[Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor. Read at your own risk!]
There were plenty of heart wrenching moments in Mike Flanagan‘s Hill House followup, The Haunting of Bly Manor, but nothing has haunted us more than the tragic fate of Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller). The impeccably styled housekeeper at Bly, Hannah dedicated her life fully to taking care of Miles (Benjamin Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Smith) after her husband left her and the children’s parents died traveling abroad. She was a figure of stability, faith, and resilience, but Hannah’s dedication to Bly and its young residents was rooted as much in her love for her chosen family as it was in fear of opening herself up to the risk of another romance — this time with Bly’s quippy cook, Owen (Rahul Kohli).
Bly Manor‘s fifth episode was a moving spotlight on Hannah, as she weaved in and out of memories from her time at Bly that ultimately culminated in the devastating reveal that Hannah had been killed by the ghost of Henry Wingrave’s (Henry Thomas) thieving valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) just before Dani (Victoria Pedretti) arrived. Adding another layer of heartbreak, this revelation coincided with Hannah finally finding the courage to pursue a future with Owen, only to realize she was stuck in another memory and it was too late for her to make different choices.
The final episodes of the season showed Hannah grappling with her denial until she forced herself to accept the truth of her death so that she could try to save Owen and the children from a similar fate. With this mission concluded in Bly Manor‘s finale, Hannah declared her love to Owen in her final message before passing on into the afterlife. Hannah’s is a mournful journey of a woman fueled by love but held back by fear, and TV Guide spoke to T’Nia Miller about what it was like bringing her character’s story to the screen. Read on for the actress’s thoughts on Hannah’s fate, Hannah and Owen’s doomed romance, that stylish wardrobe, and more.
Amelie Smith, Benjamin Ainsworth, and T’Nia Miller; The Haunting of Bly Manor
Hannah’s storyline is my favorite of the season, but also one of the most tragic. When did you find out that Hannah is dead for the entirety of the season?
T’Nia Miller: So I was sent the sides — which is literally a couple of scenes from Episode 1. And I was like, “OK, so she’s a housekeeper, I’m not really seeing much about Hannah yet.” … The costume designers were talking costumes and stuff, and it’s like, “I can’t really talk about costume ideas. I need to come up with a sense of her.” And so Mike is like, “Have you read Episode 5?” [And I said,] “No, not yet because I’m doing Sex Education,” or something like that anyway. And then I read Episode 5 and I was blown out of my mind! I did get it before we started shooting, but then I was like, “How do you play this person who doesn’t know she’s dead? Like, what do we do?” It really baffled me for a while, actually.
How did you approach your performance of this woman who is such a figure of stability and duty but at the same time is also slowly losing herself and fading away?
Miller: I think I sort of brought it back to myself. I’m quite ditzy. I play all these characters who are really strong, who are well educated most of the time. … And, you know, I’m not book smart, as they say. I don’t read a lot, except scripts. I do tend to dither away sometimes, so I kind of just based her on that. But I am fiercely loyal and I’m fiercely loving, and if you’re my family — and I mean this as soul family — I’ve got your back. I’m ride or die. So I just drew those components of her from my own life, and really drew on that. When she would dither away … in Episodes 1 through 4, I needed to know by Episode 5 that when we see her kind of drifting, it would make sense later. So I was like, OK, trying to pick up moments where I could do that and really play that so that it would make sense later on. But yeah, it was a balance without giving the game away too early. It was a fine balance.
In a way, Hannah’s lie to herself is what keeps her alive, like Schrodinger’s cat. Where does this will to deny death and cling to this routine at Bly come from in Hannah, and how was she able to keep this balancing act up for so long?
Miller: Because the children need her. She feels that she’s needed, I think. It comes back to the theme of the whole series; it’s about denial. Every single character is running from something or running to something. They’re all in denial of something, and especially for Hannah. … She ran away from her marriage; she was a left woman, it’s revealed in Episode 5. And I think for Hannah, not having to face that loss again, I think that’s why she keeps telling herself, “I’m all right. I’ve got to keep it together.” Because she has been holding it together ever since the dissolution of her marriage. She doesn’t want to let the truth in. She didn’t want to believe that apparently he’d gone off with another woman. She didn’t want to believe she was all alone. And she sticks with it because she needs [the children] very much, as much as convincing herself that they need her.
T’Nia Miller, The Haunting of Bly Manor
Hannah is very controlled and holds so much back most of the time, which is what made the moment in Episode 5, when she goes outside and gives this really raw cry, so moving. What was it like finally getting to see some of what Hannah had been hiding underneath this mask? And how much backstory were you given about Hannah and her husband by the writers?
Miller: Just that, really. Hannah was left by her husband. And, you know, you kind of fill in the rest. So I figured that she’d grown up in a small village in south England. She’s probably one of very few Black women [or] people of color in the village. And so she would have had all those things, all those difficulties, all that sort of racism and prejudices — I think that’s why she bonds with Owen. So that was my backstory. And then she finds a safe haven, which is Bly. The people in the village are talking about her because everyone knows everybody and her husband’s run off to somebody else. So then at that moment when … she thinks no one is watching, she just let it all out. I think we all have those moments, right, where we just kind of scream or [screams]. And then we resume. It’s very British, a very British thing to do. Stiff upper lip. When no one’s watching, we’ll have a good ol’ cry into a Kleenex.
