On Tuesday, February 9th, Bleecker Street hosted a virtual screening of director Mona Fastvold’s latest film The World To Come, followed by a Q&A with Fastvold and cast, hosted by Variety’s Jenelle Riley.
The World To Come follows a woman named Abigail (Katherine Waterston) living in upstate New York in the mid-nineteenth century on a farm with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck). Following the loss of her daughter, she meets a woman named Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) who has recently moved into a neighboring farm with her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott). The two women develop a friendship that evolves into a passionate romance that helps to fill a void in each other’s lives.
The film is based on a short story, by the same name, written by acclaimed writer Jim Shepard. Shepard adapted the story into the screenplay with contemporary fiction writer Ron Hansen. The World To Come premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival and won the Queer Lion award for the best LGBTQ-themed film.
At the start of the Q&A, Riley asked Affleck, who starred in and produced the film, what attracted him to this project and his role as Dyer. Affleck explained that he had known Hansen, one of the screenwriters, for a while and that he told Affleck that he had two stories he was working on. The first story was about a baseball player in Cuba “but then I read the other story that he had sent, which was about these two women and their experiences in the 19th century and it becomes a movie and it was just undeniably moving and beautifully written and so unique” he said. Affleck also added that “Mona came in and made it a movie and brought it all to life. She had a clear vision for what she wanted to do and it turned it from being a great script to being a big living thing on its feet. And that was when I was most excited about being in it as an actor.”
Next, Riley spoke to Fastvold about what stage the script was in when it was brought to her attention and what about the script made her want to direct it. She replied that when she got the script it was complete and that it was extremely well written. She said, “that was exciting to me because there was a lot of filmmaking to be done with the script and that was because there is room for that because there is a lot of amazing texts that you have to figure out a way to actually use them.” She also added that she had an excellent relationship with her producers and that “I had all of this freedom to cast and bring a team together how I wanted it,” which was crucial in bringing her vision to life.
Waterston, who played Abigail, shared her reaction to the script and her first impression of her character. She said, “What really stuck with me was just my experience of the first page. There were two things on it. One was she was described as an asset to Dyer and I thought that word was very interesting—the positive and negative connotations that come with it. To be needed by someone can be a beautiful thing to be required by someone can be a rather complicated thing and certainly relationships in that period at that economic level were economic relationships so that was very interesting right off. And there was also a line of voice over that didn’t make it into the film which was ‘at night I often wonder if those who have been my intimates have found me to be a steep hill whose view does not repay the ascent’ and I thought that was just such an incredible line and so interesting. It really got my imagination going about what kind of woman is this who is kept up at night not about questions of whether she’s gotten what she wants from life but really is more concerned about if she’s given enough.”
Then, Kirby, who played Tallie, explained what made her want to play her character was how powerful the script was and how deeply it made her feel when she first read it. Kirby said she could not get the script out of her mind and that she loves its ability to capture that moment where “your life has been so gray and suddenly something comes into it that feels technicolor and alive and like freedom. And to me it made me appreciate all those moments in my life that I have regularly, in a way because I have all of those choices, and it felt like a voice of those forgotten women that are sort of untraceable now. That have gone from any record and yet lived these lives with these moments of the things that we get to experience all the time. And as a woman, I just loved how brightly she burned. Basically, that’s the phrase I always thought of when I thought of her. Someone who imagined beyond the system that she was really hemmed in.”
The director also explained what some of the preparation of the film looked like. Fastvold said that “we did have a couple of days during the rehearsal that was farm boot camp. It was just like milking and hay stacking because all of these actions need to look like you have done them a million times before. You can’t start the day of the first time you are doing these things you need to know how you are standing and moving and other things. One thing that I wanted to call out was our costume designer who really just spent so much time distressing and aging the costumes and making everything lived in and washing it and throwing it out on the farm and driving over it with her car and all these things just really get a sense that those things were just inhabited for years and years.”
To close the Q&A, Waterston explained how she cultivated the explosive chemistry she had with Kirby. Waterston said, “we just got along really well right away. I just liked her so much right away so that always helps. But I think I probably trusted her because I knew she was a wonderful actress already. I had seen her in things—I didn’t really know how we were going to make the movie without her. So I was really glad when she agreed to do it so obviously, I came into it enthusiastic because I wanted to do this with her.” Waterston also added that while their bond off-camera made the project all the more fun for her to be a part of it wasn’t the defining factor in their powerful connection on screen. She said, “But I’m not sure it really matters for the film. I’m not sure how much I love her in real life really matters. The script is so good and we were determined to honor it and follow its structure and what it demanded of us and I think that’s what created the chemistry. There is so much tension within the language of the scenes. Within what they are daring to say to what another. What they are holding back. Every scene is a tennis match it’s a kind of dance and I think that’s why that connection feels so powerful.”
The film is now playing.