About The Production
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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