[This story contains spoilers for Servant’s season three finale, “Mama.”]
Servant star Nell Tiger Free, much like her character, gained a family throughout the course of filming the M. Night Shyamalan-produced series.
Free, who’s also known for her tragic turns on Game of Thrones and Too Old to Die Young, plays Leanne Grayson, a mysterious young nanny whose presence or power somehow brings the Turner family’s deceased baby back to life. (Or so we think.) But in the process of making a darkly comedic thriller about a highly dysfunctional family, Free formed a family of her own with the likes of Servant writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan (M. Night’s middle daughter) and co-leads Toby Kebbell, Rupert Grint and Lauren Ambrose.
With the fourth-and-final season premiere releasing Jan. 13 on Apple TV+, Free is now reflecting on the show’s ending and how it compared to her own speculation.
“It was kept from us for so long that we were all really geared up and ready for anything. And by the time I got the final scripts, I had already made my peace with it,” Free tells . “So I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but my suspicions were confirmed. I was released from the mystical hold that [M.] Night [Shyamalan] had on me.”
Once Free and her co-stars wrapped the series, their emotions overwhelmed the four of them, understandably.
“When they called cut, the four of us had this hug, and nothing else mattered apart from each other in that moment. We just hugged each other and cried for five or six minutes, and it was one of the most beautiful things ever for me. So I was in pieces,” Free says.
Free also has a starring role in the upcoming prequel to Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976), The First Omen, and she expects a 2023 release at some point.
“We have made the movie. Even though there are notes and elements that are similar to Servant and Leanne, it’s so wildly different,” Free shares. “So it’s going to be really cool. At least I hope it’s going to be really cool. I’m very proud of it. So, hopefully, it’s going to be out this year.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Free also discusses Wonderwell, the unreleased Carrie Fisher movie she made seven years ago.
For the majority of Servant, you were in the dark about Leanne’s overall arc. Well, now you know the full extent of it. So did the ending surprise you, or did it align with your theories?
I was unable to be surprised by the end of Servant. We were all prepared for all the possible outcomes that it could be, and Night toyed with us over what it could be and what it might not be. So it was kept from us for so long that we were all really geared up and ready for anything. And by the time I got the final scripts, I had already made my peace with it. So I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but my suspicions were confirmed. I was released from the mystical hold that Night had on me. (Laughs.)
In the season three finale, “I’m sorry, Dorothy” are the last words that Leanne said before Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) fell off the staircase. At the time, how did you interpret Leanne’s choice of words?
We tried it a couple of different ways, and we ended up trying to land in a place that was ambiguous enough that there was no finality to it. “I’m sorry, Dorothy” could mean a plethora of things in that moment, and we wanted to keep it open to interpretation for anybody watching it. I personally wanted to make it feel as sincere as possible because there is sincerity in pretty much everything Leanne does when it’s in the aid of Dorothy. And whether she did or didn’t push her, or whether it was an accident or not, whatever was happening, Leanne would’ve believed it to be the right thing.
The season four premiere is incredible. It’s one of the best episodes of the series. Was it quite a rush to open up that script and realize you were in your own action-thriller?
Yeah, even though I said I’m unable to be surprised, that definitely came as a little bit of a surprise for me. This show is such an ensemble piece, and to come into the final season and hit the ground running and shoulder that episode alone was pretty daunting for me. Selfishly, I have such a better time at work when the other three are there. I’m just genuinely a happier person. But I got to shoot the episode with Dylan Holmes Williams, who is a lovely human being and a very talented young British director. So we had a great time making that episode, and even though it was pretty claustrophobic and exhausting to come straight out the gate with that episode, it definitely softened the blow for some of the other action sequences I had to take on later down the line. So I felt like I was ready for them.
Early on, Leanne is definitely the most active she’s ever been, and she’s also more desperate than ever to be loved and appreciated. So what can you tease about the journey ahead for Leanne?
It’s a bumpy one. I don’t know how much I can tease for you because they’re listening all the time, but you can expect more of that feverish teetering on the edge of madness that we’ve been flirting with for a while. Her power is starting to maybe get the best of her.
You had a great F bomb in the season three finale, but 403 easily tops it as Leanne reacts to a certain book that’s been given to her. Did you and [director] Ishana Night Shyamalan have fun with that moment?
That’s so funny because we actually did. I’ve trained myself not to swear on this show because I swear a lot. I’m actually training myself not to swear right now. But I’ve gotten so used to Leanne never, ever swearing. I think she swears once every season. And sometimes, my body won’t let me do it when I’m dressed as her. It’s ridiculous. So I was trying to get it out and I couldn’t. We were doing takes and I just wouldn’t say it. So Ishana was like, “Nell, you have to say it.” And I was like, “I’m trying.” So it was ridiculous, and we were both laughing very, very much. I always have a fantastic time when I’m shooting with Ishana, but we got there in the end. Eventually, I allowed myself to swear, and I think we got it, hopefully. I haven’t seen it, so I’ll take your word for it.
You’ve got better things to do than hang out on set when you’re not shooting, but did you ever show up to set just to watch Toby’s [Kebbell] cooking show scenes?
