What happens when you meet the man of your dreams, but he's also kind of a homicidal nightmare?
Rebecca Rittenhouse, star of "The Body," the inaugural episode in Hulu and Blumhouse Television's new Into the Dark series, had the chance to find out with her character Maggie, a progressive Hollywood assistant dressed for a Halloween party like Marie Antoinette. Maggie seems rather worldly, but she may be falling for a charming hitman, Wilkes (Tom Bateman), who happens to be carrying a dead body tightly wound in cellophane around downtown L.A. Of course, this being L.A., all the revelers on All Hallows' Eve think Wilkes' costume is totally effing killer.
Maggie feels the same way, though once she finds out that he's really a hitman not in disguise, she becomes even more intrigued. So yeah, she's complicated, as Rittenhouse tells SYFY WIRE.
"She's complicated, and scary, and unpredictable, and unpredictable to her own self," said Rittenhouse. "When I read her, I was like, 'Oh, what am I going to do with this? This is intimidating.'"
Rittenhouse had worked with both Hulu and Blumhouse, having portrayed Moira's lost love, Odette, in The Handmaid Tale's Season 2 episode, "After," and (fittingly) Serena in Blumhouse Productions' Unfriended: Dark Web. So why was she still intimated by the part of Maggie in "The Body" — the inaugural episode of Into the Dark's year of scares, where each month's episode revolves around a holiday celebrated during that month?
"I think it's because I wasn't sure I could relate, at first," says Rittenhouse. "She acts out of bounds in a very, very intense way, and that is scary."
Which makes one wonder how she ended up being able to relate to someone so unhinged. Rittenhouse describes different levels of stress, noting that everything's relative. "Once you have a scale of stress, it changes," she says. "For me, in my life, what would make me feel this enraged, or this upset, or this wronged?"
But once she found the entry into the depths of her character, Rittenhouse didn't fixate on it: "Once you've done that thinking, you've just got to stop thinking and let go and trust yourself."
While Maggie does have her questionable traits, she comes off as a very progressive character, one who's very aware of the way the exploitative world works around her, and who perhaps might want to flip that script.
"She's aware of social dynamics; she's aware of what she is and is not happy about. I think she's kind of aware that she doesn't really fit in," says Rittenhouse. "She's definitely progressive; she works in a male-dominated industry… I think it's kind of refreshing that she owns her femininity — she goes to a party dressed like Marie Antionette, who's a very misunderstood person in history. She's subversive, I think is a better way to describe her."
While the custom-made costume certainly stands out in the Hollywood party (hosted by Ray Santiago, DJ'd by Sasha Grey), it didn't exactly keep her warm on the 18-day shoot, with many scenes shot outside at night, sometimes in a cemetery. "I loved the costume, it was so fun… I was cold, that's the thing. I'm always cold; if I'm not cold I'm probably sick, which is funny," said Rittenhouse, though it doesn't sound like it was much of a laughing matter. "I actually did get sick, I got bronchitis and laryngitis while we were shooting that. So that was a little tough, but I really enjoyed it, I have no complaints."
Fortunately, the doc prescribed some quality steroids, and Rittenhouse fought through with aplomb. And it's not like you see any of that in her performance. But you do question whether her character is making healthy decisions, particularly with her dealings with the hitman, Wilkes. Which raises the question: Should we be rooting for them as a couple?
"You'll have to wait till the end of the movie to decide that, but I definitely think you end up rooting for them as characters, as a team and individually, no matter how you feel about the morality of the situation," says Rittenhouse. "I think the way it's set up, you almost don't have a choice."
Still, Rittenhouse thinks June/Offred (Elizabeth Moss), the star of her other big Hulu show, The Handmaid's Tale, would be impressed with Maggie. "I think she'd be proud of her."
Obviously, the two shows have very different tones, and offered Rittenhouse very different experiences.
"[The Handmaid's Tale] is a well-oiled machine at this point, and I just showed up and kept my mouth shut and listened and just tried to go with the flow in terms of how they work, because it's obviously very much still their set," said Rittenhouse. "And then this, when you're in something from the beginning, and you're able to explore your character and develop it a little bit more, and you're all kind of making it together... it's definitely a different process, and one you have to take a little more leadership in."
Rittenhouse goes on to explain what that leadership looks like. "When you're playing a leading character, you should exhibit some leadership, and ability to have your own opinions and express them but also be open to other people's opinions and respectable of them — especially the director, the writer, the producers — because it is absolutely a collaborative effort, and stories always require multiple points of view to be told effectively, I think."
Though it would seem "The Body" has more in common with her other Blumhouse work, Rittenhouse tells us that's not necessarily the case. "Unfriended: Dark Web is a much scarier movie ... 'The Body' has a lot more comedy, and is kind of a love letter to Halloween movies in a way. It has some scary moments and some gory moments, but ... Unfriended: Dark Web is deeply unsettling."
Just the same, Rittenhouse tells us why "The Body" is the perfect way to kick off Into the Dark's year of scares. "I think ours is a really fun movie for Halloween. Even if you're not into horror that much you can watch it and still enjoy it, and you're not going to be totally freaked out to the point where you can't go to sleep. And it's just a really cool intro to have Halloween be the first holiday for this series that Blumhouse is involved in, given what they've done in the horror genre."
Blumhouse TV's Into the Dark premieres with "The Body" this Friday on Hulu.