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Maria Semple's comedy adventure novel Where'd You Go, Bernadette debuted in 2012 and soon after climbed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, where it stayed for over a year. Touching, heartwarming, hilarious and heart-racing, the world of the prickly and uniquely captivating creature that is Bernadette Fox was ripe for a big screen adaptation when Annapurna Pictures and Color Force acquired it in 2013.

A few years later, Richard Linklater and his team were brought on. The Oscar-nominated Director was immediately intrigued. "It's a really complex portrait of a middle-aged woman who is kind of a genius but who isn't practicing her art," he says. "What that adds up to is kind of funny and a little scary. For anyone. It's also a wonderfully complex portrait of a long-term relationship. Parenting, co-parenting, the ups and downs of that."

"We were doing another film for Annapurna that we had been working on for about eight years called Everybody Wants Some!! and we were given this project to read," says Producer Ginger Sledge, who has worked with Linklater on a number of films over the course of the past twenty years. "Everybody has such a funny, different perspective on it. I think it's what's so great about the film."

"It's such rich material," says Linklater. "Such utterly complex and beautiful characters. Bernadette's a fascinating person. A strong female obviously, but I think she speaks for so many people. I was most drawn to the notion of an artist or a creative person who for a variety of reasons isn't creating."

As a creator himself, Linklater could relate to the central, universal themes of the novel. "It hits on that kind of stagnant position in life that's one of my biggest nightmares," Linklater says. "Have you ever heard that statement: The most dangerous thing in the world is an artist out of work? There's a good history of that. It's a really sad place to be."

Linklater also felt a personal connection to the character of Bernadette. "I think my mom is kind of a Bernadette," he says, laughing. "She would leave the family for days at a time. Brilliant, but erratic a little bit. I felt I knew the character."

Adding to the vibrancy of Bernadette's world was Blanchett herself, who knew what she was signing up for when she took the title role. "The novel was absolutely thrilling, hilarious to read, but a bugger to adapt," she says, laughing. "Structurally, it's really difficult to translate to the screen. But I think at the heart it's very much the same."

"Rick really loves what an actor can bring to something," Blanchett continues. "All of his films are about the combustible things that happen between people in life, and he has a very relaxed sense way of working, but he's absolutely meticulous about the world in which he places characters, and he just wants to be able to bring them to life - and Maria Semple has written some really extraordinary characters."


Bringing any book to the big screen is a process, but Where'd You Go, Bernadette presented a unique set of challenges. An epistolary novel, the story unfolds over the course of a series of correspondences, through which Bee tracks down her mother's whereabouts. Linklater knew he had a puzzle on his hands. "I think the obvious first question is: How the hell do you adapt a bunch of letters and emails as source material?" he asks. "This was certainly one of the more challenging adaptations imaginable. You have to make some pretty big choices. The idea was to not be too intimidated by that, and really just grab those characters and the fundamental story."

To take literal letters off a page and craft a cohesive visual interpretation, Linklater enlisted co-writers Holly Gent and Vince Palmo - he had directed their adaptation of Me and Orson Welles and worked with them on other screenplays. "They're just smart, natural collaborators. We kind of jumped in there," says Linklater. "And it was just taking a few big leaps with the notion of what to portray in the real world. To take something that's very non-linear and all over the place in its own storytelling and adapt it into something that resembles a three act structure, and yet use what you consider the best material. That was a big challenge, but a very fun one."

Gent adds, "We relied on the progression of Bernadette's inner journey, and let go of the details of the chronology of the novel. From our very first conversation about it, we talked about how this was a story about a human's need to create in her own way, and not follow the prescribed path or definitions of society. Basically, Bernadette's voice and her self-awareness are really the heart of this - full of humor and brains and anger and empathy. That's what makes the story sing, and we worked toward that."

Palmo was an assistant director on Dazed and Confused and Gent was the production coordinator, so the trio has worked together, in one capacity or another, for twenty-five years. "Vince is the first assistant director, who's running the set as a first AD does and he's a co-screenwriter," says Linklater.

"You almost never see those go together, particularly on the same film. But for him, that's like coproducing the movie. And Holly is there, too, with a lot of input."

Linklater continues, "As parents and artists, we all had our own angles on Bernadette and these characters. We spent a lot of time sitting around, just talking and really thinking through every element, the same way I do with the actors. I've done other kind of movies where that's less necessary, but this one had many moving parts, so many perspectives, so much to kinda corral into one story. But it was really just an adaptation from Maria's brilliant book to what's more or less traditional filmmaking storytelling."


