The Haunting of Bly Manor Star Oliver Jackson-Cohen Talks Playing Villains, Interest in Moon Knight, and More

Most audiences first met actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House back in 2018, as he played Luke Crain in the horror series. Of all of the series' compelling characters, audiences were largely drawn to the conflicted figure, as we watched him struggle with his drug addiction, making the character, and Jackson-Cohen's performance, one of the most empathetic and lauded elements of the narrative. The praise he earned from the role led to him scoring the title character in Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man, with fans also often voicing their support of the actor taking on the role of Moon Knight for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jackson-Cohen returns to Netflix for The Haunting of Bly Manor, which debuts on October 9th.

From The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy comes The Haunting of Bly Manor, the next highly anticipated chapter of The Haunting anthology series, set in 1980s England. After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas) hires a young American nanny (Victoria Pedretti) to care for his orphaned niece and nephew (Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who reside at Bly Manor with the estate’s chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve) and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller). But all is not as it seems at the manor, and centuries of dark secrets of love and loss are waiting to be unearthed in this chilling gothic romance. At Bly Manor, dead doesn’t mean gone. caught up with Jackson-Cohen to talk about playing villainous characters, the possible future of the series, and his reaction to fans wanting him to play Moon Knight.

haunting of bly manor oliver jackson cohen interview
(Photo: Netflix) I got to talk to you ahead of the release of The Invisible Man, at a time when you didn't know how audiences would connect with the movie, so what has it been like to see viewers and critics praising the film, especially your creepy performance?

Oliver Jackson-Cohen: I think it's always a really nice thing when you've worked on something and people really appreciate it. I say this because I've worked on some things in the past that no one's appreciated, so it's nice that, when you start doing a job, and specifically something like Invisible Man, we all felt like it was such an important story, and it was such a clever way to tell this story, to tell a story about gaslighting and about women, and how it's a story, fundamentally, about domestic abuse.

It was a very, very powerful script that Leigh had written, and so I'm so glad that people responded to it the way we did when we first read it. So it's just great. It's nice because it starts a conversation and I think, ultimately, you want to be telling stories that create a conversation and that make people think, or talk, or question things about themselves. I know there are an awful lot of people, there's been an awful lot of thought and talk around toxic masculinity, and so I think it's just really great to be a part of telling that story.

As fans have seen in Mike Flanagan projects, whether it's Hill House or Doctor Sleep or now Bly Manor, we've seen a number of actors work with him repeatedly. What is it about his filmmaking that makes you want to sign up for anything he's working on?

We're real tight, so he just presses a button and we will turn up. I think that Mike is genuinely ... with what he did with Hill House, and equally what he did with Doctor Sleep is kind of incredible, and similar to Leigh Whannell. What Leigh Whannell is doing is so original. And the same with Mike. Mike is approaching the genre and completely flipping it on its head. In Hill House he's talking about mental illness and grief and addiction and loss and all of these different things. And similarly, with Bly Manor, he's fundamentally talking about love and he's exploring all the different aspects and the darker aspects of that.

I think that the way that Mike approaches these stories, he's interested in telling character-driven stories that just so happen to be in the genre. As an actor, I think it's always ... Luke Crain was one of the biggest joys of my life, playing him. It was uncomfortable, but it felt very, very important to tell that story. And the same with Peter Quint. He writes these characters that are incredibly complex, incredibly human. And so I think all of us just, when Mike writes something and says, "Do you want to be in it?" You just say, "Yes."

With Luke, you were this incredibly empathetic character that audiences saw as incredibly vulnerable and wanted to see protected at all costs. In Invisible Man, you were almost the complete opposite end of the spectrum and audiences hated you. Now, with Bly Manor, your character definitely does bad things, but you also have empathetic moments. Is it more challenging playing characters at extreme ends of the emotional spectrum or a character on a roller coaster of these various shades of a personality being shown?

I don't know if it's a necessarily complicated thing to do. I think that with Hill House, with Invisible Man, and with Bly Manor, we spoke at great length, Mike and I, and Leigh and I, about what makes this person human. How do we make this person real, and what makes this person terrifying, and what makes this person honest? And so the vulnerability ... the reason I say that playing Luke Crain was one of the greatest joys is that, I relate to loss, to the experience of what Luke has had. Being that vulnerable, I am naturally quite vulnerable in my everyday life and so there was something quite freeing about ... I'm incredibly emotional in real life, and contradictory, and all of those things, so there's something quite freeing about being able to play these characters that are this complex.

I don't find it necessarily hard. I would find playing Prince Charming way harder. That, to me, is hell, but it's interesting that you say that you have the two ends of the spectrum and then they kind of seem to meet in Bly Manor. It was interesting because I went straight from shooting, I literally left Sydney where we were shooting Invisible Man and flew straight to Vancouver to start Bly Manor. And so I did think, "Oh, sh-t. I'm just playing these assholes." But Mike finds this incredible way of making them real human beings that are contradictory, and are questionable, and are deeply, deeply flawed, but still human.

You speak fondly of Mike Flanagan, but also of Leigh Whannell, so now that Leigh has so many more projects coming up, like his Upgrade TV series and his The Wolf Man reboot, is he now someone who you will always show up to work for, possibly to play an asshole?

I will always play an asshole for Leigh Whannell. Again, I think collaborating with people that you admire and respect is fundamentally what you dream of doing as an actor. I've been doing this stuff for about 10 years, or 12 years or something, and that hasn't always been the case. And so I think when you do find someone that you click with, and that there's a mutual respect there, then, of course, you would want to work with people like that. I feel that, yeah, I would work with either of them again in a heartbeat.

I know that Netflix didn't immediately renew Hill House for a second season, there was a bit of a delay, but the attention the series has received over the years, I wondered if there was any talk on set from Mike about what he'd want to do in a third season or if everyone was just focused on making this season?

I think that what happens is, when you've done these shoots, I mean, Bly Manor was a lot quicker than Hill House. Hill House was nine months, and Mike directed the whole thing. On Bly Manor he only directed the first and they brought different directors so we got through it, I think, in about six months to shoot it. But by the time that you've got to the end of any of these shoots, you don't even want to think about what's going to come next. You just want to go to sleep.

So I have no idea what their intentions are. I think that the reason that Bly took a while is that Mike was trying to figure out what best way to go with it, because he didn't want to remake Hill House and I think he felt that the Crain family, he told the story of the Crain family. So he was trying to figure out what would be the best move next, what would be the best story to tell. I have no idea whether Mike has something up his sleeve and wants to continue it on, but, again, I think it will be dependent on how people respond to this season and what their response is, I guess, and then I think they'll act accordingly.

I know Marvel fans have been hounding you about wanting you to play Marc Spector in a Moon Knight series, and you said earlier this year that you appreciated their support but that you had no idea who the character even was. Months later, I have to know if you've learned about the character and if that has changed your reaction to fans wanting you to play him.

Listen. Twitter is quite, quite an encyclopedia and I have been very fortunate that people have educated me well on Marvel and the world of it. The honest response is that I have no idea. No one has called me about this. But, again, I stand by what I said, that Moon Knight sounds like a fascinating, fascinating character and I would love to get my hands on that, but you just never know, do you?



The Haunting of Bly Manor hits Netflix on October 9th.