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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Women Talking.

Can you describe your approach to adapting the novel, and to making the story so cinematic?
Sarah Polley: I think I always thought of the story as somewhat of an epic. So I always felt like it had to breathe, and feel expansive, and you had to feel the world they were going to be having this impact on, by having this conversation and thinking about both dismantling the world they were a part of, and building a new one. So it always seemed to me that it needed a scale and a scope and to breathe. 

How do you find your way into characters that have experienced such trauma?
Jessie Buckley: I guess… you’re working with such incredible people, you know? And everybody showed up for everybody every day. And you just have to sink into the stream and see how it affected you. This wasn’t like… it was an experience from something that was kind of being formed and projected, and you’d feel like you were changing throughout the course of a scene.

It just dawned on me that we’ve all got to come to the same conclusion…

Ona is a very centering presence in the film; she’s quite measured in how she reacts. Where do you think that comes from?
Rooney Mara: I think Ona has always been an outsider in that community, and has probably always had a higher level of consciousness, or connectedness, to some sort of spirit. I think she does have a sort of peace to her, but I think it’s also because she has a sort of peace with herself that she probably had to get at a young age because she was different. She has more of an education than the other women… and she has a real love for her community and her faith, in spite of the fact that she’s different. And she’s chosen to live not like the other women, but she still has such a deep connection the community and to her faith. I think she has an extraordinary amount of empathy, and sensitivity, and an ability to remain open. And that’s why she is able to sort of… not mediate, but she’s able to remain open through all of this, through whatever the other person she’s talking with is feeling, without judgement.

The character of August bears such a huge responsibility to these women. Can you talk about discovering the character, and what it was like being the only male in the ensemble?
Ben Whishaw: In the book, there’s loads more information about August. So I had a whole backstory given to me in the book, which is amazing. So it was all there for me, right at the start. It was wonderful being the only male on the set! Yeah, I don’t know: it was just an amazing… very unusual experience. I’m very blessed to have been there, and to watch, and it was beautiful. I had such a beautiful time. I just love this cast. That said, it’s a complicated position August is in. He is a man, after all. I mean, he’s aware of how complex it is for him to be in that room with what’s unfolding in front of him. But, yeah, he’s like Ona: he’s an outsider as well. He doesn’t really fit into that community at all.

RM: He’s a different kind of victim. Like Ona says in the film, they’re all — the men and the women — they’re all victims of the circumstance.

In the book, August is the narrator. Can you discuss the decision to change that, for the film?
SP: In the book, we’re reading August’s minutes of the meeting. And I wrote the script that way, we shot the film that way, we recorded it… and it was a beautiful voiceover. In the book it works beautifully. Ben’s voiceover was beautiful. And then at around the three month mark in editing, we just realized something wasn’t working. And I think it was a realization that the immediacy of sound, the intimacy of it, and of picture (adapting the material into a different medium, essentially), meant that not hearing the story from the voice of one of the women who’d experienced the trauma was distancing. So Dede [Gardner] and Fran [McDormand] had a big conversation. And Dede said, “should we look at the narrator? What if it’s Ona telling this story to her unborn child from the future?” And then Chris Donaldson, our editor, had this beautiful idea: What if it’s Autje? And I always wanted more of Autje! I was always trying to get her more central, just based on Kate Hallett’s performance. I just wanted her there. So Chris said, “what if it’s her, as the youngest person in the room?” And so it became a real experiment. And I kind of went away and wrote for a week: stream-of-consciousness voiceover, and very intentionally did not think of where it would go and how it would work. And then we would kind of choose a section and see what we could construct around that, and how that would feed into the film. But we kind of did this… it felt very reckless! We’re not doing this literally, or in terms of structure… we’re just going to throw the whole film at the wall and break it, and see what we can do as we pull it apart. And it was so exhilarating. You know, Kate was sending little voice memos as temp voiceover tracks, and we would try to construct something… and it was so fun.

JB: I’d love a voice memo from Kate every day! That’d be so nice! 

Dede Gardner: It was one of the best times of my life, when we were figuring this all out. Because you go from terrified (but so in it together… so, so committed and you think, “we’re just not stopping until we’re done, and we’re not done until it’s excellent.”) And we had this… partnership, and trust, with Chris the editor. Every night was fun. Every night they would send me a scene, and it would be cut with something, or the Kate stuff… and what about these lines, where do you put them? And it was just… building something together. I don’t know; it felt miraculous, to be honest.

SP: It was truly exciting. What was great was, we were starting from this point of, “this definitely doesn’t work.” So then anything after that was fun! You can’t be disappointed in that moment. And just to get to sort of collectively find our way closer to closer to the film we always wanted to make was incredible. And, weirdly, I think it feels truer to the book in how it is on screen than how it did when it was more literally done in the script.

DG: It makes you feel the way the book made you feel. So inside those two points, I think the guardrails can be super elastic. But we were making something every night— it was amazing.

JB: I think being on set with those two young women was quite profound. For me, it was quite profound. And knowing that these young women were the catalyst for change, for this story to start. I kept thinking about the dynamic between mother and daughter and actually how the daughter says, “stop looking away! Look at it! Be brave! Have it!” And what’s been so moving is seeing these young women, as women in the world, as young actresses, having had this experience — which is their first ever filming job — and Kate said something which I keep thinking about: “I stepped into this film thinking that I had to be good… and then I realized that there was a lot that was expected of me… and now I know that I can expect a lot.” And, like, as an eighteen year old woman, I’m like, “holy hell!” If this film can have that effect on this person, with this experience, that is the most incredible gift we can give. But I felt that throughout the whole film, I felt that from them, when were doing it.

SP: I think we were always looking for ways to make them more central. I feel like everyone, at some point, came to me and said, “how can I get more scenes with Kate?” And it was very clear, instinctually from the beginning, that Kate was central…. but it just took us a long time to figure out how that worked. 

JB: Well she’s such a silent power in that character; she’s so elemental to this meeting happening. And Kate as a person is quite silently powerful, in a really intense, direct, beautiful, interesting way. And she never let that go, you know? You feel that from her as a young woman.

Did your own conception of your character change, as you went through the process of filming? Was your understanding informed in any way by what your scene partners did?
Claire Foy: I’ll admit that when I read a script… I’m not very good at seeing the arc of the whole story, basically… it’s a failing of mine. I can see my particular character’s journey, but I can’t distance myself from the story. I really struggle with that, for some reason. And so for this film, I didn’t realize until we’d gotten to the point in the film where… it’s when me and Rooney have a moment where I’m like, “you’re changing your mind!” And I realized… “oh fuck. This is what the film’s about!” But I just didn’t really… we had never talked about the ‘Big Ideas’ of the film, we had never talked, necessarily, about the grand scheme of everything; we never talked about it from a wider viewpoint, from a distance. And suddenly… that was very significant, for me, as a character; I realized, “I’m on a slide, now, and it’s getting faster and faster and faster and faster.” I realized everything was different— my character suddenly knew where this was headed. Everyone is looking at me, everyone is wanting me to change my mind. Maybe that’s exactly how it should happen: That it didn’t hit me, what was going on, until it hit the character. It just dawned on me that we’ve all got to come to the same conclusion… and we’ve got to leave.