How X and Pearl star Mia Goth ended up playing three of 2022's greatest horror roles

·8 min read

Fortunate is the actor who can claim one meaty, memorable horror part in a filmography. Mia Goth can boast of having three of them in 2022 alone.

First, Goth starred in writer-director Ti West's '70s-set X, which was released by A24 in March and found the actress playing both an aspiring porn actress called Maxine Minx and, in full body makeup, a much older woman named Pearl, who terrorizes the cast and crew of the adult movie being shot on her remote Texas farm. (Even without an onscreen credit for the wrinkled murderess, news got out that it was Goth in the double role.)

Now, in X's West-directed prequel Pearl (out Sept. 16), Goth portrays a young but still dangerous version of the title character, who dreams of becoming a movie star while living on the same farm in 1918. The two films were shot back-to-back in New Zealand, with the second being co-scripted by both West and and Goth.

"There have been so many pinch-me moments throughout all of this from the very beginning," says Goth. "Honestly, this whole project has been such a gift."

PEARL
PEARL

Christopher Moss/A24 Mia Goth in Pearl

West initially planned to shoot a single film, X, and conceived the notion of making a prequel just before he flew to New Zealand for the shoot at the end of October 2020, a time he calls "peak pandemic."

"I had the idea right before I got on the plane," says the director, whose previous horror films include 2009's The House of the Devil and 2011's The Innkeepers. "I knew we were going to a place that you could make a movie when no one else could make a movie, and I knew that we were going to have all of this cast and crew and equipment and everything there, ready to do it. We were going to spend a lot of money building locations, barns, and boarding houses, and things like that. It just occurred to me that if we made two in a row, we would amortize all these costs. So the second movie could just be on sale, compared to the first movie, and that to me seemed like it could maybe be convincing to someone who was going to pay for it. Then I asked Mia. I said, 'If we pull this off, would you stay and do two movies back to back?' And she said, 'Yes.'"

"I received a text message from Ti saying something along the lines of, 'I want to make a second film with you,'" recalls Goth. "I was immediately incredibly interested but I didn't really know what it involved. He started to explain in a little bit more detail and it just snowballed."

PEARL
PEARL

Christopher Moss/A24 Mia Goth in Pearl

West and Goth worked on the script for Pearl while they were quarantining for two weeks after arriving in New Zealand.

"You had to sit in a hotel for two weeks in New Zealand before they would let you into the country," says West. "We would Facetime probably once a day, something like that, and come up with some ideas."

"Ti liked the idea of us collaborating and me helping to write scripts with him," says the actress. "I'd never written anything before, so I was very naïve to the whole process, really, but he was a great role model. He's been doing this for so long and at such a high level that he really kind of shepherded me along. It was difficult at first, just understanding the format and structure and page count and so on, but eventually I just started to write. [I would] put the timer on my phone for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, and then I would just write whatever it is that I felt might be of value to the movie. I would send that over to Ti and he would then incorporate it into the script."

The pair were deep into writing the script for Pearl before they were sure that the film would get produced.

"We didn't know for a long while whether or not we were actually ever going to make this," says Goth. "We always said to each other, at the very least it would serve as an amazing backstory to Pearl. It was more than halfway through the shooting of X that we found out that A24 [had] greenlit it."

PEARL
PEARL

Christopher Moss/A24 Mia Goth in Pearl

After shooting had wrapped on X in the early spring of 2021, West's crew set about redressing the location sets, transforming the shabby buildings seen in the '70s film into brighter and more pristine edifices.

"It was incredibly odd, because we spent months on that farm, where it looked like [it did in] X," says West. "I was there a couple of times a week, so I saw it gradually turning into [the sets for Pearl], but for the rest of the crew, they had three weeks off, so when they came back for the first tech scout on the farm, it was like a lucid dream for them. They had just spent a month, mostly at night, doing this '70s, gritty, gory porn-horror movie, and now they're standing in the same place, with bright green cut grass, a bright red barn that was blinding, all this wallpaper. They were walking into rooms they had spent twelve hours a day in and they didn't recognize them. It was very very surreal and a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Goth explains that, in retrospect, shooting X now seems like a "warm-up" for filming Pearl.

"We were so in-sync by then, when we got back to the set to begin shooting Pearl, we had established such a working relationship with one another that you could feel the difference," she says. "I really think it [helped] the overall quality of the film."

On the last day of the shoot, Goth had to perform a lengthy monologue in which Pearl reveals to her sister-in-law, played by Emma Jenkins-Purro, both her mental distress and the diabolical acts she has committed.

"The idea for the monologue mostly came from trying to think of what a satisfying climax for this movie would be, and we're pretty much a small-budgeted movie, and we were short on time," says West. "I remember being like, maybe it will be interesting if we do this seven minute, one-take shot, which is just all on her, dumping out what she's going through. And full credit to Mia, she nailed it every single time."

"I was terrified to shoot that," says Goth. "I don't have any formal training, I really didn't have any tools in my bag as to how to tackle something like that. We shot it on the very last day of Pearl, and Ti did that on purpose, and credit to him too, because all that emotional turmoil that Pearl had gone through, and the intensity of what that shoot was, I think, really informed the monologue. Every evening I would go through the lines so when we got to the day I wasn't thinking of the lines. We did one take of it, and as soon as we did that first take and all went well, then we just started having fun with it."

West only announced the existence of Pearl this March when X premiered at the SXSW Festival, where the director also screened a teaser for the second film.

"From the very beginning, I was like, let's keep this [second] movie a total secret," says the director. "We just told everyone, don't say anything. And in 2022, to make it all the way to your premiere with no one knowing is a miracle. But the whole goal was to be like, if we get to the X premiere, and we can tell people then, that'll be really fun, let's try to do that."

X was a mid-sized hit for A24 when it was released in March, earning almost $12 million. Both that film and Pearl have earned critical acclaim with Guardian writer Peter Bradshaw describing Goth as "the Judy Garland of horror" in his five-star review. West is particularly heartened by the way in which the films have been received, given that he has been mostly been working in TV since his last feature, 2016's Ethan Hawke-starring western In a Valley of Violence.

"Five stars in the Guardian may never happen to me again, so I'm incredibly grateful for it," says West. "Two movies at the same time after not making a movie for six, seven years, and 10 years from a horror movie, I'm happy that they went well, because there's that story where I came back to making horror movies and just blew it."

Mia Goth and Ti West
Mia Goth and Ti West

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images Mia Goth and Ti West at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival

West has at least one more tale to relate in the X universe: At the Toronto Film Festival screening of Pearl on Tuesday night, the director announced that he will make a sequel to X called MaXXXine. The movie will once again star Goth, continuing what she has come to regard as among her most important collaborations.

"It would be a dream," the actress told EW last week. "It's just really become one of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had."

Pearl is released in cinemas by A24 Sept. 16. Watch the trailers for Pearl and X below.

Related content: