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Carla Gugino on ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ‘Girls on the Bus’

Carla Gugino on ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ‘Girls on the Bus’

When Mike Flanagan first spoke to Carla Gugino about his latest Netflix production, The Fall of the House of Usher, he didn’t yet know what it would be beyond something inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. “It was going to be something around a family and elements of Succession,” recalls Gugino. Having worked with Flanagan on several horror projects (Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and Midnight Mass), Gugino was confident that the writer-director would find the perfect thematic material for our present moment. “It’s extremely appropriate, destroying yourself by not opening yourself up to actually seeing your effect on the world,” says the actress of the Sackler family-inspired narrative, which turns the Ushers of Poe’s 1840 short story into an elite clan who earned their riches from the opioid crisis. “His humanistic take on the genre,” Gugino says of Flanagan, “is what has always appealed to me.” 

The series tells of the demise of twins Roderick (Bruce Greenwood) and Madeline Usher (Mary McDonnell), the CEO and COO, respectively, of Fortunato Pharmaceuticals. Peppered throughout are clever references to Poe’s oeuvre, from the episode titles (each named after a prominent work) to the Usher offspring, named after various Poe characters. It’s the Usher children who suffer the most in the series, as their organized deaths spring from their parents’ corruption.

And it’s Gugino who delivers retribution, ending the Usher bloodline for good. The shape-shifting Verna (an anagram for “raven”), a mysterious woman from the Ushers’ past, roams through the present-day narrative exacting vengeance on the Usher kids — realizing an eerie premonition delivered from Verna to Roderick in a flashback seen in the show’s first episode.

“I’m not a horror fan, per se,” Gugino admits. But bringing humanity to a narrative style normally focused on the supernatural appealed to her. “Usher has darkly comedic elements and flashy characters that don’t normally exist in horror. It deals with societal stuff in very profound ways,” she says. “I’ve had so many people in our business tell me, ‘I wasn’t going to watch it, and I ended up being riveted. I loved it.’ ”

Perhaps less horrifying is the subject matter of Gugino’s other series this season: Max’s recently canceled political dramedy The Girls on the Bus. The actress plays seasoned journalist Grace Gordon Greene, who holds her own amid a multigenerational scrum of writers following a group of presidential hopefuls. But as with Usher, Gugino was taken with the series’ way of finding humanity. “[The women on this show] come from such different generations and ideologies, confined to a situation in which the stakes are very high,” she says. “They have to become allies — the idea of helping a friend supersedes whether you believe or don’t believe the exact same thing.” 

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This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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