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Eve Hewson of The Knick on Working With Soderbergh and On-Set Pranks

9 minute read

Steven Soderbergh’s turn-of-the-century medical drama The Knick is packed with high-octane characters: besides the brilliant but drug-addicted surgeon played by Clive Owen, there’s a nun who performs abortions, a thieving ambulance driver, an heiress determined to make her way as a career woman, and a black surgeon—remember, this is 1900, so that was extremely rare. And yet one of the most compelling performances of season one came from Eve Hewson, a young Irish actress playing a quiet nurse who has freshly arrived in the city from West Virginia. Timid at first, she soon gets caught up in the stir of the “circus,” as the Knickerbocker Hospital is nicknamed, and finds herself in situations she never could have expected.

Ahead of the season two debut, TIME caught up with Hewson to talk about pranks on set, dream roles and how she’s maintained a low profile despite being Bono’s daughter. (Yep, she’s Bono’s daughter.)

TIME: What drew you to work on The Knick?

Hewson: It was honestly just a script that my agent sent me. Obviously I saw Steven [Soderbergh]’s name, and Clive [Owen]’s name, and I thought I would never be cast in it. Usually when really cool, interesting projects get sent to my inbox, I’m usually never successful at getting the part, so it was exciting.

Some people find it a little hard to watch because of all the surgical gore. What were the weirdest reactions you got from people who watched season one?

Everyone was just annoyed that I hadn’t warned them. I did warn one of my friends who was pregnant, I said, “Maybe you shouldn’t watch episode one.” And I warned her husband. But I find it’s fascinating how people can have such emotional reactions to those scenes, because I saw behind the scenes and how they put it all together, and I think it’s such a success when people think that that’s actually real.

To what degree do you relate to your character?

Kind of not at all. I would be far more outgoing and confident and stubborn than she is. So it was a bit of a challenge for me to kind of get into the headspace of someone who is so reserved and quiet, and to play a character who doesn’t really say so much. But that’s what I love about acting: the psychology of it, and getting to know someone that I wouldn’t normally understand or be attracted to in real life. She’s so different to me, the only thing we really have in common is that we both moved to New York. Other than that, I’ve never been a nurse, I’m not from West Virginia, I’m not living in that time. But what’s crazy is when I did research about West Virginia and learned about the Appalachian Mountains, and the music, and the religion of that area, I found all these pictures of these young girls that looked exactly like me. It’s funny because everyone talks about the Irish moving to the East Coast, like Boston and New York, but they did move to the South as well. The music of West Virginia and the South are very similar to Irish music, and even the accent is kind of easy for me to do for some reason, because it’s a little bit Irish.

What’s the best part of working on this show compared with other gigs?

We work so fast. This was my first big project, and I didn’t know how lucky I got, because Steven is using three brains at once—he’s the editor, he’s the cinematographer and he’s the director—so everything we do is at his pace. He likes to work really fast, so I’ve learned to adapt to that, and I have to think on my feet. There have been times where I’ve gone into a scene and Steven will be like, “Eh, we’re just gonna cut this and write a monologue,” and I’ll have two minutes in the corner to learn a monologue and do it all in one take. So I’m kind of spoiled now, when I go onto other sets and they say they’re doing three pages a day, because we do seven to 10 pages a day on The Knick. I also just love how Steven’s really honest with you, he’s not one of those directors that is jumping up and down screaming for joy after you do a take. He doesn’t really give you that much direction, he gives you a lot of freedom to do what you want, and then when you need it, he’ll step in, but he’s really honest with you. I always feel like when other directors are like, “Wow, that’s amazing! Incredible! Phenomenal work!” I’m like, well, I didn’t just cure cancer with that take, it can’t have been that good. So I feel like I can trust Steven because he’s gonna tell me the truth.

The characters on the show get up to so much trouble. Do you actors on the set get up to trouble?

We do. There was some pranking going on in season one. Michael Angarano was the leader of that. I didn’t know that I was being pranked for a long time. I thought someone had been using my bathroom before I came in and not flushing it. For months, I thought that it was maybe one of our hairdressers, because the hair room was opposite my dressing room, and I kept just getting really embarrassed and flushing it. And then one day, there was a bit of a mess in my toilet, and I screamed at the top of my lungs, and I opened the door and Michael Angarano was just standing there, breaking his heart laughing. And then he led me into the makeup room where they had a stash of empty Clif Bar wrappers. And they were like, “We’ve been doing this to you for months! You didn’t realize?” So he’s cheeky. But there’s a lot of those sort of antics going on. It’s fun because we’re dealing with a lot of dark subject matter and death and violence and all this stuff on the show, but in between takes we’re making fun of each other. They say that on comedy sets, they’re really boring sets to be on, because everyone’s saving their jokes and their laughs for the take. So that’s kind of the opposite on our set.

You’re in the early stage of your career, with many decades ahead of you. What would be your dream role someday, and who would you like to work with?

I’m kind of fascinated by mental illness. I studied psychology a bit in school. And so I would love to play a woman losing her mind or something. I’m obsessed with Judd Apatow, I love his stuff. I want to play a witch in a Disney movie. Maybe be a tango dancer or something. I love Juliette Binoche, I love Juliette Lewis, I love Evan Rachel Wood. I really want to work with David Fincher, I think his process is the complete opposite to Steven’s, and I think that would be a fun switch for me to do as an actor, to go from doing one take to doing 100 takes. I love Paul Thomas Anderson. I love Alfonso Cuarón, he’s amazing. Ang Lee. I wanna work with Nicole Holofcener again, I really loved working with her [on Enough Said]. She’s got an ease to her but she’s also a boss.

What’s your favorite movie or show you’ve seen recently?

I’m obsessed with Scream Queens. I think Emma Roberts is phenomenal in that part. I’m dying, I wanna do a character on Scream Queens. I’ve also become obsessed with Doll & Em.

You’ve been able to fly under the radar as the kid of a major celebrity. How have you done that? Because it’s hard for most celebrity kids.

I know, I’ve been kind of lucky because my parents have always supported me, they’ve said, “Yes, you’re an actor and you want to work, but you don’t have to work on everything. If you don’t absolutely love a role or a project, please don’t feel like you have to do it because you want to support yourself. We’ll support you, feel free to be picky and try and make the best choices.” So I’ve been a little bit more unemployed than I’d like to be, but I think it actually set a good tone in my career. And I just stuck to acting and made sure that it was the one thing that I was going to be recognized for. There’s a lot of kids that brand themselves, which is totally fine, but they do so many things that people get confused and think that they’re just celebrities or It Girls, and I hate that label. I don’t want to be an It Girl, because one day I’ll be the girl that used to be the It Girl. So I’d rather stick my head down and try and get the best work that I can, and then hopefully everything else will fall into place. And that’s sort of the way it’s been going. I’ve been really lucky that the right people have been paying attention. These directors that I’ve worked with are dream directors, they’re visionaries, but they like me! And they think I’m capable. And that’s been so reassuring this whole time.

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