Betty Buckley on Split | “The broken are more evolved”

M Night Shyamalan's thriller Split explores how processing pain and suffering can make us stronger, says its star Betty Buckley

Split, from cult director M Night Shyamalan, is a psychological thriller that takes audiences inside the fractured psyche of Kevin Crumb. James McAvoy plays Crumb – and his 23 distinctive personalities – in a performance that has been critically acclaimed.

Starring opposite McAvoy is Betty Buckley, a Hollywood veteran who has worked with film greats such as Woody Allen, Roman Polanksi and memorably Brian De Palma. Buckley played Miss Collins in Carrie, the only supporting character deserving of any sympathy.

In Split Buckley plays Crumb’s psychologist Dr. Fletcher, and says that acting involves being able to get inside the minds of others…

James McAvoy and Betty Buckley in Split

The Big Issue: Do actors have to be in some way psychologists to be able to get inside someone’s mind?

Betty Buckley: I think understanding some fundamentals of human psychology is an important part of being a good actor. Are we qualified to assist other people? No, I don’t think so, except through the storytelling itself. Storytelling is about getting the consciousness of the audience to self-reflect with elements of the story in that kind of black box experience of watching a movie in the cinema or at home. And that reflection can help you come back to a centred feeling of your essential self. I think that’s the purpose of storytelling in general.

What research did you do before playing Dr Fletcher?

I worked for several weeks with a brilliant psychologist in New York before we started rehearsals for the film. I was also in touch with her during shooting. I would call her the night before my big scenes with James to be sure that I had all the notes right and had the proper professional perspective on how to work with James as my client. Psychologists experience natural human responses to their patients but there’s a decorum that’s necessary to assist the patient to feel completely comfortable and to reveal themselves fully to the doctor.

Was it important to present James McAvoy with the most authentic experience possible?

It’s all a collaborative endeavour. I also read a couple of books that Night recommended about split personalities. I’ve always been interested in the subject matter. It’s very intriguing to consider the limitless creativity that’s possible for the human mind.

Is a role like Kevin Crumb – 23 characters in one – something that all actors relish?

I think James’ performance is genius and he is one of the greatest actors in the world. There are very few actors who would be capable of it. To become an entirely different person in the blink of an eye is inspiring to watch. We were all so knocked out by what he did.

A lesson from the film is: “The broken are the more evolved”. Do you agree?

I think Night intends for people to take away that message that pain and suffering, albeit it’s a terrible thing, but when you confront your inner enemies or the pain you have been through or the abuse or suffering, and integrate it into the rest of your being…

The doctor’s job is to get the patient to go back to the beginning and find out what happened to cause this fragmentation then try to help the patient be acquainted with these aspects of themselves and restore an integrity to the personality. When a person has suffered, to be able to confront and process and heal that and claiming that part of yourself makes you stronger.

What is it that makes Night’s films so distinctive?

No one tells story better than he does. Over the years what he’s become a great master of is holding humour and fear in balance. You never know what’s going to happen. When you’re laughing you’re terrified to be laughing because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and when you’re at your most terrified he makes you laugh again. That’s an amazing talent and skill.

You have worked with many great directors. What is it that sets them apart?

Their passion for their story, their surety of how to tell that story. And hiring the best collaborators to support them in that vision.

Do you think your character in Carrie deserved to die?

No, I tried to talk Brian out of it.

Split is out on Digital now and Blu-ray™ & DVD on June 5