In a world far, far away from The Haunting of Bly Manor, T’Nia Miller – the show’s haunting heroine, Hannah, is in puppy heaven as I Zoom into her London home. “Hhe’s meant to be a Pom, but he looks more German Spitz and he’s double the bloody size he’s meant to be, I got conned. Totally conned. He’s gorgeous though – I love him,” T’Nia says, grinning like a proud parent whilst looking over at the latest edition to her family.
Getting a puppy is just part of the change T’Nia is experiencing in her life right now as she becomes the breakout star of Netflix’s haunting AF TV show. Set in the traumatic environment of a haunted 1980s English country house – where nothing is what it seems – The Haunting of Bly Manor’s cast of characters are forced to battle the demons that surround them and the ones that eat away at them from inside themselves. As the manor’s new governess, Dani, played by Victoria Pedretti, comes on the scene and her life starts to unravel with terrifying consequences. T’Nia’s Hannah, the manor’s housekeeper, comes to the fore and ultimately becomes the haunting heroine of the tale in a shocking plot twist. If you haven’t watched it already, we suggest you stop reading now and return at a later date.
Here, T’Nia – who previously starred in the borderline apocalyptic BBC drama, Years and Years, and Sex Education – opens up about finding out her character was in fact DEAD all along, the subtle plot signals you may have missed, the true meaning of the show, how she has previously felt “whitewashed” by roles, and why she just wishes some people would, “grow a vagina!” She is EVERYTHING…
PLOT SPOILER: when did you find out Hannah was dead all along?
When it first came through, I didn’t know anything about her, and I just got a couple of scenes. I went and watched the first season (The Haunting of Hill House) and I fell in love with it. I had to stop myself from finishing it so I could actually learn some bloody lines and put myself on tape. I then got the first three eps through, Mike Flanagan (the creator of the Haunting series) and the costume designer, Lynn Falconer called to ask me about costume ideas, and they said, “Have you read episode five yet? There’s some nice stuff for you!” When I read it, I was like, “What? Shut the f**k up!” I had no idea. I had not a Scooby Doo that she was dead. That was thrilling for me because it’s the stuff of childhood dreams, when you’re four or five years old in the playground, you’re pretending to be an astronaut and you can fly – it’s one of those out of realm possibilities. I was absolutely thrilled to find out that she’s a ghost. Then I was like, “Oh, sh*t. I don’t know how to play a ghost. What do I do?” I had to find some subtleties, so Mike offered the touching of the hair, so if you go back, you’ll see that she often touches her head like she’s got a bit of a headache or she’s got an itch. But that’s where she’s cracked her skull open.
The camaraderie amongst the cast of The Haunting of Bly Manor seems so amazing. How did you guys look after each other?
I think most of us came from a theatre background, so you’re taught very early on to trust, because you have to meet someone one week and the next minute you’ve got your mouth smacked around theirs. Fortunately, there were no arseholes on there, and we all met different intersections of shared experiences. With Ben, little Benjamin we would make up little dance routines and Victoria is just this most intelligent, beautiful, young, old soul. We supported, we listened or if anyone wanted space, we would be mindful of that. We just kept checking in on each other. The old guys from season one just made us feel so welcome – especially Oliver Jackson. The children were more professional than all of us. They were on their sh*t!
How did you get your escapism from playing such an intense role?
It’s funny. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, you don’t have that space until the job is finished. You just crack on with it and when they say, “cut,” you go home, you make dinner, eat dinner with your lover. You dance it off, you sing it off, or you just observe it if you can’t shake it. My stuff wasn’t as deep as Dani’s, she actually carried around a lot of trauma. But as in life I’m not in my 20s anymore and you learn how to hold that trauma, hold that pain, whatever it is you’re going through at the time. Hold it, look at it, observe it, and say, “You’re just going to have to wait. I know you’re there. I’m going to deal with you. But just not right now.”
How do you hope the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement will shape the entertainment industry?
I think it already has in some ways. My London agent and some casting directors have started meeting once a month on Zoom to talk about how to get producers, directors, casting directors, agents and actors all on the same page by feeding information on why sometimes the script is offensive or why the breakdown is offensive when they generalise and open up castings. I’ve been really fortunate I haven’t played or been boxed into the stereotypical prostitute, ghetto mother or from a council estate like with Top Boy. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that but when it’s the only narrative of that stereotype that’s been told, it’s fricking insidious because that’s the narrative that people fall into.
