Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Winchester Mystery House movie starts filming

Via mercurynews.com by Karen D'Souza

Helen Mirren usually reigns supreme at the cinema, but even the consummate actress may be upstaged by her intensely photogenic co-star this time around.

The Dame, an Oscar winner revered for everything from “The Queen” to “Prime Suspect,” must share the big screen with San Jose’s most iconic tourist magnet, the Winchester Mystery House, in an upcoming supernatural thriller.

Mirren and co-star Jason Clarke filmed scenes for “Winchester” Friday amid the byzantine 161-room Victorian mansion, one of the most popular haunted houses in the country. The major motion picture, which will spook theaters in spring 2018, is based on the chilling but true story of Sarah Winchester, the troubled widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, and her beloved monster house. The tourist site was closed to the public for three days during filming.

“She was a fascinating woman,” says Mirren of Winchester in her signature elegant manner, holding court in one of the house’s many parlors. “People say she was crazy. I don’t think she was crazy at all, I think she was troubled, and I think she was like an artist. She wished to live on her own terms. The house is her work of art.”

Legend has it that Winchester was so wracked with guilt over the spoils of the Winchester rifle, she thought the ghosts of gun victims were after her. She was also devastated by the sudden deaths of her husband and child. So Winchester sought refuge in her strange 1800s Victorian mansion, believing that if she never stopped adding on to the house, the spirits would never find her.

Construction on the 24,000-square-foot house went on 24 hours a day for 38 years until her death in 1922. The convoluted design features such famous architectural oddities are doors that open onto nothing and stairways that lead to ceilings.

But Winchester might have been right about the spirits. Over the years many have reported glimpsing ghosts and phantasms amid the shadows of this labyrinthine mansion, with its 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms and nine kitchens.

“You can really feel it when you’re here, can’t you?” notes Mirren, admiring the house with its blood-red walls, Tiffany chandeliers and stained-glass cobwebs. “You can feel the spirit of the one who built it. It’s been amazing and inspiring for me being here. It’s as if you’re falling down the rabbit hole.”

“This house is like a Tetris puzzle,” agrees producer Tim McGahan, snaking down a staircase of hairpin turns leading to a warren of dark corridors. “It’s a jigsaw.”

Mirren, for one, does not believe in ghosts. But she does firmly believe that people can be haunted.

“When her baby died, and remember that she had to watch her die, waste away for six weeks,” says Mirren during a recent visit to the set. “She never got over it.”

Indeed in Winchester’s safe, the recluse locked away not jewels or gold, but a lock of baby Annie’s hair. She’s an enigma, but if anyone can channel the nuances of a tormented soul like Sarah Winchester, it’s Mirren.

Born in London in 1945, the actress cut her teeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, starred in the beloved TV series “Prime Suspect” and has cut an indelible figure from the art house “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” to the box office (the “Fast & Furious” franchise).

In an industry run on appearances, Mirren has always been a woman of substance. And she was far more interested Friday in talking about Winchester, a woman perpetually swathed in her widow’s weeds, than herself.

“As a peaceful, gentle soul, she felt the weight of her fortune greatly, the responsibility for all that death and destruction,” says the 71-year-old, “That was her burden.”

In the movie, which is written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, a San Francisco psychiatrist (Clarke of “Zero Dark Thirty” fame) is dispatched to investigate the matter of Winchester in the year 1906. Yes, the famed earthquake does make an appearance in the film.

The film, which will be shot largely in Melbourne, Australia, may well raise the profile of San Jose’s biggest tourist attraction.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate the rich history of San Jose,” says Mayor Sam Liccardo, “and to see the city on the silver screen.”

Mirren, for one, has relished steeping in the dark lore of the house. She’s particularly intrigued by the two Shakespearean quotes Winchester had engraved near the fireplace in the ballroom. One from “Richard II” and the other from “Troilus and Cressida.”

“For me, in many ways those quotes, which are very obscure, very esoteric quotes, may be the keys to the whole mystery,” she says, delicately toying with her crystal necklace, “If you can unravel the meaning of those, you can understand Sarah.”


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