Most might recognize Elizabeth Marvel from her time in dramatic shows on television, from Heather Dunbar on Netflix's House of Cards to President Keane on Homeland or Detect Parras on The District, and everything in between. Now, she's found herself in the Marvel world as she picks up one of her most unique roles yet, that of Victoria Helstrom in Hulu's Helstrom. As unveiled in the show's Comic-Con@Home panel Friday afternoon, not all is as meets the eye when it comes to Marvel's character.
Locked away in an asylum, Victoria Helstrom as a sinister past that serves, a plot device that serves as the crux of the upcoming Marvel show. In support of the show's Comic-Con panel, ComicBook.com caught up with Marvel to chat about the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, being a major part of Marvel's first major foray into horror, and more.
Keep scrolling to see our full chat with Helstrom star Elizabeth Marvel.
ComicBook.com: So let's start at the beginning. First off, this is Marvel so I assume the whole process to get involved was kept under lock and key, right?
Elizabeth Marvel: You are correct, yes.
So when did you know, first of all, it was a Marvel project you were speaking for?
Well, I did know that. I did know that it was a Marvel series from the start and they did let me know which one, that it was Helstrom. And because I have a 14-year-old son who is deeply engaged with the Marvel universe, he quickly got me up to speed on what I needed to know, because I didn't know. I knew the universe around Helstrom, but I didn't know the specifics of, of the Helstrom family.
And then when I went in to meet with the people in the secret airline hanger and the invisible plane that took me there. Then everything was revealed, they told me what was going on.
It was pretty quick, I didn't live in, in the dark too long about it.
Prior, I would assume you had seen Marvel movies.
Oh yes, everything. As I said, I have a 14-year-old son, so I have gone with him to see all of them, many of them two or three times.prevnext
What's your thought process when they tell you or you find out what it involves the subject matter with demons and all the spooky stuff, were you kind of taken aback?
No, I was thrilled, I was super psyched. I am a massive horror fan and a comic fan, but definitely, especially in the realm of like The Exorcist, which is one of my favorite films. I don't know how that makes you feel about me, but there it is. And, and because I knew it was in that territory that they were exploring, I was very, I was very excited that it was going to be sort of a foray into horror. Marvel and horror. I was very excited about that.
Good thing you mentioned The Exorcist because you know, you've seen the teaser by now that one shot, I think it's the asylum. It's just like, "This is peak Exorcist goodness."
Absolutely, there are many Exorcist homages going on.
So you play Victoria Helstrom, Mother Helstrom, Mama Helstrom. You land the gig. What preparation do you take for this role? Obviously, I don't want you to spoil anything. I will bring up one thing, but I do want to know your preparation process.
For sure. No, I totally understand. It was, it was wild, I'll tell you because they really set me free. They wanted to see what I came up with. I did not get like, this is your costume, this is what you're going to do, this is who she is, now do it.
They really said, "Okay, you have this entire demonic landscape to live in. Now, let's see how you portray that." They wanted me to make the magic and then see what it was. So, which was awesome and not what I expected, I thought it was going to be a very strict sort of vision and they would tell me how I was going to fit into it.
But I got so much freedom, which is awesome and terrifying as an actress, especially in the Marvel universe, you don't want to screw it up. You don't want to fall down on the job. And because as viewers will see mother Victoria/mother, covers a lot of territory physically and psychically, like there are many ways you can go with her 'cause she exists in many different realms.
One thing I did was because I am a horror fan and because I was suddenly living in Vancouver, away from my family, I sat and I watched a ton of films and stole a ton. Like I watched Silence of the Lambs, like on a loop three times over and stole a lot from him. I, you know, stole a lot. It was great too, because like, I don't know if you know this, you probably do but Max von Sydow, when he did The Exorcist, he was 48 years old. So, and most people think he's about 80 in that movie and it was all just sort of what he did with his face and his voice and his body. So I stole a lot from him.
And then because I have a very specific voice on the show for some of the time. And I was, I didn't want them to do anything with, you know, sound, I wanted to produce the sound myself. So basically I would just scream into a pillow every day before I'd go to work for about two hours. I really did like every day, I'd just sit in my hotel, the poor people who lived around me, I can only imagine what they thought was going on in my apartment, but I would scream into my bedding for like two hours and, and get my voice to this place. And it's funny while we were shooting, there was a day that I was in one of the tents where you have to sit as an actor before you go home. And I was getting my voice to that special, that special place. And this poor security guard came bursting in with like a taser because he thought there was an animal in the tent. Like somehow some wild animal, like a Wolverine had gotten loose in the tent, and he completely freaked out, it was hilarious.
Right, that that was going to be my next question. I mean, the first time I heard the voice, was the first of many jaw-dropping moments on the show. It's on full display in the trailer. It's something else, bone-chilling I think.
It's really fun and it was 'cause I'm just an old hippie, you know, I'm, I'm a really nice lady. So having the crew, like a lot of the crew, I freaked them out and they would not like it, it took a while for them to warm up and get over the voice and the whole, the whole thing.prevnext
Let's, let's talk about that a little bit. 'Cause I mean, the show is very different from what Marvel's done before, right? I mean, Sydney [Lemmon] does a great job and she has some amazing one-liners and some comedic moments throughout, but at the end of the day, we're talking about demons and the devil and all sorts of stuff. What do you do to, you know, relieve yourself from something like this is it? It's gotta be tough, you know, working 16 hour days dealing with this tough subject matter.
