T’Nia Miller on why she’s not afraid to play a Black housekeeper on ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’

  • Insider spoke with actress T'Nia Miller, star of "The Haunting of Bly Manor," a new Netflix series in which she stars. 
  • Warning: Major spoilers ahead if you haven't seen "The Haunting of Bly Manor." 
  • Miller told Insider how she came to terms with her character, Bly Manor housekeeper Hannah, as a Black woman. "I've always said, I would never play the help," she said. 
  • Miller also opened up about her identity as a queer woman and how that's shaped the roles she's chosen.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"The Haunting of Bly Manor" is in theory a ghost story. As with any scary story, there's vengeful ghosts, creepy little kids, and a plethora of things that bump in the night. 

But in this new Netflix series, based on "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, most of the action takes place in a sprawling English country manor in the late 1980s. And that setting paints the perfect picture for a love story too. 

Dani (Victoria Pedretti), a well-meaning American au pair, who still feels guilt over the untimely death of her fiancé, arrives at Bly, where she and the gardener, Jamie (Amelia Eve), soon fall deeply in love.  

While we follow Dani and Jamie's romance, we're also introduced to housekeeper Hannah Grose (T'Nia Miller), a woman deeply rooted in her faith, dealing with the aftermath of her husband leaving her for another woman. Hannah's story takes a surprise twist in episode five ("The Altar of the Dead"), when it's revealed that she's joined the ranks of the ghosts at Bly after young Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) pushes her into a well. 

Miller told Insider when she read about her twist she said, "My God, I was like, 'This is the stuff of dreams.' So yeah, I did not see [the twist] coming."

"The Altar of the Dead" is a mind-bending and terrifying exploration of Hannah's past as well as her present and future as a haunting ghost. The episode also solidifies the housekeeper as one of the show's more interesting characters. 

While Hannah is never able to leave Bly in the end, her character adds some much needed stability to the dread-inducing story. Not to mention her romance with cook Owen (Rahul Kohli), who ultimately escapes Bly unharmed, is both tender and tragic. 

Insider spoke to Miller on Friday, the day "The Haunting of Bly Manor" premiered on Netflix. Relaxing in her plant-filled home with a glass of wine and what appeared to be a hand-rolled cigarette, the British actress told us all about her character, her thoughts on being a Black actress playing a housekeeper, which has historically been rooted in painful stereotypes onscreen, and how the Black Lives Matter movement has affected her.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Miller says was she shocked by the show's major twist involving Hannah — and loved exploring Hannah's relationship with Owen

T'Nia Miller and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth on "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Libby Torres: I just finished Bly Manor and I was literally so obsessed with it. And your character, her arc was amazing.When I watched episode [five], I gasped. I was so taken aback because you think that she's just this nice housekeeper and then it turns out she's dead and she's a ghost.

Miller: And she's also got a bit of bite where she's nice, but she's also no nonsense. You know, she's nice. But don't cross her. She reminds me of my grandmother. My grandmother was the sweetest woman, but don't cross her twice. Oof! She just had to give you a look.

Torres: I totally got that vibe from Hannah as well. What was it like kind of navigating that twist? I mean, you said you didn't see it coming. Were you nervous about filming those episodes? 

Miller: I am my own worst critic. I think we all are. The show touches on things about our own critics, ghosts, our demons.

I don't know how to play a ghost, because I have no life experience of that! And I don't know any, so I don't have anybody to ring up and be like 'Yeah, what's it like being a ghost?' [Laughs]

But there was an episode, one very early on when I was still finding my feet and something happened. I think I was just really tired. I can't remember what it was, but I called Rahul, who plays Owen, over for a cup of tea. And I put the teapot on the saucer and we looked at it for a good while like, 'That, that's, that's not right. Is it? No.'

And then I proceeded to put the cup on the saucer, and then that moment I found Hannah. It was that moment while shooting, I was like, 'Ah! There it is.' It's that questioning: 'That's not right. It's right. But something's wrong. Something's up,' and then trying to fix it.

I think that's probably what it's like for her. She's a ghost and doesn't know that she's a ghost. 

Rahul Kohli and T'Nia Miller on "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Torres: Hannah's relationship with Owen made me cry. It was so cute and so sad. So were you happy with their relationship and the way it played out? I never felt that it was as realized as it could have been. 

Miller: I think they're like an old pair of worn, comfortable, favorite slippers. They've got that positive relationship where they don't even need words anymore, you know? 

In terms of their love story, there's lust and this passion for each other, for sure. But it was so much deeper than that. It was a very comfortable, very trusting, nervous, very different love story to the ones that we're used to experiencing. And I think that sort of contrasts between Dani and Jamie in that respect, but I understand what you mean.

I'm glad I didn't have to kiss [Kohli], because he's got that horrible mustache.

Torres: So you don't like mustaches then?

Miller: I don't like men in that way [Laughs] and I don't really like mustaches. And [Kohli] did tease me once. He said, 'We've got a kissing scene. They've done some rewrites and we're going to have to kiss.' And I said, 'No, we haven't! No we haven't! No, no.' He was teasing. 

