Caught Up in A Cycle Of Trauma
AMC’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 just started its second season and here’s Ashleigh Cummings who plays Vic McQueen talking to amc…
Q: We pick up with Vic in Season 2 eight years after the end of Season 1. What was it like for you to return to the character after so much time has passed for her?
A: Truthfully, I had probably been most excited about portraying this chapter of Vic’s life before I’d even signed on to the first season. I am deeply passionate about mental health and human psychology, and I felt it was important to truthfully explore and expose how unaddressed trauma can manifest in a person over time. I was glad we got an entire season to explore how a young girl could one day, objectively turn into a “Bad Mother” as the first episode is titled. I wanted to create a sense of humanity, and offer insight into this woman that had been broken by the people and circumstances around her. Internal wounds are usually the place where hurtful behaviors are born, simply out of a desperate and maladaptive attempt at survival. I think understanding and empathy, rather than judgement, is how we start to transform that cyclical suffering. So that’s what I hope we’ve explored a little through these seasons!
As for the time gap, I did engage certain physical and vocal shifts, but also wanted to preserve enough of the old Vic so we could see that, despite the hard, protective shell she has adopted, there was a certain stagnation that occurred for her after the hardships within her family and with Manx. So when I did scenes with Virginia [Kull] and Ebon [Moss-Bachrach], I would occasionally let young Vic peep through.
Q: How did it feel to get back into the “motorcycle saddle,” so to speak?
A: It strangely didn’t feel like much time had passed, truthfully! We had spent much of the time in between seasons promoting the first one and prepping for the second, so it kind of rolled into one for me. The literal motorcycle saddle was one of the biggest shifts, because the dirt bike Vic had in Season 1 was MUCH easier to maneuver than the Triumph she has by Season 2! So that took a little getting used to, as well as some bigger biceps and stronger thighs than I started off with! They’re truly heavy beasts! But it has to be an extension of Vic herself, so I really wanted to make sure I was genuinely comfortable with it, and could pretend I was doing all the detailed, technical things that bikers do without thinking twice. My brain is not wired for vehicles, so it took some time and a lot of patience on the car/bike wrangler’s end!
Q: Did you and the creative team work up some kind of history for Vic for the eight years that passed? What do you think she was doing all that time? How do you imagine she was spending her days?
A: Honestly, I took a lot of it from the books! So with Joe [Hill]’s genius and Jami [O’Brien, executive producer] and the directors’ insights, I did create a pretty specific backstory. I think there was the backbone of certain events which will come to light as the seasons progresses, as well as a number of trips to psychiatric hospitals. Jami’s idea was that around Christmas every year, Vic tends to fall apart. The drinking gets worse, the flashbacks become more frequent and severe.
I imagine until that time of year, Vic largely lived in a state of hypo-arousal that remained semi-functional with the help of whiskey on ice, American spirits, and a slight tattoo addiction when the pain threatened to burst through the seams. We decided she hadn’t been back to Haverhill or seen her father, but that Linda visited Colorado once when Wayne was a baby. Vic has pretty much disconnected from Maggie, and spends her days airbrushing motorcycle tanks. That’s the full extent of her creativity for those 8 years because she boarded the rest of it up, locked it away. In her mind, her creativity, vulnerability, and dreams were the cause of immeasurable pain and destruction. Other than that, I would imagine and write some more intimate memories about our family life and raising Wayne. The precious and specific pieces that you miss most if they’re taken away.
Q: Why do you think Vic decided to stay in Colorado, so close to Charlie Manx’s old home?
A: It’s a great question, and I think the answer is multi-layered. Practically speaking, it’s where Lou lives, and she just couldn’t return to Haverhill where everything she knew about the world had been turned on its head, and dull, painful memories remained. I also think she felt responsible for Craig’s death and leaving the place of his death would have felt like a kind of abandonment – she also probably felt closer to him there whilst she was raising their son. In a different vein, there can sometimes be a tendency for people who’ve experienced trauma to want to stay close to it… to revisit it because it feels unresolved. On some level the body can identify with the trauma more than anything else because, after that level of fight or flight, it’s the only thing remaining that feels real. Despite how much Vic fears it, it’s the only thing that makes her feel alive, or that she can really connect to. I think there’s also a temptation to keep her enemy close because she doesn’t really believe it’s over. Maggie’s tiles told her she was the one who had to kill Manx, so she’s waiting to finish the job.
