About The Production
Acclaimed screenwriter Brad Ingelsby was inspired to write American Woman
becoming a father. "There's this intense fear that you suddenly get about losing
a child, which I imagine every
parent experiences to some degree," he says. "You find yourself wondering what a
loss like that would do to
you. How would it haunt you? Could you carry on? Those questions sparked the
idea for this film."
Ingelsby initially planned to tell the story through the eyes of a father
whose teenage daughter goes
missing. But during the process of writing the script, he developed second
thoughts about the identity of his
protagonist. "I gave the father a girlfriend who was a free spirit, and she
ended up having so much life in her
that I realized it would be a lot more interesting if she was actually the focus
of the story, not the dad."
As the narrative began to take shape, Ingelsby found himself crafting Deb
Callahan, the film's
unforgettable main character. "I wanted to explore how a woman like Deb would
handle the loss of her
daughter, and how she would navigate her life in the years that follow," he
recalls. "It felt like fertile ground
to chronicle a mother's journey over such a long span of time."
Creating a character whose rich and layered inner life would strike a
profound chord in viewers was
Ingelsby's goal from the start. "Deb's a real wild card who begins the story as
a very immature and
irresponsible person, but who gradually evolves into someone who earns the
audience's respect," the writer
says. "She's a very complex, inconsistent character. And it's her inconsistency
that makes her so recognizably
human. Hopefully, people will leave the theater believing she'll carry on and
have a rewarding life outside of
the story's central tragedy."
Although the plot of American Woman involves a missing teenager, Ingelsby was
in writing a whodunit. Instead, he wanted to grapple with how such a
disappearance would emotionally affect
a parent, the members of her close-knit family, and an entire working-class
Pennsylvania community over the
course of almost a dozen years.
"Experiencing Deb's journey, and exploring how a mother might go through
that, including the
ultimate reveal at the end of the movie, was the thing that really intrigued
me," Ingelsby explains. "American
Woman isn't about a crime. It's about the empowerment of a woman who's suffered
but who has the courage to make a new life for herself and her grandson, and to
find a new way forward."
A Passionate Director
Producer Mike Pruss at Scott Free Productions eventually brought Ingelsby's
finished script to
award-winning filmmaker Jake Scott as a prospective feature for him to direct.
Scott was already a fan of
Ingelsby's writing, but his script for American Woman took things to a new
level. "My response to it was
instantaneous," says Scott. "This was an absolutely brilliant piece of work, and
by the time I got to page 30, I
knew I wanted to direct it."
Scott credits Ingelsby's keen understanding of human interaction and his
ability to create nuanced
characters as two factors that immediately attracted him to the material. "Brad
has an incredible ear and
feeling for family dynamics, and the entire Callahan clan became completely real
to me the first time I read
it," he says. "Their love and grievances, the thoughtful layering of their
relationships, and their capacity to
change, forgive and endure seemed like a necessary story to tell."
The script's inspiring lead character was particularly fascinating to Scott.
"Deb is a survivor, and this
was a story about surviving loss and breaking the cycle of violence in her
life," he says. "American Woman
deals with abuse on many levels. There's the self-abuse of a reckless mother.
The married man that leads her
to believe they have a future together when they don't. Deb's false accusation
of her daughter's boyfriend.
The infidelity and abuse of trust in her marriage. Yet through it all, Deb finds
and deals with the truth on her
While developing the script and living with its characters, Scott found a few
points that he wanted to
drive a bit harder, and others that felt less essential. This meant working
closely with Ingelsby on revisions, a
process the director found extremely rewarding. "My relationship with Brad is
the best I've ever had with a
writer. He's very generous with his ideas, but he always considered my
contributions as well. In the end, he
made all the necessary adjustments, and made them work beautifully."
Ingelsby agrees. "Collaborating on the script with Jake was wonderful because
he's a passionate
director. Early in the process, I realized that he and I shared the exact same
vision for who Deb is and what
the themes of American Woman should be," says the writer. "With that in mind, we
worked extremely hard to
make this little Pennsylvania cul-de-sac feel like a real place, filled with
real families dealing with real issues,
because a film like this succeeds on the authenticity of the onscreen world and
the characters in it."
