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TULLY

About The Production
THE SEED

Tully was conceived in 2015, soon after Diablo Cody gave birth to her third child. With two young children who required much time and energy, Cody had no illusions about her capacity to handle the exhausting work and sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn. She hired a night nanny, who came to her house at 10pm and watched over the baby until early the next morning.

Night nanny services have been growing in popularity for over a decade, particularly among professional women in major metropolitan cities. But Cody didn't know about their existence until the success of Juno brought her to Los Angeles to work in the movie business. "Growing up in Illinois, I'd never heard of night nurses. I thought it was a completely strange idea but kind of brilliant, too," she remarks. "I stubbornly resisted having the night nurse with my eldest child. Resisted with my second child. Third child, I completely swallowed my pride. The night nurse helped me take care of the baby so that I could be rested in the morning for my other kids. And it was revelatory. Because even with help, you're tired. It was almost shocking how much I fell in love with the night nurse because it felt like she was my savior."

That experience gave her the idea for a film about a new mother's postpartum struggles and the surprising young night nanny who restores her to life. She wanted to tell a story about a woman who is overwhelmed with the demands of parenting after giving birth to her third child; a woman who loves her children but fears being swallowed up by the role of mother and cut off from her own self.

The idea fit the criteria she has set herself as a writer. "My mission in my career is to write roles for women that I have not seen before," she explains. "I had never seen a film about postpartum depression. I feel like there are so many feminine experiences that have not been represented in films, so I'm constantly going back to that well."

She laid out her idea for Reitman before she began work on the screenplay and told him she wanted him to direct. "Jason always understands what I am trying to convey and he's so respectful of the decisions that I make in the script. I have so much agency as a writer and that's unusual."

Reitman was excited to see where Cody's story would lead her. "I really enjoy Diablo's approach to everyday life that examines women as truly complicated people," he remarks. "From the beginning Diablo has fearlessly written unapologetic women as leads in her scripts, characters that are smart and admirable and funny, but are also deeply flawed. And I think because of that, women and men can relate to her characters."

Cody fleshed out a fairly ordinary life for her protagonist, Marlo, who is uneasily awaiting the imminent arrival of her third child with her husband Drew. Marlo is accustomed to juggling the demands of a full-time job and parenting two children, eight-year-old Sarah and five-year-old Jonah, who has special needs. Marlo loves her kids, but she had not planned on having another at age 40. She's not eager to talk about the subject and she's definitely not comfortable when her wealthy brother Craig gifts her with a night nanny.

Tully introduces Marlo in the final days of her pregnancy, offering a glimpse of the stable existence that is about to be disrupted. "I liked the idea that Marlo had gotten settled into a comfortable life," says Cody. "She's a working mom and she's dealing with a kid who has special needs, but she had things under control. Then she got pregnant and that was the curveball."

That curveball gathers velocity once Marlo gives birth. In scripting scenes of labor, childbirth and immediate postnatal period, Cody drew on her own experiences to show the process as it often is in real life but less so in films. "Childbirth is not like the screaming pioneer woman you often see. You're in a hospital, there are a lot of beeping machines and you're being supervised. And staff won't release you from the hospital until you show them that you can pee. Obviously they're doing it because they're looking out for your health, but it's such a strange experience to have to pee on command as an adult. I'd never seen that in a movie."

She also wanted to counter the film and television conventions of serene mothers and joyous family gatherings in hospital rooms. When Craig and his wife visit her in the hospital, they quickly realize that Marlo would rather be alone. "Sometimes you don't want anyone to visit you," Cody reflects. "People expect women to be completely blissed-out at every point in the process, otherwise they're perceived as ungrateful or even cold. In reality, you're dealing with a lot of complicated emotions when you have a new baby."

The film's take on pregnancy and its discontents is as witty as it is honest. Marlo can't escape comments related to the baby inside her, whether it's from a relative, a school official or a censorious stranger at a coffee bar. Depending on the company she's in, Marlo will offer a mordantly funny description of how she's feeling - hint: not "glowing"; or cover up her internal panic with a reference to the baby as a "blessing."

Once she is home with baby Mia, Marlo's life is completely given over to parenting her three children. Three weeks into a sleep-deprived blur of newborn care, regular child care, late-late night TV, breast pumps and diaper genies, Marlo goes off the rails during a meeting with a school official. In desperate need of help, she reconsiders Craig's gift and retrieves the phone number of the night nanny.

That person is Tully, a cheerful dynamo who is thoroughly at ease with babies and glad to share various arcane facts about their development. Looking even younger than her 26 years, Tully is not what Marlo expects a night nanny to be.

"At first, Marlo is uncomfortable with Tully," says Cody. "She doesn't quite understand who she's dealing with and she's a bit alarmed by the fact that Tully is this kid. At the same time, Tully is able to speak to Marlo in this very specific and bizarre way and they quickly form a connection."

