Directed by Ruth Paxton, A Banquet is a horror movie dealing with the psychology of parenthood, loss, faith, and mental health. Full of stunning cinematography, the film is a striking commentary on familial relationships and, as actor Sienna Guillory tells us, is a thriller movie that was “amazing” to be a part of.
Telling the story of a young woman named Betsy (Jessica Alexander) who is one night afflicted with a vision that she believes is a higher power, a family is thrown into turmoil as she begins to follow her beliefs. Betsy’s mother, Holly, played by Sienna Guillory, and sister Isabelle (Ruby Stokes) must watch helplessly as she starves herself in the name of enlightenment. Guillory is no stranger to horror or high stakes roles. Previously she has starred in the Resident Evil franchise as Jill Valentine, was in the fantasy movie Eragon, and was recently cast in the action movie The Meg 2: The Trench.
During our interview with the star, we discussed her time working on the British horror movie A Banquet, and what it was like being part of the powerful female-led production. Finally, we got the inside scoop on how she feels about her future Hollywood role opposite Jason Statham in The Meg 2.
Digital Fix: Hey, how are you?
Sienna Guillory: Very well. Emma, how are you?
I’m good. Thank you. Firstly, congrats on the film. I thought it was an extremely emotional ride that was very touching. What first drew you to the script?
SG: Actually, before I read the script, I watched the short film that Ruth Paxson directed called ‘Be Still my Beating Heart’, and it was like someone crawled inside my head and told a dream to me that wasn’t mine. It was so, so good, and it made me think that’s why films are filmed.
That’s why you have filmmakers because they put you in the story, and they tell you things in a way that you just intrinsically understand rather than just sitting back, and you know, get entertained. I love those types of films too, but her way of telling a story I found really intriguing, and I liked, I loved the script.
You know, parenting is really, really awkward and extraordinarily difficult and such a weird thing to have to do, to have that responsibility over someone’s life. And, just, questioning what there is to believe in? I think that’s quite an important question that we all think about.
You talked a bit about the parental side that we see in A Banquet, and you were very realistic as a mother. Watching certain scenes in that film, I saw my own personal relationships. For instance, that dinner scene, when you are trying to get Betsey to eat peas, I was like, ‘yep, my mom would do that too’. How did you prepare for that role?
SG: Well, I am a mom. But I think it just comes from when you really really love someone like you do your children, or that you have in that sort of family environment, it’s very difficult not to want to nurture. But then, when you’re getting things wrong, it’s so much harder than you know. There’s no worst thing that any human could say about you as a person, then, ‘you’re a bad mother’, that cuts to the bone.
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And at every point, you’re kind of looking at your decisions and looking at the fallout of your decisions and thinking, ‘is this because of me? Is this because of my parenting? Is this something I’ve done? And how do I reassert control here?’ But at the same time, you’ve got the modern parenting thing of like, ‘I want you to have control of your life. And I want to allow your freedoms to express yourself and be able to be who you want to be without being told how to be’.
It’s just this weird little tightrope of not knowing how to behave ever. And the more you don’t know how to behave, the more you get it wrong, and then it becomes like this circus act of getting it right. So right, it falls off the edge of being right and becomes wrong. And then trying to climb, to get power back.
Besides the psychological and more art housey aspects of this film, there is a very strong emphasis on a real-life issue: eating disorders. When you first got the script, how did you broach such a sensitive subject?
SG: It’s incredibly hard because you’re going to hurt people. You know that by even entering the arena talking about any kind of eating disorder, people are going to get hurt. People are going to get upset. You’re going to get it wrong. And I think that if it helps have those conversations or helps people start conversations; conversations are good and healthy.
Very good. There are sort of preconceived ideas about what eating disorders are that we try and discuss. And ultimately, everybody is their own person. So the reasons behind their eating disorder or the way they view food or value food or their bodies and the way they’re seen and see themselves, you know, it’s totally subjective, and I think it’s something that is not just a few people. It’s a huge amount of us. And it’s hard.
This isn’t your first outing with horror. We’ve seen a resurgence in the cinematic version of the Resident Evil franchise, with things such as Resident Evil Welcome to Racoon City coming out. If given a chance, would you come back as Jill Valentine?
SG: Of course. Wouldn’t you? (laughs)
Without question (laughs). Getting back to this horror movie, one of the things that really stuck with me was the amount of loss that your character goes through. In the beginning, we see you lose your husband, then go through the situation with Betsey, and then even witness your other daughter branch away from you. That must be very draining as an actor and as a person. How do you separate yourself from heavy work like this?
