With a Tony Award for her role as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of Cats, as well as numerous roles in TV and film, concerts and recordings to her credit – including the new live album Story Songs –Betty Buckley is a true Renaissance woman.
Her most recognisable screen character is surely sympathetic gym teacher Miss Collins in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), however Buckley can now add psychologist Dr Karen Fletcher in Split to her film achievements – a role that was written specifically for her by M. Night Shyamalan following their collaboration on his 2008 thriller, The Happening.
“I really love Night and working with him, so it was a real honour that he wrote the role for me,” she tells STACK.
Buckley was also thrilled to be working with James McAvoy – whose character in Split suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and manifests 23 different personalities – and has nothing but praise for her co-star. “He gives one of the most masterful performances I’ve ever seen, and I hope that he’s remembered for every major award – it’s extraordinary work from him.”
Buckley describes the maternal Dr Fletcher as the perspective that allows the audience to understand the psychology of McAvoy’s character, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and her preparation for the role included research into DID – a subject that had interested her since she first saw The Three Faces of Eve (1957) as a teenager.
“Later, when I was in college I read the book Sybil, which was made into a film with Sally Field. So the subject matter has always been fascinating to me. [Night] gave me two books to read, and I had a third book in my library already. I worked with a psychologist in New York for several weeks before we started rehearsals so that I’d be really prepared for the necessary professional decorum between Dr Fletcher and her patient.”
Split originally included a subplot involving Dr Fletcher and her colleague, played by Sterling K. Brown, which wound up on the cutting room floor but is included as a deleted scene on the Blu-ray release.
“That was an interesting storyline, but even while we were shooting it I thought it could possibly be cut because it kind of distracts from the main storyline,” Buckley explains. “When I saw the film I thought he was right to cut those scenes because the focus of the film became more narrow on what was happening with James McAvoy’s characters and the whole progression of the drama.”
Split attracted some backlash both here and in the States over its depiction of mental illness, a reaction that Buckley believes was largely misinformed.
“I don’t think they’d really seen the movie to properly understand it,” she offers. “I think it makes a very positive case for people with DID – the subliminal message in the movie is that human beings are capable of so much more, and those who have been wounded by abusive situations growing up, and have experienced a lot of pain and suffering, have the capacity in the confrontation of that pain and suffering to evolve a finer level of compassion and understanding.
“It is, after all, a movie,” she adds. “Everything Dr Fletcher says is factual, but of course it’s a thriller that moves into the realms of fantasy. I don’t think it says anything negative about people with mental illness at all. It has a lot of heart and compassion for them.”
Split is out on DVD and Blu-ray on May 10.