I have to admit, I'm a little scared to talk to Eve Hewson.
The Irish actress stars as the mysterious and off-putting Adele in Netflix's adaptation of Sarah Pinborough's psychological drama Behind Her Eyes, and it's a performance that will shake you, hard. There is very little I can say about the limited series without invoking the ire of the internet's spoiler police, but let me tell you, it's chilling.
Hewson, 29, joins my Zoom call moments after she's wrapped InStyle's shoot. Two dramatic smudges of hot pink shadow still frame her pale blue eyes, but she's swapped costumes, opting for an oversize red and black checkered flannel shirt buttoned at the top and flowing open down her torso.
As we launch into our discussion, any parallel I could possibly draw between Hewson and her character is soon deemed ridiculous.
For one, Hewson is funny. (Listening back on our interview, I'm embarrassed by the sheer amount of laughter on my part.) Her humor is not something you'd intuit from watching her as the achingly complicated and manipulative housewife she plays in Behind Her Eyes, or the quiet, pious nurse driven to debauchery in Cinemax's The Knick. But every time I thought Hewson was about to give me a PR-curated soundbite, she'd surprise me with something completely unexpected — a mention of the "patient lovers" who helped her through her night terrors, or an anecdote about getting drunk with her friends in Hawaii to decompress from a tough shoot.
She is, as most publications will breathlessly tell you in their headlines, "Bono's Daughter," but it's clear in the artistic skew of the projects she's chosen and the depth of the performances she's given that her career has not hinged on this fact.
If you're not familiar with the rest of Hewson's work, Behind Her Eyes will send you down an indie rabbit hole populated by stripped-down romantic dramas and avant-garde period pieces. It's easy to see that she loves the exploration involved in her craft — you won't find her playing the same character twice (unless it's Lucy Elkins from The Knick, whom she'd love to reprise in a spin-off of her own).
In Behind Her Eyes, Hewson takes on what is perhaps her most complex role yet. Adele, whose motivations remain elusive through much of the limited series, takes center stage when she's drawn into a zealous friendship (on her part, at least) with her husband's secretary, Louise (Simona Brown). It's a performance that, much like my conversation with Hewson, keeps you guessing until the very end.
Read on as Hewson discusses embodying Adele, filming sex scenes, and the hilarious date she went on with a fan.
I am completely obsessed with Behind Her Eyes. I've told everyone I've ever met in my life to watch it. And you also have The Luminaries, which just premiered in the US on Starz. It's crazy that they're both happening at the same time.
I know, I do things in extremes. Go hard or go home is my motto.
How do you feel having all of these professional successes right now, when the world is, you know, sort of falling apart?
I feel a little bit guilty about it, just because I've had some really nice reactions to The Luminaries already in the UK. Being able to work on these shows and work really hard at them, and then kind of get an excuse to sleep for a little while … [That's been] nice. I like to think that the glass is half full — I'm not working because of the lockdown, but at least I have this work coming out and everybody's at home and they're eager to watch things and there's an appetite for it. And I really, really think both shows will give people what they're looking for in terms of an escape. So it's quite nice.
So with this character in Behind Her Eyes, there is a lot to unpack. And without giving anything away, how did you prepare to play someone with so much complexity and history that the audience isn't really privy to until the very end?
I didn't prepare at all, which is sort of not what you're supposed to admit. But I got cast very, very late in the process. I had two days to get on a plane and then I had two weeks of prep before we started shooting. And that was rehearsals and basically just working on the accent because I'd never done a British accent before and I was freaking out about that. So I hadn't read the book. Honestly, I read the scripts on the plane. I didn't know what I was signing up for.
So it became a more intuitive way to get into the character. Every day I just sort of tried new things and the director, Erik [Richter Strand], he's got kind of a twisted, unpredictable kind of taste. So he allowed me to just go for it and play with it and try something strange or bizarre. I think that's how we came to the character. We didn't really know what we were going to get as a result, but I actually think we landed on something far more interesting [than] if I had planned it perfectly.
