This weekend sees the release of the film adaptation of Laura Hopkin’s The Girl on The Train.
The thriller, directed by Tate Taylor, tells the story of an alcoholic divorcee who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind a woman’s disappearance.
Last week, we got to sit down and hear director Tate Taylor and actor Luke Evans talk about adapting a best seller to the big screen, and the way they approached the portrayal of these characters.
So what was the process like to decide what to omit from the book, and what do you think are the basic elements that turn a crime thriller into a classic?
Tate Taylor: Well, the thing with the book, that kind of had things omit themselves. If you look at it, so much of these characters, who these women are, they tell us, and it’s fun narration. You know Rachel, I thought that Rachel was charming and hilarious in the book, her talking about being hung-over and deciding if she was going to go ahead and drink the next day. Everybody can relate to her at times, so I loved her. But then you can’t really have that in a scene. This wasn’t a movie that, you know, had the tense moment followed by two women at a bar shooting the sh*t. This wasn’t, so a lot of that went away, and the trick was how to wink and nod to that and how to feel it. A lot of that kind of solved itself by the nature of what we were doing. But I felt like the book is pretty well represented, other than the anecdotal moments that we heard from these women. My answer when I think about some of classics like Fatal Attraction, it always goes back to acting. Sure, Glenn Close came out of the bathtub, I hear they had to add that later because people just wanted something like that, but her portrayal and the obsession and the dread you felt when you were around her and Michael Douglas just said “Anne’s beautiful! Do not do that! Go Back home!” I think it’s performance, you know? Even Misery, pretty simple, it’s Kathy Bates who did that. I think these three women did the same thing.
What are some of the challenges of adapting the book that is very popular? Is it scary? Is it more exciting? How do you approach it?
Tate Taylor: This really did not come from thinking “I’m a know it all” or arrogance, It just only excites me. I don’t worry about it. If I want to do something, it’s only because I think I know how to do it. I’ve never been good, or I’ve never just taken a job just because I had some bills. I’d do it if I’m passionate about it, and then that’s usually so strong that that is my engine, but what is fun about it is I think to myself “Oh my God! There are at least ten million people who might come and watch whatever we’re doing right!” And that’s really cool, you know! And there’s so many great movies that no one cares about, and it’s just awful.
Regarding the visual look, the film has a very great visual look, by the way. I noticed a lot of spots that were, there were some slow motion shots. Were they intentional or tricks used in post?
Tate Taylor: It’s called step printing. They weren’t done in post. It was just always to kind of add to the idea that “Is she drunk right now?” “Is this a true memory?” or “Boy this is profoundly affecting her. This is giving us insight to her real pain.” It’s a device that was delivered and pre-planned.
And regarding the visual look, I remember when reading the book that I got such a good visual with the description of the houses she passes by. I felt that you carried that well in this film.
Tate Taylor: Thank you. That was really hard. The first day I got on the Metro North, I went all the way to Poughkeepsie to pick out my three houses and they don’t exist. I was like oh sh*t. Oops! I had an amazing team behind me for that. Those three houses are on an abandoned golf course in Westchester. And, it’s pretty amazing. And we had a car on the golf course with a camera on it, letting the train go back and forth. And then our team, on the reverse, all of those scenes we shot in the backyards: Emily, Haley, and Rebecca were in front of a weedy golf course that needed cutting. And we replaced it with the Hudson River and the train.
How much did you contribute to making these awful awful people very sympathetic? How much of it came from the script, how much of it came from the actors, how much did you guide it?
Tate Taylor: When the script came to me, I realized that there would be some emotional holes that needed to be filled. Paula was able to do and Erin did such a great job at doing that, cracking the code of how to begin the structure of this. And my job is, like you said, I got to focus on these characters, and first of all, the first thing that came to mind was Rachel in happier times. Rachel spends a lot of time, not complaining, but talking about her loss. And when I read, I was working on the scene when she tells Abdic about not being able to have a baby, it just hit me, and I said “I have to see that!” And that’s when I decided to film the clinic where she and Tom had happier times, when she looked her best, had the rug pulled from under them. And then for Megan’s character, I went back to the book a lot, and it was all there. It just wasn’t played out in a full scene. And then with Megan’s character, I knew people would judge her unfavorably. I knew she had big issues, but I said “What’s the root of everybody’s pain, why are these people acting out?” It’s always something and I came to the realization that I needed to show what happened to her when she was seventeen. To really feel that I told her, “Haley, you’re going to need to just just flee nude in the rain, and it’s not going to be gratuitous no one’s going to be looking at your body. We got to know why you are like you are,” and she agreed. And then the third one, and then also for the fun thriller elements, back to what you said, I knew I needed to film and show what it would look like if Rachel had killed Megan, just to have that possibility, you know … And then the biggest one was the gas lighting, and realizing that she had been lied to, and essentially, I knew the audience had to be really pissed … I knew I really had to create something that just seemed like it was very real. In the book, Paula says, simply “Rachel remembers.” And you can’t do that in a movie, so I went back to the book and I was reading it, I found this quick little sentence. Rachel simply said — I’m paraphrasing — something to the effect of “And Tom would tell me what I would do at his parties at work.” And I went “Okay. She’s really going to f— up at a party!” (laughs) And I created Martha, and you know, I just needed that moment where we, for forty minutes, had thought she was, I wanted people to think “You know what I kind of understand why Tom would cut the rope! I mean, she’s pretty bad.” So to have that, and then be confused by fact that you do somehow like her, because it’s Emily Blunt, so great, then to find out that that was a lie, my idea was that you would be so betrayed and so pissed off, that you would go back and go all “But she didn’t and she wasn’t and he-” all just to make it messy. So those were the main things — emotional parts of the story that I had to figure out and create.
