Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher was packed with dynamic performances from a stacked cast of familiar faces in the Mike Flanagan universe. While audiences were thrilled to see returning favorites like Kate Siegel, Ruth Codd, and Rahul Kohli make their way back to the Flanaverse, they were equally thrilled to spot legends like Mary McDonnell and Mark Hamill joining the fold. Throughout the series, relationships are put to the test as a well-to-do family begins to crumble because of a decision made by its leaders decades ago. There are a lot of wonderful dynamics portrayed between the characters, but one, in particular, stood out to fans as something extra special. During a panel with Collider’s Maggie Lovitt at the San Francisco Fan Expo, McDonnell answered a fan question about her character’s connection to the mysterious woman who’s hell-bent on tearing the family apart.
For a brief refresher, McDonnell played Madeline Usher, the matriarch of the Usher family and sister of Bruce Greenwood’s Roderick Usher. For every brash move Roderick made throughout the years, Madeline remained calm and calculated in her decisions, revealing herself to be the real player out of the pair. In a flashback, the siblings are approached by a mysterious woman at a bar and given the opportunity of a lifetime to make billions of dollars – but at the eventual demise of their family. In these flashbacks, a young Madeline is played by Willa Fitzgerald with Roderick’s younger version played by Zach Gilford. There’s an electricity made apparent by Madeline’s first meeting with this stranger who the audience comes to know as Verna (Carla Gugino). Explaining this familiarity, McDonnell says,
She meets Verna originally and the way I saw that was like watching Willa’s performance combined with the brilliant writing… It’s like this combination of minds comes together in the art. And what I said was ‘Yes, that’s right,’ because what I could see in Willa was that there was something that she recognized about the truth of Verna’s otherworldness. She didn’t quite know what to do with it. I didn’t – Madeline – but she knew it was there. And so, I felt that there was some kind of implicit knowing. Whether or not it was a conscious historical knowing from god knows where or what, but I did feel like there was a familiarity. There was intimacy, obviously, in that moment in the bar.
At the tail end of the show, Verna and Madeline reunite at Madeline and Roderick’s childhood home where Madeline knows she’s about to meet her demise. True to character, Madeline goes into her meeting with destiny proudly, standing tall and prepared to meet her fate, with McDonnell explaining that tension-filled meeting,
So, when I went to see her all those years later, after I figured out this, exactly what’s happening… I wanna call her a woman, but she’s, in fact, an entity but a feminine one, sort of the dark divine feminine. I felt Madeline was going to meet someone who – I don’t want to say Madeline felt equal to Verna, but she felt up to her.
McDonnell then goes on to share a character choice that she made to better represent Madeline in this showdown, saying,
It’s why I chose… to remove the hairpiece I came with because I felt Madeline had more power as a raw, unadorned Madeline than the Madeline who had been functioning in the world as a billionaire woman with a spoiled rotten family. So, I took it off, and I wanted to face her as I am and not allow her to condescend, but I did feel like I was meeting someone that I knew, and I knew clearly she knows everything – when someone knows everything about you, you don’t wanna go in with any artifice.
The perfect actress to portray the tough-as-nails Usher matriarch who was truly the brains of the operation, and had enough care to not bring any children into the cursed family, McDonnell’s performance was one of many standouts throughout the Netflix series.