Like a modern Mary Poppins, Tully helps Marlo in ways that go beyond childcare. As their bond deepens, Tully becomes the friend that Marlo so badly needs. She guides Marlo to the point where she can come to terms with the distance between the life she led at Tully's age and the life she lives now. And this insight makes it possible for Marlo to feel whole and awake again.

Cody sent the first draft to Reitman on New Year's Eve, 2015. "I immediately fell in love with it," he affirms. "Less than a year later, we were making the movie."

There's been a kind of synchronicity throughout Reitman and Cody's history together. "Diablo and I have made a film every five years now, give or take," says Reitman. "It's interesting because we're just about the same age and we have similar personalities. It seems like we're sharing a diary and we're both writing into it.. So, every few years when I get a script from her, I know it's not only going to reflect her sensibility and what she's been going through and learning over time, but it's going to reflect all those things that I'm feeling and thinking but I just can't articulate. And I'm just so grateful."

For Reitman, Tully expressed thoughts and feelings he's had as he has watched his child grow up. "Diablo wrote a script of that not only spoke to the idea of parenthood, but to that moment when you actually have to close the chapter and say goodbye to your youth," he comments. "Something that has fascinated me as a father myself is your child becomes this mirror through which you look back at your own childhood and realize for the first time who you were as a kid. Diablo brilliantly used this relationship between Marlo and Tully as a way for Marlo to understand her children better and as a way for Marlo to look through Tully as a mirror into herself."

Over the next few months, Cody polished and refined the script, getting feedback and suggestions from Reitman. He felt a responsibility to make a film that was truthful about what it was like to be a mother of a newborn and sought input from a group of young mothers. "I wanted to be very respectful of how difficult those nights alone are," he explains. "I sent the mothers a questionnaire filled with very personal questions. I was amazed by how forthcoming they were; and not only about how having a baby impacted their sleep and their physiology but how it impacted their other children, their husband, their marriage, their sex life. They were a great help."

A truthful depiction of those nights also meant acknowledging their comic dimension. When a container of freshly-pumped breast milk spills, it's awful but also funny: a nursing mother's version of the proverbial banana peel. Marlo zones out in front of late-night TV while pumping milk. Sleep deprivation doesn't do much for Marlo's physical coordination, either. In a moment drawn directly from a questionnaire answer, her grip fails as she's scrolling through her phone - and she drops it right onto her baby.

As Cody worked on subsequent drafts, she brought certain themes to the surface, including the pressures felt by contemporary mothers. Says Cody, "Despite all the progress we've made in terms of women entering the workplace, becoming breadwinners and having the freedom to pursue different paths in life; despite all that, there's still this expectation that women are the glue that hold the household together. There's still this feeling that we are the overseers of the domestic sphere. That's very difficult when you're also in a breadwinner role or helping support a family. Marlo works in HR; it's not her dream job but her income is important. And yet, she's also supposed to be making the cupcakes for school or she's not a good mom."

It's not the life Marlo envisioned for herself when she was Tully's age, as she's reminded whenever Tully bounds through the door. "Tully has so much energy, she's so enchanted by the world. She's involved in all these exciting and dramatic relationships," says Cody. "Tully will barge into the house at night and starts eating everything out of the refrigerator. Whereas Marlo has all this anxiety about her body."

Marlo's 20s aren't coming back and that's one of the things she has to come to terms with. "This is definitely a mid-life crisis movie, no question about it," Cody comments. "I think that we're all familiar with the male mid-life crisis, with the red Corvette and the young girlfriend. But you don't see a lot of depictions of what women might be dealing with in mid-life. In a way it almost feels like a loss of currency because you're getting older and you're getting less attractive by the day. And women live in a world where they're judged on their appearances."

While it might not have been intentional, Tully completes a trilogy that began with Juno and Young Adult. Each features a female protagonist with a very specific personality and point of view, who goes about her life as she sees fit. "Diablo from the beginning has fearlessly written unapologetic women as leads in her scripts," observes Reitman. "Over Juno and Young Adult and now Tully, she's written characters in three different age groups and at three different stages in life. And each film explores how complicated it is to find happiness."

"Juno, Young Adult and Tully are all about transformation in a way," Cody reflects. "Juno is going through a physical transformation, a pregnancy, which forces her into adulthood very quickly. Young Adult is about resisting the aging process and trying desperately to cling to the past. And Tully is about realizing that you are responsible for all these other human beings and being able to become that responsible person even if deep, deep down in your heart you still feel like a train wreck. It's about figuring out how to reconcile the person you are at your core with the job that you have to do."