A lot of actors feel like they need some shared connection with the character and I imagine with someone like this, it was a little more difficult to find that. Was there anything you could relate to about this character?
Oddly, I met some interesting women in my life and I kind of remembered the way that they made me feel, the way that they behaved in their daily life. And I definitely drew from a few people I've met. That's probably bad to say, but I'll never admit who it is [laughs].
I liked that it was a very out-of-the-box character. It was an opportunity to go big, whereas usually on camera you have to keep it small, you have to play it safe. And most characters I've played have been very grounded in the truth, and this was a more heightened reality and therefore Adele could be more heightened. And so I actually just had a lot of fun playing with that and I didn't have any time to second guess myself. So we just went with it and it's a TV schedule and you've got to do a billion scenes a day. I sort of just throw something at the wall and see if it sticks, and hopefully it did.
It did, I can tell you that. Dreams and the subconscious play such a large role in this show. Have you been thinking about your dreams differently since you got involved in the project?
Yeah, we actually did a dream workshop, which was really interesting because I grew up with the worst night terrors of all time. I'm famous for it in my family. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, in cold sweats, running around the house ever since I was a kid. So, that part was really interesting to me. Once I'd read the script on the plane, I was like, "Oh, I'm actually really interested in this." But yeah, we did this workshop where we talked about astral projection and all of that, and we tried to do it which was amazing. And I actually managed to get my head out of my body. The woman put us into a meditation and you're supposed to step out of your body. She said it sort of feels like you're peeling your skin off. We did it and I was able to get my head and my chest out. But then I felt like I was falling and I woke up and I was lying right back on the floor, but I felt like I had been sitting up.
Oh my gosh. That's wild.
It was really wild. We were all really into it for a while. We would go home and we would listen to meditation music before we fell asleep and see if we could do it. But I also suffer really badly with sleep paralysis. You know, the thing that sits on your chest, it's like a demon. And I get that really badly when I finish a job. I think it's my anxiety from shooting. When I finish a job, I feel I have just jumped off a cliff, because when I'm actually filming I feel amazing, I feel free, and I don't judge myself. And then when it's done and I have no control, then I sort of start to question every single thing I did. So I get really bad sleep paralysis after a job. This kind of helped me deal with it a little bit. So I think that's positive.
When you were a kid, how did you get the night terrors to stop?
I would also get that recurring thing where you wake up out of the nightmare and then the nightmare continues. You think you're awake but then the nightmare continues, and then you wake up again and then the nightmare continues. I don't know what that's called, but that's also horrific.
My mom would say don't eat any dairy before you go to bed. I was obsessed with Home and Away, and my mom said she'd give me more pocket money if I stopped watching Home and Away because of the gory storylines. She thought that was sort of getting into my psyche. But no, I've always had it. I still have it. I still have really vivid nightmares
As an adult, I had this boyfriend, God bless him. He just sort of walked me through it every night and would get me a glass of water, sit up, maybe leave the room. And that sort of helped me tackle it.
But yeah, really patient lovers [laughs], who are willing to experience like a horror film in the middle of the night. That's kind of helped. I'm able to understand now this is a nightmare that I'm having. Whereas when you're a kid, it feels so real that you don't really understand what's happening to you.
I'm sorry you deal with that.
I like to think that my imagination is strong.
When you first read the scripts and that ending, what was your reaction?
I didn't read it. I was told it by the director on Skype, which is bizarre because I did my audition and then I'd only read the first episode, so I had absolutely no idea what the show was or who the character was or anything. So I just kind of went in with a tape that wasn't what they were looking for. But thankfully Erik really liked me. And then we got on Skype and he said to me, "You clearly haven't read the scripts." I was like "Yeah, I have" [laughs]. He's like, "No. No, you haven't. I can tell by your reading." So then he told me the twist which was really quite a shock, and sort of a sad way to find out because I think it's way more exciting if you're reading a book or if you're watching the show as it sort of unravels. So I just had a really roundabout way of discovering the twist.
