Great acting breathes life into great characters. In THE WIFE, the story of a
marriage affords great actors the chance to reflect all the knots and nuances of
funny, perplexing, deeply compromised, but deeply compelling characters.
"This film is like music; two instruments playing a duet," says Director Bjorn
Close and Jonathan Pryce are like two great soloists playing together, uniting
the story through
their art. My ambition as a director is to let the actors be free, to find the
music of the script, to
let it swing, so the audience will share that swing during the golden moments of
Adapted by screenwriter Jane Anderson (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio; Olive
from Meg Wolitzer's witty and acclaimed novel of the same name, THE WIFE
years of give and take (and take and give some more) between literary lion Joe
played by Jonathan Pryce, and the person who knows him best, supports him
resents him deeply, and possibly loves him anyway: his wife Joan, played by
Through different times and different mores-from the 1950s and '60s of the
youth, to the 1990s of their mature relationship and its high-profile crisis
moment at the Nobel
Prize award ceremony, and up to our current-day perspective-we observe two
ambitious lifelong partners reckoning with power dynamics between men and women
continue to bedevil us today. It's a timeless but also very timely subject.
"When I write a film," says Jane Anderson, "I always ask myself, what is the
audience going to
talk about when the lights come up and they walk out together? And I think what
to talk about is, what are the compromises that we make in a marriage and a
Are there secrets that we keep as a couple that are legitimate? As a husband,
how do you
respect and love your wife? Could we possibly sustain the kind of bargain that
Joe and Joan
Castleman sustained for forty years?"
Whatever our contemporary take may be on the sexual politics at work in the
marriage, it's all about the grey areas. "This isn't an easy black-and-white
story," says Glenn
Close. "Ultimately, it's about power, the power that Joan gives up and finally
reclaims. I think
it's hard for us to imagine what it was like to be in that world where women
to achieve high things the way men were." Joan may be part of the generation of
and grandmothers, but her struggles with creativity, motherhood, and fulfillment
clearly to us today. "She has the soul of an artist," says Close, "the
curiosity, the focus, the
wildly fertile imagination. But her lack of confidence was part of the cultural
climate. In working
out Joan's emotional journey with Jane and Bjorn, we were very, very clear that
Joan is not a
passive victim and doesn't see herself as one. It's much more complicated and
As novelist Meg Wolitzer, the Castlemans' original creator, says, "I suspect
that all writers hope
(at least secretly) for a little bit of timelessness. That said, I did publish
the novel in 2003, and
the film is coming out at an unusual and highly charged moment, one in which we
facing some of the issues between men and women that have been around forever.
feels particularly pointed and relevant right now."
Jane Anderson agrees. "Oh yes, it's incredibly timely. Meg's novel tells a story
that is so
subversive about what it means to be a female writer. I was thrilled that she
was willing to
entrust me with her wonderful book, but when I first wrote the screen adaptation
ago, no male star wanted to be in a film called THE WIFE instead of THE HUSBAND.
in Hollywood has changed since then. Our industry is now willing to embrace
films that are
driven by a female protagonist; a brilliant actress such as Glenn can now drive
the box office. I
always saw Joe as a marvelous character-a kick for any great actor to play.
does a masterful job of navigating Joe's character. He's one of the greats. And
delight in sharing the screen with great actresses, yes?"
For Anderson, the casting of Glenn Close was a huge coup for the production and
added a sense
of grace and levity to the portrayal of a fascinating woman. "The character of
Joan Castleman is
a deeply contained, elegant and shy woman who has taken the back seat to her
husband," she says. "Who better to play that kind of role and to give it all the
texture and all
the subtext that you need than someone like Glenn Close, who is just very
naturally an elegant,
wickedly smart actress?"
Bringing the film adaptation to fruition took dedication and patience on the
a determined production team. Producer Rosalie Swedlin of Anonymous Content
project nearly ten years in the making: "I knew Jane had written an adaptation
WIFE for another production company, where it had stalled for years. When I read
thought-this is too good not to be made. How am I going to do this?"
It took a leap of faith. Swedlin recalls, "As a producer, sometimes you have to
take a risk, even
when you're not certain you can fully accomplish something. In this case, we
we'd have to buy out the other production company that had originally
work; we went very far down the road before we actually owned the underlying
Reports Anderson, "Rosalie is the reason this film got made. She took an
orphaned script that
for years no one wanted to touch and she never, ever gave up on it."
While Swedlin worked with Anderson on honing the script and began to piece
production puzzle, "It suddenly struck me that because the film was largely set
where the Nobel Prize is awarded, maybe I could partner with a Scandinavian
Not long after, producer Meta Louise Foldager Sorensen of Meta Film boarded the
after reading and loving the script. "This was perfect for a Scandinavian
it's set in Stockholm" (though most of the film, apart from Stockholm exteriors,
was shot in
Glasgow, Scotland). On the long road to a finished film, other production and
companies also shouldered some of the heavy lifting, including sales reps
who drummed up interest on the festival circuit; Silver Reel's Claudia
Bluemhuber, who carried
off eleventh-hour financial packaging magic; and Piers Tempest of Tempo
became the day-by-day on-set producer.
Early on, Glenn Close had committed enthusiastically to the production. With
producer Sorensen nailed down another key contributor: "I brought on board a
director, Bjorn Runge," whose Swedish films, including DAYBREAK and MOUTH TO
have won international acclaim and who has an equally distinguished career in
theater. "He's a
great director, an actor's director. I thought he had the right sensitivity for
"One would think that you would need a female director to bring out all of the
Anderson. "Bjorn Runge is the most feminist of male directors! We have had a
collaboration. For three years, we exchanged thoughts on the script through
Facetime chats-me in sun-blanched L.A. and him in wintery, twilit Sweden. His
love for this
project has always buoyed me."
For Runge, one of the big draws of the story was the intense relationships among
characters. "I could see the chamber drama within the story, the small private
about a mother and a father and a son within the broader scale. How do you make
drama cinematic? Casting is the key. Finding actors who have an "emotional
ticket" to the
universe of the script, and then trusting the actors' instincts. Glenn Close and
were not only perfect in their roles-they were a good match for each other.
need support from each other. As a director with such great actors to work with,
it's my job to
take care of their "acting-energy" in the best way, to create an atmosphere
where they are free
to be free."
Close, the six-time Academy Award-nominated actress who has had a stellar career
four decades, says of Runge: "I love the way he works. I think it's a kind of
perfect melding of
his theater and film knowledge. He has a wonderful understanding of the acting
gives you time, especially if it's a difficult scene. The way he sets up shots,
and the wonderful
way he makes sure there's lots of coverage for editing. I feel like we've almost
been a little
theater company on this movie."
For Pryce, the shoot supported great work from all the actors. "Glenn was in
first so I joined
knowing I'd be working with her. I've always liked her as an actor; we're both
the same age and
we can both draw on very similar life experiences, long relationships, and
there's not a lot that
has to be said between us. We both understand the needs of the characters and
the film, and
it's really good to work with someone who is that dedicated and intense about
Using the example of the climactic argument between Joan and Joe in their
room, Pryce describes the alchemy among actors, script, director, and camera:
"It's an intimate
scene in a closed space, but it doesn't feel static because the hand-held camera
moving. The camera was the third actor in the scene. Apart from a little general
was nothing staged about our performances; it was exciting because you just did
it, and you
knew the cameraman would find you. You didn't accommodate the camera. I think I
surprised Glenn with my anger in that scene. As Joe, I was very frustrated by
her attack, and she
wasn't expecting that degree of rage. It was a pivotal moment-his realization
absolutely did need her. He did love her. He couldn't do without her."
"One of my favorite moments," recalls Close, "was when Joan let him have it, and
she then she
says, "I just want to get out of this dress." And he starts helping her unzip
her dress. That says
everything. Little tiny observations-I love that."
"We didn't really rehearse the emotional life of that scene until we did it, so
it was very fresh,"
says Pryce. "Bjorn, like all the best directors, lets you do what you want to
do. And then he
adjusts it. It's very collaborative. He doesn't impose anything on you. And when
he has an idea,
he allows you to think that you possibly had it first."
As Close explains: "Bjorn knows how to use a close up. If you've got actors who
can fill a close
up, it's gold, especially in a complex movie like this. Close ups are there to
keep an audience
emotionally engaged because they can look into someone's eyes, feel what they
are feeling and
what they are or are not saying. If you cut in or out at the wrong time, a close
worthless. It's a fine dance, a very sensitive, intuitive dance, that Bjorn
respects actors and it was thrilling to work with him. Very fulfilling."
Runge has a strong precedent from fellow Swedes for lingering on powerful close
were inspired by Ingmar Bergman's and his photographer Sven Nykvist's way of
close-ups: not just to jump in and out, but to dare to be in the close-up."
Runge has worked with cinematographer Ulf Brantas for over thirty years. "We
workflow we've developed that helps create a mood of trust and confidence. I am
more interested in simplicity, in the acting, the shoot, the editing room. I've
worked with my
editor, Lena Runge" (who happens to be his wife) "for nearly thirty years as
developed an editing method that takes care of the storytelling without losing
sincerity of the scene."
The week prior to filming in Glasgow, in the same hotel where the film's
onscreen drama plays
out, Runge holed up with his principal actors, his DP Ulf Brantas, and Jane
Anderson to walk and
talk through the settings and dialogue. "I was more in the background," relates
"listening to the readings and trying to understand how the camera could capture
The script is our map, our gravity. It was an inspiring and exciting week for us
That week was crucial. As Anderson recalls, "There's no such thing as a final
draft of a script
until the final edit is locked and delivered. I love working with actors, and I
was so grateful that
Bjorn invited me to be there for the rehearsals so we could all work through the
I did a lot of rewriting during those ten days and it was a real adrenaline
rush. It was a thrill to
work with Glenn. She's fierce in the rehearsal room and has exquisite instincts.
