Some spoilers lurk below for The Haunting of Hill House, so beware.
Netflix's latest original horror TV series, The Haunting of Hill House, is easily one of the most polished genre entries on the small screen. The central abode is full of freaky sights, complex relationships and moments of profound grief. Luckily, CinemaBlend's recent interview with Hill House's young star Paxton Singleton was neither freaky nor grief-filled.
Paxton Singleton, who plays the younger Steven, told me about how big The Haunting of Hill House was for his burgeoning career. The actor shared some fun and interesting experiences had on the spooky set, and he also has an idea for where the show should go with a potential Season 2. Let's first focus, however, on the daunting titular mansion itself.
The Hill House Set Was A Masterpiece
Through all ten episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, no human character could have possibly made a bigger impact on viewers' psyches than the towering and expansive construction at its center. One might think it'd be a fantastic sight to call one's second home for the duration of the shoot, and according to Paxton Singleton, it was indeed pretty amazing to work in.
The actual Hill House was incredible. You actually saw a mansion every day you worked, because you got to go inside and see all the new things that could have been added. And it was really neat to see all of the different sets. It was an absolute masterpiece. Of course, since it was a timeline difference from the 1990s to 2018, you know that you could see the completely different changes. Maybe even the light switches were different. You know, you could tell a little bit just by the details that you could see from the time difference.
With its seemingly endless number of rooms, Hill House is not at all the kind of dream home that Carla Gugino's Olivia is dead set on moving into. It does tend to make its inhabitants feel like they'll be stuck there forever, though. Which is a fair cop, since Hill House does tend to hang onto its more restless and disturbed spirits.
The one element in particular that really sent chills up and down Paxton Singleton's spine was the room full of statues that lurked in the background of so many shots throughout the season. In fact, it was one of the few rooms he got to hang around in when it was devoid of camera crews and cast members.
Oh, yes. I remember the statues. I got to see the statues a lot. That was one of the main [areas] that I got to see that was just empty, but it looked so real that you thought it looked like an actual haunted house. . . . Your eyes would pick up on it, and say, 'Ohhh, my god. There's another statue, and it looks like it's looking right at me. I think it's moving. I don't know.' And then all of a sudden it may just be right in front of the camera.
Several times during The Haunting of Hill House, I found my eyes quickly drawn to the background simply because a statue could be seen in the shot. And every single time, I was certain the stationary object in question was actually moving all the while, only to be proven wrong. Maybe.
The Timeline Jumps Were Part Of The Filming Process
After watching the entirety of The Haunting of Hill House, with its dual set of central timelines, viewers might have suspected the production was split in half, with the 1990s-set events being filmed first, to later be followed all the current-day scenes getting filmed. But according to Paxton Singleton, that wasn't how director Mike Flanagan aimed to handle it. In the actor's words:
We honestly just went back and forth. There was no exact time that you had to do everything. We didn't do it in order.
From a practical work-based perspective, I might assume shooting The Haunting of Hill House more sequentially would have been a simpler way to tackle it all. However, "simpler" may not be what Mike Flanagan was going for with this decision-making. He may have been trying to keep the house's haunting air of confusion and delusions fresh within the cast members. That's definitely less damaging than some of the tactics that other directors have supposedly used.
According to Singleton, the large and ever-changing set split the production up a bit, at least in terms of what would be filming, and where.
But it would be funny, because you'd be on one set, and then your scene would be over, and they might move the camera to the other set. No one would be in that set, and everyone would be in the other one. So you would get to see that one set was completely open and clear, and the other set was just full of people.
As viewers are well aware, there are plenty of moments throughout The Haunting of Hill House in which the camera is set inside an empty room, focused on a particular door, an entryway or some other piece of set design. Indeed, those quiet and action-free moments were often as successful in drawing out dread as the actively supernatural sequences. Because really, we can never really be certain that the room is absolutely empty, can we? Not with Bent Neck Lady roaming around.
Filming Wasn't Very Scary, But One Time...
Understandably, not all horror projects feel suitably scary during filming, since it's a largely tedious, stop-and-go process. But sometimes all it takes is a big and empty film set, a bit of ominous silence, and the human brain is off to the fright-filled races. When I asked Paxton Singleton if there was anything particularly unsettling that happened as the show came together, here was his small-scale scare.
