The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Wife.
Why did such a good script take so long to come to the screen?
Glenn Close: Have you heard of something called the “#Metoo” movement? Well, first of all, my definition of an indie film is a film that almost doesn’t get made. So, this definitely fits in that category. But, also it was based on a novel written by a woman with a screenplay written by a woman, and it was called “The Wife.” I think that was one of the reasons why it really was difficult to get made.
Jonathan Pryce: It’s not unusual, whatever sex is behind the project. Carrington, written and directed by Christopher Hampton, sat there for twenty-five years trying to get made.
Mr. Runge, when did you get involved with the film?
Björn Runge: I read the script in 2014. So, I was very attached to the script, and it was easy for me to tell the producer that I would be a part of this. After that I had a very successful meeting with Glenn here in New York. Now, we are here. But, I was very attached to the script from the beginning. It was a script that got into my heart.
“For me it was very important to find the right light for the actors, especially for Glenn’s face.”
You all took a week in Glasgow, where the film was shot, to work together on the story. How did that help?
BR: We all have a base in the theater, including Christian Slater who isn’t here. So, in the theater world you talk a lot about the characters and the dialogue. That week up in Glasgow was very important, because everyone could breathe their dance. I shouldn’t talk for them, but for me it was so interesting just to hear the actors speaking the dialogue and to observe them. So, for me it was a time for observation for the next step: the shooting.
Ms. Starke, you’re playing Joan Castleman at college age. How do you explore that?
Annie Starke: Well, we really took the time to collaborate on this character. I think it would’ve been impossible to play her well independently. I could never do that. So, it was a lot of time sitting at a table discussing every single detail of Joan Castleman.
GC: Annie really establishes the character. So, we talked about what are the characteristics that we want to be evident forty years from when we first see her. I think we talked about her shyness and her passion to write. For me, it was that she wants to write. She doesn’t necessarily have to be in public. She is kind of an introverted, in her head kind of person.
AS: I agree, she’s an introvert. She’s a very keen observer of the human condition. That personal trait paired with the times of the 1950’s certainly resulted in Joan.
Jonathan, did you work with your counterpart?
JP: No. I can’t remember why we didn’t. I think neither of us were available to get together. But, I’ve known Harry Lloyd over the years. We were in Wolf Hall together. But, I know Harry watched a lot of film and studied speech patterns. I think whats great about it when I see it is that he suggests the character rather than try to impersonate. It’s written in such a way that there’s a development and progression between the two characters. I was very happy with what he did.
Can you talk about the visual execution of the film?
BR: For me it was very important to find the right light for the actors, especially for Glenn’s face. Because Joseph Castleman has so many more lines in the beginning of the film, and Joan is much more of an observer. We have to feel that Joan is the gravity of the scenes even if Joseph is doing the talking. So, for us it was very important to find that light where we could do that, and understand the communication through her thoughts to the audience. So, we were searching for different lights, and we found a very soft light and a very shade-less light where you could see whatever happens in Joan’s face. You have to communicate what’s in the script and not lose the part that doesn’t talk so much for a long time. Light was the key for us.
Glenn and Jonathan can you talk about shooting the pivotal fight scene in the film?
GC: That, to me, is actor’s gold. When you have a scene like that in that you get into a really devastating fight about a lot of the issues that are certainly coming to the surface. But, in the middle of it the phone rings and you find out you have a grandson. And, everything comes back to being together. I have to say that very quickly we knew that we could trust Björn and Ulf Brantås, the cinematographer, to be where they needed to be to record what we were doing. That doesn’t happen all the time. Not only to light a face, but to light the eyes. And, the way they staged it I can’t remember where the camera was during that. It seemed seamless to me. It seemed that we were literally on a stage. Ulf and Björn’s partnership was like a ballet. They certainly had a language between each other… Swedish! But, as actors it was very freeing to be given the stage, if you will.
JP: You also have to credit the person who can often be your enemy, but in this case she was our friend. The editor. She chose those moments that had been so skillfully photographed. The shot eventually always seemed to be in the right place, not necessarily on the person who was talking but on the person who was listening. That was very gratifying to see.