time — just because, in terms of my creative nature, I know I’d get locked into a feeling where I wouldn’t keep discovering new things. That being said, there have been a couple of instances of shows that I would have loved to continue with — Karen Sisco, Jett, Political Animals. Still though, my feeling is three or four years. I don’t like to be defined as one thing, and always want the opportunity to be believable in a different world, with a different character.

The Fall of the House of Usher, streaming on Netflix

The Girls on the Bus airs Thursday, May 9 on Crave1


A versatile and ubiquitous screen presence, Gugino has distinguished herself in cinematic blockbusters Spy Kids, Sin City and American Gangster. On TV, she’s equally prolific — but her greatest recent successes have come with creator Mike Flanagan in series like The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor that have, truly, redefined small-screen horror.


In October, Gugino starred in yet another Flanagan show — playing the demonic trickster/temptress/raven-come-home-to-roost for a family of corrupt billionaires, in the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Fall of the House of Usher. She also stars in journalism dramedy The Girls on the Bus, which airs its finale this Thursday.

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