When you press play on Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor, you’ll find a leading lady who looks a lot like The Haunting of Hill House’s Nell Crain. She’ll have the same striking blue eyes and open face that can seem both heartbreakingly hopeful and devastated at the same time. Her name is Dani Clayton and she’s played by Hill House alum Victoria Pedretti, now sporting golden blonde hair for the role.
Despite all the physical similarities — and the fact that Dani also comes to you from Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan — Pedretti prays you don’t wander into Bly Manor hoping to see flashes of poor, doomed Nell. If you make that mistake, you’ll miss the entire point of Bly Manor.
While visiting Bly Manor’s Vancouver set in January, Refinery29 asked Pedretti whether fans should be expecting more of Nell this time around — or even a little bit of her game-changing You character, Love Quinn. “I hope not. I hope that every character is distinct. Of course it’s always going to have my face and my body. Those things may change over time, but yeah. I hope that’s not what they’re looking for,” she told reporters from the grand foyer of Bly Manor.
“I hope they’re really just trying to take in a new story and meet a new character, who is like, really, really different from both of these people,” she added. “I hope people love Dani. I hope people empathize with her. I hope people connect with her and relate to her.”
Dani does immediately give you a lot to relate to, from the moment you meet her in Bly Manor premiere “A Great Good Place.” Dani is a woman on the run from something terrible in her past — something that hails from our mortal plane far more than the spirits of Bly. Dani’s fear — and sadness — consistently plays in little moments over her face when she thinks no one is looking. This is a woman who was haunted long before she ever stepped foot in England. While youngest Hill House daughter Nell had her lion’s share of tragedy, Pedretti forged an entirely different relationship with Dani’s baggage for Bly.
“In the first season, most of the time when I was in the house it was already broken down and destroyed over many years of vandalism,” Pedretti explained. “Bly is very lived in. It’s very alive. There’s a warmth to it. There’s people in the house that are caring for the house and love the house.”
That is why, despite the spooky terrors of Bly Manor, Dani sees hope in her new home and, “improvised family,” as writer Flanagan said on set, more than anything. “In the first season Hill House was always just this place that was only steeped in all of this trauma Nell experienced as a child. It was a symbol for a lot of things, including her mother. Which was very sad,” Pedretti continued. “[In] Bly, it’s this opportunity for Dani to see something she’s never seen before. She did not grow up very well off. To be around this kind of gilded, grandiose country house — it’s disorienting and intimidating. But, at the same time, what Dani really finds is the really rich thing in this house: the people and the relationships and the love.”
While “love” seems to define Dani’s time at Bly Manor, Predetti insisted it’s self-love that fans need to recognize in her story. “Be true to yourself. Nobody’s going to give you permission to be who you are or who you imagine for yourself. Often, how we know ourselves is completely outside of any superficial means,” she said, considering the meaning of her work as Dani. “It has nothing to do with these outward qualities of us. We are a soul and in that we have wants and needs and ideas about the world.”
Pedretti recognized it can be “scary” to embrace the parts of us that “exists outside of some sort of social norm” — especially when people misconstrued honesty with “making a stir.” But she urged viewers to follow in Dani’s “confident” and “empowered” footsteps anyway. As Pedretti said, “It’s still worth it to choose to be brave and to be your fullest self for yourself.”