WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE
ABOUT THE FILM
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
"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
PAGE TO SCREEN
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
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
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
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
Blanchett had fallen in love with this complex, fierce, intelligent character
"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
"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."
MEET THE CAST
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
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
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
"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."
BERNADETTE BY DESIGN
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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