MEET THE TULLY FAMILY

Tully marks a happy reunion for Reitman, Cody and their Young Adult star Charlize Theron. In that film, Theron embraced every appalling aspect of her character, the emotionally stunted, flagrantly selfish YA novelist writer Mavis Gray, making her recognizably human as well as hilarious. Young Adult had been something of a meeting of the minds and they had wanted to work together ever since.

Marlo is a very different character than Mavis but no less challenging for an actor. Having Theron in front of the camera makes all the difference, says Reitman. "When I watch Charlize act, I feel like the movie is coming to life. You know, that's not an easy task; Diablo Cody does not write easy roles. The dialogue is nuanced and tricky and funny and unusual, and the characters are flawed. Charlize has the kind of bravery to take on a role like that and do it unflinchingly, never winking at the audience. She'll be as unlikeable as she needs to be, as unattractive as she needs to be. The goal is to be real and she'll do whatever it takes to get there. That's true of the heartbreaking moments and it's true of the humorous moments."

Cody notes that Theron's comedic sensibility is well-suited to her character, who is quick with a deadpan wisecrack and excels at creative profanity. Marlo also delights in teasing her daughter with morbid jokes. "It's so fun to write comedy for Charlize," Cody remarks. "She's a darkly funny person and she can really deliver that kind of material."

Theron was ready to commit to Tully as soon she learned about its existence. As she tells the story: "I ran into Jason somewhere and he said, 'I've got our next project.' I was like, 'Cool! When? Where do I sign up?' After Young Adult, we had a mutual desire to work together again. I have come to trust Jason and his taste so much. He knows me so well and knows the kind material that I find challenging and would like to explore. So I knew this was going to be very special."

Just how special became clear when Theron read Tully. It was both an exceptional example of craft and a story that resonated powerfully for her as a mother of two. "I've been acting for 20 years and when great writing comes around you're super appreciative of it," she remarks. "I think there was something that came out of Diablo when she wrote this. It came from a very real, deep place and I think as a mother I could feel that. That kind of honesty is rare. I had never seen or read anything about parenthood like this script and emotionally it was a very raw experience."

She was struck by the absence of stereotypes in the screenplay, which captured how hard it is to care for a newborn and what it's like to feel at the end of one's rope and wonder if it will ever get better. "The circumstances are different for everyone but the struggle of being a new parent is real," Theron reflects. "It's exhausting and nothing can prepare you for it. You can't know until you're actually in it. It can sometimes feel like you are in a dark tunnel and there really is no light at the end of it. The movie is very honest about the things you go through as a new parent but don't necessarily feel comfortable talking about. I appreciated that. I really connected to Marlo and fell in love with her."

In the last days of her pregnancy, Marlo is as uncomfortable in her mind as she is in her body, if not more so. "Marlo's very conflicted about the birth of this child," Theron observes. "The circumstances of her life are not necessarily in the right place for three children. She finds herself doubting the arrival of this third child and I think she has a real fear of knowing that she feels that way. And she's someone who loves her children immensely, who loves her husband immensely. She's just not that in love with her life at the moment and the movie reveals that slowly."

Marlo has been unable to express that malaise to anyone, perhaps not even to herself. That begins to change with the arrival of Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis. "Tully comes in at a breaking point in Marlo's life and effortlessly takes a huge weight off of her shoulders," Davis remarks. "Tully allows Marlo to have faith in another person's ability to help. They start staying up together at night and getting to know each other. Tully is a confidante and a friend to Marlo in a world where she's become identified with one particular role, as a mother. All of the demands of being a mother and tending to the different needs of her children have subsumed Marlo's individuality and nobody had noticed how isolated she's become in this role."

Reitman first saw Davis in the 2013 independent feature Breathe In and had been struck by her singular presence and obvious intelligence. "I remember thinking, 'Who is this actress?' There is an energy to Mackenzie, with every little thing she does with her eyes, every little thing she does with her face, or her fingers. Putting her and Charlize together in a room immediately seemed like a great idea. And that proved to be true -- they had amazing chemistry."

Theron was impressed by how Davis approached her role. "Tully is like no other character I have seen in a very long time in a film," she remarks. "Mackenzie is incredible playing this part. She carries this aura of knowledge, yet is comes across very naive. It's such a beautiful contradiction. That helped me play a lot of the reactions that Marlo has towards her. She's a powerful actress to stand opposite and do scenes with. She'll try strange and different things, which it was just so perfect for this character."

Her co-star was just as admiring. "Charlize doesn't have an ego about what she is doing and takes risks," Davis says. "She has such a dedicated work ethic and such a strong sense of what is right for her character. She has a real bird's eye view of the movie and the journey her character is going on. I found her just marvelous."

