Whether she’s dipping a toe into a new genre or authoring her very first book, actress & writer Nell Hudson is using 2022 as a way to flex new muscles.
Since 1883 last spoke with actress Nell Hudson a few years ago, she’s continued to go from strength to strength. Obviously, Hudson is well known for her roles in period pieces as Laoghaire MacKenzie in Outlander and Miss Skerrett in Victoria, but over the pandemic, she was able to explore new territory as both an actress and a new budding writer & author. A change from the characters she has portrayed prior, Hudson loses the corsets and dresses in exchange for some (fake) blood in her newest role: starring in the latest instalment in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. The film, which is a direct sequel to the 1974 original, is a fresh take on the genre. What attracted Hudson most to the role is its ability to blend important messages into the typical bloody genre, incorporating social issues like race, the obsession with social media, and more.
Besides her upcoming acting projects, what Nell Hudson is most excited about is Just For Today, her debut novel as an author. What was once a flurried stream of consciousness scribbles in a notebook, written whenever she had downtime, is now a book that follows a year in a life of a group of girls in London in 2019.
1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes chats with Nell Hudson about filming Texas Chainsaw Massacre, writing her upcoming book Just For Today, ethical fashion, and more.
I want to throw it back to 2012 — you’re 22 about to get your first TV credit in Holby City. What are you thinking about then as a young actress embarking on her career?
Oh gosh, I think I was just incredibly chuffed to have an agent and have a gig. To be honest with you, at drama school where I trained they drilled into us that we should be prepared to be disappointed. You probably won’t ever get an agent and you probably won’t work. I remember feeling so excited to even have a job! But, at that point, I had never seen myself on TV before and that episode of Holby City was the Christmas special, which meant 20 members of the family were ready to gather around the TV! It was so embarrassing watching myself and the faces I make, but it was all a learning curve.
Now I like to watch myself because I find that I can learn from it and figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, the vanity of doing that is not completely gone. It’s not me thinking, “Oh no, do I look good or not?” but trying to analyze my craft and get better at it. I’d say that’s the biggest way I’ve grown as an actress.
Something I love about your work is that it always feels like you want to do something different than the last — whether it’s in The Irregulars or Outlander or now with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Is that something you look for when you get a script?
Yeah, definitely. That’s another way in which I feel that I’ve grown as an actor. I think when I was younger and greener, I was much more open and willing to do the work that I was offered. I feel that came from that slight scarcity mindset of not getting work in the future. Now, I’m in my early 30s and the pressure is off a little bit. I have enough work behind me to take a step back and be more selective about the kind of roles I take. Variety is very high on the list of factors that I’m looking for.
It’s more fun for you if you’re flexing new acting muscles.
Exactly! It would take a lot to get me back into a corset! [Laughs] I’d have to be really excited to get back in.
You weren’t wearing a corset in Texas Chainsaw Massacre! I’ll admit, I am not a fan of horror and gore, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film even if I did have to shield my eyes for a lot of it!
[Laughs] Love that! I am a fan of horror but I tend to go more for the paranormal horror, like ghosts and hauntings and that kind of thing. In particular, I love the thrill of watching a horror movie collectively with a group of friends and you scream and laugh at the same time. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s such a thrill. The original film was something that, even growing up in the middle of nowhere in the English countryside, everyone knew. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is iconic and has such a notorious reputation.
The suspense felt in that scene where you’re in the police van had me closing my eyes because I just knew what was coming! What was it like filming that whole sequence?
There’s just so much tension in that scene. One of the great things about my sequence with Leatherface is that there is real suspense because it’s the first time we see Leatherface in action. There’s a slow build to it. It was a couple of days of filming and it was so much more tiring than I anticipated.
I thought it would be really tiring mentally.
Yeah, it was. I think because the genre is horror rather than drama, you hear about doing a really intense sequence like that and you feel gassed. You know it’s going to look awesome. We forget that those types of sequences are mentally and physically draining. It’s strange how we treat the same exact thing but within different genres. Looking back, I just remember holding that amount of physical tension in my body, and building that suspense up over and over was a lot. I had a massage a few days later and the woman said my back was very bad! [Laughs]
What was it like filming in Bulgaria? I can’t believe it was doubling as Texas.
When I watched it back I forgot it wasn’t in Texas! It really surprised me. I had no concept of Bulgaria before, there was no real association with it in my brain so I had no idea what to expect. It was so lovely, the weather was amazing every single day. The food is incredible and we hiked every day around the natural waterfalls and forests.
A little vacation for you as you deal with Leatherface!
[Laughs] Exactly! It was in lockdown so it was a nice excuse to get out and go away.
Despite it being horror, there are some pretty topical issues that are prevalent throughout the film. The confederation flag being shown, influencers coming to a town to breathe new life into it and somewhat displacing an elderly woman. When you were reading the script, were you surprised at how, despite it being a horror, there were some really topical issues flickering amongst it?
It was one of the things that caught my attention when I first got the script. It was more three-dimensional and didn’t have a flimsy plot that’s been strung together in order to serve a sequel. It was approached with a mindset of “We’re making this in 2020, what is going on in the world that’s interesting to talk about given that we have a platform to do so?” That really excited me because I think it keeps it current and modern and fresh. It will just resonate with the kind of people who are going to watch the film and, hopefully, it makes the characters more relatable too.
There’s a scene in the film where everyone gets their phones out when they see Leatherface and it’s a bit of a Black Mirror moment watching it back. I actually weirdly sympathized with him for a minute! It’s a bit horrible, isn’t it?
It is! You think about how people aren’t viewed as people anymore, it’s like they are content now instead.
Exactly. Obviously we don’t actually sympathize with a murderer but that scene really stuck out to me in regards to the film picking apart issues in our society.