Miller also spoke about her experience as a woman of color on set — and why she was willing to play a housekeeper on "The Haunting of Bly Manor" 

Victoria Pedretti (left) and T'Nia Miller on "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Torres: Switching gears a little bit: It's interesting that Hannah works as a housekeeper at Bly and she seems really proud of her job. She's very protective of the family. But I was also wondering, did you experience any trepidation as a Black woman playing a housekeeper for a bunch of wealthy white English people?

Miller: Look at you! You're the only person to ask that question. And I tell you, it came up. It came up, but then — [the main characters on the show] are all the help, but if I'd been the only help?

I mean, the help are the central characters to this story. Everybody [at Bly] is there to serve this man. And had it been in any other premise, I would have been like, 'no way,' because I've always said I would never play the help.

For me playing that role, I came to terms with it … because, you know, [Hannah] was just as important as everybody else. It wasn't like the maid in 'Tom and Jerry," or whatever it was when you just see the feet, and it wasn't the stereotypical [character]. Hannah had status and class and all those things. Poise. 

Torres: Totally. That's good to hear. I'm glad you were able to come to terms with that. I'm Mexican, so I kinda' get it. Was it difficult being one of the few people of color on the show? 

Miller: Let me tell you, there have been certain projects where I've been the only person of color on the show. And I'm talking about the cast and including the crew — in fact, crew's [are] very white and male most of the time, wherever you go. 

So on 'Bly Manor,' you have Tahirah [Sharif], you have Rahul, you have myself, and then in terms of who takes up more screen time, you have Dani and Jamie and Peter [Oliver Jackson-Cohen].

And so there was an equilibrium there for me essentially. And also, you have a queer story going on, so yeah. I felt fine about that. Actually, it didn't feel like I was in the minority. 

Torres: I was reading one of your past interviews and you were talking about shaving your head. You were saying that you shaved it in your 20s and you never looked back, and you felt like you had a wider range of roles because you had this really unique look. Do you still feel the same way? Are you worried about being typecast in any way? 

Miller: My team are far too good for me to be typecast, they just are. I think they're the baddest a– women of women and a couple of men too. They're all hungry and passionate, and the majority are made up of these pacts of strong feminist women. And I freaking love them. That's never going to happen.

I remember I did a movie called 'Stud Life' and then I did 'Banana' and 'Cucumber,' which are queer programs and there's that [mindset of] 'OK, well, I can't do anything queer for a while because then I'm going to be stuck in that boat.'

So it's been strategic as well. I want to do it all because I'm greedy like that.

The pandemic has actually been a major turning point for the Black Lives Matter movement, says Miller

Tahirah Sharif (left) and T'Nia Miller on "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Torres: Yeah. How have you been dealing with the pandemic? What's life like for you? What's your reality right now?

Miller: The BLM stuff — that hit home. There were times I was like, 'I can't.' I had to take a day or two off from reading the stuff and the fact is, it's been happening. So that cuts, that hurts. You're a person of color. You get it.

Torres: Yeah. I think what's been so striking for me with all of the protests that are going on is that people are like, 'We have to change this!' And I'm like, 'We've been telling you. This has been going on for a long time.'

Obviously, I'm in a different place, being a Mexican person, but it's just so overwhelming. I can't even imagine having to deal with it on top of the pandemic. 

Miller: Well, the thing is, the spotlight wouldn't have been shown on it if we didn't have the pandemic. So there's a gift in that. I feel like there's a global unification that's happening and a socialist movement, that's happening for the first time, really in history.

One of my publicists did something yesterday: I was talking with some people about the voice of a character I have on a new project, and I was in my American accent, and I said, 'I want that African American sound, I want a deep rooted sound.' And [another woman] said, 'Yeah, but this character is educated.'

Torres: Oh my God. Wait, what?

Tahirah Sharif (left) as Rebecca and T'Nia Miller as Hannah on "The Haunting of Bly Manor."
Eike Schroter/Netflix

Miller: That's the reaction my publicist had. I was like, '[This woman, who said that comment,] is not a bad person. She's just ignorant.' But I was just too tired to deal with it. And one of my publicists was like, 'Well, I'm not too tired to deal with it.' Then my publicist turned around and told the woman off, and it was hilarious. I was pissing myself.

She was like, 'No, no, no, no, no. I've just got no time for that. And I'm a white woman and this thing pisses me off.' Like her reaction was just everything, you know?

I'm too tired to get that pissed off anymore, but they aren't. And that's hopeful, right? When I see white folks be that angry, be that empowered and impassioned to change, to really do something, to make a change? Come on. That's the gift of this pandemic, right?

Torres: I feel like hopefully where the lasting change will come from is white people who are actually like, 'Oh, I can help with this, and I can do more then post a black square on Instagram.' 

Miller: It's all about the work. You're right, it's not about posting the square, but that's not just white folk. Generally as people, as a society, we feel that we don't have power to change anything and that's been our conditioning. 'If you're not a good girl, Santa won't bring you any presents.'

You follow the status quo. It has been indoctrinated into us since we left our mother's … wombs. [Laughs] I almost said something else.

Torres: That's good. [Laughs] That's very PG. Good catch.

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