Writer/filmmaker Stacey Gregg makes her feature directing debut with Here Before. Headlined by Andrea Riseborough, Here Before is a chilling and ultimately evocative narrative that feels like it was helmed by a veteran. Gregg seamlessly interweaves the atmospheric threads of a first rate thriller and an unsparing family drama. Video and podcast versions of our interview with Gregg is below!
Check out the podcast version of this interview on CinemAddicts via Buzzsprout:
Here Before centers on Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a mother who believes her late daughter Josie has been reincarnated in the form of another girl named Megan (Niamh Dornan). Though initially skeptical of the connection, Laura gradually uncovers insights regarding Megan’s behavior, and their growing bond causes a clash between the families (the new family moved into Laura’s duplex). It’s another gripping performance from Riseborough, one of cinema’s most locked in and intriguing actors.
Writer/director Stacey Gregg reflects on how growing up in Belfast helped shape her psychological thriller, and she also recalls her initial meeting with Riseborough. Here Before is now playing in theaters and is also available On Demand.
During the interview, Gregg also discussed the ending of the movie and why she did not go a certain direction. My spoiler talk with Gregg is available for our CinemAddicts Patreon members.
Question: Your initial meeting with Andrea Riseborough took place in Soho. Did you know right then and there this would be a perfect collaboration?
Gregg: Honestly, I think that meeting did it. You just know sometimes when you meet someone. I think in the industry . . . I come from the theater industry . . . one of the things you have to do is ready people very quickly and connect very quickly.
It’s part of the creative skill set. As soon as we met, we sat down, ordered a little snack and jumped in. I could feel Andrea wanted to deep dive and get stuck into the big stuff and we chatted about some of the big ideas in the film and how we liked to work. And that was that really.
It’s a bit of a dreamy story (laughs). Fantastic.
Question: Did the story mature with you over the years? This is a very layered story about trauma and grief.
Gregg: You know it’s funny I’ve done a few more interviews and talked a little about this. Yes the seed of the story was with me since I was a kid about Megan’s age because I was into the paranormal and I was a bit troublesome and imaginative. So there was definitely a seed there.
But I think reflecting as well the kind of stories I tell and the landscape . . . I grew up in 90s Belfast. It was quite a tough place to grow up. We were living through a lot of every day trauma. We were surrounded as kids by teachers and parents talking in code about pretty heavy stuff on the news every night.
I reflected on this film and how I internalized all of that and the dynamics between the families and the kids and what’s layered into the landscape as well. It feels a little nebulous but I guess what I am saying is the story was with me for a long time but how I approached the story and how the film subsequently developed drew on some of those things that might have been quite deeply in me for a long time.
Question: Can you speak to what the moniker Here Before means to you in terms of loss?
Gregg: I think that was always really important to me is that there is room here and the film is experienced quite differently by a different audience. I love that and I think the same can be said of love and grief and the rational that we each have and how we navigate through that.
I’ve mentioned a fair bit about this letter that Nick Cave wrote after the loss of his son and the reason I mention that is he so succinctly touched on those things. He talks about willing our spirits and they talk to us and they lead us out of the darkness. And there is a sort of spirituality that I think speaks to Irish culture as well in the way we deal with death.
We celebrate it. We have wakes. We have open coffins. It’s very different, for example, even when I’m over in England. So I think keeping those things alive and coexisting, I love that. I love that nothing is tied up neatly with a ribbon.
I love that by the time we reach the end of this film, people have different experiences of reality and they can coexist and that is interesting to me. There is an explanation there if you want. Some people in the film reject that.
Listen to our CinemAddicts Podcast interview with Stacey Gregg on Apple Podcasts:
Question: When you read reviews comparing your work to Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now) or wondering if you will do a pure genre film, what is your reaction? Is that a great compliment and will you go down that road?
Gregg: Of course it’s incredible to have people respond like that and mention some of the greats. If I consciously went out and tried to do anything like that, I would probably not achieve it. And so I think trying to stay true to your artistic vision and voice is really key.
I’ve been quite an eclectic artist – it hasn’t been linear. I didn’t wake up and go, “I’m going to be a cinema director and I’m going to make this kind of a film.” For me, the curiosity has always been the driving force.
If the next project I make is an out and out genre, great. There is no reason why that wouldn’t be the case. But at the same time, I’m not out to make the next successful whatever. It needs to present itself to me and then I’ll make that as best as I can. I’m as excited as the next person to see what comes next.
Question: Why is Andrea Riseborough not considered one of the great actors working? I know why you were nervous for the Soho meeting, but what is going on here? Do you have a theory?
Gregg: No I don’t. I wonder if she is on the cusp of that. It’s because she’s a chameleon as well and I think for a long time people didn’t realize it was Andrea who was popping up in so many films because she is so eclectic and really immerses herself in these roles.
I think she has a great following and there is a lot of love for her out there. I obviously think she’s one of the greats. Queen Andrea!
Question: Did the edit change during COVID-19, since much of your narrative is an insular experience.
Gregg: I think that is a really interesting question. I haven’t thought about it before in that way. I would say I knew when I was making the film that silence would play a big part of it. I wanted to create space. I am an unfussy filmmaker in the sense that I want the camera to turn over and invite an audience in and get out of the way. And let the performers do their thing.
Having said that, because the edit was such a quiet time and such a lonely time, it may well be the case that some of it may have found its way into the film. I’m sort of casting my mind back to think about it now, but there was something very meditative about those months. I think that is a quality that did crystallize during that period of post (production) with the film.
Question: What type of reactions have you received from the film?
Gregg: For the longest time, I hadn’t shared it and it was really tough. As much as I was grateful for virtual screenings, it is cinematic. It was designed to be shared communally. That is the kind of beast I am.
Finally I got to see it with an audience at Belfast Film Festival and that’s my hometown. For people to see people who look and sound like them, that’s a big deal. For a long time we didn’t really have many cinematic representations of ourselves.
At the end of it, people came up and were quite affected and wanted to talk. And I always find that very moving and very validating because there experience is what I had hoped. I think the film does want to gesture to something quite comforting ultimately and it’s going to be really fascinating now that I finally get to share the film properly.
I’m so thrilled as well that it’s got this theatrical release. People will be in the cinemas watching it. Because it’s a tough time for indie films, you know?
Here’s our Find Your Film review of Here Before:
Question: Can you name one of your all-time favorite films?
Gregg: A film that ended up bouncing around my head in this process is Todd Haynes’Safe. It’s one of his earlier films and I think it’s really underrated. And I think it shares this philosophical horror that is really sort of low-key but so sort of designed. If you or your listeners, haven’t checked it out, it’s definitely worth a revisit.
Thank you so much for your time!
Gregg: Thank you so much. Lovely chatting to you!
Video Version of my interview with Stacey Gregg:
Here Before is now out in theaters and is available On Demand. Rent/purchase Here Before on Amazon and support our podcasts (CinemAddicts, Find Your Film). We receive a commission as Amazon Associates members.