SG: We, I mean, when you’re doing really massive emotional stuff, you kind of… it’s just you’re trying to hit number 10. And then surpass it, but you’re trying to sort of doing it in a way that isn’t annoying because it’s annoying, watching people. I didn’t want her to be obviously struggling or the story to be about struggling because it’s not about struggling. It’s about coping. And it’s about finding hope, and how and what you cling on to, and then what that can do to you.
But I think, sometimes it’s more exhausting doing very intricate scenes where there is very little emotion because you’re worried about whether you’ve done the tone right, whether you’ve missed something, whether there’s a better way of saying what you’re saying. But when you’re doing kind of really big emotional stuff, you smashed through the roof and keep going until someone calls cut.
Speaking about real-life horror now. You shot this movie during the ongoing global pandemic. I wanted to know, were there any challenges? Any really bad days on set?
SG: It was really weird. I think we were the first film back after the first lockdown, and nobody really knew anything about Covid-19. Really, we were just kind of like, ‘oh, it can kill people’, and ‘be careful’. So everyone was super, super, super vigilant. We were all masked all the time. But the weirdest thing was, like; I was so used to this because we were in one room, essentially for four weeks.
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And then the minute we kind of called wrap and we didn’t have to, sort of wear our masks we were all outside. And we were all like opening a beer at the end of the film. Suddenly people took their masks off, and you could see their faces, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, look at all these mouths!’ (laughs) Seeing someone you think you know really well, and then you see their mouth, and you’re like, ‘Whoa’. It is scary. (laughs)
Yeah, a nose and a mouth can completely change a face. Besides A Banquet, it was announced recently that you had been cast in The Meg 2. Can you tell us anything about it? Is it going to be more violent than the last one?
SG: I can’t say much, (laughs), but it is definitely… it’s definitely, definitely very, very, very, very exciting. I mean, unbelievably exciting. Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m allowed to say anything about anything. But I was literally reading the script going (mimes flipping through pages) ‘oh!’
Ben Wheatley is one of my favourite directors. I’ve worked with him on The High Rise, and he just has such an understanding of real terror. And such intelligence and such a sense of humour. Yeah, such a sense of humour. So I think it’s going to be amazing.
Another thing I wanted to talk about with A Banquet is that we see a really strong female cast and crew. It’s great to see that. We’re seeing more inclusion in the industry, but it is still a pretty recent change. I want to know what was it like having this really powerful female team throughout production, compared to past experiences.
SG: It was amazing. I think it’s the fact I’m usually the only girl, ‘the woman’, and then there’s the cast, and they’re all kind of blokes during other films. And then, you know, you’re sort of hanging out with the wardrobe team. It was wonderful. It was. It’s really, really interesting to work with a group of women, and on the first day, you’re kind of looking around going, ‘this is amazing we’re just all women’ and then a day later, you’ve forgotten that it’s just women – you’re just getting on with it.
But considering that it’s quite intense, it was quite a textural film; there’s a lot of explosions going on emotionally, just being there, we were all so chill and relaxed. I was hanging out making tea. Jess Alexander is a really super chill girl. Ruby Stokes is literally one of the most chill people, the sweetest people. Lindsey Duncan is like the most easy-going person. I mean, I think, to be a working actor, and to be a woman, you’ve got to be easy-going.
You can’t have huge problems, you know, you just don’t work anymore. We’re all total pushovers (laughs). So we’re just all like, ‘Hi. Yeah, fine. Yeah, that sounds great. Yeah, whatever.’. Or it was normally you’re kind of trying to help somebody get into a good mood and then if you’re working with a bit of a moody male actor, you’re like, ‘I think he probably just needs a poo’. You know, like he needs to go back to his trailer for 10 minutes, I think maybe he just needs a poo.
(Laughs) Since we talked about Ben Wheatley, I want to know, and we talked about A Banquet’s genre now. What is your personal favourite horror movie?
SG: I’m a sucker for Dancer in the Dark. Is that a horror movie?
I think it can be. Psychologically you can argue that it is or that it is at least horror movie adjacent.
SG: Yeah! Or Dracula. I love, love Coppola’s Dracula. Amazing, it is amazing. I think I’ve watched it… I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched it. It’s extraordinary Yeah, I love Coppola’s Dracula, and I love Dancer in the Dark. I think the first one that I really loved was Man Bites Dog; it is a French film. It’s really really dark, all about serial killers.
But I suppose I like the Ben Wheatley thing of kind of you know, the darker it gets, the funnier it is in a way too. You know, humanity at its darkest is something I find quite funny.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me
Thank you so much for watching the film and liking the film, and talking to me!
A Banquet is out now in cinemas and on digital platforms.