There was this one spooky incident I had, where I had left my phone [in one area of the set]. And like I said, [the crew] went to a completely different set, and no one was in there. So I was going back to find my phone, and it was this haunted house and me, and I was like, 'Oooh, I do not like this.' The lights were shut off and everything. So, of course, I'm running the entire time, and I grab my phone, and I just run straight out the door because I was so scared.
I believe many people can relate to the feeling that Singleton had when traversing a dark and/or intimidating space. Someone with a less rigid backbone might have decided to just leave their phone where it was, or to ask someone else to go and retrieve it. Or to send a blood sacrifice to the evil spirits residing in the set, asking them to supernaturally float the phone back to the actor. It could happen, right?
If anyone would have witnessed the actor during those minutes, they might have thought they'd seen a ghost themselves. It sounds like Singleton high-tailed it with some impressive intensity.
You know that feeling when you get goosebumps, and you're like, 'If I slow down, the ghosts will get me.' I had that exact feeling. As I say, I could have just jumped right out of my skin.
Now that's something that The Haunting of Hill House did not have in its ranks of ghastly ghoulies and tortured spirits: a still-living human being literally jumping out of his or her skin. I consider that a missed opportunity that should be reconciled in a second season, should one get ordered up. Speaking of a second season...
He Thinks Season 2 Should Follow Steven's Story
Perhaps it isn't the most surprising reveal that star Paxton Singleton thinks The Haunting of Hill House's potential Season 2 should be centered on the character that he portrayed. But to be fair, the young actor didn't actually set himself up for the starring role. Instead, his pitch was seemingly centered in the modern day, with Game of Thrones vet Michiel Huisman presumably getting most of the screen time.
I think it could happen. Honestly, I think the idea of Steven, since he writes so many books -- and The Haunting of Hill House is his first big breakout book -- I feel like it'd be amazing to have a Season 2. Of course, I would love to have a Season 2. But I think the storyline could totally keep working in the different stories with all the different books, you know?
After the opening scene set on the Crain family's "last" night in the mansion, Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House does start out with Michiel Huisman's Steven visiting a woman who believes her home has a spectral presence. At that early point in the story, Steven is very much still a skeptic to most supernatural occurrences, having repressed certain moments from childhood. But when the show ends, Steven is in a far more understanding place than he'd ever been.
Thus, he has a completely different outlook on his life and his family's history, as well as the falsity-filled book that he wrote about them all. Which, by all means, could definitely set up an interesting Season 2, even if it may feel more like an interconnected spinoff than a straightforward sequel. And how did Paxton Singleton feel about the ending?
I think everything ended perfectly. I remember auditioning for this role, and this was one of the first huge roles that I even ever auditioned for. I tried and worked so hard trying to get this role, and when I was auditioning for it, I can remember me and my mom looking at it [and saying], 'What's gonna happen next?' Because we only got a few scenes to look at. So we were like praying and whatnot, hoping that we got to book this role so we could figure out what actually happens.
Thankfully for Singleton and his mother, The Haunting of Hill House accepted him into its walls for the long haul. Now if only we could get inside the brains of Netflix's execs to see what they're thinking about Hill House's future.
Bonus: Paxton Singleton Is No Horror Fanatic
Despite being part of the main cast of this immaculately crafted Hill House series, Paxton Singleton does not claim embrace the horror genre with any amount of force or loyalty. In fact, when I asked him about his interests in that realm of fiction, the actor admitted he doesn't tend to make it through entire horror films on a regular basis.
Surprisingly, I am not [a horror fan]. I am a scaredy cat. I can't get through half of a horror film. I've tried so many times just to finish one movie without having my eyes closed.
While I was seemingly a horror fan straight out of the womb -- with mental scars form a video store's life-sized Freddy Krueger cardboard cutout -- Paxton Singleton does not share a love of the gorier arts. I'm always amazed to learn just how many actors involved with horror projects are not into watching them recreationally.
Of course, I had to ask if Singleton was going to dive into bingeing on this particular project, or if he was going to skip over it to move on to the next one. And his answer was as hilariously perfect as I could have hoped.
Oh, I definitely will [watch Hill House]. Just...in the morning.