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Dress by Prada. Photography by Viviane Sassen, Styling by Katie Shillingford

Mia Goth on the Vulnerable, the Visceral and the Beautiful

“There is no sense of a male gaze on these moving bodies” – dance-obsessed Goth discusses elemental sensuality

Mia Goth set out her acting stall from the start. After all, nothing says ‘risk-taker’ quite like making your acting debut while pissing on Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol II. She was just an 18-year-old with a magical, Manga-like beauty and no acting training but, as she previously told AnOther Magazine, that was her secret weapon: “Because I hadn’t had any experiences of anything before, I was more open to it... I think that’s what saved me. Being too aware would have been to my detriment.”

Goth hasn’t lost any of that wide-eyed innocence, which is just as well, considering it’s what she thinks Luca Guadagnino saw in her for Suspiria. “I have quite a vulnerability to me, and that’s innate to how I perform, and perhaps he thought that was a good fit for this world,” she ponders over her bowl of breakfast porridge. “Especially for my character, Sara, who is very much on the receiving end of everything that happens throughout the course of Suspiria. I think he wanted someone who could feel a lot.”

Suspiria isn’t her first stab at the horror genre – there was the psycho-drama A Cure for Wellness in 2016 with Dane DeHaan, followed by spooky thriller The Secret of Marrowbone – but Goth knows this film is different. “I was very aware of the opportunity that Suspiria posed for me, it’s the most important thing I have done so far,” she says. “It lives outside a genre. It’s in a field of its own and it explores womanhood in all its forms, flawed and beautiful. Suspiria is even more significant now than when we were filming it. And that’s the measure of great art, isn’t it? When it’s able to connect with the real world and make you question things.”

“When I first read the script I was completely taken by it. I’d always been a fan of Luca’s – I’d heard about this project for a while and I was intrigued by it. I hadn’t actually seen the original Suspiria at that point, so my whole understanding of the story was vague. What struck me was how female-driven it was and that excited me. I wanted to talk to Luca about it straight away.

“We Skyped and he explained how he was the biggest fan of Dario Argento, how he’d watched the film when he was very young and it had stuck with him over all the years and in no way was he trying to remake Suspiria. Our conversation was brief. He said how he could very much see me in the Suspiria world and how he wanted to make something visceral and beautiful. He sent me various links to images and videos of the choreographers he wanted to work with, stories to read, DVDs to watch, to help me get an understanding of what he was trying to create. It was nine months later that I auditioned. 

“I was in Brazil visiting family when I found out I’d got the role of Sara and I cut my trip short after four days to go to Milan and start dance rehearsals. My favourite memory of the whole film was the lead-up, rehearsing. I did dance for eight weeks before we started shooting, and I really relished that. I hope I can do more of it in the future; I want to take up some sort of dance class now. I love contemporary dance, which is what Suspiria focuses on. It’s so poetic and you’re able to express yourself through it and, until then, I’d never properly contemplated dance as the art form it truly is.

“I did some dance when I was growing up but it wasn’t a focus in my life. The dancers that were training us for the film said that I don’t really understand beats very well, I don’t have a lot of rhythm and have two left feet. That’s partly why I went so hard on the dance training, but they said it made me more of an interesting dancer – actually, now I think about it, I don’t know if they were just saying that to make me feel better.

“I really enjoyed discovering my character, Sara, by integrating myself into the dance world. I loved learning about the idols of the dancers, and how they lived. The whole aspect of dance was major for me. I got into my character through dance. On the set, the dancers were always there and we would do warm-ups and stretches and that always helped me get into the right headspace.

“Before filming Suspiria, I had no idea what dancers go through on a day-to-day basis. They work so hard. They do ten-hour days, seven days a week. It’s so challenging mentally, physically – they’re athletes essentially. They’ve been dancing since they were three or four years old, so I had to really up my game to catch up and that was the main part of my prep for this role. I felt like the more I could immerse myself in this world of dance – eating like a dancer, walking like a dancer and breathing like one – everything else would fall into place.

“Dancers experience the world in a completely different way from other people. The way they stand, the way they hold themselves and the way their feet arch differently. Dancing definitely changed how I move and react to the world. For instance, when you’re always tired and always sore because you’re on the floor or you’re jumping, it affects how you interact with the world as a whole. You don’t sit in the same way, you don’t walk in the same way, you’re more mindful of your body, you’re always trying to stretch out certain pains and aches. The first week was probably the hardest stage – I was literally breaking my body and teaching it how to be again. Just the way you play with your toes, you’re constantly massaging yourself. Also the way you hold yourself from your stomach rather than slouching. It informed everything.

“The choreographer Damien Jalet wanted the dance sequences to be sensual and feminine but without any sexuality – there is no sense of a male gaze on these moving bodies, it’s not provocative or voyeuristic. When you were doing it, you didn’t feel exposed or like you were being put on a pedestal in any way. It was actually very empowering learning the moves and performing the routines. I think the fact that it leaned in toward the more grotesque side of things made it more feminine, in a way. It made it real, it made it raw, it made it wild.”

Hair: Shay Ashual at Art Partner using Leonor Greyl. Make-up: Mark Carrasquillo at Streeters using Decorté. Set design: Adrian Crabbs at The Magnet Agency. Manicure: Christina Zuleta at Walter Schupfer Management using Tutti Frutti by OPI. Photographic assistant: Hanneke van Leeuwen. Styling assistants: Molly Shillingford, Kat Banas, Sophie Phelps, Francesca Matzeu and Abigail Laura Williams. Hair assistant: Aziza Rasulova. Make-up assistant: Marika Aoki. Set-design assistant: Evan Schafer. Production: Leone Ioannou at Pony Productions. Production coordinator: Christopher McCann. Post-production: Jan Hibma.

This story originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine which is on sale internationally now.