The Girl on the Train press conference with Emily Blunt, Luke Evans, Hayley Bennett, Tate Taylor and Paula HawkinsCultureCinema
On 5th October, the film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girl on the Train will hit British cinemas. The Upcoming caught up with lead actors Emily Blunt, Luke Evans and Haley Bennett, along with director Tate Taylor and author of the original book Paula Hawkins, as they discussed the process behind telling such a dark story, why talking about the relationships between women is important, and about the challenges faced when playing a drunk woman whilst pregnant.
What’s it like seeing this novel, which you wrote not that long ago, make it to the big screen?
Paula Hawkins: It’s been pretty extraordinary, firstly the speed of the whole thing, and secondly the cast they assembled. It’s just a shocking, terrifying, brilliant, cinematic re-telling of my story, which manages to be both faithful to the novel and also different and interesting in important ways.
Tate, was it obvious for you what kind of thriller you wanted to make from this book?
Tate Taylor: Yes. Funnily enough my first meeting with Emily and Paula was about the fact that I knew you had to lean into the darkness and lean into the sexuality, and if we didn’t, the characters would quickly become caricatures, and they wouldn’t support the story that Paula told.
Haley, you play Megan, who is a very complicated character – is that not the dream for an actor, to be able to explore a character?
Haley Bennett: Yes, for sure. It was a dream role, surprisingly, and also a role that made me feel a lot of dread having to come into work every day. I sometimes didn’t want to get out of the car. I’d say “I’m not going in there, I’m not going to face this!”. But ultimately, Megan suffers from some real issues, and in her heart she feels like she’s committed the greatest crime, and she hasn’t forgiven herself. So a lot of things spiral from that I think.
Luke, you play Scott – people have a lot of perceptions about him, but how would you describe who he really is?
Luke Evans: Well, he’s a man with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Nothing goes his way: he loses his wife, she goes missing, he finds out this terrible truth about her through other people, and then he’s manipulated by someone he trusts. He’s a broken soul, and he’s tormented by betrayal, loss, regret and all these things which are common to humanity. So as an actor, it was very easy to understand him. I’ve not been through the things he has, but I could understand the pain and the emotional journey he was going through. I felt bloody sorry for him! There was a lot to play with, so it was enjoyable but dark.
Emily, what made Rachel an appealing character for you?
Emily Blunt: I think the appeal was that it’s such an unusual circumstance to have your lead protagonist be female and a black-out drunk. Women are often required to be held to some kind of ideal – they have to be pretty or likeable or witty or something. With this character, people don’t even want to breathe the same air as her, she’s that sort of toxic person. I’d never really gone there before, to the depths of that sort of despair. She has an infatuation with alcohol and it’s the only relationship she has in her life – it was something I wanted to explore.
All the characters in the film are troubled or unlikeable in some way – did any of you identify with your characters?
EB: Yeah, me on a Friday night! Well, no, not really. I wouldn’t say I identified with her. Rachel did feel rather alien to me and my life, and yet, if acting really is the ultimate form of empathy, I truly just had to understand her. It’s never been a concern of mine whether or not you can make someone likeable but whether you can make them credible, so I just wanted to understand her as deeply as possible. She’s someone who has had more setbacks in life than others, and that’s not for me to judge. I think what I learnt about addiction was very frightening, and it’s a world we wanted to represent fully and truthfully, so I did a lot of research on it and understood her a lot more after that.
LE: I think I identified quite a lot with Scott. Like Emily said, acting is about empathy and putting yourself in their position, dealing with the same emotions. You probably wouldn’t deal with them quite like Scott does, but I think I’d have dealt with them quite similarly in many ways. After a certain number of lies being told, I think I’d lose the plot.
HB: I think it took all of us a great deal of courage to play these characters. We had to go to some pretty dark places and, for me, I don’t think it was necessarily a case of drawing comparisons between my personality and Megan’s. Actually, one day Paula came in on set and said to me, “You’re exactly what I imagined for Megan!” And I remember thinking “Oh my God, what a terrible thing to say!”