We see in Hannah and Viola these two women whose wills are so powerful that they’re able to deny death itself. Do you find it more tragic or inspiring that Hannah is able to defy death and define her reality in this way?
Miller: There is something dynamic in that, for sure, but I actually think it’s really tragic. I think it’s tragic because it’s too late by the time that she’s ready to kind of let go and be loved. Because Owen loves her, but she’s so scared, she’s so ruled by fear. … In my opinion, when [people are] in fear, they cannot be loved; the two don’t sit compatibly with each other. And so she has this nagging fear — that she’s so desperate to love and desperate to be loved but she’s just so scared of being rejected. So I think it’s tragic in a way, but also really beautiful because she’s there to look after those children and to see this transition of them being cared for and their uncle coming back. It’s almost like when Henry comes back, it’s like, “I can go now. I can go now. They’re gonna be safe, their uncle’s now back at home.” She knows all about the affair because she’s been there, she witnessed it. … So she needs to be there for the children, and there’s something really beautiful in that and also tragic in the sacrifice of self.
I think those fears and that instinct to sacrifice her personal happiness were really crystallized for the viewer in the bonfire scene with Owen that she kept returning to. Can you talk about the significance of that moment between Hannah and Owen when he asked her to go to Paris, and her trying to make a different choice but realizing it’s too late?
Miller: Oh my god, it was so sad. It was heartbreaking that she finally said … “Yes, I’m gonna be with this man that I love.” Because now he’s gonna go. … From the very first interview, he said, “My mom’s got dementia. When she goes, I’m gonna go. But I will stick here, I will be loyal, and I will be with you until then.” And so she’s faced with really losing the love of her life. And then she says, “Yeah, OK, I’ll do it. I’ll do it,” only to realize that she’s caught up in another memory, which just happened. … Everything starts to speed up for her. So therefore, she’s no longer able to really be in denial so much anymore. It’s harder for her to push away accepting that she’s dead. She’s dead! She loves her man and she’s dead. That’s sad.
T’Nia Miller and Rahul Kohli, The Haunting of Bly Manor
In one of the dreams, Owen tells Hannah that he learned a lot about being alive by watching his mother lose those bits of her identity and consciousness. What do you think, through her own struggles with slipping away, Hannah learned about being alive?
Miller: I don’t think she was conscious of what she learned until the end. And actually, there’s a line where she speaks to Henry and she says, “Tell Owen that I loved him.” I think she learns how important it is to let people know how you’re feeling, to live in the truth and in present, which is going to sound really wanky. But I think for Hannah it’s really true that it’s not worth the sacrifice — to not be able to hold and touch and tell the people that you love, the cost is too great. I think that’s what she learned ultimately by the time that she says the rest is just noise. Everything else is just noise, the lies we tell ourselves. What’s important is how we hold each other, even if it’s messy.
I loved in your scenes with Rahul how subtle the flirtation and chemistry was. How did you go about developing this dynamic with Rahul, where the love was so evident but largely went unspoken?
Miller: Rahul is the annoying little brother that you love. He’s so annoying. He’s a real prankster, but he knows what he’s doing. But he’s very sweet. He’s really beautiful with the children and everybody on set. He can be a grand bastard as well. I think because we both grew up in a working-class environment … we find that London connection, right? And so there was a genuine love that we have for each other, and it was a real friendship. … And hopefully, that translated on screen. The cheeky beggar would literally always fart. We’d have these intimate scenes together, those moments in the kitchen and stuff, all by the bonfire. Just before your closeup, he would, like, fart and let one out. He’d do it to all of us. He was a real prankster, that bastard [laughs]. But we love him. He’s a lovable bastard.
This whole show is driven by really resilient women whose determination and compassion propel the story forward. Female representation in horror has such a spotty track record, so how do you feel about the way Bly Manor explored so many issues through different female perspectives?
Miller: I think it’s the way forward. I really, really do. … A lot of the things that are out at the moment are female-produced, female-written — the shows that actually have female protagonists. It’s women in Hollywood doing it for themselves. Women in Hollywood saying, you know what, enough is enough. I’m going to produce, I’m going to write, I’m going to star in this show. And here we have Mike, who said, I’m going to make women the center of the story. I’m going to make women the driving forces. I’m going to make the women the strong anchors of this story. And it is. It is being driven by the women. It’s the women who are holding up the house as it’s falling down. I think it’s the way to go. I think we can learn a lot from that. We’re not portrayed as the victims, but we’re portrayed as the go-getters.
The ’80s aren’t exactly famous for chic fashion, but your wardrobe was absolutely impeccable. I just want to go out and buy everything you wore, and I think Hannah is going to be a fall fashion icon.
Miller: Oh my god, I tell you, Lynn Falconer, one of the costume designers I worked with … is a legend. … The wonderful thing about working with Lynn is that … throughout picking clothes out, we’d go for the same trouser or the same pantsuit or shirt, blouse, whatever, at the same time. We were just — vibes, we got it. And not just Hannah’s costuming but everyone’s costumes. You know, Victoria walked on set, I’m like, “Oh my god, I want that jacket.” … It was very ’80s. We researched the era. And I was alive in the ’80s. I remember what my mom and my grandparents were wearing at that time. There were some hideous parts of the fashion, but there were also some beautiful pieces. And I think Lynn did the best part of the ’80s, or the gorgeous part. So, credit to Lynn.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available on Netflix.