‘Mary Lou Barebone is an evangelical character with a strong belief witches exist in New York, and wants to bring that to the attention of every New Yorker,’ says director David Yates. ‘She’s an extremist. She represents the darker, broodier, more melancholic aspects of our story. What Jo’s created is a very rich, almost novelistic world with a lot of very diverse colours, emotionally, and she represents this very eerie, strange fringe of the story.’
As played by Samantha Morton, Mary Lou is the charismatic, abusive leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society who’s fashioned a family of followers from children she’s adopted. Credence, Chastity and Modesty are all subject to varying degrees of her abuse, vitriol and prejudice. She provides food for them and other homeless, impoverished street kids in return for their handing out leaflets alerting New Yorkers to the fact witches exist, a claim Mary Lou is always ready to spout from any street corner or Second Salemers rally. ‘It’s a complicated relationship,’ says Jenn Murray of Mary Lou’s bond with her adopted brood. ‘They’re all very connected to each other, yet all very isolated.’
Part of what makes Mary Lou so unsettling is her quiet intensity and unerring ability to command the attention of any room she’s in. ‘The way she plays the character is very soft and quiet,’ enthuses Murray of Morton’s understated performance. ‘I always remember people talking about Clint Eastwood. When he gives direction, he doesn’t raise his voice, he doesn’t lose his temper. But you listen. Samantha played Mary Lou that way. She talked quietly and didn’t demand your attention, but she had it. That’s kind of like Samantha as well. When Samantha walks into a room, the energy shifts. It’s something that comes from within. She has a real confidence in herself and what she’s going to contribute, and that’s the same as Mary Lou.’
‘She’s incredible,’ concurs Ezra Miller of Morton. ‘Certainly, [Mary Lou] is evil. But Samantha brought an incredible amount of moral ambiguity and human understanding to “Where is this woman at? What are the beliefs that drive her?” Samantha pulled on a lot that was deeply personal and brought it into this very intense character. She delivered an unbelievably evil performance, but also unbelievably complex, morally ambiguous and realistically grounded.’
Read more behind-the-scenes facts in The Case of Beasts: Explore the Film Wizardry of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from HarperCollins.