Scott says American Woman is the type of material he's naturally drawn to.
"My taste in the kinds
of films I like to make varies, but I tend to gravitate towards scripts that are
well told and have a sense of
truth to them, which this one does. You'd be surprised how hard it is to find
that in a piece of writing."
Along with fine-tuning the script together, Scott and Ingelsby worked closely
with the team at Scott
Free Productions during the production. "Producer Mike Pruss and I have been
friends for a decade, and
we've partnered on a few scripts over the years," says Ingelsby. "So it was a
thrill to find myself on the set
with him. This is the first movie where we actually got a chance to do that."
The writer also enjoyed working with Scott Free producers Kevin Walsh and
Ryan Stowell on the
film. "It makes such a huge difference when you're collaborating with people you
actually like and respect.
That's something I always aim for, because life's too short to do otherwise."
For Scott, directing American Woman meant working alongside his legendary
filmmaker father, Sir
Ridley Scott, who founded the production company in 1970 with his brother Tony.
"Having my dad as one
of the producers on this project was great. Obviously, his name makes a huge
difference to the movie's
profile because he's such an amazing artist."
Ingelsby, too, had a history with the celebrated Scott Free founder. "Ridley
actually gave me my start
in this business when he became attached to one of my scripts almost 10 years
ago," says the writer. "If he
hadn't become involved in the script, it never would have been sold."
Jake Scott says his four-time Academy Award
-nominated father was careful not to inundate him
with guidance on the set of American Woman. "By now, I've been directing long
enough that he only
provides support when it's asked for and where it's needed. But before each new
project, he always reminds
me to have fun doing it, and I take that to heart because although it can be
really tough making a film, it's still
just a movie. Where he gets more involved is during post-production - he had a
lot to say when he saw the
Miller Takes the Lead
Deb Callahan appears in every scene of the film and carries the bulk of the
story's emotional weight
on her shoulders, so Scott and Ingelsby knew that casting the right actress to
play her was critical to the
success of American Woman.
"Deb is a very tough role, in part because her story unfolds over a long
period of time," says the
writer. "So there's a visible change in age that you've got to account for,
along with an incredible
transformation in her personality as well. Having to modulate that is
challenging for an actor, especially when
she's on screen the entire time."
Although Scott acknowledges that there were a number of potential choices to
play Deb, he knew
who he wanted to cast from the moment he finished reading the script. "I was set
on Sienna Miller right from
the start," he admits. "She's a chameleon, and since Deb goes through a lot of
changes in American Woman, I
felt she could really bring her to life."
Having seen the films Miller had done in the past, Scott knew she had the
necessary range play the
character. "She could do comedy, but she could also go very deep," he says. "For
example, she's really subtle
in American Sniper and gives an exquisite performance. And she was great in
Foxcatcher as well. Both of those
portrayals were so beautifully heartfelt."
Eager to convince the award-winning actress to accept the role, Scott met
with Miller at a restaurant
to discuss the project, and it quickly became apparent she was the perfect
person to play Deb. "It was one of
those meetings that I wanted to go well, because I really thought she was right
for the part," he explains.
"She'd literally just finished working on Live by Night the day before, so when
she arrived she was
understandably a bit scrambled. By the time she sat down at the table, all I
could see was Deb. She was
dropping things and her hair was all over the place. Honestly, it was very
Like Scott, Miller fell in love with Ingelsby's script from the very first
page. "I'd never read anything
as intricate in terms of character," she says. "Brad did an incredible job of
making almost everyone three
dimensional and I knew from the first moment that it was something I had to be a
Miller describes Deb as a complex person who goes through a profound
transformation over the
course of the film. "Over an eleven-year period, this woman morphs into the
person she was always meant to
become and that arc of transformation was what was most appealing. In some ways,
playing Deb is like
playing Hamlet. She's a character with huge depth and texture. I spent a lot of
time, energy and thought
mapping it out emotionally."
