Sidney Flanigan is one of the breakout stars of 2020, earning Best Actress nominations and wins for “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” She most notably received a bid from the Critics Choice Awards and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.
Flanigan recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Kevin Jacobsen about how she got involved with the film, having never acted before, working with writer-director Eliza Hittman and whether she plans to continue acting. Watch the exclusive interview and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: This is your film debut, which is kind of astonishing for a lot of people who have seen the film. Can you walk me through the initial discussions you had with Eliza Hittman, the director, and just what inspired you to sign on for the film?
Sidney Flanigan: Yeah, so I remember her partner, Scott, reaching out to me via email when I was 20 and just telling me that Eliza was working on this film and that they were interested in having me audition. At first, it was really surprising to get that email from these people that I very vaguely remember meeting when I was 14 and at first, I immediately was like, “Oh, I don’t think I could do something like that.” I was like, “Oh, I don’t have the time,” or, “I’ve never acted.” So I was just kind of like, “No,” at first. And then Scott at some point was like, “You’re a performer and it’s something you could probably do. Maybe just talk to Eliza and talk to her about the script and everything.” So I had a Skype meeting with her and she kind of told me about the basis of the story and we just chatted and she sent me the script and I read it and I was like, “Oh, this is actually a really cool story. It’s about abortion and women’s rights,” and all the characters seemed so real. I was just really inspired by the story and I watched her other movies and I just really liked them. It felt like something worth giving a chance.
GD: Yeah, what I really found interesting about your character of Autumn is that she isn’t really a stereotype and she really feels like a three-dimensional human being, which we don’t always see from teenage characters typically and I talked with Eliza the other day and she mentioned that you really understood this character on a fundamental level. So how would you describe Autumn in your own words?
SF: I think she’s someone that is headstrong and maybe a little anxious. I think she tends to suffer silently sometimes and to try and handle everything on her own. But I think it was very brave of her to just go and take that journey and to reclaim her own body that way.
GD: You’re also a musician, and that’s something that’s reflected in the film where we see her performing at the beginning and then at another point at the karaoke bar. Did you have any involvement with the inclusion of those more musical moments as far as what she sang or anything like that?
SF: Yeah, Eliza definitely let me be part of the process of picking out those songs. We had some options to work with and I went over the options and the first one I just remember being really drawn to because I felt like it’s originally this more doo-wop style type of song but the lyrics were just so haunting to me and I thought that they just worked really well for the theme and then that second song, I had three songs we listened to and that one was actually a song that had a very deep emotional connection to my personal self when I was in high school, so when it came up as an option, I was just like, “It has to be that one.”
GD: It’s great, and also a lot of your screen time is with Talia Ryder, who plays Autumn’s cousin, and she joins her on the trip. How did the two of you develop that dynamic that you have? Because it feels like the two of you almost had a shorthand in how you communicated with each other.
SG: [Sidney’s connection cuts out] …we wrote in them in our own time and shared our answers with each other privately and it just really helped us immediately develop this connection, understanding each other’s backgrounds and histories as people and as women, and that really helped very much in the very beginning. And then over time, just all the time we spent together on set and also off set, we just really bonded and I just really did feel close to her and I really came to love her as a person and a friend.
GD: You have all this preproduction experience with Eliza, and once you get to set and you’re actually filming the movie, what was she like to work with as a director in that mode as far as collaborating with you?
SG: Yeah, I remember my first day on set, we were shooting on a bus and I remember just sitting on the bus, I think I was by myself and I saw a bunch of the crew in this circle talking and they’re getting ready for the big first day and I remember just thinking to myself, “Oh, my God, this is actually happening. We’re about to actually start doing the real thing,” and I was so scared but there was also this feeling of when you’re sitting on a roller coaster and it’s like, “Oh God, here we go!” Eliza just made it so… I felt connected to her in some weird way, especially since we met when I was younger and there was this weird feeling. I just trusted her. I felt confident in her ability to make this film because of her other films. I just felt safe on set and I always trusted her direction and I had small conversations with her and I’d always ask questions and she was always happy to help and she was really great at directing small moments and just kind of being there. It was really just an awesome time getting to work with someone like her.