Every time I
work with actors of her and Jonathan's caliber, it makes me a better writer."
For Close, the process was invaluable. "I had to be able to believe in Joan's
and that was literally sitting down and page by page saying, "I get this, I
don't get this. I need
that. Don't need that." I really poured a lot of thought into it, and still
there are scenes that I
found difficult. It was a truthful search and journey to make her believable to
myself. Because if
I could believe her then the audience would believe her. Not all characters
elicit that kind of
deep and probing analysis before you begin."
Close also discussed her character's trajectory with the actor who played Joan
as a young
woman in the 1950s and 60s, Annie Starke, who pairs with Harry Lloyd as young
the film is set in two different time periods, the production needed two strong
successfully realize the hopes, ambitions and dynamics of the younger Castlemans'
helping the audience come to know them and their story and setting the
foundation for the
revelations that follow.
As Close recalls, "I said to Annie, "You're the one who lays down the character.
I follow what
you've established." We talked through Joan's shyness and insecurities, her
feeling that she'd
have no life without him because she didn't think she was worthy."
"We really put Joan through a microscope," says Starke, who is the daughter of
"We're both sticklers for detail and character development and, also, it helps
other quite well so we could nail each other's mannerisms and ways of speaking.
certainly very proud of the character that resulted from our efforts."
Harry Lloyd embraced the opportunity to play a younger Joe with all his nuances.
something at the beginning which was really interesting: "In a way the older Joe
is more of a
baby than the younger Joe.""
Pryce concurs. "Joe's anger and narcissism and infidelities are driven by
insecurity and feeling emasculated. Harry understood that and brought the roots
of that to the
Two more vivid characters play a part in the Castlemans' story: their resentful
adult son, David,
played by Max Irons, and Nathaniel Bone, played by Christian Slater, the
who hopes to score a coup with a tell-all book about the great Joseph Castleman.
"Joe is a little bit afraid for his son, David," explains Runge. "It was
important to find someone,
an actor, with that combination of different emotions. The poetic side and the
brutal side. And
for me Max Irons is right there."
Irons, for his part, enjoyed a strong collaborative relationship with the
director. "He's so
precise. He's so relaxed. He talks in a language that we all understand. We
finished early every
day, which is unheard of! He's economical with the way he shoots and the way he
he's got so much heart. Such a good emotional intelligence, which is precisely
what you need
for a film like this."
Christian Slater brings a wry mix of scheming calculation and desperation to his
reporter, matching wits with Close's savvy, self-possessed Joan in one of THE
"We play sort of an interesting chess game, metaphorically, a very cat and mouse
situation between the two of us," says Slater. "I'm trying to get her to tell me
the truth and she
keeps me at bay. It's definitely a nice push and pull sort of relationship."
Slater also brought some extra levity to the shoot by hosting an American-style
dinner in Glasgow, a city universally enjoyed and acclaimed by THE WIFE cast and
crew. "It's the
fourth film we have done in Glasgow," says producer Claudia Bluemhuber. "Our
there is really, really good. The crews, the support we get, we really love it
"When one is shooting these movies, you look for where can yield the best
adds producer Piers Tempest, "and actually Glasgow has it all. It has two
massive venues which
double for the Nobel Prize ceremony venues, and it's got a Concorde, which is
the Concorde was iconic within that mid-90s time period."
According to production designer Mark Leese, shooting time periods authentically
vital element of the production. The story unfolds in various timelines, often
in flashback, and
in three different locales, making for a busy production. "That's been an
exciting challenge to
be honest. We've had to recreate New York in the 1950s, Connecticut in the 1990s
and Stockholm in the 1990s.
"I think one of the challenges was trying to recreate the Nobel ceremonies and
are massive and expensive in the real world, with a budget and with time
constraints. How do
we recreate that? I think we've done really well, but it was a challenge to get
our teeth into.
It's about authenticity. You have a puzzle to solve: how much are you influenced
by reality and
the recreation of a period, and how much can you explore it, and then make it
your own. At
times we've tried to absolutely replicate certain things, and other times we've
just taken it as a
guide, then we've gone off and done what we want."
So much talent marshalled to tell a story about so much talent has yielded a
film to admire,
according to the Castlemans' creator, Meg Wolitzer: "I'm very excited for people
to see this
film. Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce do such a superb job at not only conveying
the dance of
marriage, the compromises made, the agonies lived through, and the familiarity
of two people
who have known each other intimately for a very long time, but they also address
fundamental, pressing questions about men, women and power."
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