It’s been three weeks since The Haunting of Bly Manor debuted on Netflix and that Sheryl Crow ballad is still a trigger song for us in the office (perfect song choice though, right?). The supernatural horror drama, which serves as the follow-up series to The Haunting of Hill House, tells the story of Dani (Victoria Pedretti), a young au-pair who is hired to look after two children in an eerie country house.
Upon her arrival, she begins to see hostile apparitions that proceed to haunt the premises. Unlike its spine-chillingly scary predecessor, Bly Manor was, as its core, a love story. The relationship between Dani and Jamie (Amelia Eve) was met with widespread critical acclaim from critics, who applauded the show’s refreshing representation of LGBTQ+ women.
Not only that, but the Mike Flanagan-led show refused to allow homophobia creep its way into the narrative. T’Nia Miller, who received praise for her performance as Bly Manor’s loveable housekeeper Hannah Grose, says: “That’s what was great about it. It’s not like we just suddenly popped on the map in the 90s because it’s trendy to be queer. I think that’s what Mike has so cleverly done, not make it another coming out story. I’m so bored of those. Whatever body we arrive in and are comfortable with, love is fucking love.”
The star, known for career-making turns in Years and Years and Sex Education, boasts her own groundbreaking storyline in the series. Throughout its nine-episode run, a romance blossoms between Hannah and Bly Manor’s resident chef, Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli), a romance that T’Nia says she “needed to see” right now. “I commend [Mike] for putting a romantic relationship between a Brown person and a Black person onto screen,” she explains. “We don’t see that even now. If it’s a person of colour, it’s with a white person, to therefore make it passable.”
In-between filming her upcoming thriller/adventure series La Fortuna, we spoke with T’Nia about her stunning performance in The Haunting of Bly Manor, the importance of normalising LGBTQ+ relationships on-screen, and how Years and Years predicted 2020.
Bly Manor ruined me… Did you sob too?
I did, because even though I was there when we were shooting, the thing that made me cry was when Flora is dragged into the lake and Tahirah Sharif, who plays Jessel, says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take it for you.’ That was that moment there, and Amelie [Bea Smith], I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to speak to children, but Amelie is great. Gorgeous kids, they really are. They’re the best behaved children I’ve ever come across, and kind and gentle well-rounded children, and that’s including my own when they were that young! They’re just gorgeous children, so that moment got me.
After binging the series, I watched every group interview with you all on YouTube, and it feels like you’re all a family.
Yeah! I’d say that is true and everyone has this little place in the family. Rahul’s [Kohli] the kind, stupid little brother who’s silly and adorable in the same breath. I adore that man. Amelia Eve is like the feisty little sister and Tahirah has my heart, as does Victoria [Pedretti]. Olly [Jackson-Cohen] is this gentle giant. Actually, both Rahul and Olly, but Olly has looked out for everybody. Yeah, it’s a great, great, great cast, Kate [Siegel] as well.
What attracted you to the role of Hannah Grose?
Hill House and Mike Flanagan. I didn’t really know anything about Hannah when I got the script. In fact, I was just like, ‘She’s a bit stupid there, isn’t she? She’s a bit nice.’ I’m not used to playing these really nice people. But I learned that she’s got far more bite than would appear from the first two sides I got. It really was working with Mike. I got the job, booked it, read the scripts and then was blown away by her arc. That’s it, it was exciting.
Hannah is a ghost, but she doesn’t know it. How do you begin to comprehend playing a character like that?
You just can’t! I can’t do a bit of method acting, call up a friend and ask how to play a ghost? Fortunately for her, she doesn’t realize that she’s dead. Very early on, when we started filming – I’ve said this several times, so forgive me if you’ve read it somewhere else – I was pouring Rahul a cup of tea, and I put the teapot on the saucer as opposed to the cup on the saucer. I looked at it for ages going, ‘That’s not right’, and of course it includes the continuity in the cameras rolling and, in that moment, I found Hannah. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s what it is.’ Something’s just not quite right. It’s my own ditziness!
Unlike Peter and the other spirits at Bly Manor, Hannah was able to touch and interact with the physical world – why do you think that is?
Because she’s stubborn! She’s in denial and because she’s denied herself so many pleasures for so long in her life, I think in some ways it was easy for her to stay in that place of denial. And that’s the rule, isn’t it? When you realise that you’re actually dead, then you can’t touch, that sort of lie begins to fade. But it took her a long time to reconcile with herself because she has so much to stay for. Yeah, these children and Owen. That’s what keeps her rooted to this place, is her love. It’s her love for these people. Whereas Olly? Yeah, he bloody loves himself.
There’s so many layers to Hannah’s character, being a ghost is probably the least interesting thing about her – what was your creative process like before filming?
I was looking at what it would be like to be this woman in the South of England at that time, and all the racial politics that she would have had to have dealt with. Being a woman of her age, she would have had it by that point. In my own life, I’ve struggled as we all do as parents with our children, and your feelings go on the back burner; they have to at times. It was really drawing from those life experiences as well as what was going on at the time. The conversation with Mike just before we started was, ‘Who was she? What’s her story, where is she coming from?’, and what I like to do with most of my characters is sometimes, they’re very whitewashed, and I think, ‘Okay, so how do I bring all of that with me into this world?’ I’m fortunate. I haven’t had to be the ghetto this, the ghetto that, those archetype stereotypes which are dangerously insidious. I haven’t, but on the other hand, all the characters I have played, the majority have been quite whitewashed. When you look at Hannah, she is quite whitewashed. She doesn’t have any cultural grass or grassroots, she shares no family. She has no pointer to fall back to go back to. And I know people in late year adulthood who have had to find their cultural identity after, as opposed to being simply raised as all women.