I found it interesting how in the beginning Megan is going for therapy and Scott’s presented as kind of like jealous and possessive, but as the film goes on after she goes missing he’s kind of presented as being worried about what really happened.
Luke Evans: Well, I think the possessive part and the jealous part of his nature was only fueled by her actions and the way she was towards him in their relationship. I don’t think he naturally would want to just check her emails and check her phone, I think she gave him reasons to make him feel very insecure and vulnerable and, you know, paranoid. And rightly so, but, as we know, you know, she was cheating on him. So, it’s not the right thing to do, but I think when you break someone down to a point where they have no answers and they’re with someone who obviously doesn’t want to be with them, it must be a horrible thing for that person, and for Scott, definitely. That’s where he was in his head and yeah it’s a really intense em0tional journey for him, you know. I feel like he’s just deceived and lied to constantly throughout the film and you know, the worst if it is that this woman comes along, tells him she’s best friends with his wife, who’s now dead, and all the other things he finds out, and even that’s a lie. I mean, this guy, you know, no wonder he’s pissed!
So just through the circumstances of what’s happening to your character, your character has suspicion on him through most of the movie. Did you feel a responsibility of trying to make the character more sympathetic, how are you playing it in your head?
Luke Evans: I was playing it innocently, yeah, but knowing he had a temper. Because the temperament was something that we talked about quite a lot, because they had a relationship, like every relationship, there’s always the good and the bad bits, but they had a quite tempestuous relationship, you know. They were as passionately sexual as they were, turbulent, and so we had to show that. We had to show all the colors of their relationship within these few scenes they have together. So I had to present that and obviously when you start talking, and once the characters started to talk to Rachel, I was able to then present the other sides of his personality. You know, the fact that he felt terrible that he argued and he went to a bar. He says “I got drunk” you know. And so it allows the audience, like a jury, to make your own decisions as this information is imparted to you. You are then able to work out whether you think he’s a suspect or not, but in my head, I never thought for one moment “I have to make to make it like he could be.” I just played what I had and what me and Tate talked about, and then I think the way Tate just cut it with the editor maybe leads you in a certain way, rightly so, because I think the book does that, but in a film with two hours, these things have to be managed in a very clever way. When you read a book, it takes much longer, so you have more time to absorb this information. Within a film, it has to be done in a way so you can take all these factors into account within two hours and actually, you know, make a decision on what you’ve been given, through information and character.
I thought it was so interesting. I mean, all the characters were very complex and all very layered. Rachel, who is obviously agonizing over not being able to get pregnant. Then you got your character, who wants to have a baby. And so here you are, like, every moment, like “Let’s have sex so we can have a baby.”
Luke Evans: Well it’s role reversal in the film. You got the most masculine, alpha-male man being the victim in the film, struggling with things that are often given to the woman in movies. It’s the female parts are often dealing with these issues, but he’s the one that is the victim and the one who’s lost everything and been cheated on, and all this stuff, you know, which is very clever. Very, very clever and very unconventional, and refreshingly different.
The scene where your character physically assaults Rachel is really interesting and intense. What was your dialogue like with Emily Blunt before that scene?
Luke Evans: Yea. We walked it through and talked it through with the director and how, I mean those things are so technical, you know, and obviously, it was handheld as well, so there was a steadicam and people trying to move around us to keep us in the right visceral and rejected feel to that moment. So a lot of it is really technical, like there’s so many marks on the floor where you have to be at and, you know, there’s a fridge that has been pulled out against the wall so the camera can go behind the fridge and all this stuff, so by the time you actually shoot it, it’s choreographed. You know, and as long as you can remember your moments and your steps, you know, that’s about it. And so, the physicality bit obviously is stagecraft, and obviously Emily and myself have done plenty of this fakes fighting or wrestling, and there’s a way of doing it all so it doesn’t hurt anybody. And then obviously she tells me she was pregnant, well all right! (Laughter) Great! Lucky we know how to fake fight! (Laughter) No bruising! So yea, it’s all good.
Was there anything in particular about this script that you loved?
Luke Evans: It’s so well written. It really was, and it’s unconventional. It’s different, you know, it’s led by strong female characters. Being directed by a brilliant man whose work stands up for itself. I think Tate’s work is amazing, and I love The Help and Get on Up. They’re so great, really fantastic. So, and there was the full package, and I was the last one to be cast and so, you know, they started to tell me who was in it, and they got to Emily Blunt, I went “Stop! Yes, I’ll do it!”
Interview edited for clarity and grammar.