I’ve been dying to chat with you about your debut novel, Just For Today, which is coming out later in June! Can you tell me a bit about the book? My copy is arriving any day now and I can’t wait.
I’m so excited for you to read it! One of the things I love about acting is that it is so collaborative. Obviously, I’m speaking someone else’s words, I’m being directed, I’m being edited, and I’m playing off against other people. What is lovely about writing is that it is completely my own thing. It’s my baby! It’s equal parts wonderful and terrifying. I’m really excited for it to come out, but I’m also thinking, “Oh, Christ, this is me in a very exposed, vulnerable way.” I can’t blame the director for making me do something or make excuses. Instead, this is me and how my brain works. Besides that, I’m incredibly excited and very proud because it was a lot of hard work. It’s really hard writing!
Can you tell me a bit about the plot? It starts on New Year’s Eve, right?
It kicks off on New Year’s Eve and then it’s a year in the life of the heroine. Have you read The Secret History by Donna Tartt?
Yes! Loved it.
It was a huge inspiration for my book. I couldn’t find anything else that sweeps you up in a gang like that. I love how immersive that novel is and how much you just want to be part of that friend group. It’s kind of like The Secret History but in London in 2019.
I read on Instagram that this was born out of things you scribbled on train journeys and such. Is that how the book mostly came together?
Yeah, it was exactly that. I always carry a notebook around and scribble things away in it, but I realized this one particular notebook had one continuous story front to back. I typed it up and it was around 25,000 words. I knew I should do something with it, I didn’t want to waste what I had written over that period. Then, over the next three years, around acting jobs and other things going on in my life, including a lot of self-doubt of questioning whether I’m a writer or not, the book was completed.
And now it’s going to be a published book and you get to be an actress and an author. I love to ask actors if they made playlists or something for their characters they are portraying, but for Just For Today I want to hear if there were any specific artists or albums you leaned on while writing it?
Not exactly, but I have another embarrassing thing that I did. I made mood boards for each of my characters.
I LOVE that. It’s not embarrassing!
[Laughs] It is! I think there is something teenage about it but I enjoyed getting in their minds and thinking about what they would look like and be interested in.
The writer and author Dolly Alderton found out all of the astrology signs for her characters, so I think you’re fine.
Oh good! I’m very visual. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an actor as well, but when I’m writing I see the scene that I’m writing in my head. I see the location and I can feel the temperature and smell the smells. It’s a very sensory process for me. I just dragged loads of images off the internet so I could vaguely see what I wanted each character to look like and the locations within as well. Which means that if it ever gets turned into a screen adaptation, I can have all of these references!
Would you like to star in it or are you too close to the project? Or is that something that you would be like? I think I’m too old to play the characters! I think, with writing, there’s a nice healthy amount of detachment that I have from my acting self. Who knows, I’d love to write something for myself to perform in one day separately, but not this particular story.
Let’s chat about books. What’s your all-time favourite book and what’s one you’re reading right now?
At the moment, I’m reading Liane Moriarty, her latest book Apples Never Fall. She is such a brilliant writer because it’s such a gripping genre and I think people can overlook what an incredible master of prose she is. I’m going through each line with a pencil and underlying every little detail. She unveils her characters and their motives in such a brilliant way.
As for favourites, that’s hard! The book that got me into reading as a young girl was I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith because of the romance of it and I have an older sister and it reminded me of me and her. Obviously the Harry Potter series, I’ve probably read that like 20 times through because I was obsessed. I’m a big fan of modern American fiction, like Donna Tartt and Jennifer Egan. I can’t wait to read Hanya Yanagihara’s new book, too.
I want to briefly chat about fashion and sustainability — I loved the vampire’s wife dress you wore to Wembley and I love that you rented it in order to reduce fashion industry waste and encourage slow fashion! It’s definitely something Hollywood in general needs to get on board with. Is it a cause close to your heart?
It’s becoming more important for me. I think I just didn’t know that much about it. And I’m really grateful to companies like her HURR which allows you to rent dresses. In this particular industry, as you say, we have to go to events all the time. If you bought a new dress every time you had one of those events, you’d be bankrupt and it feels very wasteful. It’s something that I’m becoming more and more aware of and keener to stick to. I’m realizing that with the fast fashion clothes that I’ve bought in the past. I always end up throwing away or giving them to charity because you get tired of them quickly. Now, what’s important to me is purchasing lovely investment pieces from sustainable ethical brands. They last longer and you end up saving money.
Lastly, if you could manifest something for yourself this year, what would it be?
I hope people like my book! [Laughs]
I’ve read a few pages of the PDF copy that I received and what I’ve read so far is really amazing, Nell. I love stories set in London! I can’t wait to read the full thing. You recorded the audiobook recently too. How was that?
I loved doing that. I was quite nervous because I’ve never done it before and I’d heard Lauren Lyle from Outlander, who is a great friend of mine, had done an audiobook the week before. I saw her socially and asked how it was recording the audiobook and she said it was exhausting! [Laughs] The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. It would be interesting to do it for a book that isn’t my own.
I don’t know if it’s a thing, but do you view your story differently after reading it out loud?
I think so. Bizarrely, what’s funny is that every time I have to read my book again, whether it’s through an edit check or to looking at final things to ensure I haven’t copied anything in my real life too closely, I see it with a new perspective. At first, I kind of rolled my eyes about going through it again, but I do actually get something new out of it when each new read-through. I completed it two years ago now so I do feel this strange distance between myself and the book in a loving way. The characters have taken on their own life which I love. I can’t wait for it to come out.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is out now on Netflix. Pre-order Nell Hudson’s debut novel Just For Today here.
Interview Kelsey Barnes
Photography provided by Polaroid