Well, Toby was shooting with a splinter unit whilst I was shooting. But when you say I have better things to do than go onto set, no way! If I had a rare day off and the other guys were working, I would go and hang out because my friends and my family were on that set. So that’s where I would go. Everybody that I was friends with in Philadelphia was working on Servant. Once, they were doing a night shoot until 4 a.m., and I was there, just hanging out with everybody because I love them. I wanted to be there.
I was just trying to make you sound cool and mysterious.
(Laughs.) I think we’ve learned by now that I am neither cool nor mysterious.
This question may or may not be relevant to the final season, but have you ever participated in a seance?
(Laughs.) Yeah, when I was like 12 or 13. My girlfriends and I went up into my attic and did a Ouija board. But apart from that, I haven’t graduated from that level. Shooting that was one hell of a day, two days actually. That was a great time.
For you as an actor, how emotional was your last day on Servant?
Oh, it broke me. It absolutely killed me. If you look at all of our interviews, we gush about each other to the point of it being a bit embarrassing. People are like, “Okay, we get it. You guys like each other.” But it’s so rare to do something for this amount of time and to truly love the people you are working with, without any sort of asterisks or limitations. I mean, it’s just love that we have for each other. I grew up around these guys. They really held me and taught me and took me under their wings and consoled me when I was crying about horrible ex-boyfriends or when I didn’t get a part. They were just there, and I was there when Rupert [Grint] and Toby [Kebbell] became dads. I was lucky enough to see their little girls grow from babies into toddlers on this show.
So much happened between us, and we went through too much together for the goodbye to be anything other than heart-wrenching. When they called cut, the four of us had this hug, and nothing else mattered apart from each other in that moment. We just hugged each other and cried for five or six minutes, and it was one of the most beautiful things ever for me. We couldn’t believe that we’d done it, that we’d finished and were saying goodbye. So I was in pieces.
Will you make a point to go back to Philadelphia at some point?
I’m sure I’ll go back to Philly. Some of my dear friends are there, and three of them are living there right now, Ishana being one of them. So I’m sure I’ll go back and see them when I can, as well as Night and the rest of his beautiful family. Yeah, I’ll definitely go back.
So when are you and Ishana going to make a movie together? [Writer’s Note: M. Night previously told THR that Ishana is shooting her first feature this year.]
Whenever she wants! I’ll be there for anything, whether it’s now or in ten or twenty years. Anytime that young woman wants me to come and do something for her, I’ll do it, even if it’s one line. I just believe in her, artistically. I believe in her so much that I have no doubt that she’s going to have a beautiful career. So I would love to be a part of it in any way I can.
You had some exciting news not too long ago with The First Omen. What can you say about this prequel to The Omen?
I can tell you that we have finished shooting. We have made the movie. It matches Servant with how much I truly loved the project and how excited I am about it. Even though there are notes and elements that are similar to Servant and Leanne, it’s so wildly different. So it’s going to be really cool. At least I hope it’s going to be really cool. I’m very proud of it. So, hopefully, it’s going to be out this year. I don’t know when.
Is that other David Bruckner-penned thriller still alive? Fall Into Darkness?
I think Fall Into Darkness became a victim to Covid. You know how things were. There were so many beautiful projects that were potentially going to happen, and then things got taken away because of timing and Covid. So I think that might have been what went wrong there, but never say never. If it resurfaces and the time is right and all the original people are available, then I’m sure we’d all saddle up and do that movie.
And what’s the deal with Wonderwell, that long-lost Carrie Fisher movie you made?
Wouldn’t I like to know.
It’s one of those, huh?
Yeah, it’s one of those. God, we made that movie seven years ago now. I was 16 and now I’m 23. What I will say about that movie is that I met the platonic love of my life on that set. Sebastian [Croft] is my best friend still to this day. We met when we were babies making that movie, and I’ve kept him, his family and every other member of that cast and crew. So they’re all still very much a part of my daily life, and even though the movie didn’t come out, it’s still one of my favorite experiences of my entire life. It gifted me this Wonderwell family as we call it.
Speaking of family, how’s Your Parents?
(Laughs.) We’re good, we’re good. We’d be better if the boys would answer their phones. Honestly, never start a band with three 23-year-old men.
I’ve been there!
It’s impossible! One of them is at the football game, the other one is on a Hinge date and the other one is in the pub. So it’s just impossible to coordinate them. I have no idea how anyone has done it before me, but they’re great. I love the boys in the band. So I’ve been busy and they’ve been busy, but we’re getting straight back to it as soon as one of them is back from holiday.
Decades from now, when you’re reminiscing about Servant, what day will you likely recall first?
The feelings and the love that was in the room on the last day will stick with me forever, but a slightly less sentimental answer has got to be when I threw up after the eel episode that we were shooting. The eels were on this electric wire. They were real eels and they were being spun around to make them look like they were alive. So eel blood was going everywhere, and as a vegetarian, I’m fucking squeamish. So Lauren looked at me, and I just ran to the side of the set and puked in a bucket. And then she knelt down next to me and took a selfie.
Servant’s final season premieres Jan. 13th on Apple TV+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.