Exclusive: Cush Jumbo Talks The Beast Must Die, Premiering Today on AMC+

Cush JumboThe first four episodes of The Beast Must Die, which premieres next Monday on AMC, are available starting today on AMC+. The series follows Frances Cairnes, played by Cush Jumbo, a mother who’s young son Martie (William Llande) has been killed by a hit-and-run driver. When the police drop the investigation, Frances takes matters into her own hands by moving in with the family of George Rattery (Jared Harris), the man she thinks is responsible, posing as a murder-mystery novelist.

Jumbo recently talked to Jamie Ruby in an exclusive interview for SciFi Vision about her work on the series, learning to sail for the show on the Isle of Wight, the difficulties in taking on such an emotional role, and more.

Can you start by talking about how you got the role?

The script was given to me to read by my team, and it was really, honestly one of the best things I'd read for a long time. I read a lot of stuff. I moved back from New York having left The Good Fight. I've done a little bit of work back here. It was really the best drama that I'd read for a long time. It was all written by Gabby Chiappe, all five, or in the U.S., six episodes, and I just thought it was fantastic, and I couldn't put it down. So, that's always a good sign.

So, I had a Skype with the director, and then that was it. I was on board.

Did you know anything about the book? And have you since read any of the books?

I did not know that there was a book, mainly because it came out in the 30s. I had no idea about the book. When I did find out about the book, I spoke to Gabby about it, and she said, “Look, it's similar, and it follows the same story, but I made it more contemporary, and I've moved it to the Isle of Wight, because we need a kind of good sailing hub, and sailing is very famous on the Isle of Wight. And the he is now a she.” And whenever I do stuff, if it's based on books or around books, even Shakespeare, to be honest, even if you're doing like Henry the Eighth or something, you start reading history books, you know, then you fuck yourself up, because none of it matches up, but at some point you have to make a decision. I don't find it that helpful to read it, but now that it's all over, I would like to read it to see.

That makes sense.

Was it hard connecting to such like an emotional place for that, and also is there anywhere other than a script that you took inspiration for her from?

I have a three year old son, and he actually came to live with me on the Isle of Wight for the four months that we shot the show. That’s not to say that you couldn't play this role without a kid, but I think it's easy for anybody who's close to any kids to imagine the trauma of them not just dying, but also dying in that really tragic and shocking way and having to find them on the road like that. So, that kind of instantly got me.

Actually, while I was shooting, it was really interesting, because I would go home in the evening and get to play with my son and actually feel quite guilty that Frances couldn’t play with her son, and then go back again, and it was an interesting energy to have.

I also was lucky enough to have the child that played Martie, who appears kind of as a ghost throughout it, I got to shoot with him a lot. So, I had actual physical emotional memories of playing with him and laughing with him and doing stuff with him. Even though a lot of the scenes that we shoot when he looks like he's there, I shot alone. So, I felt very emotionally connected to it straight away.

Then, the thing that I feel like I could identify and hang on to quite quickly was that Frances seemed like a really ordinary person who had just been flung into a real grief stricken situation and then tried to do something extraordinary about it. I thought, “Okay, I get this, and I like it,” because a lot of the stuff you watch where people are like that, then they're suddenly like rolling off the [hood] of cars and shooting guns really well and stabbing people in the head and being really good at it, and you're like, “Come on, dude! No one knows how to do that.” You work it out as you go along, and I love that the way it was written. It was like, “Is she going to be able to do this? Can she do this? Oh, she's gonna do it. Oh she’s really angry now. Oh, no, now she's given up,” because that felt really realistic and something quite solid to hang on to.

Right. Obviously, I mean, granted, it's not real, but you kind of had to go into some dark places. Was it hard to kind of get away from that? I mean, I know you said you played with your son in between, and I'm sure that helped, but was it hard to kind of get out of that space and leave it behind?

Cush JumboIt was, actually, because when you play a lead role, you're shooting thirteen, fourteen hours a day, and if ten of those hours are spent crying or in rage, what's weird about acting is that you know you're going to work and it's a job, but the body is really clever, and the body doesn't know. So, if you cry for that long, and you think and you feel that way for that many hours of the day, and then you go, “Hey, bye, guys. I’m gonna hit McDonald's on the way home.” Then, you do that every day, five days out of the seven.

Then, when I was happy, I was like, “God, I feel really low; I feel so depressed today.” You just kind of have to find ways to look after yourself and release yourself from that a little bit. So, you know, I'll play with Max where I do some reading or go for a run, but it's tough, because you kind of need to stay in that zone to get to be able to get through the job, and yet, it's also exhausting, because your body's like, “Why are we grieving? Nobody died,” but yet you are.

Saying that, I'm not a method actor. I'm an actor that uses substitution. I don't feel like you have to go into such a space where you can possibly create damage to yourself. It's not for me. I also think it shuts you off from the rest of your crew and your colleagues. It means that you can't always operate in a way that helps other people if you're constantly zoned in on yourself. But I find a lot of substitutions for things that help me shortcut to places, but it means that it's quite exhausting, and it did really take me a while to let her go when it was [time]. It took really a while for Frances to leave me completely. So, it was a tough one, but it's like a muscle. So, you stretch that emotional muscle, and it hurts you a little bit, but then next time you have to do something, you're stronger for it.

Well, it definitely seem hard, because this wasn't a show that had a lot of light moments.

So, was there anything else that you did kind of in preparation? I mean, I don't know if you really sailed or not. I assume you were really on the water; at least it looked like it, but it could all be fake for all I know.

I did four weeks sailing prep. So, I went out on a boat every day, and I started off in a little dinghy, which is what children learn to sail in to work out the [ties]. Then, they moved me into a racing boat that was about fifteen feet, and then eventually I sailed the forty-eight foot [boat] by myself. I didn’t have to sail it for all the shots, because sometimes we were in close up, and when you've got a lot of lines to learn, you don't really want to be thinking how to sail the boat with the crew on. But for quite a lot of the show, I'm sailing the boat with someone for emergencies, like below deck, because you're not allowed to see them.

So, that was really cool, because I've never sailed before. I grew up in the city; I didn't see like farm animals until I was like eleven.

So, it was really cool for me, and it actually helped me to understand her more, because she's a very proficient sailor. She's someone who’s been sailing since she was young. She understands the wind; she understands the sea. She's connected to nature, and she likes it, she can read things. So, learning to do that for a month actually got me in a really good headspace for her, because I was like, “Oh, okay, I get who this woman is.”

Then, just physically, I did a little bit of training to be able to operate the boat; you've got to be slightly stronger in certain [ways] than I was. So, I did a little bit of training for that. I had a sailing teacher who was a woman so that I could watch how she physically walked around the boat and how she operated things and what she would be looking at, because a man and a woman, they sail differently just in terms of the way they behave. So, I thought it would be helpful to watch a woman sail.

Well, that's interesting. I mean, I assumed you were on a boat, but I didn't know you actually sailed it. That's really cool. You learned a good skill, right? [laughs]

I only nearly like flipped it over once, one very windy day where all the actors were like, “Fuck, we’re going,” but other than that, everyone was actually pretty safe, which is good.

[laughs] Good. Was it a challenge kind of trying to balance her suspicious nature, because she has to act suspicious of everybody without getting them suspicious of her. Was that hard to pull off?

Cush JumboI think it's really hard. I've watched things where I’ve been like, “Come on! They would know! You just made a really weird face when they were like giving food, and you were like, ‘I'm not going to kill anyone.’ It’s obvious you’re going to kill everyone!” So, I had to work very hard on that.

Then, you have to decide what can be seen and what can't be seen. A lot of it's like, “Could that be seen? Did you answer it in enough of a way that you'd be convincing? Would they think you're a little odd?”

And I thought it was okay for the family to think she was a little odd. She's a person that's not from their world. So, Joy (Geraldine James) and George's wife, Violet (Maeve Dermody), – and, I mean, Lena (Mia Tomlinson) is probably the one who her [encounters with] would be the most natural, because they have a crossover in the world. That strange family on that strange Island, they don't have anybody that shows up like Frances. So, fifty percent she could get away with, because it was like, “She's from the real world, and you're all weird,” but fifty percent of it actually is really hard. You've got to balance the drama with what the audience needs with like, “Come on! You know!” So, yeah, it actually was really hard.

Can you talk about working with Jared?

Oh, yeah. Fantastic. He gets so embarrassed when I say this, but he honestly is one of the most supportive scene partners I've ever had. He’s somebody that's very experienced, older than me, has been doing this a long time, and that sometimes doesn't make for a good scene partner, you know, sort of when you're young and new. And he knew how heavy this was to carry this story and was just there with me.

And I think what he brings to George, which makes it different from anyone else who would have played it, is that he finds all of the charm and all of the George that manages to convince the world that he's a great guy, and the George on the golf course, the George that you're like, “Well, he could never have done that…He would never do anything like that.” I thought he was great at tapping into those little moments where you could see his humanity. Like he really does care for his son; he's just disappointed, and we can’t kind of figure out why. That's always the smartest way to to play someone who's maybe a little evil.

So, I just bloody loved working with him, and we would always be halfway between doing a really intense scene and then falling over the floor laughing, because he was so much fun. I felt really lucky to work opposite him.

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