You have some sex scenes in the show and I know you did in The Knick too. What is it like shooting those? Is that something that you ever get used to as an actor?
No, it's not a day that's particularly comfortable. But because I've done it so much, I've learned how to make myself as comfortable as possible. I know what to ask for, I know what kind of nipple covers I want, I know what kind of nude underwear I need to wear in whatever shot. And I'm pretty good at negotiating what I'm comfortable with people seeing. And I'm lucky that I've had really good co-stars in all of them actually, all of my sex scenes. But particularly Tom [Bateman], we got along so well. We were really, really close. We're such good friends and he's such a gent. It makes it way more comfortable if you're comfortable with that person.We had to do that sex scene that's in the first episode and we had to shoot the part where I'm looking in [Bateman's] eyes and I'm saying, "I love you. I love you." But obviously I can't be looking at Tom. I have to be looking into the camera. The camera's [focused on] my face. So we have the DP holding the camera, standing on top of me on the bed. And I'm underneath looking at him, pretending it's Tom, going "I love you. I love you." And they were like, you need to move more, you need to look like you're actually having sex. So Tom is sitting on the bed, holding my legs, pushing me.
Oh my God.
And then the bed ... It was this big, giant like king-sized bed. But the set design had only made it with two single beds. So I started to fall down in between the two single beds as he's pushing, falling down the crack. But those are the kind of funny things that happen, that if you have the right people around you, you can really actually have a laugh and enjoy it. But yeah, it can be funny. It's never normal taking your clothes off in front of people that you've been working with every day. But if you have the right team around you, it can be OK.
Did you work with an intimacy coordinator?
Yeah, Ita [O'Brien]. She was the one who did Normal People. She was amazing. And that was the first time I worked with one. She uses animal references for the sort of noises or the physical reactions that she wants from you. So she might say, "Have you ever seen a horse buck? Do it like that." Or, "Have you ever seen slugs having sex? It's kind of like this movement." So, it's a sort of way to communicate with you that doesn't feel as invasive as just saying "harder" or "faster" or something that might make you feel really uncomfortable.
That's so interesting. I've never heard of someone doing it that way.
Yeah, I'd never seen slugs having sex before, but there you go.
Did you actually look that up for this?
Yeah, it's really bizarre.
I don't think I'm going to be Googling that. I was reading through a bunch of your past interviews and I found this one from 2015 where you said for a future project "I want to do some fucked up shit that you won't be able to forget when you go to sleep at night." I feel like it was pretty prophetic.
I'm so happy that you found that. I forgot that I'd said that. I do remember saying to friends of mine at dinner, like a few months before I booked Behind Her Eyes, "I just really want to do something psychological and dark" ... And then boom.
You shot The Luminaries pretty close to Behind Her Eyes, right? What is that transition process like for you? Do you find it difficult to shake off the character when you wrap?
Yeah, I did The Luminaries and then I did Tesla with Ethan Hawke. Then I went right to Behind Her Eyes. I usually find it hard. With The Luminaries I found it pretty difficult because it was six months of just intense, dramatic, physical work, and being a prostitute, and the things that happened to the character are very dark. And I was thrown around a lot. Thrown out of balconies ... It was just really taxing. So I actually went to Hawaii with my friends and got really drunk, to sort of come down from that experience. And then I went to do Tesla in New York, and then I went straight to London to do Behind Her Eyes. But I found no issue shaking off Adele. I loved Adele. I could play her every day for the rest of my life. I just enjoyed it way too much.
I read there's going to be some sort of reboot of The Knick. Are you going to be involved in that at all?
I wish. No, André Holland is doing it with Barry Jenkins which will be fucking phenomenal. I wasted no time in texting André and saying, "I was your favorite, right?" And then he was like, "Yeah, yeah OK." But, putting it out into the universe, if he's doing a spinoff with his character, I could potentially do a spin off with my character. So, the possibilities are endless.
