“The Midnight Club” Star Iman Benson Wasn’t Acting, She Was Scared IRL

One week after the debut of The Midnight Club on Netflix, it sits in the top three of the streamer’s top ten TV list for the United States. Series star Iman Benson is still riding on the high of release week, but as the dust starts to settle, she says overall she feels “satisfied.”

“I’m really happy,” Iman says with a smile over Zoom. “The response has been amazing. People have been writing such wonderful messages.” The Midnight Club is a thriller-slash-mystery series created by Leah Fong and Mike Flanagan, the creator of Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor, and Midnight Mass. A new entry in horror YA, the show follows a group of eight terminally ill teenagers living in a hospice who gather every night at midnight to swap scary stories.

Based on the 1994 young adult novel of the same name by author Christoper Pike, the show offers moving commentary on the power of friendship and chosen family, what it’s like to be young and dying, and the bravery and vulnerability it takes to celebrate life at every turn. 

In the series, Iman plays Ilonka, a bright and passionate 17-year-old valedictorian whose plans of attending Stanford University are derailed by terminal thyroid cancer. Following her diagnosis, Ilonka finds a mysterious news story from the ’60s about a young woman with the same kind of cancer who was miraculously cured. Determined to live, Ilonka follows the story to its source: Brightcliffe Hospice. 

Teen Vogue sat down with Iman Benson to unpack the show’s success, dive into its diverse representation, and discuss what it was really like to film her first horror series. The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.

Teen Vogue: Your character Ilonka is a wonderfully complex, passionate, and at times, aggravating character. You did a great job portraying all the multitudes of her experience. How did you prepare for the role and ensure you were bringing your own take to a character that had already existed on the page?

Iman Benson: I hadn’t read the books, I waited until after we had finished filming to do that. But I, like most people, have my own experience with cancer and I was honoring a loved one in playing Ilonka. [I did]  my own research on cancer and young people having cancer and then I went through a physical transformation and I shaved my head as well. I feel like that was probably the best way for me to immerse myself in that role.

TV: For me, one of the most special scenes in the show is Ilonka and Cheri’s conversation about hair and wigs, and how Ilonka misses her hair. It’s a heartfelt moment between two young Black women going through this horribly unique experience. You went through your own physical transformation to channel that. Why do you think that scene held so much gravity?

IB: Well, first of all, I’m so grateful to Mike and Trevor (Macy, executive producer) for including that part of the show in it, because I think it’s important to portray missing your hair as a cancer patient and wanting to wear a wig. It’s okay to rock the bald head, it’s okay to wear a wig. It’s okay to do both. And especially as a Black woman, there’s so much power and pride that I had in my hair, and I think Ilonka as well. And yeah, you miss it. Or at least I did, and I’m glad that Ilonka got to speak her mind on that, and Cheri was so sweet.

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