journos came into the roundtable room at The Regency Hotel last
month to interview the principals behind Blue Valentine, I
wasn't sure how I felt about it. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, it is
the story of a two ordinary people, Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and
Michelle Williams), whose relationship is seen from its beginning to
dissolution six years later. A child, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), gets
born in between and changes the dynamics of the burgeoning
relationship. It was a situation I related to, having been through
something like that in my own life – of course, with other
permutations unique to my own situation.
Years in the
making, the movie took lots of risks, enough that it had been
afflicted with a NC-17 rating. But the film company, Weinstein,
appealed and got it reduced to an R-rating. Debuting at the 2010
Sundance Film Festival, the movie does provoke, not so much with
controversial scenes but in its naked emotion – raw feelings evident
in the many screenings and Q&As that have been held to connect it
was a very small group, and some of us have spoken with her before,
which lent an intimacy to the occasion. So when we journos were
asked to introduce ourselves, Michelle volunteered: “I always get
nervous, like if I'm in a yoga class or something and they say,
‘Okay, tell us your name and a little bit about your body.’ I just
hope that they'll skip my name – I don't know why – because it's
embarrassing. So, if anybody felt uncomfortable with that, I
So I added:
"As long as you didn't ask us about our bodies...” and laughed.
back, "Yes, tell me about your body – I
asked for it." But neither she nor the rest of us did and we dove
To make a
seamless transition... Can you talk about being in a film where
you're naked, not just visually, but also naked emotionally? How did
that come to life for you?
see. I just set that up and you hit on it. "Tell us your name and a
little bit about your body." Do you mean, the nudity?
wasn't so much that, but you were emotionally nude in many ways in
Well, that's a
quality that I'm always looking for in my work. So, then the
physical nudity is something kind of separate. I've never [been]
jumping at the chance to take off my clothes. But to me it's a
fragment, it's a small portion of the story, and my overriding
desire and passion to tell the story as a whole tells that part of
myself to be quiet. After I made Blue Valentine I said,
"Well, okay, that's it for nudity on film for me. I'm done. Done and
dusted. I'm putting that to bed." Then I read this script that
[actor/director] Sarah Polley wrote. Nudity all over the place and I
had to recant. I wanted to tell the story so badly. I was on fire to
play that part and I wasn't going to let something that has to do
with fear, something that has to do with insecurity or something
that has to do with vanity get in the way of my kind of bigger
What was it
like being emotionally naked and having to improvise?
improvisation was a surprise to me. I've been attached to this movie
for six years and it was because of the script. It was because of
the words and that was what kept me hooked after all that time. When
I revisited the script I found a story that I still wanted to tell
and a character that I still wanted to play and words that I still
wanted to say. When I showed up to make the movie, the first day
Derek [Cianfrance] said to me, ‘That script is dead. I wrote it
twelve years ago in a dark room, and if you say any of those words
you're going to bore me. Now go out there and surprise me.' So I
didn't know, I had no idea that I was signing up to improvise a
film. I'd never done it before. I'd been secretly terrified of it.
I've done everything that I could to avoid it and then found myself
in a situation where there was no way out. The only way out, when
you find yourself in hell you just have to put one foot in front of
the other, and that was a bit of my dilemma. I thought about my
daughter and what her attitude is when she's beginning at something,
what it's like when she's learning how to read or when she's
learning how to write her name. I thought, "I have to approach it
with the same openness, willingness to learn and belief that I will
and to be willing to expose myself in front of my director and in
front of my actor for the child, for the beginner, for the fool that
I was, with the hope that through that attitude something good would
come out the other end. Yeah.
does this film says about relationships?
I don't think
there's a message. I don't think there's like a slogan or something
that you're supposed to walk away from the movie with. That's one of
the things that I like about it because it reminded me of life. Ryan
was talking about the movie in this way, and I should probably let
him talk about it. But I just thought that it was so ingenious,
about it being like a whodunit. Like, if your friend is telling you
about a breakup and you're constantly with her trying to understand
what happened and you're looking for all the clues and you're
pointing fingers, like, “Well, that's because your mom treated you
like such and such,” or, “That's because you're always looking,
trying to solve the mystery.” I think the same thing is true in life
that's true in this movie – that you're left unfortunately with a
question instead of an answer.
there was a lot of method preparation for this film – living with
Ryan, with Faith, and living on the budget that they were on. That
took an extreme commitment. What did Derek do to engender that trust
in him that you'd go along with all this preparation?
