Interview with ‘Jakob’s Wife’ Actress Bonnie Aarons

Jakob's Wife Movie Film - Bonnie Aarons

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For readers of a certain age, Bonnie Aarons has haunted their nightmares for decades thanks to her career-making performance in Mulholland Dr. Although the actress only appears in David Lynch’s celebrated head-scratcher for a few short moments, her impact reverberates nowadays precisely because of how terrifying she is during that time. The Bum, as she is credited on IMDb, is one of the most startling and horrifying images in modern cinema. Aarons wasn’t even a known actress back then, and may still be unfamiliar to audiences despite her many varied roles over the years. 

Horror fans know Aarons well, however, not least because of Mulholland Dr. In recent years, she played the Demon Nun in James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 and reprised her role Corin Hardy’s standalone spinoff The Nun, which gave the pliable physical performer an opportunity to shine in a big way. In Travis Stevens’ Jakob’s Wife, Aarons gets a full monologue to deliver as The Master, a leader of vampires attempting to recruit Barbara Crampton’s titular character. I caught up with the enigmatic actress to talk about the art of scaring without speaking, going where the jobs are and why feminism in horror is so important.

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

Joey Keogh: So, we’re here to talk about Jakob’s Wife, which I just loved so, so much.

Bonnie Aarons: Thank you! 

JK: The first thing I really want to know is this: how did you get involved with the project in the first place? How was it initially presented to you? 

BA: Barbara Crampton called me up and said, “I would love you to play this role, and here’s the script.” It was this… phenomenal, just absolutely phenomenal script, and I wouldn’t say no to Barbara Crampton, but what a great honor to play this role, The Master. And Barbara Crampton, the Queen, delivers it to me! I’d met her at a convention after The Conjuring 2, and I went up to her — this is several years ago — but she later told me the moment she saw me, she knew I had to be The Master. 

JK: I had a feeling Barbara Crampton was going to be the one. 

BA: Yeah, well, the other people weren’t going to say no to me either — they agreed I’d be perfect for it — but it’s such an honor for her to call me up and offer me this role. I was just like “Ugh! It’s Barbara Crampton!” It’s such an incredible story, with a beautiful message. The film is so fresh and entertaining, and it’s just a complete joy to be a part of it. 

JK: Your character would typically be male, but in this instance presents as female. I can’t think of another role like this that’s been played by a woman or presented as female. How does it feel to be if not the first then one of the first to play this kind of character?

BA: Wonderful. I’m very honored. I’m very proud of it, and it’s just an incredible character that I was able to portray, and I concentrated so intensely to make every bit of the character what they wanted — how they saw it, how I saw it, how Barbara saw it, you know? To make it come across the screen like that. It’s really a beautiful piece of artwork. 

More by Joey Keogh: Review: Travis Stevens’ ‘Jakob’s Wife’

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

JK: It’s funny because the first few glimpses we get of The Master, it’s not quite clear whether the creature is male or female, but then your voice is so feminine, and once we finally know for sure, it’s quite an impactful moment. 

BA: Aw, thank you. I don’t want to give away too much, because people haven’t seen it, and I feel like it’s so unexpected, it’s absolutely unexpected, and people are hopefully going to really enjoy that side of it. I’m hoping it’s going to be very well accepted too, even by people who aren’t really fans of the genre. This is a phenomenal film, it just is, with a great message, a very positive message. Don’t you think so? Didn’t you feel good after watching it? 

JK: Absolutely, particularly as a female horror fan, and lifelong fan of the genre, it’s an empowering story for sure. 

BA: That whole message at the end… watching Barbara’s character evolve, it was just magical. 

JK: Many critics are heralding this as a feminist story. Would you consider it a feminist story, personally?

BA: Yes, I would. Don’t you consider it a feminist story? Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s got a very powerful message. Think of all the women living like that. 

More by Joey Keogh: An Interview with ‘The Expecting’ Director Mary Harron and Actress AnnaSophia Robb

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

JK: I definitely do, and Travis [Stevens, director and co-writer] said the same when I spoke to him. He’s delighted people are taking it that way, and he’s proud of it, too. 

BA: Well, it is. It absolutely is. No question. It’s so… it’s actually needed, this film. It’s needed. It’s not just entertaining, it also provides a very powerful message. And I think it will empower a lot of people, too. Men and women. 

JK: Even without the vampire stuff, it works. As an allegory, it’s great. But as a story of female empowerment, it works regardless. That’s how strong the story is. 

BA: It is. It’s truly a masterpiece. Ooh! I’m The Master, in a masterpiece! What an honor! 