Linklater is known for his spot-on casting and talent discovery. Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey were relative unknowns when Dazed and Confused hit theaters, and Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane was not only inspired casting, he spent eleven years being filmed. So, when Annapurna's Megan Ellison gave Linklater a copy of Where'd You Go, Bernadette to read, he was in a different situation. "Cate had read the book before we received it from Annapurna," says Sledge. "Early on she really wanted to play this character."

And obviously it worked out. Says Semple, "It was so fantastic to hear that Cate Blanchett was bringing Bernadette to life. The thing that got me most excited was all the intelligence that I knew she would bring to the role. And that you could tell there was just something wicked about her in the best possible way."

Blanchett had fallen in love with this complex, fierce, intelligent character early on.

"It's a very funny and painful look at a woman who is in a moment of chaos, approaching an enormous change in her life," says Blanchett. "All of the garbage that comes up from who you thought you'd be, having to face who you are, to move onto who you might possibly become. And so we find Bernadette and her family at that moment of crisis. I think you have to go through a moment of chaos, because you can't escape who you thought you'd be, and you have to confront who you actually are before you can move on - and that often happens in mid-life. And Maria Semple, and I think Rick in his screenplay, have written something that is hilarious in its accuracy, but also quite painful and often embarrassing."

There was considerable appeal to playing a character whose very human foibles were easily accessible. "The thing I perhaps identified most strongly with is that it's impossible to escape yourself," says Blanchett. "And that particularly as one gets older, you really do have to confront the past and take responsibility for yourself in order to move forward."

Much like Linklater (and any artist to walk the planet), Blanchett found that Bernadette's creative block resonated with her quite deeply. "Every day!" she admits, laughing. "Where do I begin? How long have you got?"

"Of course I identify with Bernadette," she continues. "The hard thing as an actor is that you have to develop a relatively thick skin, because your failures are very public, but you also don't want to create an artifice between you and the camera or you and the audience or between you and the other people that you're working with. You have to be open all the time. And if you've had one or two what are perceived to be successes, you feel like there's expectation around what you do. I think that's something that I can relate to in Bernadette, having won a MacArthur Genius Grant and having built two exceptional, unique buildings, there's a growing sense of expectation in what she's going to do next, and what she does next is nothing. So it's easier to disappear, but very hard to re-emerge."


While Where'd You Go, Bernadette is very much about one woman's struggle as an individual and the interior and exterior journeys she takes to find herself, it's also the story of a family and the relationship between a fiercely close mother and daughter. Bee is the daughter Bernadette and her husband Elgie hoped and prayed for. Bernadette's twin soul in a thirteen-year-old body.

"Bee is sort of a chip off the old block in terms of Bernadette," says Blanchett. "She speaks her mind, she's highly intelligent, she thinks outside the box, and I think she closely identifies with her mother's position. In a way, Bernadette's relying on Bee as being her friend rather than being her daughter, and part of the journey through the film is for Bernadette to accept that her daughter needs to have her own experiences and not just become the receptacle of all Bernadette's needs."

So it goes without saying that the actress cast as Bee had to be perfect. The character does much of the heavy emotional lifting and has to be able to go toe to toe with Blanchett as well as heavy hitters like Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig. Enter newcomer, thirteen-year-old Emma Nelson. After auditioning the year before - with a Beatles monologue, a favorite she shares with Linklater - but considered too young, she was called up to the majors when Blanchett's schedule freed up.

Casting Director Vicky Boone auditioned tons of Bees, but after rounds of auditions and chemistry reads, Nelson stood out. Says Sledge, "When Rick sees something in somebody and he knows... other people, and me included, we don't really see it right away. But once he makes a decision, I can trust that he knows what he's doing. It's all going to be good."

For Nelson, her first film was the opportunity of a lifetime and she truly fell in love with her character. "Bee is kind of a middle ground between her parents. Elgie's very logical; Bernadette is very artistic, creative. And Bee is kind of that mix of both, where she has her emotional intelligence and her book smarts. She wants to please both of her parents, but she has this relationship with her mom that is just so strong and different from her dad. They both have good relationships but she and her mom are just so similar, in everything, and she wants to please her mom so much, and Bee is just the kind of girl that is like her mom."

