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July 01, 2019
Online Originals

What Haunts Us

Timothy Hutton’s patriarch in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House has two sides - played by two actors.

The Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is not really about ghosts.

Oh, the ghosts are there, and they can be pretty nasty, but the real haunting occurs within the characters of the Crain family.

The series plays in two timelines, one when the family first moves into Hill House, planning to renovate and flip it, and a later one when the children are grown and dealing with the terrible things that happened in the house.

The family patriarch, Hugh, is played by two actors, Henry Thomas as the young Hugh, and Timothy Hutton as the older man.

Hutton was drawn to the role for a very simple reason, "Well it really just comes down to reading a script and it grabs me and makes me feel excited or inspired or very invested in what's going to happen. It really it just comes down to liking something and wanting to be a part of it and hoping that that's what happens. For me it's never really been any more complicated than that.

"There's never been a time where I was looking for a certain type of story or a certain type of character. It's just always been I like to read a lot of different scripts and see what's out there sand see who's making what. Then you come across some amazing stories and characters.

"That's really what kind of drives me. I read something and I really like it. Or someone mentions a script that they read and they think that I'll really like it.

"[The Haunting of Hill House] just was appealing on so many levels. The idea of being one of two of the actors playing the role of Hugh and that Henry Thomas was playing the younger version of the character was really interesting.

"To work with another actor and figure out who this person was and kind of have shared behaviors and ways of speaking and ways of relating to the other characters around them was a really interesting thing to me."

Thomas and Hutton spent some time working together on the character. Hutton says, "We had a meeting very early on. Mike Flanagan, Henry, and myself. Before we started filming we just talked about Hugh and talked about what happened to him and what was going to happen to him. How it would be great if we could kind of think about ...

"We all, the three of us in the room, started talking about different ideas about who he was and what we could do to kind of create a continuity of both of us playing him so that hopefully it would work on some level, with the understanding that there is a big break in his relationship with his family.

"The younger Hugh is very present with his family, with his kids and with his wife. He's deeply invested in them. He's there for them. He tells them stories and if they get scared he comforts them.

"Then of course some terrible things happen and now suddenly they're adults and Hugh ran away. Ran way from them and ran away from the house and ran away from taking responsibility and being present to them. Being in their lives and being a good parent to them.

"He has to come back and gain their trust and answer their questions. A lot of the story the latter half of the series is about that. That was something very interesting to me. I felt that the series really was a really unique look at a broken family first and foremost, with a horror and supernatural or paranormal backdrop."

One element of creating continuity was an ingenious use of a particular costume piece. Hutton explains, "There was one thing that we did. We decided in that room that there would be a jacket that would have made it through and stayed in his possession all those years. It's a blazer. It's a red corduroy blazer. It's a very odd jacket, but someone like Hugh would have an odd jacket.

"Henry wears it in one scene in the earlier part of the story when the kids are young. Then I wear it in episode five when Nell gets married.

"Both Henry and I wore that jacket. It's just a little thing to, again, give continuity to the person. That was one of the things that I found really, really fascinating. All the actors, there were two people playing the same character but in very, very different times in their lives."

Casting, naturally, was a huge component in making the story work. Hutton says, "All of them. Just so great. The casting was amazing. The kids, the adults. If you look at all of them across the board but really if you look at the young Shirley, Theo, Luke, and Nell, and Steve. You look at all of the five young Crains and then you look at the adult actors, the older versions of those kids.

"The kids and the actors, just seamless and incredible. Not just in terms of how they looked but the mannerisms and the characteristics. The way the psyche of the child character was brought into the adult character and just done so well."

The shooting was also structured for the greatest impact. Hutton says, "It was really fun to make. It was really something. Especially the way Mike Flanagan arranged the schedule so that there would be certain characters and certain pieces of the story filmed at specific times and then there would be breaks and we would rehearse.

"Then we would go into the next block of shooting and focus on different parts of the story. Then there would be a break, all leading toward episode six, where there was quite a long break while they set up the sound stage and the set so that we could do that episode and those long shots, those 19 minute takes, without interruption."

It all paid off in the audience reaction to the show. Hutton notes, "It's really interesting and so great, the reaction to the show has been positive. People really found the characters compelling and really were quite freaked out by some of the things that happened during the course of the story telling."

That level of storytelling may continue in a second season of The Haunting of Hill House, but not with Hutton's character. "I believe Netflix and Mike Flanagan are planning to do a second season. You won't be seeing Hugh Crain in the story. I'm not sure what the story is but I'm sure it's going to be great.

"I think from what I have heard, they are doing The Haunting of Hill House but that's going to be sort of the title of the series. But it's going to be a new story. It's going to be based on maybe even a different book or something. It's not going to be related to the Crain family."

Still, Hutton is happy to have had the experience in the first season. He says, "I am pleased to have had the experience of making The Haunting of Hill House and to have worked with such amazing actors in a show that really was a very interesting experience. In terms of the working with fellow actors it was one of the better experiences I've had."

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