(Warning: This post contains spoilers through the finale of Netflix’s “Midnight Mass.”)
Hamish Linklater plays two characters in one for “The Haunting of Hill House” creator Mike Flanagan’s new limited series “Midnight Mass,” which launched Friday on Netflix: the young, spry and passionate Father Paul — who is also secretly Crockett Island’s elderly Monsignor Pruitt, de-aged by the vampiric Angel who performs the “miracle” of turning him into a vampire.
When given the gift of returned youth, Pruitt/Paul returns home with The Angel in tow, deciding he will give the blood of the creature to the community he loves through their communion wine — singling out one special person in particular for daily doses: his secret former love, Mildred Gunning (Alex Essoe), who is the mother to his equally secret daughter, Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish).
Hamish explained to TheWrap Monsignor Pruitt’s choice to unleash the blood of the Angel — who is, again clearly a vampire, and turned him into one as well when he first met him on his trip to the Holy Land — on his community.
“The physical experience, and it’s in Mike’s writing in that confessional, when he describes Monsignor Pruitt’s encounter with The Angel, the language is so sort of sensual,” Linklater told TheWrap. “And I think that makes sense in terms of the rationale that Father Paul has for everything that he does, is it feels miraculous being with this angel and the revitalization. I mean being so arthritic and he’s losing his memory at that point. And then just to have this wash to clear clarity from this encounter with this creature, it could only be a gift from God and something that you would want to share with people that you love the most.”
As for Mildred in particular, whom Father Paul/Monsignor Pruitt came to see every day and give the Angel-blood-laced communion wine until she aged back just like him, the reason was much more personal.
“I think our best lives can creep away from us inch by inch without us even noticing,” Linklater said. “And then it’s simply too late. How about that for a dark sentence? But I think he believed in the community and he believed in the book and what he was doing for the community. And he could also see that she had this relationship with this man who was a good man, who was her husband, who she loved. But I think there is this sort of exhilaration of the miracle that makes this idea of second chance seem not only viable, but really desirable. And also, like his mission, like he is being asked to do this.”
Linklater knew he’d be playing an old man in a young man’s body before production on “Midnight Mass” started, something he kept in mind while plotting out his performance in the first few episodes, while Father Paul’s identity as Monsignor Pruitt is still a mystery.
“I figured when he comes back and he’s young, he’s going to be so stoked,” Linklater said. “So, I didn’t sort of be an old man walking around in a young man’s body, I would be like an old man’s head being like, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m so limber and isn’t this wonderful?’ And so I kind of wanted to lean more into a sort of dancier vibe with him. And I think it also speaks to how Father Paul has this sort of missionary zeal. He’s got this new language. He’s got this new body. And it gives him a terrific new energy, a sort of sprinter’s energy. That was kind of how I thought about that. But also, then I get to look at these people who I’ve lived with my whole life with so much love and care. And that was really, I think, what I thought about most going into the scenes, was how I’ve actually had like 70 years with some of these people. There’s so many years. And my investment in my fellow characters was really neat. They sent me the first three scripts, so I knew about the older-younger thing. And then, once they gave me the part, they gave me the fourth episode and then I found out about the eating people thing.”
In case you were wondering where the idea for the Monsignor Pruitt/Father Paul twist came from, below is the answer the big man himself, “Midnight Mass” creator Mike Flanagan, gave TheWrap:
One of the more interesting memoirs that I’ve read in my life was about an older priest looking back. And some of the questions that were asked were, “Do you regret celibacy? Do you regret, not just the life that you gave up, as far as any other vocation or any other any other job, but do you regret that you didn’t get to fall in love and start a family?” I had a similar question with a young priest in my parish when I was growing up, who, in one of his homilies said, “I was engaged to be married, but I felt the call stronger to be a priest, so I broke off my engagement and went to the seminary.” And I’ve never forgotten it. It’s something that I have a fascination with and a difficult time picturing myself in a similar situation and feeling something that compelling, that you would walk away from someone you love. So the idea had come relatively early in the writing that Father Paul would have a similar regret and that he would have had a connection with a woman, maybe even had a relationship with a woman in his youth, maybe even a sinful relationship with a woman in his youth that had led to a child, but that he had firmly kind of decided, or she had decided, or they both had decided, to put all that aside, to push it into the shadows and to just live out their lives. But we were trying to figure out what motive would make Monsignor Pruitt go through the lengths he goes to bring this back to the community. And unless he had that degree of personal connection to the community, unless it really wasn’t just about, “I’m going to give this gift to a bunch of people I see in church once a week,” but if it became, “This is how I can save the woman I love and maybe have a second chance to have it all. To have lived this wonderful life as this servant of God, and God has given me a way to bring her back. This is a whole new covenant, all the old rules are gone. My whole family can be reunited in a miracle, which means God must approve of it. What an incredible gift and miracle that would be.” That was the thinking behind it. I think it’s something that Hamish carries with him, from the first frame of the pilot, really beautifully. And I think that’s something that I’ve always found fascinating, is to reconcile the identity of the priest as the conduit to the divine that is separate from kind of the rest of us normal mortals on the planet — but also as human beings, who are going to be prone to the same emotions and everything else that we are. And the profound discipline it must take to forsake that for a vocation like that. So that’s just something that I think about a lot.