Haunting of Bly Manor's T'Nia Miller breaks down Hannah's unknown backstory and mind-bending twist
T'Nia Miller is having a moment — or as she would put it, a journey.
That journey, which started with her training at England's Guildford School of Acting and has seen her star in a number of British series including Doctor Who, Witless, Marcella, and Years and Years, has recently culminated in her starring in not one, but two major Netflix shows this year: Sex Education and The Haunting of Bly Manor.
In the case of the latter show, a standalone follow-up to creator Mike Flanagan's Haunting of Hill House, Miller plays the perpetually lovely, gorgeously costumed housekeeper Hannah Grose. In the season's most shocking, twisty, and heartbreaking episode, it's revealed that she's actually been dead since episode 1, having been pushed down a well by Miles Wingrave (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), who is being possessed by the vengeful ghost of Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
Calling from France before a planned walk with her dog, Miller took EW on her journey as Hannah — from being kept in the dark about the twist, to how the housekeeper's arc has resonated with her, to what she thinks Hannah and her beloved Owen (Rahul Kohli) would be getting up to had it all gone differently (hint: think lots and lots of sex).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you familiar with Haunting of Hill House before signing on for Bly Manor?
T'NIA MILLER: When it came through, I wasn't that familiar with Hill House. And so I had to watch the show, and I fell in love straight away. In fact, I binge-watched it to the point where I had to force myself to take a break. And I didn't know much about this character, and because I trust Mike's work, I said yes. Everything else from there was such a gift because I didn't know what was coming for that character. I didn't know what the outcome was. It was a brilliant surprise. I was thrilled.
Did you have any reservations about her, since you knew very little going in?
I didn't have any reservations, but initially I didn't want to play the maid or the help for political and historical reasons. With this, I went against what I believe, because I think all the central characters were the help and were all there serving these beautiful children, right? The story was beautiful, and she was such a beautiful, beautiful character.
So you didn't know your character was dead going into the show. When did you find out?
No, Mike was sneaky! He kept that from me. I got through episode 3 and I remember getting to the end, and I was like, "Ah man, s—, that's not episode 4." So I had to sort of wait for [episodes] 4, 5, and 6. Then Mike was emailing me and asking me, "Have you read episode 5? It's some really special stuff for you." That's the way he put it, right? This is "very special stuff for you." So I thought, okay, maybe there's a couple of things. So when I found that she was a ghost, I thought, this is a status change, isn't it?
And what was your reaction?
I rejoiced, because I get to play a ghost! It's like being a 5-year-old and pretending to be an astronaut or that you could fly. It's a fantasy in some respects, so that was really cool. And then I was also kind of heartbroken. Then it was like, "Oh, s—, how do I play this? What do I do navigating that?" It's so different from anything I've done before. How do you keep that true and not give the game away? But Mike knew from the very beginning, so he'd say, "Perhaps you could touch your head a bit." There are some clues if you look back to episode 4, there's some clues that something's not quite right, like her not ever finishing a tea or drink, or the wine bottle never goes down, and obviously her seeing the cracking in the wall. Even when I was reading it, this crack keeps coming up in the script. I just thought it was an old house and it was falling apart. Like my house! [Laughs]
In the episode, it's briefly mentioned that Hannah was previously married to a man named Sam. Did you and Mike discuss what the background was there?
We did speak about it, and I just shared my thoughts basically, because like I said, I didn't have the script by then. I knew that her husband had left her, so I sort of made up this backstory of Sam being the most handsome, charming man in the village that every girl wanted, but she bagged him. And he's gone and left her for a younger model. With her heart being broken by Sam, it was very hard for her to allow anybody else in that place of intimacy. I think so often we're ruled by fear in relationships. A lot of people get jaded, they carry their past relationships into a new one, and I think that's very true for Hannah, poor love.
Why was Hannah in such denial about her death, do you think? The other ghosts seemed to be aware of their situation pretty early on.
I think because that's how she has been living her life, she's suppressed. Whereas the other ghosts are going for what they want — yeah, they're running away from demons and they're frightened, but at the same time, they're going for what they want. Whereas Hannah is completely content as long as she can be in her world. Also, she made a promise to Charlotte, the children's mother, that she would be there. I'm a mother myself, and all the time you suppress your own feelings or what you're going through and you put on a face for the children because they need you and their needs ultimately come first, and I think it's exactly the same for Hannah. She had a great excuse. These babies need me, Owen needs me, Dani needs me. I am the glue that keeps everyone together.
This season deals heavily with the power of memory and the themes of love versus possession. Did any of that resonate for you personally?
Yeah, I think so. I mean like she says, possession and love people get mixed up all the time. And it's always quite baffling to me, the idea of being possessed by another person, because we're born free spirits, right? I always said to my children growing up, your soul could be older than mine, but just in this lifetime, I happen to be older. There's a great song about how the children, they are the daughters and sons of life. They come through you, but they don't belong to you. And I think that's what it is, you know, these energies come through us, but no one belongs to anybody else. So personally, I just think that we have to meet each other in that space of pure love, without condition, without expectation and being and living in the present. And that's a bloody hard job to do because our egos and insecurities get in the way. I think that's a long-term life journey and lesson that I am personally having an inquiry with. That's my inquiry. How do I stay true to love without ego? How do you do that?
In episode 5 we see Hannah definitively say she'd go to Paris with Owen, but of course she can't because she's dead. Had things gone differently, what do you think Hannah and Owen's life would be like in France?
They would have had a wonderful life. I really do believe that. She'd be cleaning and tasting things, and she'd be maybe suggesting menu ideas. They would have the best sex because they've had this pent-up frustration for all these years. I think they would really be going at it. And I think they would take holidays or have a garden where they'd grow vegetables and be calling Jamie [Amelia Eve] for tips and all that sort of stuff. I think they would have a really beautiful time. She would probably feel guilty that she can never have children because she was too old. I think that would weigh on her mind. So, perhaps they'd adopt a dog, but it would be wonderful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.