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Mama actor careful about using H word

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THE movie Mama has a very creepy ghost who can pop out of walls. It has little feral children who scuttle around the floor with rodent-like scuttering noises. It has at least a couple of nasty deaths, or at least as nasty as a PG rating will allow.

If the movie was in a video store (a doomed, death-is-in-the-air institution unto itself), it would certainly be in the horror section.

But is it, in fact, a horror movie?

Ask Nickolaj Coster-Waldau, who does double duty in Mama. The Danish actor plays Lucas, the protective uncle of those feral girls. He also plays his own brother, a disturbed financier who turns homicidal in the film's opening scenes.

On a phone interview from Toronto, where Mama was filmed, Coster-Waldau admits he has actually been counselled against using the "H" word when it comes to describing the film.

"I was actually told earlier today that Canadians have a bigger problem watching horror movies than Americans, so it would be better to call this a thriller."

I express surprise at this. Isn't Canada the country that produced David Cronenberg, one of the key guys to make horror a respectable genre?

Coster-Waldau, a particular fan of Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, concurs. It is good to remember that his own leading man debut was in the 1994 Danish film Nightwatch, in which he played a student who takes a job at a morgue, only to become a suspect in a series of grisly slayings.

"I always think of horror films as something with a lot of blood and stuff," he says. "I think (Mama) is primarily a ghost story. But I don't mind calling it a horror film."

It also doesn't hurt that the film is produced by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose genre excursions, such as The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, are high art compared to the majority of horror offerings.

"It's clearly the same world they come from. You could take Mama and put her in Pan's Labyrinth and it wouldn't be out of place," says Coster-Waldau, who also stars in the bloody HBO series Game of Thrones.

"He was a hands-on producer, but he never overstepped that boundary between directing and producing. We were so lucky because he was shooting Pacific Rim at the same studio, right next door, so every day he and (Mama director Andrés Muschietti) would meet before we shot."

Even with del Toro's presence, Coster-Waldau acknowledges the one to watch on the film proved to be his co-star Jessica Chastain, who has been experiencing a meteoric career rise since Mama started shooting in the fall of 2011.

"I had just seen Tree of Life and I thought she was amazing and then I saw Take Shelter and for her, every performance is different and every look is different. She's just brilliant.

"For me, when you're working with someone like that, you just hope you're not dragging them down to your level," he says. "She's one of the best in her generation."

Mama is currently playing at Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital and Towne cinemas.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 G4

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