Davis appreciated how Tully addressed themes of domesticity and gender roles. "I think the film accurately depicts the wealth of invisible labor that's performed by women all the time. Marlo is married to a lovely guy, a good father, but she's performing three, four, five times the labor for their family that he is. Because she does it in the domestic space on maternity leave, her workday never begins or ends; it's just this infinite cycle of tending to others without getting any recognition for it. I think Tully shows how that spiritually depletes a person, but Marlo is also physically drained. Nobody views her labor as strenuous, so she doesn't get the help that she needs until she does."

That lovely guy is Drew, and he is trying to do his best for his family. A recent promotion is a much-needed boost with a new baby, but has resulted in a more demanding workload, long hours and travel. Drew and Marlo love each other, but the demands of day-to-day life absorb a lot of attention. Says Cody, "I have a lot of sympathy for Drew and I think he and Marlo are well-suited to each other. The problem is the circumstances of their life have become so stressful and distracting that they don't know how to connect with each other anymore. Drew is providing for his family. He's working a ton. Videogames are his release at night, which I think we all need. And he is a loving and attentive dad, but I feel like maybe he doesn't fully understand the enormity of what Marlo is going through because there's really nothing that you can compare to the experience of being the mother of an infant."

Reitman had long admired Ron Livingston and invited him to play Drew. "I think Ron Livingston is one of the most undervalued gems of modern acting," Reitman comments. "He's so gifted, so nuanced and so funny, and he brings realism to every scene he's in. He and Charlize had remarkable charisma as two people deep into a marriage with three children."

Livingston was drawn in by Marlo's central dilemma. As he puts it, "What happens when you need help and help isn't there? Just because you become a caretaker of somebody else, that doesn't mean you don't have to take care of yourself. You've got to put your own oxygen mask on first or you're not any good to anybody."

That's the principle behind the night nanny gifted to Marlo by her brother Craig, played by actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass. Reitman had previously worked with Duplass and his brother Jay when he produced their 2011 film Jeff Who Lives at Home, but he had yet to work with Mark as an actor. "I've wanted to direct Mark for a very long time," Reitman affirms. "I think he is as talented as an actor as he is as a storyteller. It's exciting to be behind the camera and see all the subtle things he does not only as an actor, but as a writer in real time. He knows what a scene means at all times."

Craig and Marlo grew up poor and have been wiseasses-in-arms since childhood. He managed to become wealthy and successful and while Marlo lives a more average middle class life. Duplass can understand why Marlo wouldn't be persuaded by his argument in favor of a night nanny. "Craig is the brother that's tough to have because he's done so well," explains Duplass. "He is a little bit of what is commonly known as a 'rich dick,' but also he genuinely cares about Marlo and has genuinely good ideas. I've certainly had my fair share of Craigs in my life who came to me at a point in time when I needed advice. And I wanted to write them off as too rich and too successful to know what they were talking about. But deep down, I knew they were right. Craig knows Marlo needs someone to help her."

That help from Tully makes it possible for Marlo to reconcile her core self with her life as a mother. "Tully gets Marlo to the point where she doesn't feel like she's drowning," says Theron. "All of a sudden, Marlo has this incredible friend, someone who brings her joy and who she can talk to honestly. Their relationship helps Marlo come to terms with where she is in her life. She can stop longing for the past and realize that what she has right now is the greatest gift that anybody's life could be."

The beauty of Marlo's life in the present has everything to do with her family. However overwhelmed and stressed Marlo may be, her children are her world. At eight years old, her daughter Sarah is a rather quiet child with an odd fondness for headbands with ears. When Lia Frankland auditioned for the role, Reitman felt she was exactly what the film needed. "Lia was adorable and precocious and popped right at the audition," he recalls. "This is a film that deals with enough tough stuff that we always want moments of humor. Lia is funny in everything she does and she has some great lines that keep this movie cooking along. "

Asher Miles Fallica makes his feature film debut as Jonah, who has a neurological dysfunction that doctors haven't been able to pinpoint. Jonah is a sweet, smart, loving boy who can go from anxiety to total meltdown in a matter of seconds. Though Fallica was only five years old, Reitman was astounded by his ability to tap into his character's state of mind at any given moment. "Asher has an emotional depth that you don't often see in kids," Reitman observes. "Both his parents are acting teachers and they would talk to him about what was happening emotionally in each scene. And then he would feel it. His scenes with Charlize were incredibly real. It wasn't acting as much as two people who knew how to feel what they were supposed to be feeling."

Theron was happy to be part of a film that presents a portrait of parenthood that is radically different than what has gone before and is all the more relatable for it; a comedy that is as entertaining as it is bracingly candid. "I just love this movie. You don't often come across a story this unique, especially about a subject we see so much in films," she reflects. "We've gotten so used to what movies tell us about parenthood that we think that's the truth. "Tully turns all of that on its head. And because of its sharp wit and empathy, it's very enjoyable to watch these brutally honest truths about motherhood and being a parent."

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