The films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival are making their way into general release by the end of the year. With Certain Women, Kelly Reichardt adapted three stories by Maile Meloy into a film starring Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart.
Dern plays a lawyer for a man (Jared Harris) fighting his employer for worker’s compensation. Williams plays a woman negotiating for pieces of a relative (Rene Auberjonois)’s estate. Stewart plays a teacher who falls for a student (Lily Gladstone). We spoke with Reichardt about making Certain Women, which is now in theaters Friday, October 14.
What was it like to see Certain Women at the Eccles at Sundance? The vibe for Night Moves at Toronto was different.
Kelly Reichardt: Really? How so?
The audience at Toronto, even though they’re film fanatics, is a different vibe.
Kelly Reichardt: Yeah, it’s a big theater in Toronto. I didn’t sit through the screening so I don’t really know, but I did sit through the Sundance screening.
That wasn’t your first Sundance, right?
Kelly Reichardt: No, I’ve been there. Sundance premiered River of Grass back in the day and Old Joy after. Sundance has been good to us over the years. I hadn’t been there in a long time. I don’t know, that experience is always bizarre. Everyone talks about Sundance in that it’s hard. The screening was actually good and the film looked good and it sounded good. So that part of it was really good. Then you’re just doing a bunch of ridiculous stuff all day long. It’s just a sideshow of talking to people about a film they haven’t really seen. Then what’s your favorite lipstick kind of questions. It was a really nice audience and I was so happy for how it looked and sounded. It’s a nice theater. So that was all really cool.
What is it like showing a movie to a blind audience, where there’s been no trailers or spoilers or previous reviews?
Kelly Reichardt: Well, that would be the dream, right? I mean, the dream would be that could. I hate reading about a movie before I go see a film. I like to go in not knowing. Yeah, that’s ideal that nobody knows what they’re getting into. That’s great. Oh my God, there’s a lot of outlets. People like to know all the behind the scenes. I prefer to not know everything that went on in the making of a film or really anything about it other than what’s on the screen is nice. Obviously there’s filmmakers I want to research and think about. Not in the moment while it’s happening certainly.
This is your third film with Michelle Williams, your Michelle Williams trilogy. What is it like working with Michelle and why do you keep casting her?
Kelly Reichardt: There’s the personal part that it’s fun to work with Michelle and it’s easy, just as far as we have a fast communication so that’s nice. But I enjoy working with Michelle because she is the kind of actress who comes fully, fully prepared but also I think fully open to find the character as she goes. She just does not arrive with a concrete idea of how she’s going to play something I think. It leaves her really open to respond to how the other actors are doing their roles or what’s happening with the weather that day. Whatever animals she’s encountering or whatever it is. She never feels locked into anything and there’s something really great about that. I think you’re more vulnerable when you approach a role like that but it’s great because it seems like there’s more places to go.
Have you seen her in Manchester By The Sea yet?
Kelly Reichardt: No, I haven’t gotten to see it yet but I love his films. I loves Margaret and You Can Count on Me. I like his filmmaking so I’m excited to see, I really want to see the film. Getting to see it with Michelle is great. Sometimes when you see a film with an actress you work with a lot it’s distracting. I only keep hearing the greatest things about that, about her in it and I’m sure the two of them together, I know she was super excited to do the film. I want to just see it in a theater without all the hubub.
What draws you to short stories and inspires you about them for your films?
Kelly Reichardt: I’m actually working from a novel now on something. That’s just such a taking out process. Then eventually you can take out enough that you can put back in. It’s just different. Jon Raymond’s stuff, some of those like Old Joy were novellas. So they were a little bit longer than the Mailee stories were pretty short. I guess that there’s room to expand as opposed to going in the other direction of taking stuff out. It really depends I think on the pieces of writing. It’s just been a different experience working from a novel. I don’t think a lot of novels, novels are hard. They’re more suited usually to a miniseries length kind of affair. The things I’ve been working with, there’s a little room to add some long driving scenes.
What was it like working with Kristen Stewart? Would you work with her again?
Kelly Reichardt: That’s always a funny question when people ask that. Has anybody ever gone on record and said, “I would never work with that actor again?”
John Carney for Keira Knightley after Begin Again.
Kelly Reichardt: Oh wow. I would work with Kristen Stewart again. She wasn’t there that long. We didn’t have that long of a ride together. She did have to come out and take some horse riding lessons with Lily. We were in the middle of such a heavy sort of scene right away, I tried to think of the order we shot in. I think we started at the school. Like it usually is, because we dive in and you’re meeting an actress. Some of the other actors, I got to spend a little bit of time with in Montana while they were figuring out their wardrobe. By a little bit of time, I mean a day before. I had gotten a little more time with Jared Harris and I had worked with Le Gros before. Kristen, we had one afternoon together where we got to take a walk and talk and hang out. Then I think a day later, we were in it. You’re finding your way as you go. The thing that was most striking to me and the one thing I was concerned about it that here it’s really the rancher’s story and it’s being played by Lily Gladstone who is largely somewhat of a newcomer. Is Kristen Stewart going to just be too bright a star in that?
I was amazed how again and again, Kristen was able to let the story be Lily Gladstone’s and really could make herself fit the size of this character that’s just blowing in and out of this woman’s life. I just thought she was a really generous actor and a really good, it’s funny to say, because her character is not a good listener. But I thought especially in the parking lot scene with the rancher, which was shot on this incredibly windy day, just how open and still Kristen can be. To let it be this other character’s story who is bing played by someone that people don’t know. It was great. And she, like Michelle and Laura, they’re totally up for playing characters that aren’t warm and fuzzy or easily likable. And that have flaws as we all do. They were all really comfortable with that. Her and Lily Gladstone had a really good connection right away. It was cool.
Which of the three stories were your favorite?
Kelly Reichardt: I think the emotional weight kind of works by how they work in the overall. It’s impossible for me to say because they each have things in them that I was really interested in. I think the impact of the first two stories comes in the third story. I more see it as a whole more than I do as three separate things at this point. It’s hard for me to say. My favorite is the one we shot on the day that it wasn’t freezing. I find all those characters relatable. I’m attached to them for different reason. I loved that ranch and I love hat rancher, but those days were brutal. I was very, very cold. The parking lot scene in the Laura Dern story was a challenge for me and just one, the filmmaking of it, I like what it got to. It’s rewarding when you feel like you solved a problem that you had in your head just about space or whatever it is. I love Laura’s performance in it and I love Jared Harris and I wanted to work with Rene forever. Then Le Gros and Michelle I’ve worked with before and so that was very pleasant. It’s hard for me to say. That’s a non answer, sorry.
Do you foresee continuing to make smaller independent films? Would you ever want to step into television or a mainstream film?
Kelly Reichardt: I don’t have a big plan for myself beyond that I have a script I really like and that I’m interested in doing. It would be hard to do on a really minuscule budget. And I’m at an age where it’s getting harder to make these films just because they’re pretty taxing physically. Not that I’m so old or anything, but there were times when it occurred to me like okay, this has to get a little bit easier, when we were making that film. It’s really just about what’s interesting to me. I don’t have it in me to throw my everything into a project that I’m not deeply interested in. It’s just about that, finding stuff that makes your day good because you have something interesting to think about. I’m not a bunch of pans in the fire type of person. I’m a one thing at a time person.