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Oliver Jackson-Cohen: 'Bly Manor' is no 'Hill House 2'

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Oliver Jackson-Cohen: 'Bly Manor' is no 'Hill House 2'
Oliver Jackson-Cohen can now be seen in the ghost drama, "The Haunting of Bly Manor." Photo courtesy of Netflix

NEW YORK, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen said The Haunting of Bly Manor may have some familiar faces and themes, but viewers shouldn't expect a sequel to 2018's The Haunting of Hill House.

"What Mike created with Hill House was something quite special," Jackson-Cohen told UPI in a recent phone interview, referring to the anthology series' creator, Mike Flanagan.

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"Instead of trying to make Hill House 2, he's gone in a completely different direction and [Bly Manor] is a very traditional story, but he has done his spin on it."

The actor, who played vastly different characters in the two Haunting of ... series, loves the anthology format because it gives him nine or 10 episodes to really dig into a character, but has a clear conclusion so he knows where the journey ends.

"It's like a very, very, very long movie, and you get to explore huge different parts of character and story that you wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity to do in a two-hour frame," he said. "There also isn't anything being written for cliffhangers for next season" since each Haunting of... season stands alone.

Inspired by the gothic tales of Henry James, particularly The Turn of the Screw, Bly Manor opens as lawyer Henry (Henry Thomas) hires new governess Dani (Victoria Pedretti) to care for his orphaned niece and nephew, Flora and Miles (Amelia Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), at his British country estate in 1987.

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Shortly after arriving and befriending housekeeper Hannah (T'Nia Miller,) cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) and groundskeeper Jamie (Amelia Eve), Dani realizes not everyone is who they seem to be, they are not alone in the house and something is terrifyingly wrong with the kids.

Jackson-Cohen plays Peter, Henry's envious associate and the boyfriend of Dani's predecessor Rebecca, who met an untimely end on the Bly Manor property.

"When you start a job, you're always a bit nervous and you think: 'I'm going to be crap.' Or, 'They'll think they've made a big mistake and fire me.' So, it was nice going into Bly Manor already being incredibly trusting in one another," Jackson-Cohen said of working again with fellow Hill House alums Pedretti, Thomas, Carla Gugino and Kate Siegel.

Without giving too much away, it is safe to divulge that some of the characters are tied to the grounds of the estate and can't go anywhere, even if they want to.

Jackson-Cohen laughed when asked if he thinks 2020 TV viewers who lived through lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic might relate to this.

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"That's interesting. I hadn't actually thought about that," he said. "It's what everyone is living nowadays, the fact that we can't leave our homes. I guess it will be really interesting to see how an audience responds to that."

The actor accepts Peter is a villain, but emphasizes he also is a fully developed character -- one who has experienced trauma and isn't the same guy with everyone in his life.

Depending on whose perspective a scene is from, Peter can appear loving, vulnerable, manipulative or menacing. The story also drifts from reality to people's dreams and memories, further tainting how he is perceived.

"He can be incredibly contradictory," Jackson-Cohen said, adding this felt honest since real people are complicated. "It was great fun building Peter, and if we are going to have him be the villain, [explore] 'why is he that?'"

Rebecca (Tahirah Sharif) sees the best in Peter and loves him, although he shows her his ugly side.

"To have Rebecca fall in love with Peter, there has to be something to him that she can fall in love with -- not just to do with appearance or confidence," he said.

For viewers suspicious of his motives toward Rebecca, Jackson-Cohen assures them that he isn't using Rebecca and she is, in fact, a woman he is "madly, head-over-heels in love for."

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But as someone who comes from a rough background and hasn't been loved before, Peter doesn't know how to treat Rebecca well and soon begins to feel the need to control their relationship because he thinks he can't live without it.

"It takes him to a really, really dark place and dark behavior," Jackson-Cohen said.

The actor also explored obsessive love in the big-screen blockbuster, The Invisible Man, which premiered in February, shortly before cinemas and productions were shut down because of the pandemic.

In the critically acclaimed film, Jackson-Cohen played a wealthy optics engineer who fakes his own death so he can stalk and ruin the life of his unstable former girlfriend, played by Elisabeth Moss.

"I absolutely loved shooting every single second of that movie," the actor said. "I'm invisible for most of it and I was in that awful green [special effects] suit, but it was just the most fun."

Despite its horror genre trappings, The Invisible Man told an "incredibly important story, fundamentally, about gaslighting," he added.

Jackson-Cohen thinks many people are drawn to horror movies because scary stories make them feel alive.

"Why do people go to theme parks and throw themselves on rides? Because you are constantly testing your mortality," he mused.

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"It can be incredibly thrilling. What's really interesting about Hill House and Bly Manor is that, yes, they are creepy and terrifying at times, but, fundamentally, there are very human stories being told at the crux of them, and that is what I, personally, gravitate toward."

The Haunting of Bly Manor debuts Friday on Netflix.

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