And how many new actors, let alone thirteen year old's, get to curse out Kristen Wiig? "Oh gosh! It was great," admits Nelson. "We had a rehearsal with Kristen and Cate, and I had the idea to add the 'F,' because I wanted that fire. I was afraid to ask, but Rick loved the idea. You want to be nice, but you can't always be nice, and I think that it's important to show how Bee changes, because Bee would never swear, especially in front of her parents."

Nelson is in awe of Linklater, who created such a collaborative experience. "One of the things that he said was, he wants us to be very word-specific, but the words can be ours," she says. "So, during rehearsal, he would go, "OK, does that feel right?" And I'd go, "Well, I kinda like this, or this sounds weird." I've never been afraid to ask questions or tell him my opinion on something. I've felt like I have been free to make Bee my own character."

Billy Crudup, who plays Bee's dad and Bernadette's work obsessed Microsoft guru husband Elgie, had never worked with Linklater before. "I've known Richard socially, through Ethan Hawke, and I've enjoyed his movies for a long time. I was excited at the opportunity to work with him." The actor reunited with Blanchett after previously starring together in the World War II thriller Charlotte Gray. Crudup also reunited with Pretty Bird co-star Kristen Wiig, who breaks out of her typical roles by playing Bernadette's Type A neighbor and leader of the mom group at Bee's school. Says Wiig, "I loved playing Audrey. It's the first time I've ever played someone who's really unlikeable. She's a grown up mean girl, so caught up in the neighborhood and local society."

As someone who represents the Seattle establishment that Bernadette resents and fights with such vitriol, Audrey could be reduced to a stereotype, but thanks to the screenplay and to Wiig, that's not the case. "Deep down, I think she admires Bernadette, because to live a life where you care about what everyone thinks seems terrible," says Wiig. "Bernadette reflects a life outside of Seattle that Audrey's probably always thought about."

Also taking on a new role is Pretty Little Liars star Troian Bellisario, who plays Becky, a marine biologist Bernadette meets in Antarctica. She invites Bernadette to venture out to sea where, amidst vast glaciers, suddenly Bernadette's whole world opens up. "Everybody we meet has an idea of Bernadette and Becky is a new slate," says Bellisario. "And when she sees what state she's in, Becky immediately responds as any human would: 'You seem a little lost, let me give you something to do.'"

One thing all the actors in the cast agree on: Linklater's unique commitment to a rehearsal period. "We got to rehearse for a month, which is so smart because he builds this ensemble and this team together so that when you walk on set the first day of shooting, you already are familiar with the text and also the people you get to work with," says Zoe Chao, who plays Soo-Lin, Audrey's lackey and Elgie's assistant.

Adds Crudup, "He's a fascinating director because he's clearly arrived at a place in his life where he sees great value in the collaborative process. He's not dictating the tempo at which everybody on his team will create at their best level."


They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but in the case of Bernadette, it turns out that it's all about the sunglasses. Much like Anna Wintour, Bernadette is known for wearing her oversized, dark sunglasses at all times - a tradition that Semple says originated when she herself moved from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Blanchett went to Seattle to meet Semple before filming started to hear about how the best-selling author came up with Bernadette. "I wanted to give her a present," says Semple, "and I thought: What do you give to Cate Blanchett who you know has everything? So, I took the prescription out of my dark glasses, put plain dark lenses in them, and gave them to her. I said, 'Here's a little talisman, this is where it all started, these are literally my dark glasses that I've had for ten years and I want you to have them.'"

It was a touching gesture, but Semple couldn't have anticipated the influence. The first time she showed up on set to see Blanchett in full Bernadette glory, the actress was wearing the glasses! "I pictured her keeping them at best, throwing them away at worst," she says. "But she insisted that that's what she wear for the movie."

By that time, the manufacturer, Barton Perreira, had discontinued the style, but that didn't stop the costume department. They had four new pairs made - "custom Bernadette" notes costume designer Kari Perkins - so Blanchett could wear the exact pair throughout the film. "It will be something that really is almost the most special thing to me about the movie," says Semple, fondly. "These reviled dark glasses that I wore all over Seattle when I was writing the book are now on Cate Blanchett, the actual pair."