JK: How did you get on working with the great Barbara Crampton and the great Larry Fessenden — these icons of the genre?

BA: They are very generous to work with. They make it very easy to connect, and they’re just… top! It was a lot of fun, and a lot of focus on set. Portraying The Master required a lot of focus and concentration. 

More by Joey Keogh: Review: Anthony Scott Burns’ ‘Come True’

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

JK: What was the biggest challenge? It looked like a lot of makeup, first and foremost. 

BA: The makeup certainly took a while, but they did a beautiful job, didn’t they? They put that thing on, and then Marcus [Koch] and Jessica [Seitz] spent a lot of time blending it into my face because they didn’t want to take away my features — they wanted to see my features, they wanted to see my face but then looking like…THAT. So that took a while, sitting there — it was very interesting hours, vampire hours really, as it was all night shoots. When you get off in the morning, the producers would go in and tape up all the windows in my room with garbage bags to block out all the light. It messes with your circadian rhythms, but then you realize, wow, I’m doing this because I love to do it, so it’s okay. 

JK: Sounds like a very… authentic vampire experience. 

BA: Yes, it was very authentic!

JK: Living in darkness, like a vampire! 

BA: Well, they had to make the room look like a little coffin, by taping up all those windows. I was like “I can’t sleep! My circadian rhythms are like, gone, because there’s no light coming through!” When you have to do that day in and day out, even for a short span of time, it can get a little weird but you get used to it — you kind of have to get into the flow and realize it’s no big deal. This is what it is, and you have to do it. And you have fun doing it too! We had a lot of fun. It was a great set. 

JK: What would you say you’re most proud of, with this particular performance? 

BA: [Spooky Voice] That I’m playing… a vampire! I’ve always wanted to play a vampire, so just playing one was a big achievement. I’ve always wanted to do it. And here it was handed right to me! It was just handed to me! 

More by Joey Keogh: Review: Steven Kostanski’s ‘Psycho Goreman’

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

JK: Well, you shouldn’t say it like that, I mean, you’re not nobody. You deserve it. 

BA: Oh, thank you. Barbara did hand it to me, though, I didn’t audition for it. I can’t even get an audition! I kind of look like a vampire without anything on, but I couldn’t get an audition for one. 

JK: Well, you know, so does Tilda Swinton, and she’s made a career out of it, so you’re in good company. 

BA: That’s true. She’s incredible. 

JK: You have quite a big monologue towards the end of the movie. How does something like this compare to The Nun, where it’s all about presence, without words?

BA: Oh, believe me, I’m saying plenty as The Nun! It’s coming through, though, Joey, it’s coming through! It was fun — it was a lot fun to do that, but it was also who the character was. The character would be speaking, The Master would be saying those things, she was getting her to — I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s a very unexpected film, right? But that was a great moment to play, definitely. I got to sink my teeth into it…

JK: No pun intended! 

BA: Yeah! 

More by Joey Keogh: Review: Rose Glass’ ‘Saint Maud’

Jakob's Wife Movie Film

JK: What keeps you coming back to horror?

BA: I just love to work. If I’m getting jobs in horror, that’s terrific. I love it all — horror, comedy, drama — but I do have a fondness for this genre. I grew up with it, I love it, I love monsters, I think they’re really cute and it’s… fun. It’s a whole lot of fun to do this for a living. Like, The Nun is a blast to play! It is so much fun getting to play that nun. That’s a good time, playing that nun! 

JK: You’ve done so much incredible stuff, like, I know people still ask you about Mulholland Dr. and rightly so.

BA: That was so cool! 

JK: It was! But is there anything you feel like you have left to tackle in your career?

BA: Everything! I’d love to play a witch… I mean, I just played a vampire, and this is one hell of a vampire, this is just an incredible creature, but I’d love to play a witch. But really anything, you name it! I know there’s going to be brilliant writers that will write some incredible stuff and hopefully I’ll get to play it. So yeah, everything. 

JK: Well, I can’t imagine anyone better suited to playing these kinds of roles, whether it’s a nun or a vampire or hopefully a witch in the future. 

BA: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to play them, really. They are unforgettable, they do make a point and you do notice them. 

JK: Well, there are definitely people my age and probably a little older too who haven’t got over Mulholland Dr. and probably never will, so that is your legacy. 

BA: It really, really, really freaked people out! In fact, after The Conjuring 2 came out, [writer-director] James Wan wrote on Facebook that he was somewhere, I don’t know where he was, promoting the movie and someone said to him “there’s only thing that creeped me out worse than that nun, and it was the bum from Mulholland Dr.!” And he said, “fun fact for you — that was the same actor!”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.