Well, yes and no. I mean, the wonderful thing about doing what we do is it's all pretend so, even though you are going into heavy territory, it's still fun. You know, it's like, my son does a lot of LARPing and a lot of his LARPs are like really dark and heavy, but it's still, it's not his life. He, you know, he's engaging with the story and that's why we love stories, is because it's cathartic because it's not really happening. It's a way to process these difficult things without having to personally suffer, right?
So it's, kind of exhilarating in a weird way. Relaxing when the world is in a, going through difficult things like it is right now to be working on difficult territory, you know, with demons and suffering and, but not having it be my life at the end of the day, I can take that costume off. I can wash the stuff out of my hair and wipe all the makeup off and go, "Oh, how nice that I'm not, you know, facing Satan today."
That's a very good thing. But one aspect that you probably can't shake off is the whole family aspect.
Obviously I'm not going to say your children are the sons of demons, but you know, there's still that aspect there, right?
You probably pulled that from your experiences, I would guess.
Well, it's really interesting, like a lot of Stephen King, like a lot of great storytelling it's based in family trauma and this show is, it all centers on and moves out of family trauma. That gets reenacted that gets, you know, engaged with, as adult children, going back to their childhood. A mother that sometimes is extremely accessible, sometimes is completely withholding, it's very complicated. And those are issues that I think everyone can relate to. And that's the thing that I think Helstrom does that is going, I'm really excited for people to see it. And I'm really interested in people's experience with it because it doesn't shy away from that stuff of really looking at generational family trauma and what it does to us.
But it also, as you were saying, there is so much humor and so much wild, like wild, cosmic, crazy stuff that happens. So it kind of moves between like really kind of deep stuff. I mean, it's something that Marvel often does beautifully is they take on some very serious meaningful stuff and then are able to masterfully couple it with wild roller coaster ride fun.prevnext
You bring up a good point, you know, it's perfectly grounded, but then at the same time you turn around and you're standing there and your eyes are looking every which way. And you're like, "Oh, okay, this is still far out."
Well, that's the other cool thing about this show is because it's horror, so it's a lot of like jump scares. It's a lot of that funhouse stuff that is different, I think from a lot of superhero landscape is that this is much more of like a good horror movie fun,
In the Comic-Con panel, Tom mentions there's one moment in the series where it just totally kind of upends itself. It's halfway through, I guess, and it coincidentally has to deal with you.
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say and what I'm not supposed to say, but I--
Obviously with acting, Helstrom is a job. When did you know, this might sound foolish, when did you know you, you really, really enjoyed this role? Was it saying the seismic shift that Tom pointed out in the panel, which stars you, was it meeting the castmates? Where did you know you really--
Well, I immediately had a simpatico with the cast. I mean, it's a cool group of people, you know, and sometimes you get lucky in this, in this work, you know, we're all journeymen sort of on the road, meeting up with new people all the time, having to kind of jump in with a new group. And sometimes you just get lucky, this was one of those, Paul who was the showrunner put together a fantastic group of people and also just a very good group of actors. So, you know, how rare is that? Unfortunately, it shouldn't be, but it is, and this was one of those times.
As far as the experience, that way I learned early that it was going to be good and fun and the people were smart and good. But as far as really feeling that I owned mother, that probably was that episode that Tom was talking about, because that is when we go into my mind. And the whole episode is sort of from me emanating from my mind. And I won't really say more than that but that's when I felt total dominance.prevnext
Black Panther Crossover
You've seen these properties and you're now part of the whole Marvel world. Who do you want to Victoria Helstrom to bump into next?
You know, I have a fantasy of Victoria, because she goes through quite an evolution and she is an extremely powerful entity. But the fascinating thing, I think sort of like all mothers is we, we are beings of great power and we can use that power for good and for evil.
Depending on many circumstances. So I think Victoria has the potential to be used for great good. And my fantasy would be for her to be taken to Wakanda and be used as a tool, hopefully for good, to be an emissary to go forth as we left at the end of the first Black Panther of where that world was going to now move forward into, that would be a crossover I'd like.
We've mentioned that heavy stuff and people are going to hear it so much in the lead up to the show. This is heavy, this is dark, this is horror based. People who are used to the other Marvel stuff, why do you think they should tune into this show, which is going to be nothing like they've seen from, you know, the whole Marvel umbrella so far? Why, if people think it's too scary or what, why do you think they should tune into Helstrom?
I think it's, I wouldn't say it's too scary or scarier than a lot of the territory explored in, you know, something like Daredevil or a lot of shows and movies that are out there can get dark, but it's just different. It's a different kind of story, a different kind of fear, a different kind of playing out of similar elements. But, you know, I spend a lot of time climbing on walls and flying. So there's still a lot of the same, the same sort of elements are used in this story. It's just to a different kind of purpose. So I think people will find satisfaction with some of the familiar of what they really love in this world. And then they'll be encouraged to open new doors and to whole different wings of this giant building of Marvel that they've never been in before, which I think is going to be really fun because I think that the Marvel world it's so huge, but it's been sort of kept in one centralized zone. And now we're saying, "Come over here with us to this whole new section," and I think it'll be great pleasure for people to do that.
Helstrom is set to hit Hulu on October 16th.
Cover photo by Ernesto Di Stefano Photography/WireImageprev