The actress was particularly struck by the story's overarching theme of
familial love. "American
Woman is very much about familial dynamics, and when you scratch the surface of
any family, you'll find
tension and complexity," she says. "One of the things that makes this movie so
incredibly powerful is the
shared history between the characters. And that particular part of the story
resonated deeply with me. All
family relationships deal with conflict and resentment, just as they do with
love and compassion, that's part of
being human, and Brad's writing powerfully captured that range of experience."
Miller says she found herself relating to several aspects of Deb's
personality. "She often sees life
through a humorous lens and is feisty and outspoken. I think I have a little bit
of that in me as well. She's a
little more brittle than I am, and less interested in pleasing people, both of
those qualities can be powerful and
are interesting to explore."
Scott and Miller became fast friends on the set and developed a shorthand
vernacular with one
another that allowed for open and free-flowing communication. "I feel like you
really need that kind of
connection in order to produce honest work," he says. "I'm just grateful for
every day I spent with Sienna,
and I absolutely loved working with her on this."
Miller echoes Scott's sentiments. "Jake is one of the most passionate people
I've come across. These
characters became real people to him, and the story went straight to his heart
and mine as well," she says.
"The first time we met, it was very clear that we approached things in a similar
way. We actually ended up
crying during our first meeting because the story had affected us so deeply. As
a director, he's incredibly
thorough, committed and generous. I couldn't ask for more than I've received
from him bit personally and
creatively while making this film"
A Sisterly Bond
For the role of Kath, Deb's selfless and nurturing older sister, Scott was
once again able to cast his
top choice for the part. "I wrote Christina Hendricks' name down on the very
first draft of the script," he
says. "I'm not kidding. I actually scribbled her name directly next to Kath's,
because I knew that's who should
A longtime fan of the actress' Emmy
-nominated work on "Mad Men," Scott felt Hendricks had the
subtlety and warmth necessary to bring the maternal character to life. "Kath is
the older sister who takes care
of the family with grace and patience," says the director. "Sometimes she has to
be firm, but she always does
it with love. And Christina understood that implicitly. Somehow, she was able to
convey a lot by doing very
little, which is what we needed here. She's remarkable."
Hendricks admits to being pleasantly surprised when she first read the
script. "It wasn't what I
thought it was going to be," she says. "I kept waiting for something really
creepy to happen with the missing
child, but instead it became an exploration of this family, and a character
study about someone pulling their
life back together again, which I really enjoyed."
Unlike Kath, who has a profoundly close relationship with her sister and her
kids, Hendricks doesn't
have a sister or any children in real life. "That meant I had to draw on other
things I know in order to play
her, and loving people intensely is something I can definitely relate to," she
says. "We do share some other
characteristics, however. For one thing, Kath acts as a liaison between her
sister and her mother. She's
basically the glue that holds the family together, and a lot of my friends say
that I'm the glue in our group. So,
that came very naturally to me."
Hendricks initially discussed the project with Scott on Skype, and the two
came to an agreement
shortly thereafter. "It was one of those calls where you get off and you think
to yourself, well that was
amazing!" she recalls. "After that, we had several more conversations where we
broke down my character and
talked about her relationships and history. Those discussions got me very
excited. It was clear that Jake had
thought through every single detail of the film. Plus, he knew exactly how to
speak to actors, which is also
Although Hendricks and Miller hadn't met prior to their work on American
Woman, the two
immediately hit it off and came to admire each other's talent. "I love Sienna so
much," says Hendricks. "She
has a sense of openness and warmth about her. The first day on a film set can
feel like the first day of school,
where you don't know what anyone is going to be like. But the second I met
Sienna, I knew that we'd
probably be friends forever."
Miller is equally effusive about her co-star. "Christina is an incredibly
honest actress. There's just
never a false moment with her. Every time I glance at her, it's grounding. She
exudes a feeling of serenity, and
I'm sure half of that is character work. But beyond that, as a woman, she's
Miller was just as excited to work with her longtime idol, Amy Madigan. "I've
been obsessed with
Amy my entire life, so the fact that I'm in a movie with her is just
unbelievable to me. She's so alive and vivid
as a person and an actor and she brought all of that strength and life force to
this role" she says.
An Inspiring Presence
To play Peggy, Deb and Kath's long-suffering mother, the filmmakers tapped
Madigan. Like her co-stars, Madigan felt an instant affinity for Peggy's
quiet strength and resilience in the face
of unimaginable tragedy.
"Peggy's a great character," Madigan says. "She's a widow, and she's very
family-oriented. Very IrishCatholic. She can be a little too rigid and
judgmental, but she's also extremely loyal and loves her daughters. If
it wasn't for them, she'd probably be lost."
The actress was particularly impressed with the warts-and-all honesty she
found in Ingelsby's script.
"The family dynamic felt very real," she says. "These characters don't live a
fairytale life, and the film doesn't
wrap everything up with a little bow at the end. That's what attracted me to the
script. Along with the chance
to share scenes with two really kickass women, of course. When I learned that
Sienna and Christina were
going to be in the film, American Woman became a very exciting project to me."
Miller was equally excited to work with her longtime idol. "I've been
obsessed with Amy my entire
life, so the fact that I'm in a movie with her is just unbelievable to me. She's
so alive and vivid as a person,
and she brings a lot of strength to this role," she says.
Scott, too, found Madigan to be an inspiring presence on the set. "Amy has
got the character of
Peggy down pat," he says. "But just as importantly, her vast experience and
knowledge about the craft of
filmmaking makes me just want to sit down, listen and learn from her."
The feeling was mutual, according to Madigan. "Jake was great," she says.
"He's extremely specific
and incisive, which I really appreciate as an actor. Before joining the cast of
American Woman, I saw his film
Welcome to the Rileys, and was really impressed with it. He's clearly drawn to
telling stories about very imperfect
people who are trying to do the best they can."
Rounding out the ensemble cast are Will Sasso as Kath's gruff yet lovable
husband Terry, and Aaron
Paul as Chris, Terry's co-worker, whom Deb marries after a whirlwind two-month
courtship. In a film
centered around a trio of remarkable female characters, Sasso and Paul provide
substantive support playing
two men with varying degrees of loyalty to their spouses.
Best known for his hilarious comic roles in films like The Three Stooges and
television shows like
"MADtv," Sasso found himself haunted by Ingelsby's dramatic script. "I was blown
away by it," he says. "It's
a real roller coaster, filled with characters that draw you in and make you want
to give everyone a hug. My
reaction was deep and visceral. Nothing is sugar-coated here, and nothing is
handled with kid gloves. This
film has a genuine respect for its subject."
Sasso describes his character as a dependable working-class guy who loves his
wife and kids, and is
doing the best he can in life. "I was fortunate enough to know a few people like
Terry when I was growing
up. He's the kind of man where what you see is what you get."
Playing Kath's devoted husband was a treat for the actor, especially since he
had worked together
with Hendricks on the film Life as We Know It and the mockumentary series
"Another Period." "I've always
found her to be unbelievably sweet and friendly and affable. She's the perfect
choice to play Kath, because
she totally sinks her teeth into the role. I literally can't imagine anyone else
Scott felt Sasso's comedy background made him an especially good fit to play
Terry. "I always
believed that someone with a comic ability needed to play him, because he's
practically the only reliable man
in the whole story," he says. "And as soon as I saw Will read during his
audition, I knew he was the right
choice. Like Terry, Will's strong as a rock, and he keeps his feelings in check
until he's ready to express
Finding the right actor to play Chris was a bit trickier, according to the
director. "Chris is a difficult
character to play, because he's a good person who's not entirely likeable. Of
course, he's not an arch-villain
either. He's much more real than that. He's a guy who screws up and makes some
painful mistakes. Luckily,
Aaron was willing to go deep and step outside his comfort zones. It was quite
interesting to watch him
Paul's initial reaction to Ingelsby's script was as visceral as Sasso's. "It
ripped my heart right out of
my chest," he says. "It's a heartbreakingly honest story told in such a
beautiful way. I actually first read it on
my phone, and I just couldn't put it down. I finished it in one sitting. Brad is
a genius, and I'll read everything
he ever writes from this point on. In person, he's the sweetest guy, but he
writes the heaviest and most
truthful stories. And those are the kinds of films that I love to watch and be a
Life on Location
American Woman was shot on location in a working-class neighborhood of
Boston. Rather than recreate the characters' homes on a soundstage in
California, Scott and his production team felt that shooting in
real homes would provide an invaluable degree of verisimilitude to the film.