Your given first name, which is also part of your Instagram handle, is Memphis.
Memphis Eve, yeah.
Do you go by that in your personal life?
No, they've always called me Eve.
Do you know the story behind that name?
I wish I did. I don't think my parents even know. Every time I ask them, they come up with a different story which means that they definitely don't know why they called me that.
I was reading that when you wanted to initially go into acting, your parents weren't super excited about it. Do you feel like there was ever pressure to go into the music industry because of your father's prominence?
No, I think they just wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer, architect, not in the entertainment industry at all. My brother [Elijah Hewson] is actually in a band, Inhaler. You should check them out, they're really good. You'll definitely be hearing about them. But no, there was no pressure. I just kind of found it and had to do it. I'm glad I did.
I imagine growing up as the child of someone who has this name for themselves and when you're trying to go into a sort of parallel industry, that it can be frustrating when people are like, "Bono's daughter" … Has that been difficult for you?
Yeah. I mean, I would like it if people used my name. That would be kind. But I don't really focus that much on it. It's not something I can let myself think about too much. I really like to just focus on my career and what I want to do. And worrying too much about how other people see me or what other people think of me is just sort of a mindset I don't really want to be in. I don't really care, but it sure would be sweet.
What is your love language?
Acts of service.
Which role do you find that people recognize you for on the street most often?
Do you find that when people go up to you they're sort of reacting to the character?
Yeah, I went on a date once with a guy who I found out later happened to be a huge fan of The Knick. And he was incredibly disappointed when I showed up hungover and was making him do tequila shots. I think he was like, "This isn't the Lucy Elkins I know." So yeah, that can happen.
I feel like Behind Her Eyes is going to be the new answer to this question for you. Do you think people are going to be afraid of you as that character?
Nobody's going to try fucking with me anymore after that.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
If you could only watch three movies for the rest of your life, which three would you choose?
OK, that's hard. I would say Paper Moon. My Best Friend's Wedding because that is my go-to whenever I'm feeling down, or sad. Whenever I just need a warm hug, that's the movie that I watch. And then probably Boogie Nights.
Astrology, yes or no?
Yes! I am a Cancer sun, Leo rising, Taurus moon.
Do you identify with those?
Yeah. Cancer definitely. Leo, yeah.
I wasn't that crazy into it until I did The Luminaries. And Eleanor Catton who wrote the book and the script, she's obviously obsessed with astrology and the whole show is about it. She did my chart and everything. Do you follow Co-Star?
Yes, I have Co-Star.
I love Co-Star — that's funny. Trashbag Astrology's funny … That's [how] I spend my time on Instagram, just forwarding those horoscopes, like "This is so you … "
My boyfriend is so against astrology, he's like, "You can read anything and find a way that it relates to you." And I see how you could think that, but it's fun!
It's funny and most men hate it, but whatever.
What did your childhood bedroom look like?
It had a collage, an entire wall full of newspaper clippings of Justin Timberlake. He was my second celebrity crush.
What is the wildest thing you've ever read about yourself?
That I'm normal. I get that a lot, and I just think, "They have no idea."
I mean, what does normal even mean though?
Exactly, what does it mean? I have no clue, but I'm definitely not it.
Do you have a worst audition story that you feel comfortable sharing?
There have been some good bombs in my time. I do remember the first audition I ever did. I was so nervous. I was holding the papers and they were just shaking like I was in a fighter plane or something.
What is one thing that you wish more people knew about you?
That I'm pretty and I'm special.
Behind Her Eyes launches on Netflix Feb. 17
Join us for some Small Talk as we sit down with some of Hollywood's biggest breakout stars.
Photographs by Emily Soto. Styling by Samantha Sutton. Beauty Direction by Kayla Greaves. Makeup by Polly Osmond. Hair by Earl Simms. Creative direction and production by Kelly Chiello.