GD: Yeah, well, I have to say the frankness of some of the scenes in this movie where Autumn is talking to social workers and doctors are quite illuminating and I don’t think it’s something that men experience as much as women. You don’t have to delve into anything too personal, obviously, but I’m just curious how much those scenes felt familiar to you and whether the authenticity of those scenes actually maybe even helped you in your performance at all.
SF: Yeah, definitely. It wasn’t my first time in a Planned Parenthood. They provide lots of excellent care for women besides just abortions and it did feel very routine. Planned Parenthood was also very involved in helping. We filmed in actual Planned Parenthoods and they were very involved in helping us develop those scenes and it all felt authentic and sometimes I was doing those scenes, I would just go through it as if, “OK, I’m at the doctor’s right now,” and just go through it the way I normally would.
GD: I’m really curious about the scene that gives the film its name and people who have seen the film obviously know what I’m talking about. It’s so raw and emotional and it’s filmed all in one take and Eliza was telling me that was actually the first take, which is just incredible. What was that day like on set from your perspective?
SF: I remember getting on set and Eliza, we were in a Planned Parenthood, and she had arranged for me to have a private room to sit in, like an office, so that I can kind of be away from all of the chaos that is the set and all the commotion and I sat there eating a little bowl of fruit, my breakfast, and sitting with my sides and just sitting with my feelings and just reflecting and just trying to get in touch with those more vulnerable places and memories that are all stored in there from years of experiences. She came in and had a brief conversation with me, kind of ran the sides a little bit, and then we started to shoot a scene and there were two cameras very close on me and when you have cameras all up in your face, it does really help you feel vulnerable and the social worker really just had like a sense of… it felt like true compassion. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that she really did that work for so long. I don’t know, I just felt so comfortable and I felt like I was connected to my own experiences as a woman and the things I’ve been through and it was almost like sitting through my own therapy session and it was nice, in a way. It felt powerful to be that vulnerable in front of a room of people.
GD: And once you’re done filming, did it feel like the experience of playing Autumn was just still lingering with you? Has it still lingered with you ever since you’ve been done for however many months?
SF: Yeah, I definitely remember when I came home, it was definitely still there for a little while. Putting yourself in a specific mindset, especially with a film where the entire thing is kind of anxiety and she’s always trying to get through this thing and is taking all these hurdles and hoops and she just wants to get it done and you are in that mindset for a couple of months and then you go back home to your life, you have to kind of work your way back out of it. But I remember first coming back to my house and it was almost unrecognizable. The furniture had been rearranged and stuff, too. It freaked me out. But yeah, it was strange, but it was interesting and I’d do it again.
GD: Well, have you given any thought to just what happens to Autumn after she gets home and kind of gets back into her regular life?
SF: I’ve never given any deep thought to it, really. I just hope for the best.
GD: Yeah. Well, I think this film has affected a lot of people who have seen it. What kind of response have you received yourself from younger people who have seen the film?
SF: Yeah, I’ve only mostly seen really warm support. I’ve seen people be very empathetic towards the fact that so many women have to deal with this and I’ve had women DM me and say, “Oh, this means so much to me,” or just tell me their own personal experiences. It’s so amazing to see people just open up to me like that and it’s sad that it’s such a universal story, but I think that’s why it needed to be told.
GD: Absolutely, and you and Eliza are earning nominations and wins from all these critics groups for your work. What has your reaction been to getting all of this love from the critics?
SF: It’s overwhelming, but in the best way. I really never thought that I would ever be experiencing something like this in my life. I mean, I never thought I’d be in a movie or be acting. That’s the thing, is that life is just so surprising. You can really never predict where you’re going. It’s amazing. It’s one of those things that are really hard to describe.
GD: I bet. Well, I don’t know if you have anything lined up right now as far as other films, but do you see yourself pursuing acting full-time after this?
SF: Yeah, I already did grab another role with a film called “My Twin Is Dead” and I’m not sure when we’re supposed to start shooting yet because COVID is a bit of a thing. So, just kind of waiting right now and preparing. Right now, my plans are to keep working on acting as well as my music because I play with my band as well here in Buffalo, New York and yeah, that’s mainly the goal. But as I’ve learned with working on “Never Rarely,” I have no idea what is coming for me and I just hope it’s exciting.