On Sunday, November 11, the cast and filmmakers of Widows stopped by the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a private screening. Among the female studded cast, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, was also the director, Steve McQueen, and co-writer, Gillian Flynn.
The Knockturnal: Why was it crucial to tell this story with four female leads in this time period?
Gillian Flynn: “For me, it was really important and exciting to have not just one strong, interesting, powerful, messy and complicated woman on screen but to have four! I mean how often do you get to see that? And they’re not talking about men, or how to get the man, and no one is coming in to save the day! They are four women of different color, economic backgrounds of different parts of Chicago and we get to see them all come together. I thought that was really interesting. You [also] don’t get to see women making teams. You see men do that all the time, but I thought that was interesting—women finding their place together, women arguing with each other, fighting and making alliances, relationships…It feels, sadly, kind of revolutionary to me.”
Steve McQueen: “This story was already told for the first time almost 25 years ago…. I was 13 years old watching this thing on TV! It’s important at any time, any place, anywhere because not much has changed in 25 years. So it’s kind of interesting to hear people talking about ‘now’ when it’s been going on forever— it’s a bittersweet situation in a way.”
The Knockturnal: What strides do you believe this film is making in Hollywood?
Steve McQueen: “I think the time that it’s happening is, of course, a huge stride. I think that’s the monumental stride. The [concept] of women looking after women–pay and contracts and conditions. I think that’s monumental and amazing. And it all started with #MeToo! You know, hats off to #MeToo because that’s where it started. A black woman who was not in the spotlight and helped so many people.”
Cynthia Erivo: “I feel like it’s telling the world that, particularly women of color, [all women] are beautiful in all ages and sizes. And we don’t have to wear a long weave to do it, and we can wear our natural hair and be the color of ebony or be the color of chocolate and still be beautiful. We can run as fast as anything and still be muscular and be beautiful. And we can still have worth! And that our lives are important. These women are all four different women from all walks of life, which you never get to see. There are women who are forgotten about, when it comes to the screen, like the single mother who does everything for her child and works really hard, takes on two jobs, will run for the bus because she needs it. And I know those women and they never get seen and the fact is, we’re seeing it in this movie and I think that’s important. It tells women, not just in the industry, but it tells women that they are important in all forms of life. From the woman who has a lot of money to the woman who has almost nothing. And I think that’s the stride that we’re making. To make us feel important.”
Viola Davis: “I don’t know about strides in Hollywood, I mean, strides in Hollywood have more to do with the inside mechanics, the business, people who have the green light vote. But I believe that every image, especially a female-centric movie that honors women, how they look in their diversity (there are several women of color in the film), that every single time someone has the courage to include them in a narrative is a step forward. It gives other people courage to do the same! And especially when a movie makes money and it gets attention like this, it gives people the courage to step forward and follow suit!”
The Knockturnal: What did you learn about yourself as a writer while structuring this film?
Gillian Flynn: “I learned how to write all different kinds of women which was exciting to me. One [entire] wall of my office is a whiteboard. One part was all dedicated to the heist, another part was dedicated to these characters. There’s so many different types of humans that I got to write about, men included. It was just kind of a joy.”
The Knockturnal: What influenced your decision to be apart of the film?
Elizabeth Debicki: “I [had] never read a script where four women were that developed. And with such multidimensional movement and that much nuance. It’s rare to get a script where you have one or two women with that amazing character development, so when I picked up a script with four, that was a remarkable thing. I had never been given that kind of gift before as an actress. And I think that once we made this film and now how people are responding to it is the perfect example that this is what people want to see on screen, and women do want to see themselves represented in a myriad of ways. And we’re drawing people to the cinema, you know, it’s an event. And it’s just proof that we should be represented in a multidimensional way. It really is that simple, to be honest. There are heroes and there are anti-heroes and you root for them but you’re conflicted by them at the same time. I mean it’s all that kind of complexity that we need to see more and more of.”
The Knockturnal: What were the advantages and disadvantages of transitioning from theater to film?
Cynthia Erivo: “I think with being in theater, there’s a wonderful thing about the immediacy of working with the audience. The audience is there. They’ll tell you what they need. The conversation is there and live and in front of you, whereas when you’re on screen, they’re not there anymore and I feel like for me that probably was a security blanket because I was so used to knowing that they are there and I can look at them and know what they need. And when you don’t have that, you don’t know anymore and you have to start relying on your instinct, your director and your cast mates and then after that you still don’t even know if it’s right because you have to wait until it’s been in the theater and people have seen it. But the wonderful thing about being on screen is that you have to learn patience with yourself. You have to know that if you get something wrong, you try again. That was new to me. It’s a wonderful thing to try and get it right the first time and live in the moment when it comes to theater, but there’s this thing on screen where you live in the moment the first time and if it doesn’t quite work, you live in the moment the second time and keep going until it does finally settle in and feel good. But those are two things that I had to sort of learn to differentiate and not get mad at myself if I don’t get it right the first time and [remember not to panic] because there’s another chance. I do miss the audience so I know I’m not ready to completely give it up!”
Widows hits theaters on Friday, November 16.