Q: Vic has a son now, Wayne, and you spend a lot of time this season working with Jason David. What was it like working together on set? How did you both work together to forge this mother-son dynamic?
A: I really do love that boy so much! He was such a joy to have on set and brightened everyone’s moods! He’s sharply intelligent and keeps you on your toes until the second they call action, so he really helped me remain present. I did feel genuinely very protective of him, and hated having to do so many dark scenes together because he’s extremely perceptive and caring. There aren’t a lot of joyful moments our characters get to share, and initially when I had to cry or be distraught in a scene, he would quietly ask me if I was okay afterwards. So I really tried to make sure he knew that there was a clear distinction between our relationship and the acting world – and he did, but he just has a big heart! We would sometimes hang out with my dog, who he calls “his brother”! I adopted him during filming, and Jason helped me pick him out. Or we’d grab dinner, and we even took him to his first concert. A group of us traveled to New York to see Elton John perform one weekend, so that was an extremely special night to share with Jason because Elton John was also my first concert. I loved just seeing him absorb and navigate the world, but also with such a clear sense of who he is. He’s a remarkable kid and I’ve missed him significantly since we wrapped!
Q: When Vic hears the words “Charlie Manx” come out of her son’s mouth, what do you imagine she’s thinking in that moment?
A: I think a number of things are happening in that moment… Initial confusion over her own sanity and if she was having some kind of hallucinatory episode. Complete shock and dissociation because she vowed to make sure that Charlie Manx would never enter into her son’s world. Utter terror at the simple mention of his name which triggers flashbacks. And finally, disbelief because she was the one who was meant to kill Manx. I think she expected to have some kind of relief when it happened; that she had avenged the people she’d failed. But she doesn’t feel any different when she hears the news. No relief. Just the same broken pieces Manx left her with all those years ago. And so that’s infuriating, because she was banking on that catharsis to free her from the state of despair and disarray her life has become.
Q: Why do you think Vic is unable to accept that Charlie Manx is dead?
A: I think that would mean that she would have to truly confront and deal with her wounds. She would have to acknowledge that her traumas began long before Charlie Manx entered into her world, and with his death, she wouldn’t have something else to blame for her pain and her shortcomings any longer.
I think it also makes her feel like a permanent perpetrator in her own story; Maggie’s tiles told her that one day she’d be the hero. She was the only one that could stop Manx, and maybe she could still rescue all those kids so Craig and Bradley’s deaths wouldn’t be completely in vain. Without killing Manx herself, any chance of an internal exoneration was stripped away from her.
Q: Vic pretty quickly finds a new knife in the form of an old Triumph motorcycle. How do you think she feels reuniting with her Bridge again?
A: Thrilled! She’s finally able to reconnect with an essential part of who she is: her creativity. She abandoned and pushed away that piece of herself for so long, and rediscovering it through her inscape makes her feel alive. I also think the manic joy she feels is because she has found a sense of purpose again – she must kill Manx. It’s much easier for her to fight and face Manx than it is to fight and face her inner demons, or to show up, love, and connect with her family.
Q: By the end of the episode, Vic almost burns her home down and then decides to leave Wayne and Lou, and it seems like she’s repeating the mistakes of her parents. Why do you think she’s caught up in this cycle, and how do you think she can escape? How does that inform her journey this season?
A: Generational trauma is very real. When you’ve been modeled after a certain pattern, it can sometimes be very difficult not to fall into that same groove, despite desperate attempts to do anything BUT that. It’s especially hard to break that cycle if the trauma has remained unexamined. Her dad, Chris, returned from a war zone with PTSD, which Vic also struggles with, alongside attachment trauma and a host of other things I’ll let a psychologist diagnose… so she’s caught in that cycle of fight, flight, and maybe freeze here and there. It’s simpler for her to remain in that unconscious merry-go-round of trauma responses, than it is to grieve or sit with the discomfort, shame, and anger she has internalized for so long. It’s easier to disconnect and run away from the ones she loves in the fear that staying will cause them more harm than leaving. That journey of healing is ultimately the only way she’ll be able to step out of that cycle. But you’ll have to keep watching to find out if she can do it.