"Authenticity is paramount in telling a story like this, so we shot primarily
in real locations, often
with non-actors walking around in them," says Scott. "All the furnishings were
bought at local stores. These
weren't props from Hollywood, and they weren't built by the art department.
Everything, including the
fabrics and carpets, came from local suppliers."
Award-winning production designer Happy Massee, who had collaborated with
Scott on his debut
feature Welcome to the Rileys, found the experience of shooting on location both
challenging and deeply
rewarding. "The most obvious benefit is that you have an existing room to work
with, so your canvas is
already pre-determined for the most part," Massee says. "In American Woman, the
two main locations we had
to deal with were Deb's house and her sister's house across the street. And
since the geography of those two
homes had to sync up correctly, finding the right places was very important."
It also turned out to be surprisingly difficult. "I fought tooth and nail to
stay away from the house
that we ultimately chose for Deb's home because of the rough condition it was in
when we first arrived," he
says. "The problem was that you just couldn't breathe in it. The guy who lived
there had dogs and cats, and
he probably hadn't cleaned the place in about 10 years. So we had to empty it
out and bring in cleaners. Then
a hazmat team arrived and disinfected the entire house. But by the time we
finished, the place looked
In some ways, the location's initially squalid condition was exactly what the
production designer was
looking for. "Deb's home is based on where her character is emotionally at the
start of the film. That's one of
the reasons we chose a house that looked like it hadn't been cared for in quite
a while," he explains.
The script for American Woman begins by establishing that Deb's house is a
to her by her mother. "So she moved in, had a daughter, and really didn't do
anything to it for years," Massee
says. "But as the story progresses, and Deb gets married and begins raising her
grandson, the house slowly
transforms into a responsible, cleaned-up home. Its change in appearance
reflects Deb's gradual change in
Ingelsby believes the location shoot helped the cast see the story in a whole
new light. "In this case, I
think it was extremely important because it gave the actors a better sense of
the streets, the homes, the
driveways, and the yards that these characters have been living in for years. I
really feel as though it influenced
their performances a bit."
For her part, Miller found the experience enormously helpful, though not
without its difficulties.
"When you're shooting in a real location and not on a soundstage, you gain a
sense of reality. It makes
everything feel authentic, which inevitably makes it easier to connect with the
story," she says. "Of course,
there are also some cons, logistically speaking. shooting in Deb's cramped
bedroom on the first day was
extremely intense. Although we acclimated to the space, there was an entire crew
with camera equipment in
one tiny room, all of us crammed in like sardines. Somehow we got used to it."
The location shoot had a profound effect on Hendricks' performance in
particular. "The home that I
mostly shot in reminded me very much of my grandmother's house, and a lot of the
houses of people I grew
up with," the actress explains. "So I automatically felt like I knew where
everything was as soon as I walked
in, which made it quite easy for me to feel like I belonged there."
Shooting and Cutting
To capture the right look for American Woman, Scott hired Academy
cinematographer John Mathieson. "John is an old friend," the director says. "We
made many music videos
together in the '90s, and he shot my first feature film, Plunkett & Macleane.
There's a lot of trust and
understanding that comes from our friendship, and his knowledge and experience
were invaluable on this
Although the story of American Woman is an intimate one, Scott and Mathieson
ambitions for the visuals. "We wanted to suggest a bigger picture, thematically
speaking, so we approached
this domestic drama with a sense of scale, which is something you don't normally
see in a movie like this,"
Scott says. "To accomplish that, John suggested shooting with anamorphic lenses,
which gives you a wider
frame, so that you can hold on two people and create depth between them. It
turned out to be a great
decision, and was especially helpful in the small rooms we were shooting in."