I gave Derek
my trust from the moment that I met him. I think you can kind of
tell immediately, personally, upon first glance who you can give
that to and who you should reserve it from. That's how I kind of
operate anyway. So he didn't have to do anything. He was himself.
Then there's the abortion scene. It's quite visceral. It was
actually shot in a location with people from the clinic itself. Did
that help the process of shooting that? It's true, yeah. It was
helpful, but a lot of this movie cuts really close to the bone
because of the way that we were encouraged and allowed to work. That
doctor was a real abortion provider. The nurse was a real nurse.
When we shot that scene, Derek, out of respect for the position that
I was in, he held the camera, because Derek and I have the longest
relationship. He operated the camera and Mariela [Comitini], who was
one of the only women on our set, our First AD, she held the boom so
that the room was as contained and as safe for me as possible.
I mean, that stuff always helps. It's like when you're having
a phone conversation in a movie and there's actually nobody on the
other end. It's hard to not feel like an idiot. So when you have
that kind of support and you have somebody to really respond to, it
makes all the difference to your performance. Then it becomes
reacting. You're not having to manufacture anything. You're
responding to real stimulus outside of yourself. So, it frightened
do you think about the NC-17 rating the film initially got? It
didn't seem explicit at all – not compared to a lot of other movies.
always curious. Well, I was realizing that when I first heard about
the NC-17 rating my initial reaction was it didn't inflame me
because - after sitting with it for a while - I realized because I'm
a girl and because I wasn't socialized that way. I was socialized to
not get angry, to not put up a fight because it's not going to get
you anywhere. You accept the world that you're being given and work
as best as you can inside of it, for better or for worse. As I spent
more time and thought more about the issue and listened to Ryan,
Derek and Harvey [Weinstein], it incited my passion and my fighter
spirit because what it's essentially doing is limiting where the
movie can be see. I thought that it was just an issue of kids under
17 being allowed to see this, and I'm not advocating that a child
under 17 should see this. It should be the parent's decision, but
that's not really what's at issue here. What's at issue is that it
means you can basically only see this movie if you live in a major
city and there's art house theater nearby you. You can't play ads
for it on television. So what it comes down to essentially is
censorship and that's the part of the issue that I'm just beginning
What aspect of
the movie brought out the censors?
From what I
understand, it's still a mystery. One of the things that is
frustrating about it is that we don't know. They don't comment on it
publicly. They don't tell you what it is.
There were no
cuts suggested by them?
Like I said,
they don't tell you what it is. They don't tell you what they take
issue with. They don't show themselves. They don't say who they are.
They're a random grouping and I feel like we're all out here. We're
all answering your questions. We're all trying as best as we can to
be accountable and to give explanation and to give understanding
behind actions and they aren't showing themselves and being clear
about it. From what I understand it's the oral sex scene.
but that is no more explicit than what's in Black
which got an R.
That's what I heard. I haven't seen that, but I know. I wondered if
it was something about firsts. I wondered, like, the first time that
you experience something often your initial response is to reject it
because it's strange and it's new and your brain doesn't know how to
process it. So I wonder if this is a first, if it was the ratings
board trying to process a first oral sex scene that's about a
woman's pleasure, between a man and a woman? Is that it?
And the Sarah
Polley film, is that being shot or is it finished?
it. It's called Take This Waltz and is about a woman who
leaves her marriage. To me one of the things that it's about is the
phrase wherever you go there you are.
It sounds like
a bookend to this movie...
sometimes, “Am I always going to be derivative of myself?” I don't
know. Are we forced, are we destined, to repeat ourselves?
How do you
choose your roles?
I've found for
me that my decision making process is very simple. Instead of
weighing things, making lists, pulling my hair out, asking the
advice of friends and colleagues – does my heart yearn for this?
next thing that you have coming out?
Before that I
made another movie with Kelly Reichardt called Meek's Cutoff [which
debuted at The New York Film Festival 2010]. That'll come out first.
It was a tough
movie, but I liked it.
a glutton for punishment. I liked it. I'm like her mother – I'm her
biggest fan. I just think the world of her.