Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater hosted the Dark Waters Premiere, where star Mark Ruffalo, director Todd Haynes and more spoke with us about the process of making the film.
The new movie Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo and directed by Todd Haynes is one of the year’s most powerful and upsetting releases and. The movie tells the true story of a lawyer from Cincinnati who fought a major chemical company tooth-and-nail on the behalf of a small community in West Virginia. Ruffalo stars as Robert Bilott and the film co-stars Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, and Bill Pullman, among others.
At the red carpet premiere Dark Waters, we spoke with some of the cast and crew of the film about translating a New York Times article for the screen, making a unique style for the film, and working with people you trust behind the camera.
Mark Ruffalo (“Rob Bilott”/Producer)
The Knockturnal: You’re a producer on Dark Waters, and you’ve seen it from basically the start of the production until tonight, here at the premiere—
Mark Ruffalo: Yes, even from the article in the New York Times. [A Nathaniel Rich article that inspired the original screenplay.]
The Knockturnal: What’s it like working on such an increasingly relevant story about the times that we live in, working with someone Rob, who lived and worked through it first hand? What was brought the film from the newspaper page to the movie screen?
Mark Ruffalo: I mean, it’s scary and it’s absolutely thrilling. YOu’re only going to get one shot at it. And it doesn’t matter how important the issue is if the movie doesn’t work. And it actually can harm the issue if the movie doesn’t work. I knew we were walking a tightrope, and I knew it had to be interesting and we had to be careful [with] the people. And so it’s what I want to be doing, it’s a big part of me as an artist telling these stories, so it’s thrilling.
Todd Haynes (Director)
The Knockturnal: Dark Waters is wonderful, it’s incredibly relevant to the world of today. What’s it like making a film set outside of 2019 that feels so important to the conversations being had today?
Todd Haynes: Well, it’s still, unfortunately, an incredibly current issue, and it’s a relevant story to tell. And what you see in this movie is a journey that Rob Bilott takes us on and a fight against power and— corporate power and greed that doesn’t have a simple or easy resolution. So in that way, it almost becomes a primer for how we live our lives with knowledge, but without easy or simple solutions that are going to clean up the issue. We’re going to need to know how to fight back ourselves. And I think this movie gives you an example, an extraordinary example of what to compare us to.
The Knockturnal: The film looks great, and I loved Ed Lachman’s cinematography. The color of the film is so unique. What was the thought behind the palette of the film?
Todd Haynes: Ed and I always are attracted to the hybrid of warm and cool color temperatures in our films. And you see that played out in different ways in different films. This one we also shot in a very cold Ohio winter for the principal photography of the movie. We added a lot of blue to the palette, and for interiors that have warm tungsten light and warm design elements, the blue would shift into this sort of indeterminate space. So you could never feel relief from the tensions that the story is describing.
Mare Winningham (“Darlene Kiger”)
The Knockturnal: You’re playing a real woman. She even appeared in a cameo in one scene of the movie. Did you get to learn from and interact with her?
Mare Winningham: I did get to meet her on set, which was really special. I had seen her in the documentary The Devil We Know, and I had been told by Todd that that couple, Joe and Darlene Kiger, were very important to him. He seemed really taken with them, and their warmth and their approachability and their recall. So he talked a lot, and then subsequently I got to meet them, which was great.
The Knockturnal: You worked with Todd on Mildred Pierce, which was such a great miniseries. What is it like working with him again? How do you work with him?
Mare Winningham: He’s got laser focus, he’s always… I don’t know how he keeps this massive project in mind. I mean, Mildred Pierce was this I-don’t-know-how-many hour-long thing, and he seemed to know at any given moment that he could see the scope of it. And the same with this, it’s big and the script was so dense. But he knows every inch of his piece. And he’s just, you know… he loves actors and acting. And his DP Ed [Lachman] is just the best, too
The Knockturnal: You’ve worked on so many projects from Georgia to American Horror Story to ER. What makes a role special to you, something you want to sink your teeth into?
Mare Winningham: It’s always the writing, I’ve always started there because it seems like a natural place to start. But sometimes there are other things about projects where I say “Oh, I always wanted to work with that person or go to that location.” But if it’s not in the writing, it’s always come back and bit me. It has to start there.
Mario Correa (Screenwriter)
The Knockturnal: I know that Matthew Carnahan wrote the original draft of the script. What was it like translating it from that to the screen?
Mario Correa: Well, it was really helpful because the legal case is a really complicated one. So the first writer, Matt, had really cracked that case. So when Todd Haynes came on to direct and he hired me for the next set of the script, we wanted to focus on the character of Rob and his family and the internal struggle. I tried to really focus on the family stuff, and it’s hard-working off of existing material, but I was really inspired and influenced by what came before.
The New York premiere of Dark Waters was held at the Walter Reade Theater on November 12th. It is in theaters on November 22nd.