The wonderful thing about Bly Manor is that there’s no traces of homophobia in the storyline – was this a decision that was consciously made beforehand?
None at all. That’s what was great about it. It’s not like we just suddenly popped on the map in the 90s because it’s trendy to be queer. You know, there were trailblazers before. It’s very easy for me to talk about being a queer woman because other people have done all the fucking hard work. I think that’s what Mike has so cleverly done, not make it another coming out story. I’m so bored of those. Whatever body we arrive in and are comfortable with, love is fucking love. I commend him for putting a romantic relationship between a Brown person and a Black person onto screen. We don’t see that even now. If it’s a person of colour, it’s with a white person, to therefore make it passable. He’s ahead of his time, but he’s also shown what happened at a time that there was a massive unison between the Pakistani and the Caribbean community. There was a lot of racism, so they had to band together. They had no choice but to go to build a community together. I remember it very well as a child, that community spirit we had with South Asian people. He’s tapped into something that I needed to see.
Where do you think Hannah and Owen would be at the end of the series if she were still alive?
They would definitely be in Paris. I think in-between making cakes and sarnies, they’d be bonking like crazy because she hasn’t gotten it for years. She’s got cobwebs, so she’d be dusting through those! And they would get a pet. He can’t get many kids because she’s probably past it. Maybe she could. They’d be growing vegetables and asking Jamie for advice. Perhaps the children would visit or she would take the children with them, I don’t know. But I just know that whatever had happened, they would have done it again. My mum pissed herself laughing when she found out she was a ghost.
She just thought it was really funny. Like imagine traveling with a ghost. I don’t know what her head was thinking, but she thought it was hilarious.
Do you think other shows should continue to tell the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community or do we need more forms of art to normalise the queer experience like Bly Manor? Or both?
I think it has to be both, if I’m honest. It has to abso-fucking-lutely be normalised. It’s the same thing with, if you look at programming, a lot of Black shows. We simply talk about Black shows as opposed to people of colour and then it’s about gang violence, or they’re from the ghetto. Stereotypes exist because they’re based on some truth, but when that is the only thing we see, it becomes dangerous. Then, we perpetuate that stereotype. If we don’t normalise it, if we don’t grow as a community, what do the young people see coming up? There’s always a struggle. So therefore, they believe that it’s a struggle. What do their parents and their grandparents see, if they see it on their screens? We have a very important role in the media and as entertainers to show the truth, reflect what society is.
As a queer woman, how does it feel to see series such as Bly Manor and Ratched, both of which include stunning portrayals of queer female love, dominating the biggest streaming service in the world?
I’m glad they’re doing it. Bloody right on. Because they have such a massive audience globally, they can afford to! They’re in the prime. It is people like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, who have the responsibility to show and tell those stories. They have to be the trailblazers. Then the industry has to recognise them with awards, with financing and all those things. They have to. We keep giving the same awards and the same funding, to fucking period dramas like Downton Abbey. You can quote me on that.
It feels like Years and Years predicted a lot of things, political turmoil, social unrest and a pandemic – what has it been like for you, seeing all this unfold?
Honestly, I think it was March or April, I text Russell T. Davies and said, ‘Can you please write about fluffy bunnies and berries next time please? Because this prediction shit is not cool.’ Then when the Black Lives Matter movement kicked off I was like, ‘Can you just also teach white folk how to behave, because you have no problem doing it?’ You know, it’s the only time that I had sat with a producer in my career and not felt othered. Just two spirits sharing a space, having a conversation, no power dynamic and speaking about our intersections. He’s a bloody amazing man. I love him.
I know another season of Years and Years is a long shot, but can we expect you to become a regular in the Haunting franchise, like Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Victoria Pedretti?
You’d have to ask Mike and Trevor Macy! Listen, I had such a gorgeous team, Those, guys, they really got you. I felt so supported on that set, and Mike is a genius. Yeah, I mean, goodness, if there’s a role and he says anything to me, I’d be like, ‘Yep!’ I’ll be there in a heartbeat. They’re doing Midnight Mass at the moment with Rahul. I do believe they may have something in mind. If there’s a role, I’m there. I just hope it’s not in bloody Vancouver.
What about Sex Education? Can we expect a return from Maxine Tarrington?
You’ll have to wait and see… Sex Education is brilliant. I loved doing that. Those children are spectacular. If you want a lesson in having no ego, go and spend a day on Sex Education with those kids because they have no ego whatsoever. They’re the most welcoming. Yeah, they’re gorgeous kids.
You have been involved with some fantastic projects T’Nia, and I cannot wait to see what you do next.
I’m blessed. I’m honestly in gratitude every single day. I never take it for granted. I know how many people would love to be in this position, and how I wanted to be in this position one time, so I never take any of this for granted. Every day, every job, even when I’m tired, is such a blessing and honour.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now available to stream on Netflix.