Its common practice for actors to take souvenirs from set after a project is done. After filming Misery, James Caan kept his characters typewriter. Sir Ian McKellen took the key to Bag End from The Lord of the Rings. On AMCs The Terror, Jared Harris took his characters sunglasses. His co-star Paul Ready had something else in mind, but he hit a certain snag: “I dont know what the etiquette on asking for your dead body is.”
By the time period-horror series *The Terror *draws to a close, its characters have suffered—and, in every case but one, succumbed to—lead poisoning, scurvy, starvation, murder, immolation, and cannibalism. The show, adapted from Dan Simmonss 2007 novel of the same name, offers a fictionalized account of the doomed Franklin expedition, in which two ships traveled to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage and never returned. Naturally, its body count is high.
Though every single death carries weight, that of Henry Goodsir may just be the most heartbreaking. Readys character is the heart of the show: despite the various calamities that have befallen him and his comrades, he still sees hope. “This place is beautiful to me even now,” he tells Crozier (Harris) midway through the finale, after theyve both been taken captive following a schism in the crew.
This purity of spirit, as well as Readys tremendous performance, makes it all the more wrenching when he dies—not by disease or at the hands of his captors, but by suicide.
“He was always in love with the natural world and the environment, and had great hope for people. But I think it was the people that let him down,” Ready said in an interview, explaining Goodsirs decision to cover himself in—and then ingest—poison before slitting his wrists. “I felt it was, in a weird way, a final love letter to the natural world, to life. . . . I think he thought the best thing he could do was try and poison everybody, or most people, so Crozier could escape.”
The suicide sequence is one of the shows most striking moments. Its the second scene to take the audience directly into a characters mind, cutting to split-second images representative of their thoughts—but unlike the death of Captain John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), which plunged the viewer into a horrible sense of disorientation and despair by whirling in and out of focus, Goodsirs death is calm, and strangely beautiful. The shows musical score, which has only grown more dissonant over the course of the season, is suddenly melodic, and Goodsirs final moments are intercut with shots of objects from nature set against a white background. “Thats the bit he wanted to remember,” Ready said. “One of his dreams in life would be to be that person who recorded nature, and the beauty of it. When I saw [the scene], I loved how simply and purely the objects were laid out in his mind. I think he was going back to somewhere where he was happy.”
Its small comfort considering that the next time we see Goodsir, hes been stripped and laid out on a slab of wood for the men to cut off and consume what flesh they please. Like most of the effects on the show, the cadaver was a physical prop rather than a C.G.I. creation, and quite intensive to make. “I was laid out on a table, practically naked, while I was covered in the mold by I dont know how many people, because I couldnt see them, but I just felt lots of hands on me,” Ready recalled, confessing to a little bit of claustrophobia. “The head was the most intense. I had to go quite zen about it, because you can only breathe through your nose because your mouth is entirely covered. . . . But then to see it, what they did is astonishing. I almost wanted to keep it, except it was a bit creepy.”
Still, he has a key part of Goodsir with him: Ready grew out his characters sideburns himself, though the rate at which they grew caused some issues with continuity. “Sometimes the fact that we were shooting out of order was a problem,” he laughed. “My sideburns were going out of control, and we had to find a way to pin those back so wed look like we were in the same episode.”
Continuity had to be taken into consideration on a less visible level, too. Over the course of the series, each character undergoes a transformative journey, with Goodsir in particular changing from a timorous junior doctor into a man certain in his convictions. In Readys words, “he learns to trust himself”—in part out of necessity given the extreme circumstances, and in part thanks to his relationship with Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), which the actor characterized as similar to the bond between siblings.
Charting that character change—in or out of order—was a daunting prospect, particularly because The Terror is, by his own admission, the biggest project that Ready has ever worked on. Goodsir is also something of a stretch from the other characters hes played on TV, from Kevin in Motherland (which airs in the U.K. on BBC Two)—who gave Ready a chance to show off his Chaplin-esque instinct for comedy—or Lee in Utopia (on Channel 4), one of the most ruthless characters to grace the small screen in ages, and who Ready described as Goodsirs “polar opposite.”
If The Terror is expanded into an anthology series, as has been hinted at, and follows the American Horror Story casting model, we may get to see even more sides to Ready, who stands out even in the company of heavy hitters like Harris, Hinds, and Tobias Menzies. Still, this season has been a feat in and of itself. “You felt like you were really part of something,” Ready said of working on the show. “I dont know how rare that is, but it felt special.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Because nothing says horror like a 1920 German Expressionist film. This classic about a murderous hypnotist is inspiring now for its groundbreaking cinematography and sheer artfulness, more of a gorgeous film noir than a real horror story.Photo: From Everett Collection.
The original cinematic adaptation of Bram Stokers novel is a must-see for film fans. Its the mother of all vampire movies, featuring an indelible performance by Bela Lugosi and some really lush cinematography. (This scene alone of Draculas wives awakening is a thing of pure beauty.) Plus, its from the 1930s—theres no way itll scare you.Photo: From Everett Collection.
Ah, yet another classic that all film fans should have in their back pocket. The seminal Alfred Hitchcock thriller shocked audiences in 1960 with its jarring shower scene and ultimate plot twist, but it wont horrify modern viewers the same way. Hitchcock was more about suspense than jump scares, even if Pyscho still gives you a healthy bout of chills.Photo: From Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
Speaking of old movies that arent scary-scary by modern standards, Brian De Palmas adaptation of this Stephen King novel about a bullied high-school girl with a zealous mother is yet another standard-bearer that scared people at the time of its release. Now its got a sort of hokey 70s aesthetic that wont spook viewers more accustomed to sophisticated special effects.Photo: From United Artists/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
This stop-motion kids comedy is a joyful story about a boy who sees dead people. (For the scary version, go stream The Sixth Sense.) Its more of a delightful coming-of-age tale with genuine laughs, and some spooky animated creatures for good measure.Photo: From Focus Features/Everett Collection.
What We Do in the Shadows
Much like Shaun, this 2014 mockumentary flips a genre on its head, poking fun at the wild and sexy lore of vampires. Written and directed by New Zealands finest, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who also star, the film is about a trio of vampires just living everyday life—splitting house chores, trying to get invited into nightclubs—which takes a turn when they have to take in a new 20-year-old vampire.Photo: From Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Make no mistake: Jordan Peeles excellent debut feature is a horror movie through and through, with highly unsettling twists and turns. But the horror doesnt rely on twisted jump scares or unsightly violence; instead, its baked into the films brilliant social commentary on modern racism. And if thats not enough, take it from another wimp—this is a horror hit you can candle.Photo: From Universal/Everett Collection.PreviousNext