How 'X' Pulled Off Mia Goth's Creepy Double Role

Goth plays both hero and slasher in the Ti West horror film from A24.

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From the first time Mia Goth's coke-snorting, ambitious porn star Maxine locks eyes with Pearl, the old lady who lives in the rustic Texas farmhouse where a crew of pornographers are about to make a feature, in the new horror film X, you can tell the two women have some sort of connection. Their bond only grows stronger once Pearl starts murdering people, consumed by a long-latent lust that only Maxine can fulfill. But it's not until the credits roll that some might realize just how deep the relationship goes. Not only does Goth play Maxine, our final girl with blue eye shadow who wants to be a star; she also dons loads of prosthetics to play Pearl.

When I spoke with Goth and director Ti West via Zoom last month, they were hoping to keep the dual nature of Goth's parts something of a secret. But by the time the movie debuted at SXSW earlier this week, it had already been spilled. At the premiere, West announced that he's shot an entirely separate movie starring Goth as the young version of her slasher character, adding another impressive feat to what is already shocking work from the actress best known for arty experiments like Nymphomaniac, the Suspiria remake and Claire Denis's High Life.

The idea for the double roles came from West's desire to challenge himself as he embarked on his first feature since 2016's In the Valley of Violence. Best known for his breakout horror film The House of the Devil, an '80s homage that's as stylish as it is scary, West wanted to dive back into the genre, but he also wanted something that would challenge him. "I just wanted to do something that gave me an opportunity as a director to do something very craft-forward, but gave a performer an opportunity to do something very craft-forward also," he says. "I didn't know if we'd be able to pull it off, because either it works or it doesn't. It could have been like, no one wants to talk to us because it didn't work. I think that it's a testament to Mia, how well it works."

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When Goth first met with West on Zoom to talk about the project, she had no idea what he had in store. Eventually she would be flying to New Zealand, where they had five weeks of rehearsal and makeup tests with the famed Weta Workshop —known for effects-heavy projects like The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and Mad Max: Fury Road—before shooting started. She then had to spend between six and nine hours getting prosthetics applied to film any scenes as Pearl.

The New Zealand landscape stands in for the swampy Texas back roads where Maxine and her cohort expect to make a porn masterpiece. Her boyfriend producer Wayne (Martin Henderson) has made a deal with an elderly man named Howard (Stephen Ure, who is familiar with prosthetics from his work on Lord of the Rings) to use his boardinghouse—though Howard is unaware just what will go down among the pretty young things played by the likes of Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi. West's misdirect is that Howard seems like he's going to be the instigator of the bloodshed because of puritanical impulses. Rather, it's Pearl and her insatiable horniness that sets off the killings.

"I never saw Pearl as a villain to begin with," Goth says. "I really think that she was more a product of her time and a product of all the experiences that she's gone through. I had a lot of sympathy for Pearl, actually. And in many ways, I kind of saw them as the same woman." Goth could spend the hours getting her prosthetics applied situating herself in the right mindset. Though she initially worked opposite a double for the scenes featuring both Maxine and Pearl, by the end of the shoot she was asking West if she could just do scenes by herself. "It was very freeing," she says.

It's the kind of serious-acting-exercise work you maybe don't associate with slashers, but that was all part of West's grand plan to mix the high and the low. He wanted to use a logline that could seem very prurient—porn stars get murdered by aging hicks—and mash it up with technical precision.

"Really, the impetus for it was to take a very lowbrow sub-genre, the slasher movie, [with] this old-school marketing trope of sex and violence, then try to do something—maybe pretentiously—a little highbrow with it.," West says. And sure enough, X still has all the sleazy pleasures you want from a blood-splattered sex romp, but the ways West and his actors pulled it off surprises at every turn.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.