I haven’t had to play those roles but what I have had is these very middle class strong women that had been whitewashed so they’re void or absent of any sort of culture. If we can make people aware, if we can have that dialogue with producers, directors and the writers then we can see those fuller roles and we can see every black person in society represented. What really pisses me off is that often we get a show and they think they’ve ticked the diversity quota by putting in a black person in it. But what about brown people? What about South Asian? What about East Asian? Because I want to hear their stories, their stories just as f**king important and they’re our society. What about trans people? I know there’s been more of a movement on that, but why does it have to be a trans show? Why can’t it just be as part of a wider society? What about different able-bodied people? We’re not there yet, but I feel like we’re making steps towards there. I sincerely hope and I pray that as we find our new normal those things don’t get pushed aside and blindsided again, we keep championing that change and we see everybody in our society reflected.
That’s exactly what Years and Years did with its casting, with Ruth Madeley who was disabled but it wasn’t even part of her storyline…
Exactly. With Ruth she was like, “Thank f**k, for once a role where it’s not about me being in a chair with my illness.” Russell T Davis is a trailblazer in that respect and it’s the first time in my career sitting down with the cast that I never felt othered.
What instances of being ‘othered’ have you experienced in your career?
I’d have to tell you my whole life story – that’s just my life. I was speaking to my therapist and I was like, “I feel like I always have imposter syndrome and I don’t belong there.” We started unpacking that and it is that you feel for whatever reason you feel like you’re having to represent the whole race – the whole entire Black race. It doesn’t help when you’re asked, “Well, you’re the black person, you speak to them,” and I can’t f**king speak to the whole race, but that’s put on you in some way. So before you get to set, before you get to think about a character, before you’re just there to do the job, you’re thinking about, “how am I representing,” and, “if I say this, am I going to be considered the angry black woman?” It’s one thing being black and two being a woman, “am I going to be the difficult woman? Am I going to be neurotic? Is this going to come across as aggressive?”
The Haunting of Bly Manor was the first time that I didn’t walk onto that space withimposter syndrome so I could just do the f**king job. I think that’s our responsibility as people of colour. We had a problem – I’m just going to say it, sh*t, I’m going to expose people – with one of the seconds on the job and so did another actor of colour on the job. He was saying to me, “I can’t even respond back the way I’d like to respond because… then she’s going to put those tears on, that fragility, and then I look like the bad guy.’” It’s all these things that you have to f**king consider, and then yes, you should be mindful of other people when someone’s f**king up, we should be able to have an honest, open dialogue with them. The way I dealt with that was I just ignored, ignored, ignored, and said, “This is your sh*t. It’s your baggage. I’m not holding it anymore.” That’s our responsibility to just give it back. Not even giving it back – just not taking it in the first place. Think whatever you want to think, this is not the case, and I have a right to deserve to be here.
Given what you just said, if you could have a Zoom call with the you who was starting out at the beginning of her career what would you want to say to her?
I think I would just say to her just believe in your truth. I’m spiritual and I think that the point of human beings being on this planet in this realm, in this journey, is to understand what love energy is. With all the sh*t that faces us, how do we keep our integrity to that love energy and to get ego out the way, because ego’s a f**king liar. It will tell you you’re no good, you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. I would tell her not to listen to ego, to believe in herself and to keep up her quest, to understand what that love energy is and keeping integrity with that.
What do you hope the lasting message of The Haunting of Bly Manor to be?
I don’t think it’s a horror. I think it’s a love story, but there’s some scary sh*t in it, but the scariest sh*t in it is the demons that we have in ourselves. What I want people to go away with is, f**k it all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You’ll get a broken heart, so what? It’ll mend! Trust me, I’ve had how many relationships? Damn, I’m still looking for Mrs. Right. Your heart will mend, it’s an amazing muscle and the more you use it, the more it will expand, grow strong and be healthy. Just grab life by the balls or the vagina, whatever you want to grab. I think vaginas are stronger. You know with the “grow a pair of balls,” I’m like, “grow a vagina. You know what our vaginas have to go through!”
Now that is the best line to end an interview on… ever!
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available on Netflix now