Expressive lighting was another element that Scott and Mathieson utilized to
help tell the story. "We
incorporated subtle tones and degrees in the lighting to create a portrait of
the characters and the worlds they
live in," the director explains. "For instance, Deb doesn't really turn on her
lights so her place is often lit by
the street lights outside at night, or by natural light during the day. On the
other hand, Kath's house, it's quite
bright and airy. It's easier on the eyes, so to speak."
The job of shaping that footage into a cohesive and satisfying whole fell on
the capable shoulders of
editor Joi McMillon, who earned an Academy Award nomination for her work on
Moonlight. After seeing her
work on the Best Picture winner, Scott knew he wanted to collaborate with her at
some point, and was
ecstatic when she agreed to join him on American Woman.
"What's fascinating about her method of editing is that she connects to the
overall feeling of the
material," says the director. "That's how she approached this project, and I
think it's a very important way to
work. I learned so much from her on this movie."
The editing process was especially daunting because some scenes involve as
many as six characters all
speaking - and moving - at once. "We've got characters simultaneously arguing,
crossing through rooms,
making breakfast, et cetera. Deb, for instance, is very active, and we often
found ourselves having to move
with her while filming. The challenge is that we didn't want to hinder Sienna by
asking her to hit a mark,
which was a difficult thing to track photographically and editorially. You have
to be incredibly rigorous and
mathematical about the way that you shoot and cut it."
McMillon says she actually began planning her editing strategy from the
moment she first read the
script. "As an editor, I found myself noticing all of the special moments in
Brad's screenplay, so I made
mental notes to talk to Jake about some of those important scenes in the story.
They were so vividly written, I
could almost see them happening visually on the page."
Unlike other films she's worked on in the past, McMillon spent a great deal
of time on the set of
American Woman during production, which proved to be helpful in the long run.
"Being there when they
were shooting was very beneficial because it allowed me and Jake to better
discuss pacing issues and specific
beats when we were together in the cutting room later on."
Describing herself as a hopeless romantic at heart, McMillon singles out one
particular scene as her
favorite in the film. "It's the moment when Deb is feeling nervous about her
first intimate moments with
Chris," the editor says. "Sienna just does an amazing job of capturing that
emotion. As an audience member,
you feel all of her trepidation and longing. It's such an innocent moment in a
movie with its fair share of
Hope and Empowerment
Reflecting on the journey to bring American Woman to the screen, Ingelsby
can't help but marvel
at Scott's diligence and care as a director. "Honestly, the finished film looks
exactly the way I pictured it in my
mind when I was writing the script," he says. "Trust me, it doesn't always
happen that way. On this film, I
looked around at the locations, the homes, the kitchens, the costumes, and it's
all precisely how I imagined it,
which is a testament to Jake and his crew and everyone who supported him."
Despite the specificity of the film's title, the writer believes American
Woman is a story of
empowerment that viewers of all genders and nationalities will relate to. "I
like to think that people will see
something of their own lives in the story of Deb and her family," says the
screenwriter. "It's about people
who continue to love one another despite the issues, arguments and frustrations
that all of us experience in
life. It's a film about perseverance, and finding a way to go on when you don't
think you'll be able to."
Paul is confident the film will provide a cathartic experience for viewers.
"When people walk away
from this movie, they're going to feel some serious emotions," he says. "It
really stays with you. When I first
read the script, it stuck with me for so many days that I actually had to sit
back down and read it again. I just
couldn't stop thinking about it. It's like a really great book in that way."
Chronicling 11 years of love, laughter and tears within an ordinary
Pennsylvanian family, American
Woman doesn't shy away from depicting the toll that the loss of her daughter
takes on its main character.
But director Scott doesn't see Deb's story as a cautionary tale. Quite the
opposite, in fact. "I want American
Woman to give people a feeling of hope, because regardless of what befalls you,
no matter how unexpected or
uncontrollable, we all have it within ourselves to survive and move on with our
lives. I think each of us could
use a reminder of that."
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