How ‘She Said’ director Maria Schrader made listening the focus of the film [Exclusive Video Interview]

In “She Said,” New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) wonder if their tireless work in reporting Harvey Weinstein‘s decades of sexual abuse and harassment will change anything — if anyone will care. Maria Schrader had a similar thought when she read their article on Oct. 5, 2017. “It was shocking. It was at the same time not really surprising. I was wondering what would follow, if there would be something following,” the director tells Gold Derby (watch the exclusive video interview above). “And then it did.”

The exposé sparked the #MeToo movement and led to the downfall of the now imprisoned mogul as more and more survivors of his systemic abuse spoke out. Kantor and Twohey won the Pulitzer Prize and wrote a book, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” about their investigation, which was being adapted into a film by screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz before its 2019 publication. Schrader came on board to direct “She Said” last year — “comparatively late” for her on a project as she typically writes or co-writes her films — and was “blown away” by Lenkiewicz’s script. While “She Said” is very much a journalism procedural, the film centers the women on both sides of the article. It delves into Kantor’s and Twohey’s personal lives as they juggle work and motherhood, including postpartum depression, and as well as those of the survivors, whose backstories are fleshed out. On the contrary, Weinstein is only heard via phone calls and never seen in full (there’s a shot of his back).

“It was an extraordinary experience to open this particular screenplay,” Schrader says. “One very decisive choice was to tell the story out of the perspective of Jodi and Megan. After the article came out, Harvey Weinstein somehow became a specter, almost a representative figure for, sadly, countless powerful men abusing their positions. So he is present and at the same time, he doesn’t have much screen time because we tell it out of the experiences of Jodi and Megan, who had no connections to Hollywood whatsoever at the beginning.”

SEE ‘She Said’ reviews praise ‘satisfying’ and ‘incendiary’ film about Weinstein investigation

By that same measure, “She Said” also never depicts any assault or violence inflicted on the women. Instead, Schrader devotes lengthy scenes to the survivors — specifically Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) — as they tell their stories and recount the moments at which their lives were irrevocably changed.

“In this particular case, it’s not an immediate report of an incident. It’s women who talk about something [that] happened decades ago and there is a reflection also involved, a looking back on how much these kinds of incidents can change the trajectory of their lives. We all know and it’s also part of the movie that there is a societal structure and it’s been present for a long time — generations and generations — that makes it so difficult for women to talk about something so traumatic and intimate like sexual assault,” Schrader notes. “And that has to do with [being] directed connected to social narratives. What is a man? What is a woman? And how different do we look at male sexuality in [contrast] to female sexuality? And I do believe that listening to these accounts at length and with emotion involved, it might make it a little clearer on why is there shame involved. And what is so problematic about communicating about it? I think these are wonderful tools of film. It might be even stronger than depicting and illustrating violence.”

The film also features some real-life survivors, including Gwyneth Paltrow, who voices herself on a phone call, and most notably Ashley Judd, whose decision to go on the record gave the Times the green light to run the story. The scenes featuring Judd would be powerful even if another actress had played her, but the fact that she plays herself adds another level of poignancy. Judd was the first person they reached out to, according to Schrader.

“I think it’s the beauty of this process. It’s been such a collaborative process in that so many voices contributed and of course the decision of Ashley Judd to really be part of the movie and to take ownership of how to perform Ashley Judd,” the Emmy winner adds. “She’s so incredibly pivotal for the whole story and for Jodi and Megan being able to publish the article, and of course, the unexpected phone call in the newsroom is the climax of the movie. It’s an incredibly powerful moment. Ashley Judd is an incredibly impressive person with a great calmness and a great power. So the moment she decided to tell her story herself and be part of this, I couldn’t have been happier. It was just an honor.”

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