Once the slew of summer blockbusters have gone from cinema screens, there’s something of an empty space in the schedule before the Oscar-baiting movies start to surface near Christmas. This year, however, Oscar season seems to have started early.
The Wife, based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name and directed by Björn Runge, is causing quite the stir. Over 90 or so minutes, dramatic tension builds and builds, themes of femininity, patriarchy and liberation are explored with class and subtlety, and the performances from the cast are exemplary.
It might sound heavy, but The Wife, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, deals with the subject matter expertly, and given the relatively brief running time (in modern terms, anyway) the economy of the script is astonishing.
If you haven’t read the book, The Wife takes the saying “behind every great man is a great woman” and puts it in motion. It looks at the life of Joan Castleman, who has spent the past 40 years sacrificing her own literary talents to support the career of her husband, Joe. Now, he’s just been picked to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, which brings up a host of deep-rooted family issues that make Joan question her life decisions. Told in flashback, the two actors who play Joan deserve all the praise that is surely going to come their way. They’re played by Glenn Close and her real-life daughter Annie Starke, which only adds something extra to the roles.
Starke’s performance in particular superbly captures the turmoil of having to make a vital decision with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The movie should by the marking point for Starke to branch out on her own. Ironically, perhaps, she can do so by playing the same role as her legendary mother. Here, she tells us all about The Wife, the story’s relevance today and what it was like playing her mum.
What first got you interested in this role? There’s a lot of Oscar-talk around it...
Gosh, it never gets old hearing how much people love it. Certainly from the bottom to the top, it’s a film that every single person that was involved in its creation loved, seriously. When you pour your heart into something, and have it be so well received, you know, it’s pretty awesome [laughs]. During the times that we live in today, the universe really pushed for a project like this. To be a part of it, certainly in the now, it’s incredible.
It was a very intense audition process, because Björn [Runge] was in Sweden at the time, so everything was over video. He actually flew out to Los Angeles at the end to hang out. We had a five-hour lunch just talking about the art, ourselves and the character. Honestly, what made me want to be a part of the project so much was Björn. He was our beloved maestro throughout the whole process, truly. I would give a semi-essential kidney to work with him again [laughs].
The movie’s general release has been a long-time coming. Were you ready for all the praise?
I know. I’m sure a lot of people say that their project is the best, but I didn’t anticipate such widespread, incredible praise. Each and every one of us felt in our bones that we were creating something special.
The experience that we had on set with Björn and our director of photography [Ulf Brantås], the set that they commanded was such an incredible place to be. Out of such leadership came an incredible film.
As an actress, and an actor, I can speak for everybody when I say we were given such beautiful space to create and to organically discover these characters. It was amazing.
It must have been great to have those bonds on set...
What they did was have two cameras simultaneously rolling so you wouldn’t have to switch the angles to get other people’s reactions, so you could focus on both actors at the same time, capturing such incredible moments. It’s a beautiful piece of filmmaking.
Is the message of the film also relevant for modern times?
It’s pretty true to these times, talking about one’s liberation and finally discovering one’s self recognition of one’s own truths. We’re lucky that the dialogue is happening and the change is occurring.
I’m an optimist, and really try to be especially when it comes to women’s rights. But I’m also for equality, so I hope this movie doesn’t say men are the lesser or anything like that because that’s just not true.
How did you go about playing your mother’s younger self?
Like any incredible little movie that we all love, this movie almost didn’t get made a few times, so we had the luxury of time to really collaborate on Joan.
There was a lot of time and hours just sitting around the table discussing each and every detail on what makes Joan Castleman, Joan, you know?
It was so much fun, it was such a wonderful learning experience for the both of us. We very much respect each other. We also have the luxury of sharing the same inspirations for the same character, because my mum’s inspiration of her mother is my grandmother, so that inspiration literally runs through our veins. It was an incredibly collaborative effort on so many levels. It was wonderful.
Your mum’s not really like Cruella de Vil [in 101 Dalmatians] then?
No, no, she wasn’t actually Cruella at home! We always had a lot of dogs and cats that we’ve loved as a family. She’s actually very mild-mannered, my dear mum [laughs]. Not scary at all.
The Wife is out now in cinemas across Qatar.