This Friday sees the release of the film adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ “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 at the Mandarin Oriental and hear stars Haley Bennett and Édgar Ramírez talk about their respective characters and their approach to the film’s material.
So, I’m wondering how challenging was it as a human being to shake off your roles, emotionally?
Haley Bennett: For me, I think it’s about balancing lightness with darkness. I mean, it wasn’t something that we necessarily, like, that wasn’t the tone that was on set. We were able to have relief from the intense scenes that we were in because we kept it really really light on set. There were definitely days for me, that well actually, every day that I portrayed Megan I went home and there’s a line in the film where Megan says, “I went home and I washed the baby off of me” because her skin crawls with the thought, she avoids the smell . She says “I can’t.” No day goes by that she can’t see her eyes and she can’t smell her skin and the reality of that situation. So the reality of Megan was “I would go home and I would literally, like, I would scrub my skin basically where I’ll just be like, to shed her, just the physical act of shedding her.”
And what do you think is so appealing about dark themes, because this film does get dark.
Édgar Ramírez: Well, I think that it is a fundamental part of our nature. You know we’re both; we are darkness and we’re the light. You know and what defines us as humans beings, it’s our contradictions and the blending of that darkness and light. I think it is very interesting and refreshing when you see it on screen because in a way, as Shakespeare used to say, what we do as actors or as filmmakers is basically hold a mirror for everybody to see themselves. I relate with characters that presented a deal with contradictions or struggle with contradictions because that’s who I am. I struggle with contradictions like everybody else. I think that all the darkness and all the light, those are caricatures that doesn’t exist. I mean the hero, the antihero those are labels that don’t really define the human experience. The human experience is diverse and it’s a blending of many traits that we all are. I think that when we see the flaws on screen, when we see the dark sides we are basically seeing ourselves. It’s more than being attractive, it’s like, we identify more than being attracted to that. I think that it’s a sense of identification that we have.
You played some lot of diverse roles in the last few years. Roberto Duran, while training for that, Bodhi in Point Break. So what research did you do in preparation for this role?
Édgar Ramírez: I couldn’t research as much as I normally do, and as I would have loved to because I was basically thrown into the movie. I was finishing Gold here in New York last year when Tate called, and he said, “Please read the script, and then if you like it lets sit down and lets talk about it” and then I read it in a go and I couldn’t stop, I was “boom boom boom”, and then I sat down with him and I met with him. The next day we are rehearsing, and then two days later, we’re shooting. To ease the nervousness and the insecurity that comes from not having had the chance to prepare as much as I would normally do, I said to myself “Let’s play, lets do an whole happening with this character, let’s just be there and be open.” It was fantastic to discover a character on set, and through the words of other characters, because my character basically observes and listens, and there was a lot of holding back. He was just there listening and listening, and I think that I discovered the character through that, through Megan and through Rachel. I have to sit and listen. It was a great exercise, also of contemplation and it was great to be there and you always want to say things in life and as an actor you always want to propose things. I couldn’t; I just needed to listen … I saw all of the takes, you saw what was chosen, but I saw everything and each take was fantastic and she really put it all out. I think that’s why the movie was so effective because nobody held anything back, everything was out there. It reminds me of those great movies from the eighties and the early nineties, those adult dramas, you know that made American cinema so important, that unfortunately don’t get made as often as before. So I hope this movie, if it is successful and people respond to it, could open the door for more movies like this to be made. I think that it’s important. Life is tough and you shouldn’t be afraid to see it in a film.
So your character is attracted to everybody, all the men and yet seems completely dissatisfied with everything. How did you approach that, because it is such a complicated thing to play?
Haley Bennett: Yea, definitely, I mean I wanted to approach her in away that she would be relatable and likable, and that’s a difficult thing when she’s having affairs with multiple men. I didn’t want her just to be a mistress, or just to be a home wrecker. I wanted her to have layers and dimensions, and for her to be human and not just a monster that you just don’t understand why she’s as damaged. I think that as the layers are peeled back, her layers are peeled back, and I was glad that there was an opportunity in the film to sort of fill her in and to add different shades to her personality. Then discover what it is; the secret that she’s been harboring and how it affected her. Then you learn sort of why she’s become this woman, and why she’s so restless, and what she’s been running from. That’s she’s just carrying around this enormous weight, this enormous amount of guilt, and she just masks her pain with the validation that she tries to get, and the love she tries to get from the different characters. Not just the men, I think the women and the people that she surrounds herself with. It’s exhausting, but great! It was exciting, an exciting challenge for me to try to fill her in in that way.
Édgar Ramírez: I think that Tate generated, he granted, he created a great space and a great room for us to really connect to the characters, and I’m saying this just because I think that the memories of this movie are very strong, still. I mean I listen to her and I can totally connect and feel it, you still feel it on her skin. I do remember you telling those stories because I love the film, I watched it yesterday, and I think it’s a triumph . I think that it’s great. I think that we hadn’t seen performances, especially female performances, so raw in mainstream in American cinema in a very long time. That for me is very refreshing. I’m not from here, but I grew up watching American movies and wanted to be an actor in movies because of a lot of great American movies that I saw. So it’s great to have the experience that we had, I think that most of you were out last night at the theater and to go to the theatre, have that collective experience by watching a drama. I mean what movies are being out there? Like, superhero movies or the horror films, and it’s not bad they’re great and I watch them as well, but I think it’s amazing to have a collective dramatic experience. I think it hasn’t happened in a very long time.
You mentioned when you were at your therapy session, the idea that whenever a train hits somebody that their clothes will come off. It made you feel as though your character sort of wanted out, wanted things to end. Do you think that you had an inclination towards Tom’s true self? What he was capable of? In the tunnel whenever you see him come out and Megan’s not there, do you think that your character knew that something was off?
Haley Bennett: No. I think she was really focused on what she came there to do. What she brought him there to tell him, which was that she was pregnant, and she had to build a lot of courage to even get to that moment. So I think that was a very contemplative moment rather than a moment where she would be considering anything darker happening. I think that’s also something that I enjoy about this film is things, just seemingly ordinary things, just getting out of control and then bad things happen, and bad things stem from that. Very simple ordinary choices and how they spiral.
In the movie, your characters are often very isolated people whose lives intertwine. Particularly with you two, the nature of your characters’ relationships is ambiguous to the audience intentionally for a while. I was wondering, in the process of finding and navigating your characters was this kind of a separate process for you, or did you two have a discussion with each other behind the scenes on the nature of your characters’ relationship?
Haley Bennett: I mean, we had great material to work with, with Paula’s novel, and so that was something I could go back to, and it was written in the minds of each character, so really, what the relationship was and the chemistry that they had, for me, was spawned from the book. Also things sort of change when you put two actors in these roles that are fictional, and on set they create a life of their own, depending on the chemistry between the actors. I was very fortunate to have such a great partner who was bringing out the best in me, even though we didn’t have a whole lot of time to develop these characters and their relationship. I think there was an immediate bond and trust between us, to where I couldn’t have gone to some of the places that I was able to go if I didn’t trust him. I don’t know why we had that connection, but I just instantly felt at ease, whether that just being who Edgar is, and he just brings that out of you. He did bring that out of me, but he felt like somebody that I could really lean on, and as an actor. I think that, that was able to enhance any performance or any chemistry that they were supposed to have. There was a scene that isn’t in the film, it’s just a very brief scene, but they locked into each other, and I’d like to think that Megan had already done her research about him and actually it touches on that in the book that she does her research, and she knows exactly who he is, and all the other women in the suburbia that she is living in go to him because they found that he was tall, dark, and handsome. They were all going to talk about their issues, and it sort of might have been a game for her at first, and then it turned into something else. It turned into something to where she was able to try to work out her issues and just project it all onto him for the first time, or to really to get some release for the first time.
Édgar Ramírez: It’s always beautiful and you always receive it with the upmost gratitude when you find this connection, that’s inexplicable. It just happens and we felt very comfortable.
Haley Bennett: We were able to improv. We did a lot of improvisation, and Tate really allowed us that. So there was the freedom. There was a freedom with that.
Édgar Ramírez: It took exploring those characters together, you know, as I said before, for me, it was that I could get to know my character through watching her and listening to her. I could place myself there. Actually, it was almost like reality and fiction intertwining because the realities is that that’s what would have happened in a real session, I didn’t really know my patient. My patient comes in for the first time, I get to know and discover that person, and after session and session, you get to know a little bit more. We, of course, comprised that in a more intense period of time, but it was pretty much the same dynamic, it’s like “Hi, I’m Edgar.” “I’m Haley. I’m playing Megan” “I’m playing Kamal. And now let’s do this!” And then we got to know each other like that.
Haley Bennett: Also, I think that some of my favorite parts of the book were between Kamal and Megan, and how just the forbidden nature of, and intrinsically, what the film is about is these things that we’re not supposed to see and we’re not supposed to do, and what is forbidden. This is a doctor-patient relationship, and they cross a lot of lines, and then the voyeuristic aspect of him watching her and getting more involved than he should.
Édgar Ramírez: Yea, the only thing that I discussed with Tate, that we discussed together was the passing of time. You know, like, four months ago, a month ago, Friday, those kind of things because you definitely needed a bit of discussion about that context because, you know, the relationship was advancing. Other than that, I think that we never really analyzed the text or the monologues. She has huge monologues in the movie, and actually, many of the narration that you see in some of the scenes, that was part of the therapy. You were seeing images of things going on, and those were lines that she said.
Haley Bennett: Well it wasn’t like it ADR. We did it in post. It was something that we actually experienced.
Édgar Ramírez: Yea. Those images were playing in my head. I saw them for the first time last night. So that was great, for me, it was a great creative exercise.
I’m a New York mom and I’ve seen all the nannies. I’m one of those women like, “Who’s the young hot nanny?” Do you think your character even cared?
Haley Bennett: I think Megan is very private. I don’t think that she is somebody that is going to go to pilates and then stay afterwards and socialize. I think that she is somebody that is easily judged. I know that I felt very uncomfortable in those costumes and in Megan’s skin, and as raw and vulnerable she is at the surface, but she puts on a good face, which is a nice contradiction. I think the the film also makes you think “wow.” I think about this all the time, you never know what somebody else is suffering. We might imagine that I look through these binoculars and I look across the way and something from the outside looks so incredibly, extraordinarily different from reality. We all know how to put on our best face. Like right now I have a 104 degree fever and very sick so I’m putting on my best face for you guys.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.