Shondaland.com gives us a peek at the Widows Q&A.
In a post-screening Q+A, the cast and director of “Widows” talked collaboration, representation, and what they learned on set.
Steve McQueen’s latest effort, “Widows,” dropped onto Must See Lists late last year with little more than the reveal of its cast. After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a political thriller, heist, melodrama (yes, it’s all of these things) starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Daniel Kaluuya. And from the deep intimacy of its opening shot, to the many sharp twists throughout, “Widows” delivers. It is, without exaggeration (or spoilers), everything one might expect from a McQueen movie that also happens to be co-written by the mystery-thriller expert, Gillian Flynn.
Meshing together low stakes local politics and high stakes action, “Widows” follows Veronica (Davis), Linda (Rodriguez), and Alice (Debicki), three women whose dead husbands leave behind a few million dollars worth of unfinished business in their wake. When the widows’ lives are threatened by a wannabe Chicago Alderman, Jamal Manning (Henry) and his brother Jatemme (Kaluuya, in easily one of the scariest performances of the year), they have to take matters into their own hands in order to survive.
We were lucky enough to attend a recent screening that concluded with a Q+A panel featuring, McQueen, Davis, Rodriguez, and Kaluuya. In the brief time they had with the audience, each artist shared what originally drew them to the project, some of the lessons they took away, and a few gems that will definitely make our second viewings (and third, and fourth — to be honest, this movie is coming for its things this awards season) that much more compelling.
Why this project, and why now?
“… It’s just a case of wanting to tell stories. It’s that simple … I wanted to put that fabric of our current political and socio-political, racial, environment into the sort of DNA of [‘Widows’]. It’s honest. It had to happen, because otherwise, it becomes just another heist story. We all know about what’s happening around us, and to sort of put that into a narrative is very important. [The difficulty in arranging] child care. Horrific sort of politicians. False prophets. It’s in our everyday.” – Steve McQueen
“I have always wanted to be in an action movie, ever since ‘Get Christy Love.’ I’ve always wanted to kick somebody’s ass, because I wanted to kick people’s ass in life. And there was something about channeling that power [while making ‘Widows’] that I did like. But I didn’t necessarily sign on to it because of the action part of it. I signed on to it because I felt that it was a complete story. And [my character Veronica] was a complete character. And actually the thing that really struck me was [that] the core of [‘Widows’] was a love story. This woman is in love with a man, [Liam Neeson], and that is usually what’s not associated with me either. I always want to be a complete person. I always feel like that’s the elusive thing when it comes to people of color, you know what I mean?” – Viola Davis
“I just like telling stories. I like showing evolutions … I just enjoy that and I really like exploring the fact that we live in a world where we think people are bad people and good people. I think people are people, they do bad things. You know what I’m saying? And I’ve been around people that’ve done bad things. And I find them fascinating…I don’t think I’ve ever been offered the opportunity to play someone like that. And for whatever reason, Steve saw that in me.” – Daniel Kaluuya
“I actually found [my character, ‘Linda’] to be weak [when I first read the script]. And I actually found her to be the epitome of everything I despised about the way women were treated when I was growing up in Jersey City. I saw so many women have their children young, marry the wrong guy who wasn’t there for her, and have to raise those kids by herself. That was my mother. That’s why I originally said no to [Steve]. I was like, ‘I thought that you were supposed to shoot films that were like an escape from reality?’ …And then [I] realized when I spoke to Steve, ‘My god, he’s a genius … I mean I’d have to be stupid not to want to work with him.'” – Michelle Rodriguez
On representation in film:
“You know what? When Roseanne – not to bring this up, but I’ll bring it up — called Valerie Jarrett a ‘gorilla’ and her show was pulled off of ABC, and everybody was just mortified? I guarantee you cannot put ten people in a room who can explain why that comment was offensive. I mean the ‘why.’ They just say it was offensive, because you called a black woman a gorilla. But really to explain it in any comprehensive way, they can’t do [that]. And I compare it to the opening shot in this movie, where you have a dark-skinned woman with a big nose, and wide lips, and her natural hair kissing — romantically kissing — a white man on screen. You will not see that [in films]. I don’t care how much [people in charge] say that they’ve committed to inclusivity, they’re not committed to that. They’re just committed to seeing some black people in some movies.” – VD
“Look at us. Look at us in this room. All different shapes, sizes, races, look at us. Sexual orientations, this is the world. It’s that simple. That screen should be reflecting us … The majority of people who buy cinema tickets, look like that. That’s all.” – SM
On how “Widows” wielded and changed views of “femininity:”
“Usually, I have great experiences with women because I’m a woman’s woman. But sometimes, not all the time, women get into the pretty thing. So you get in that trailer, everybody putting on their makeup and their hair and they’re putting on their mask. That sort of mask of femininity — talking about diets and exercise and the new trend. It really is something. I only experienced it really when I came out to L.A., that kind of woman thing. Now, I did not experience it on the set of ‘Widows.’ Our first meeting was very, very loud, with a lot of whiskey and vodka.” – VD
“[When we started ‘Widows’], the sensation inside of me was fear. A deep sense of fear. Of having to drop my armor. Of having to make mistakes. Of being my mother … [But] out of the whole thing, what I realized was the beauty of femininity. I’ve been on my masculine side since I was a little kid. I’ve had to man up since I was a little kid … That means pounding your chest and fighting your way and saying no to everybody… I was like, ‘You know, you need to be a hero of this motherfucker. You need to go out there and get yours to survive.’ I felt that women who put their heart out like that to get stomped on by a cruel world was weak. And [Steve] allowed me to see the strength in that … I realized that these are the strongest women around. Without them you wouldn’t have the foundations of survival in the ghetto. So I learned so much about how to open my heart and stop thinking that this masculine thing is so powerful. It’s bullshit. It’s bullshit. The real strength is in the women who hold up the fort no matter what. In the name of community, in the name of their children, in the name of love, really.” – MR
On McQueen’s directing style:
“Steve just empowered us, and trusted us [to] just do what’s funnest. You don’t know whose idea [anything was and], I always love that — there’s no grabbiness … That’s why [working on ‘Widows’] was just a really great space, it’s a gift … I’ll ask [Steve] for something and he like ‘I don’t know, surprise me.’ He said ‘Surprise me, surprise me. Surprise yourself.'” – DK
“Actors need the space to experiment [and] I want to be inspired. It’s a 50-50 thing. … the way I try to help is to give the actor [the means] to become a spear, meaning that he or she becomes whatever way they go. It takes time to get to that point, but whatever way they roll, whatever they do, is correct. It doesn’t matter what they do after a while, it’s what the character will do. And then I just get out of the bloody way.” – SM
And one final Word from Viola…
“Actors are observers and thieves. That’s what they are, they study behavior that time we don’t think anybody’s looking at you … We’re so taught about typecasting. If you’re sexual, you do this, and you’ve got to look this way. And if you’re having sex in the film, you’ve got to get naked in a film, so your body’s got to look a certain way. Well, what if you have stretch marks? What if you got a little pooch? That’s what was hard for me with the Liam Neeson scene, because I was being private in public. I’m sorry, I kiss my husband in a different way when we’re in bed together than I would if I were kissing an actor on screen. Usually. But what if you are actually kissing your husband on screen? The way you would be at home? [But] on screen? That’s the beauty of what [actors] do … that’s why it’s sacred. We’re the keeper of truthfulness. And often we just don’t see that.” – VD
“Widows” opens in theaters on November 16.