Interview: The Deceived
Director Chloe Thomas speaks to us about her new psychological horror series
Written by Katherine McLaughlin
Psychological horror, The Deceived is a new four-part miniseries steeped in mystery and suspense. Directed by Chloe Thomas and written by Lisa McGee (Derry Girls) and Tobias Beer it’s a dramatic chiller set in the world of academia, that takes its lead from Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel, Rebecca.
Emily Reid stars as Ophelia, a student at Cambridge University who is engaged in an affair with her lecturer, Michael (Emmett J Scanlan). After Michael’s wife passes away in a tragic accident, Ophelia makes the trip to his family home in Ireland. Left to her own devices in a vast, isolated dwelling, Ophelia begins to lose her grip on reality, believing that a menacing presence is haunting her.
What kind of discussions did you have with Tobias and Lisa about how you would approach setting the sinister tone and conveying Ophelia’s mindset?
Lisa has always said that the genesis of the idea came around when she was pregnant for the first time. The hormones can turn you crazy. I’ve had kids, and I can tell you they do. Obviously, Lisa’s famous for Derry Girls, she’s very experienced, but that’s what has made her a household name. You don’t associate her with mystery and spookiness, but actually Lisa and Toby are crazy about those things. They also love Murder She Wrote. They talked a lot about their love for Rebecca and Jane Eyre and that trope of the spooky house. They also have a love for the old-fashioned thriller - the type where it’s comforting even though people are being killed, left, right and centre.
From the outset, Michael is a suspicious character. Why was it important to you to explore the subject of abuse of power?
The gaslighting aspect really interested me. It just feels like Ophelia is caught in his headlights. When you go to university your whole mind is blown. You’re young, you’re exposed to new ideas and you’ve got these often-charismatic lecturers telling you stuff. Your brain is still forming. I grew up knowing academics and I know that people latch on to them. It’s hero worship. These people are expanding your mind and they want to hear what you think as well. If they think you’re bright, then that’s incredibly powerful and sexy actually. There’s an abuse of power that comes from that hothouse in academia.
As far as gothic horror goes, did you look to any particular films for inspiration, and did you speak to cinematographer Donna Wade about any specific touchstones for the look?
Me and Donna talked about modern Hitchcock, and to me that means it has a throwback feel, but it exists in our time. The films I was really interested in were Stoker and Personal Shopper. What I liked about Stoker, as modern gothic, is that it isn’t super dark. A lot of it is quite bright. There’s lot of colour in it. The characters are slightly heightened and in a removed world. Personal Shopper – I just love the uneasiness of it. It plays with what is supernatural and what isn’t and you have to decide what you think about that. In The Deceived you’re shown something where you know it can’t be a ghost but you know this person is dead. You have to decide whether you believe in ghosts or not.
Paul Mescal plays an intriguingly flirtatious character in The Deceived. What were your reasons for casting him?
We were Paul’s second ever TV role. Can you imagine? He had just finished filming Normal People and then we started filming. I was sent his audition tape and I thought, “hire him!” He’s amazing! The clue is in the name, he’s brilliant at being normal but has a classic quality too. It was important that we had a normal man, so people would be like, “Go out with him! He’s good. He’s not playing weird mind-games!” Obviously now, it looks like we’ve got the casting coup of the century! The Paul Mescal fans on Twitter just crack me up. They’re brilliant! I can’t wait for episode four to air because there’s a nice twist with him…
Available to watch on Channel 5 now.
Chloe Thomas is a director who develops her own pilots through her company One Glove Films. Her current project is a Civil War reenactment sitcom Roundheads and Cavaliers starring Cariad Lloyd, Alex Carter, David Schaal, and Perry Fitzpatrick. She is also attached to direct the feature film Making Babies - a rom-fertility-com by Deborah Frances-White (The Guilty Feminist), with Redwave Films (The Full Monty).