With the eagerly anticipated released of The Girl on the Train released later this week, Flickering Myth’s roving reporter Scott J. Davis sat down to chat with the film’s director Tate Taylor, who discussed the adaptation, the re-location of the story, casting and those Marvel rumours…
The book has only been out for over a year, how early into the process of the film adaptation did you get involved?
It was not long ago, about March 2015 an executive from Dreamworks called me as we had done The Help together and she said: “We’ve just bought this book – you’re right for it!” So she said tell me what you think and whether it was a movie. So I read it having never heard of it, I think it has just started its meteoric rise up the lists and I read it and I called her back and said I thought it absolutely would make a good movie.
What was it about the novel that appealed to you as a filmmaker?
What I liked about it was the thriller aspect of it but also the characters and the ability to have such in-depth character studies of three different women and yet it’s still a thriller. Usually character development and scene work and dialogue kind of gets pushed to the side to service the motor or the engine of the thriller. But I also realised it would be a fun challenge for me for my third major film to try to service both of those things in the same movie.
The film is very adult in its themes and nature, was it important to keep all of those elements in place rather than tone them down for a wider audience and to go for a PG-13 rating rather than an R?
I said I’m interested and had a meeting the next week and said what I would do with the material which was that the movie had to be dark and you have to lean into the violence and to the sex because neither is gratuitous and they both important to the characters and they agreed. And said this would be an R-rated film and we will really let down readers if we try to back away from that and that was June 2015 and met with Emily for an hour then I went and met Paula (Hawkins, the author) and had her blessing and went straight from there to New York and went to Grand Central and bought a train ticket and started riding the line back and forth!
There has been a run of R-rated films over recent years that have been very successful – did you use those as a “blueprint” for staying faithful to the book and it’s audience?
I think it’s similar to what they did with Fifty Shades of Grey and that worked. This material has real issues about loneliness and sexuality and addiction and I think if you were to pull them back to a more appetising and more encompassing film-going audience they would have suffered and maybe slipped into caricature and that was something that I wanted to be a part of. Fifty Shades was eroticism and sex-candy – the sexuality in this isn’t. Can you imagine if this had been PG-13 and what you would have had?
Was Emily Blunt always someone you were interested in for the lead role of Rachel and was there a long process in casting her?
Yes. They called me (the studio) and I said I was interested and they said we are thinking of Emily, what do you think? I said I had to meet her – I’ve been a big fan for a long time and wanted to work with her. It was a combination of all of her work but the one role I thought to myself that she could do anything was Edge of Tomorrow – that’s such a great film. But when I saw her in that I thought “She’s doing all this?!” It was something of a unlikeable character yet you liked her and rooted for her and that was the challenge for the character of Rachel. She’s really messed up and creepy and really makes bad choices but I just knew in the hands of any other actress who wasn’t inherently, chemically likeable it just wouldn’t work.
Was it a similar situation when casting Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett for the other two lead female roles?
Rebecca was in “the talk” when I came on board – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation had done so well and I met with her and fell in love with her immediately so that checked that box off quickly. And then with Megan, the role in my mind was much like Celia in The Help (played by Jessica Chastain) – it was the most prone to going the wrong direction. It couldn’t just be a Jessica Rabbit sex kitten there has to be raw, little-girl-like vulnerability that you can just see come through. When I asked Jessica (to be in The Help), no-one really knew who she was but yet she was about to have all these movies come out and I met her and she got the part purely on her ability and my fondness for her and the same happened with Haley.
I met her and really liked her, we had this great conversation about pain and loneliness and addiction and sex and how it applied in our own lives and she really got real with me and when I connect with an actor that way then I want to work with them. I hoped she can do this because I’d only seen a small piece from The Equalizer one scene and then I told the studio and then flew with the casting director to Baton Rouge where Haley was finishing The Magnificent Seven and we did the big scene and she killed it. I sent everyone the screen test and she got the part.
There were many big names linked to the male roles when casting first began (Jared Leto and Chris Evans reportedly circled the roles), how did you settle on Justin Theroux and Luke Evans?
I was a fan of Justin’s from The Leftovers and when these “names” were circling around the truth was what I wanted for the role of Tom speaks to what you spoke about with American Psycho – I said he needs to be this All-American frat-boy that you just feel by his look and his demeanour that he is trying really hard to go to this next level – we never mention in the film what he does but in my mind he’s in finance, all his buds have gone to bigger things off Wall Street but he’s out in the sticks and the life he hoped for hasn’t happened. I had been a fan of Luke’s work – I had spoken to my friend Chadwick Boseman about casting Luke and forgot that he had just finished a film with Luke in South Africa (Message from the King) and he said: “You need to work with Luke!” And with that endorsement it made me really excited.
The film adaptation moves away from the book’s original location of London and moves it to New York and the local suburbs. Was that something you wanted to change when you signed on?
It had been done before I was even contacted. There’s no real clear-cut answer as to why and I think the reason I didn’t search an answer is that it really doesn’t matter. London is mentioned in the novel but the fact is having made the film and put it together, the movie happens between Rachel’s ears and in her head and in these women’s head and conversely New York isn’t really there, you just know that that is where she’s going. At first Paula said she wasn’t sure why we moved it but she came to visit on-set and she saw the neighbourhood that I had created and she said “You know, this rural nature of suburbia of American really does add to the isolation of these women and make’s you feel like you’re out somewhere and you don’t really get that geographic make-up of the train line”.
She was very happy with it and that makes me happy – and she loved the film.
After working with Chadwick Boseman on “Get On Up” your name was reportedly in the mix for Black Panther, is that a genre of film-making you would like to pursue at some point?
I’m open to it – there are some things circling right now but I won’t mention it because I don’t want to jinx myself! I’m open to exploring the whole Marvel world and movies like that. I’m up for anything.
I’d forgotten you worked with Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone when she was first breaking out. How was that experience as an actor for you? Would you like to direct her in the future?
She and I were drinking margaritas in Missouri and I thought to myself “She’s going to be really good” – her personality is great, she’s a great actress but you want to sit and eat with her. We’re trying to do something, we keep saying “No, that’s not the right one!” but she’s a little busy.
Our thanks to Tate Taylor and eOne for the interview.
The Girl on the Train opens in UK cinemas on October 5th. Read our review here.
Scott J. Davis