"Bernadette is confounding," says Blanchett. "Fiercely intelligent. She's bewildered by Seattle, but even more bewildered by who she has become, and she's as critical and as savage on herself as she is on the world around her. But I think what's interesting is that people who are like that, mean to other people and abrasive, are often quite delicate and fragile on the inside. So it's an interesting thing when you get to see Bernadette with her family, and then you get to see her, who she is perceived to be in the world, you know, with the dark glasses and the armature of what she chooses to wear. It's very important for Bernadette, I think, to make her point of difference, her specialness, her uniqueness, known in the world of Seattle, because she's lost there."

The sunglasses that had separated Semple from the world brought Blanchett into it. And the attention to detail didn't stop there. "From early on, Cate was very specific about how she was going to dress, what her hair was going to look like, what her makeup was going to look like, how she was going to move through the world," says Sledge.

Blanchett worked closely with the creative team to match Bernadette's exterior to the rich interior narrative she created for this character. She spent a lot of time with the costume designer, discussing vision boards and Bernadette's look. She also worked with her hair artist Kay Giorgio to create Bernadette's signature coif.

Perkins, who first worked with Linklater on Dazed and Confused showed him some vision boards to kick off the design process. "Bernadette was quite a collaboration," she says. "It's been really wonderful watching her character evolve in the clothes. Cate's very involved in the process." After multiple sessions, including a final fitting where Blanchett was fully in character, including her wig, they nailed down the sleek wardrobe that appears onscreen.

Admits Perkins: "She looks just like what I imagined in my mind when I read the book, very sleek and elegant, a tiny bit of Audrey Hepburn, too." As chic and pulled-together as Bernadette looks on the outside, she can't hold down the fort forever. "As she starts to unravel, it's like she forgets to wash her hair," says Blanchett. "It sort of manifests itself in other ways - like you can be well put together but there's always one thing missing, like her socks."


The look of the production was almost as important as the look of Bernadette: Seattle is one of the main characters in the novel, and for years, Sledge scouted locations there to film. When Seattle looked unlikely Sledge and the creative team looked to Vancouver as well. So it was a complete surprise to everyone that they found their Seattle in a suburb of Pittsburgh. "The search for Straight Gate spanned two and a half years, two countries, five cities..." says Production Designer Bruce Curtis, referring to the quirky wonder that is the former Straight Gate Home for Girls, where Bernadette, Bee, and Elgie live. "We were shooting another project and driving around and Rick said, 'Oh there's a Straight Gate and there's another Straight Gate.' And we realized there was something about this place that felt like it could be the Northwest," says Sledge.

The perfect house, it turns out, is an "1800s mansion, an old beautiful, decaying architectural piece," according to Curtis, who has been working with Linklater for twenty years. "When I found it, I literally got a chill in my spine and I knew it was the right place."

Since the house itself is a metaphor for so much of Bernadette's life, Set Designer Beauchamp Fontaine decked it out in full vintage decay chic, from modern taxidermy to an industrial modern kitchen to all sorts of eccentricities. "I used a lot of Victorian light fixtures, because I think in real life if you were to buy a house and someone hasn't already pilfered it, the light fixtures remain," she says, explaining that she and her designers also created a gorgeous design out of pew pencils around the entry wall in the Great Room. "When you're in a relationship that's fracturing, I can imagine Elgie coming home from work one day, seeing this beautiful thing done with pencils and he could level a barbed remark or completely ignore it. Earlier in their relationship it's part of what would've made him think of her as so magical, things can shift and change."

Creating Christmas in Seattle when it was summer in Pittsburgh was a little harder, but they made it work. "We were very mindful of color, local art and furniture... down to the style of the fire hydrant and the pine trees growing in the yard," says Curtis. "I watched several guys up on lifts, just painstakingly plucking leaves off trees," adds Fontaine.


We're all on different journeys, but the universe's unifier is that we are all on a journey. Knowing this makes us feel less alone. Where'd You Go, Bernadette taps into the powerful force that lets us push through life's unexpected twists and turns. In Bernadette, we see a woman reigniting the joy that her family brings her, whilst also rediscovering her creative path. This film reminds us that we can all find ourselves, no matter how far we have travel.

"In life, you have to go through a moment of chaos, because you can't escape yourself or who you thought you'd be," says Blanchett. "And you have to confront who you actually are before you can move into the future."

"Bernadette speaks for so many people," says Linklater. "My mission here - from the very beginning - is the first sentence in the book: just because you can't ever fully know somebody, it doesn't mean you can't try. I want the audience to understand her."


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