PH: I meant physically!
HB: But I think the main draw for me was the chance to explore a personality that I don’t necessarily relate to, and there was a lot of adrenalin that came from playing her. It was terrifying, and that’s what made it exciting.
The book is set in London and the film is set in New York – why the change of setting?
TT: That was the decision of Erin Cressida Wilson [the screenwriter], and she was supported. What’s funny is that looking at the finished film and Paula’s book, you realise that the story is in these people’s’ minds, on a train and in their personal spaces. The city is barely represented, and I think our decision to keep Emily’s British accent as it was added more to the sense of isolation that Rachel is feeling. You look at her, at the bottom of the barrel, broke and you think about how far away she is from home.
Emily, you’ve spoken about the potential competitiveness and cruelty that can come between women in a domestic sphere – do you have any hope that that is improving?
EB: Yes, well, I think it’s something that should be talked about. We all need to be much kinder to each other, whether you’re a man or a woman, but I do believe there is a tendency for women to be a bit judgmental of each other in a domestic environment. Things like “can you keep a man?” – I hate that phrase, or about whether you breastfeed when you have children, or whether you can have children. I think that women are sometimes made to feel rather defensive of the decisions they make when it comes to family life, and I don’t think that’s right. Nobody knows the ins and outs of a decision and why it’s made. So I do think this film captures the idea of women pitted against each other and how they ultimately unite. I think the mistake is to say that these women are all victims when actually I think it’s ultimately quite an empowering film for women.
Tate, what were your cinematic influences?
TT: Well, of course I went to the usual suspects – Hitchcock and Bergman – but I had a wonderful collaborator in Charlotte Bruus Christensen [cinematographer]. We had a lot of discussion about mood and tone – really what it boiled down to was the camera work representing each character. We’re in Rachel’s head, we don’t know if what she’s thinking or saying is right and that lent itself to a lot of hand-held work. As I said, I wanted this film to be dark, unsettling and, at times, creepy so that was our focus.
You seem to like working on female-focused movies. Do you particularly enjoy female narratives, and if so why?
TT: Absolutely – although I don’t seek them out! But I do think that female characters have more going for them; there are challenges that women face that men don’t, and when that set of real-world challenges comes up against a character with their own issues, you can’t help but compound them. And women are more interesting! I’ve often been presented with material to direct and said what if we make her a woman? And that’s what I did with Allison Janney’s character Detective Riley – I actually put her in everything, I think she’s great – but it’s true! I do like female characters, perhaps more than male ones. Except for Luke.
Emily, you were pregnant whilst filming The Girl On The Train, how do you balance being a mum and having your career?
EB: To be honest, I don’t want to make it out like my job as a working mother is any harder than anyone else who has a job and two children. And I think, in a way, having children has been so wonderful, not only because it cracks your heart open in a big way – so I’m sure I can access a lot as an actor more since becoming a mother – but I think it makes me very specific about what I chose to do and when. But I’m lucky, because a lot of women don’t have that choice.
Did being pregnant on set present any challenges?
EB: Well, I think Luke and Justin, who I have a couple of tussles with, were a bit nervous, so they were very kind. But I don’t think I anticipated how physical this role was. Playing a drunk, it was a process so emotional that it became physical, and so it was a job that wore me out!
TT: I’d been told working with Emily Blunt was so fun, but it turned out all she wanted was an omelette – every three minutes!
EB: It’s true I wouldn’t pass on a snack.
What was it like collaborating with Danny Elfman on the score?
TT: It was a dream. He’s such a master and his work speaks for itself. We had a blast. We took chances, and I told him to go as crazy as he wanted. He’s fantastic and became a great friend.
The Girl on the Train is released nationwide on 5th October 2016.
Watch the trailer for The Girl on the Train here: