Haley Bennett on 'Swallow' and the Time Terrence Malick Went to Bat For Her

Haley Bennett
Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images
The actor shares a letter Malick wrote on her behalf to Antoine Fuqua and delves into shooting 'Cyrano' opposite Peter Dinklage in the time of COVID.

Haley Bennett spent more than a decade earning the chance to truly lead a film, and once the starring role in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow came along, she left it all on the field, as the sports cliché goes. For a film that cost less than $1 million and lacks the luxury of a high-powered PR and marketing campaign, Bennett’s performance as Hunter Conrad, a housewife who ingests household objects, has consistently been recognized throughout awards season. After years of impressive supporting turns, Bennett hopes Swallow is the beginning of her career as a leading lady, something Terrence Malick, Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington have each supported.

“I aspire to establish my place as a leading lady, or continue to find dimension and truth in supporting roles that excite and entice me, Cyrano being one of them,” Bennett tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Obviously, I hope that my performance in Swallow continues to be recognized so that I have more opportunities to create in this way that’s satisfying to me. I feel like I have more to offer and more to be discovered. I don’t want to be a dessert or an appetizer; I want to make a meal. I’m hungry for more. In Cyrano, there’s a song that’s sung by my character, Roxanne, and it’s called ‘I Need More.’ And I really connected with that song. It was so liberating, and I think it’s such a universal feeling.”

In the fall of 2020, Bennett returned to work in Joe Wright’s musical adaptation of Cyrano, which is led by Peter Dinklage in the eponymous role. Because of Covid-era restrictions, the Sicily-based set faced added challenges due to the nature of the musical genre.

“There wasn’t a lot of time because some of the film was shot on Mount Etna. I think we are the only production that’s filmed where we filmed on Mount Etna,” Bennett explains. “There were so many elements of the film that needed to be worked out, like the band, The National, with the music. This wasn’t just a five-act play that we were adapting into a screenplay. It’s also a musical, and there’s dancing and singing involved. At one point, we were told that we couldn’t sing within a certain amount of feet of each other. So there were things that we just couldn’t adhere to, and there were a lot of disappointments.”

Looking back at the road to Swallow, Bennett can’t help but single out her “guardian angel,” Terrence Malick. In 2011, Bennett was cast in Malick’s then-titled Lawless, which later became 2017’s Song to Song. Despite shooting off and on for a year, Bennett’s primary storyline with Christian Bale was cut from the film due to Bale’s American Hustle schedule. Nevertheless, Malick was so taken by Bennett’s work that he went out of his way to endorse her to future collaborator Antoine Fuqua.

“Once Terrence Malick casts you in a film, it kind of puts you on the map for other filmmakers that have been affected by Terrence’s work — Antoine Fuqua being one of those people,” Bennett recalls. “And when I was up for a role in The Equalizer, Terrence sent Antoine Fuqua a hand-typed letter that he actually put in the mail. The letter had glowing reviews about my performance in [Song to Song].”

In a recent conversation with THR, Bennett also discusses eating Tex-Mex with Malick, improvising with celebrated cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki and meeting Amy Adams for the first time on The Woman in the Window set. She also reflects on what she observed during their eventual collaboration together on Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy.

Before we dive deep into Swallow, what was it like shooting Cyrano in Italy, especially at a time like this?

It’s so nice to have Cyrano behind us, at least the filming aspect. Joe is editing from home now. To answer your question, just having work in 2020 was a privilege, but also a huge responsibility. We felt like pioneers — and every day felt like doomsday. (Laughs.) There’s so much that you can’t control already, when making a film, but this was a whole new world. We were very much in isolation and in lockdown in Sicily, which can play tricks on your mind, and that was an extreme challenge. It was very emotional for so many people, who were missing their families and friends. We should have all been celebrating that we were making this film, but there were so many people suffering and living in fear, so we can’t sugarcoat that. I know everyone was grateful for work, but there were definitely sacrifices to be made. Families couldn’t make normal set visits, so everyone went months without being able to allow their families and friends into our bubble. It’s just a really strange atmosphere.

Did you guys have to devise most of the Covid-related plan, or did the studio have the legwork done already?

Well, Joe received a script that we felt was ready to be filmed, and then, we just had to figure out all the logistics. There wasn’t a lot of time because some of the film was shot on Mount Etna. I think we are the only production that’s filmed where we filmed on Mount Etna. So we knew that there would be limitations, and we thought, “Well, if we’re going to do this, then we need to do it this year.” So that was in July, and there were so many elements of the film that needed to be worked out, like the band, The National, with the music. This wasn’t just a five-act play that we were adapting into a screenplay. It’s also a musical, and there’s dancing and singing involved. And then, there’s the building of the sets, protecting everyone and just keeping everyone safe. We had an incredible producer on board, Guy Heeley, who is extremely diligent. We had a Covid team, and Working Title and MGM were also very cautious every step of the way, which is why we thought we’d get the rug pulled out from under us. There were very stringent and strict rules as to what we could and couldn’t do. So there were a lot of limitations in terms of crowds. You can’t have that many extras, you can’t have that many dancers and you can’t have the dancers mix with the actors. At one point, we were told that we couldn’t sing within a certain amount of feet of each other. (Laughs.) Cyrano and Roxanne, there’s a scene at the end where we’re very close, and we’re like, “We can’t sing with plexiglass between us. That would completely take away the intimacy and the authenticity of what these characters are going through.” So there were things that we just couldn’t adhere to, and there were a lot of disappointments. Seeing things from both sides as an actor and now as a producer and also being the partner of a filmmaker, I think you have the best intention going into a film, but then there’s so much that’s out of your control — now more than ever.

After the warm reception to Swallow and your career-best performance, how are you feeling about the future?

Well, Swallow was the dream. Swallow was my first film in a leading role, and I’ve spent ten years of my career trying to make the most of supporting roles. I’m grateful for all of my past opportunities. They’ve been stepping stones, and I’ve learned so much. I don’t think I’d be where I am now without them, and it’s not a struggle that’s out of the ordinary. With supporting characters, so much is out of your control at that point. With The Devil All the Time, for instance, how you fit into a film after the edit is ultimately beyond your control as an actor. So you can do all of this beautiful work, but the film might be too long, so your hard work gets altered and your character disappears. That’s just one example, but my job is to serve the story. I aspire to establish my place as a leading lady, or continue to find dimension and truth in supporting roles that excite and entice me, Cyrano being one of them. Obviously, I hope that my performance in Swallow continues to be recognized so that I have more opportunities to create in this way that’s satisfying to me. I feel like I have more to offer and more to be discovered. I don’t want to be a dessert or an appetizer; I want to make a meal. I’m hungry for more. It’s funny. In Cyrano, there’s a song that’s sung by my character, Roxanne, and it’s called “I Need More.” And I really connected with that song. (Bennett lightly sings.) “I need more. I need more.” It was so liberating, and I think it’s such a universal feeling. I feel like it’s the dot-dot-dot to Swallow. It’s the continuation of this expression of being hungry, breaking free from the holds, and just saying, “I’m not going to settle. I can’t. I won’t settle.” And, yeah, I feel like this is a continuation of a journey for me.

After rewatching Swallow, I remain impressed by the fact that it uses Hunter’s pica disorder to shine a light on generational trauma and its connection to reproductive rights. Most genre movies would’ve doubled down on the body horror aspect, but Swallow knew just the right time to have Hunter reconcile this trauma she’s avoided her entire life.

Oh my God, completely. Absolutely. If you watch the film in reverse, you’re right. You’re spot on. I’m looking at my workbook here, and it’s about the unconscious, right? I really love that image of Hunter running from the house and going to the hotel. I have written here, “Breaking free from this pattern and saying goodbye, not to Richie, but the historical. Breaking free of the enslavement and constant pattern. Swallowing was the doing of what she couldn’t do for herself and then she had to finish the job for herself to wake up.” So, absolutely, you received the film in a way that I envision and in the way that I intended for the audience to receive.

Hunter spends a lot of time running away from this voice that tells her that she’s unlovable and that she’s unworthy. That was because of her relationship with her mother that isn’t necessarily explained on screen. Her mother couldn’t connect with her in a way that I could connect with my child because this was a child born of love. Having a child is the ultimate sacrifice, and not having the opportunity to choose, or being from a family that demonizes being able to make a choice for your own life, is a trauma that is not fair. It’s not justified. We worked really closely with Planned Parenthood and we’re really proud to have worked with Planned Parenthood. The woman in the scene when Hunter seeks out the pills was actually from Planned Parenthood, and there were so many mixed feelings that I had in that scene. I was pregnant myself during filming, and it was really, really powerful, potent and moving. You know the end sequence where all of the women are going about their business in this private sacred sanctum… ? I love that scene. It’s my favorite scene in the film. A woman came up to me and we shared this conversation that was so enlightening and so moving to me. She said, “I’m from Brazil where women are inhibited from having an abortion. People are seeking out treatment that’s illegal and they’re dying.” And I couldn’t stop crying, knowing that a woman can’t make that choice for herself. They have to resort to taking on horrific, mutilating measures for herself, and ending her life, not just this life growing inside of her — if that’s what you consider it — but the life of the woman, as well. To me, that’s the most potent scene in the film for me.

Yeah, I love this film and everything it represents. I love the humor, as well, and that it doesn’t have to be a straightforward drama. It’s a cross-genre film. Some would say body horror. There are moments of lightness, color and depth. Carlo calls it the tiramisu of genres. We shot this film in 18 days. 18 days. And for under a million dollars. We had so much freedom, though, because of that. Once you start getting into those higher figures, there’s so much that you have that you start to lose. So I like making small films. It feels liberating. There’s so much we couldn’t have done with Swallow had it been over a million dollars or had a studio behind it.

You’ve mentioned that Carlo was determined to avoid the male gaze. Was this the first time a male director of yours has expressed that sentiment?

Yeah, I mean, Carlo is a really special man. It’s funny. There was this amazing team of women behind the scenes who helped bring the story to life, including [producer] Mollye Asher, who did a film that I love called The Rider, and our cinematographer, Katelin Arizmendi. So, framing the perspective of Hunter’s world from a distinctly feminine perspective was of the utmost importance. But ironically, it was a man [Mirabella-Davis] who led us on this journey, and I later discovered that he spent four years living as a woman called Emma. So, actually, he did have some experience living under the male gaze, which he openly talks about. When I read the script for the first time, I was very surprised that it wasn’t written by a woman. That was really fascinating to me, so I scheduled a meeting with Carlo and we discussed his inspiration for the story. The film was inspired by his grandmother, Edith Mirabella-Davis, who was institutionalized against her own will for her obsessive hand-washing. So there was such an authenticity to Hunter’s struggle. There are definitely some squirm-inducing elements, but there have been so few films in history that have faced these kinds of issues. And being on set with Carlo and the incredible women that framed the story, there was never any sense of being exposed. I think he leaned into the body horror aspect so elegantly, beautifully and emotionally, but I think it’s more about body autonomy than body horror.

Once everyone saw the rainbow that appeared in the distance, was there a mad scramble to capture it in time?

Oh my God, I think I cried. There was a rainstorm, and we were in this incredible glass house. So we were waiting for this rainstorm, which is probably a cinematographer’s nightmare, especially in a glass house like this, but Kate was up to the challenge. So we were just filming inside, and then, this incredible lightning started bursting across the sky. So, of course, we were like, “Okay, we have to capture this incredible lightning storm.” And when the lightning and the rain subsided, this incredible rainbow was painted. It was like it was painted for us across the sky. It was like the mobile over the crib in the baby’s room. There were so many moments of magic within the 18 days that we shot the film, and we thanked the film Gods many, many times. That’s the amazing thing about independent filmmaking; there’s so much room for exploration. It can be more fluid. There’s magic to independent filmmaking that’s unlike doing a studio film where you’re probably on a built set, and you might not even notice those kinds of things. We were like, “Okay, let’s go over here and shoot the lightning shower now.” It’s kind of like the way Terrence Malick shoots, as well. You’re put in the world and you’re discovering the film as you go. I just think that’s the magic of filmmaking, particularly independent filmmaking.

When the Aaron [Babak Tafti] character asked Hunter for a hug, it seemed like he recognized how much she needed a bit of comfort, but once she saw him ask someone else later on, it became clear that hugging strangers was his compulsion. Since trauma is often the root of such behavior, is Hunter’s disorder not that far removed from more common disorders?

Yeah, absolutely. You just normally think of alcoholism and drug-use. There’s that scene where she’s in the bathroom, and it’s just the compulsion. It’s like OCD. It’s like anything. I suffer from OCD a little bit, but it’s that compulsion that you don’t feel safe until you consume it. You don’t feel calm until you ingest it. That’s the thing that comforts. That’s the thing that triggers your happiness. There’s that scene where she goes and finds the jacks under the toilet, and I just love that desperation. There was the shame and then the compulsion. So if you look at the film, there was always something shaming that happened. The scene on the sofa — that might seem like a happy moment where she has the pregnancy test and she’s sharing it with Richie. It’s supposed to be their moment, and you could see her apprehension. She thought, “Oh God, this life is growing inside me. Is this what I want?” But in this celebratory moment, instead of embracing her, the shame that she feels is him abandoning her and getting on a call with his mama, leaving her alone on that sofa. That’s the kind of seed that’s planted and is eating her. It’s her desperate need for love. Then you go to the celebration dinner, and she’s dressed up in white, playing the part of the Virgin Mary. And the father [David Rasche] says, “Oh, the future CEO in there.” So then she really just feels like a piece of crap, and he imposes this conversation. He wants her to share this really personal conversation, and she does. She starts to share this intimate conversation about something that really affected her, and she’s just drowned out. It’s just about this feeling of unworthiness, and then the thing that soothes you. It’s a self-soothing ritual. It’s a ritual of control. It’s an escape.

Every time I watch that dinner scene where Hunter is asked to tell an entertaining story on the spot, I’m reminded of what you and your fellow actors go through during the audition process. Could you relate to that feeling of having to impress a room of people with short attention spans?

I understood the feeling of wanting to please people quite deeply. I think that’s a very common feeling for actors, especially young actors. As I’ve gotten older, that’s become less important to me, but that was a very overwhelming sense for Hunter. There was this overwhelming sense that she was less than and she didn’t belong where she was. So, definitely. I think that that was an intensely driving force to Hunter, and I feel like it’s so present in every scene. It’s her just trying to get the love, and, yeah, I could understand the character’s struggle. I know what it’s like to feel like I have to be perfect to get love or to be accepted or to earn a role. We’re not perfect. We’re always trying to be what others want, and calculating what they want. With Hunter, it’s what it is that Richie [Austin Stowell] and his mother [Elizabeth Marvel] want. She becomes this non-entity to me, and there’s such an incredible character arc and journey that she takes. And then, she discovers these rituals that control because she realizes that these people are not able to recognize her for who she is.

You touched on it already, but you found out you were pregnant right before production started. Of course, Hunter also receives the same news as you just explained. And yet, you didn’t channel your own pregnancy into your performance, which most actors would probably do. What was your reasoning there?

No, I really didn’t. I had really strong feelings towards my character and where she was psychologically. The work that I do before filming is just more specific than that in a way. It’s not about me in my current circumstances. They’re two different things. I sort of am able to take myself out of it, even though it’s always me. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I take myself out of it, but it’s always me. I was very much able to separate myself from Hunter and that was because of my situation. I was extremely lucky to be in a situation that is the complete opposite of what Hunter experienced. I feel like I’m very seen, but I could relate and have sensitivity to this deep feeling of longing for that kind of connection. And when she becomes this vessel to deliver this heir to their family, that’s the horror of the film. It’s the loss of body autonomy, and not actually being a woman, but a vessel.

One of the first times I saw you was in a 2011 set photo at Austin City Limits. You were working with Christian Bale on a Terrence Malick movie that eventually became 2017’s Song to Song. Can you tell me the origin story behind that experience?

Francine Maisler is a wonderful casting director that’s been a huge champion of mine, and I’m grateful for that. She’s one of the best. She casts all of Terry’s films, and there was an audition that came to me. He doesn’t have traditional auditions. He just has you film yourself. So I went to the casting director and she asked a load of questions. So I just answered her questions in the most honest way. I was like, “Okay, well that’s interesting and a lot easier than an audition. Great.” After that, I found out that Terrence was interested in auditioning me, which was more of a traditional audition experience. It was a very long monologue that you would change. So it would go from extremes, and I would do the monologue with anxiety, and then elation. I would actually change within the course of the monologue. I was probably 24 or 25 at the time, and I just did that, like any other audition. They’re still terrifying for me. I really dislike auditioning. (Laughs.) But this was strange enough, and it worked for me.

So then I got a phone call saying that Terrence would like me to come and do some improvisation with Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki], his DP. Sarah Green, Terrence’s producer, is just fantastic. I really, really like her. So I flew to Austin, where Terrence lives. He’s got a little studio there, and I was really excited. It was said, “If it goes well, you’ll meet Terrence Malick,” and he’d been an idol of mine since I was 19. I didn’t go to film school, but I put myself through my own kind of film school. I had a really wonderful cinematographer when I was 19. I did this film with Nick Nolte, and it never saw the light of day. I don’t think it was very good. (Laughs.) The director should probably just stay a cinematographer, but he did give me this incredible list of films that I really cherish. And Terrence Malick’s Badlands was on that list. So I would go around to other filmmakers that I really liked and have them add films that changed their life or that inspired them. I still have this piece of paper, which is like one of my most cherished artifacts. So I worked with Chivo, which was incredible. We were in a hotel room, and it was all improvisational work for a couple hours. After that, I went back to my hotel and thought, “I’m going to be sent home,” but I received a call from Terrence. He has a really distinctive voice, and he said, “I watched your work with Chivo and it’d be wonderful if we could meet for some Mexican food.” Tex-Mex is my favorite, so I was really chompin’ at the bit at that point. So we spent a couple hours just talking and bonding over compasses. (Laughs.) And life and love. He’s an angel, and I will always consider him a guardian angel. So I was cast after that meeting and after that work session with Chivo.

I would then be asked to come and film for days or weeks at a time over the next year, and I’d never know when I’d get a call. I’d just get a call from my agent, saying, “Terrence would like you to come film.” And I’m like, “Okay, great! I’ll do whatever Terrence wants me to do. Great! That’s fine.” So I’d show up and there would be Christian Bale. I’d show up and there would be Michael Fassbender. So I’d work with them for the day or the next few days. It was amazing, and Austin City Limits was one of the locations that we filmed at. There was one point where I was filming with Michael Fassbender and Christian Bale, going, “What is life right now?” (Laughs.)

But ultimately, all of that footage did get cut out. What happened, from my understanding, is that Song to Song, when the actual filming arose, the storyline between Christian and I changed because Christian had just done Knight of Cups. And then he was cast in David O. Russell’s American Hustle. So he had to go film American Hustle, and that’s when everything took a turn. He was cut from the film, and then I was cut from the film because he had to go shoot American Hustle. Like I said earlier, you go in with great intentions and you can’t control what happens after that. But it’s all about the process and that process was life-changing. Also, once Terrence Malick casts you in a film, it kind of puts you on the map for other filmmakers that have been affected by Terrence’s work — Antoine Fuqua being one of those people. And when I was up for a role in The Equalizer, Terrence sent Antoine Fuqua a hand-typed letter that he actually put in the mail. The letter had glowing reviews about my performance in [Song to Song].

I actually have the letter in front of me. (Laughs.) I’ll read it to you:

“I’m pleased to hear that you are considering Haley Bennett for your picture, and I am writing to sing her praises. She played an important role in the picture we shot in Austin this past fall, and she rocked every scene she did. Every shot, alive with her sense of her goodness, her love, her pain. I marveled at this, as did Chivo, our DP, and Jack Fisk, the production designer, and we often spoke about it among ourselves. She is going to play a role in a picture Jack’s wife [Sissy Spacek] is directing this fall. What’s more, you couldn’t find a more pleasant actress to work with. She’s always prepared and threw herself into things without reservation, giving her all. I feel confident you will be delighted with her. With all good wishes and a fraternal salute, I am yours sincerely.”

And then he signed it with pen, “Terrence Malick.” That was written May 1st, 2013.

Do you remember what Malick told you about your character? As you know, he’s famous for “torpedoing” actors and giving them very little info.

I vividly remember my character was a single mother who had experienced pain in her life, but she was still able to see the beauty in everything. She saw the beauty in everything, and she showed others the beauty in everything, even the beauty in pain.

Did The Magnificent Seven require the usual audition process, or did Antoine streamline things since he knew you from The Equalizer?

Originally, I was supposed to have a rather significant role in The Equalizer, but it didn’t work out for heartbreaking reasons I can’t disclose. So Antoine wrote another character into The Equalizer for me. There wasn’t a ton to do, but I was excited to make something more than what was on the page. I was really, really lucky because I had an incredible scene partner, Marton Csokas. So the experience of working with him was just so much greater than anything I had ever expected, and he’s such a good actor. I just really loved working with him. To answer your question about The Magnificent Seven, yes, there was still a process because it was a lead role, or a significant role in a big studio film. I had to read, basically, for MGM. Antoine knew he wanted to cast me, which was a bold move because I’m sure they wanted a name for Emma. But Antoine has always fought for me and he did on The Magnificent Seven, as well. So I did have to go through a bit of a process, but Antoine, [casting director] Mary Vernieu and Denzel Washington all championed me. So I felt really supported in that endeavor.

Your Russian accent in The Equalizer, as well as the lower register you tapped into on Magnificent Seven, were equally impressive to my ear.

Thank you. That was important to me and to Antoine. I worked with this amazing dialect coach on The Equalizer, and I am a perfectionist. I just was like, “I have to get it right. I have to get it right.” Since Antoine had written this role for me, I really wanted to be impressive and be like, “Look what I can do.” There were Russian people on set, and they had earwigs in, listening to all the dialogue. And even they thought I was Russian. One person said I sounded like his family in Russia. (Laughs.) So I felt really, really proud of that. It’s funny, too. I worked with Shekhar Kapur when I was 19, and I knew I would be singing in the short film that we were doing together called Passage. So I arrived in Buenos Aires and he said, “Hello, Haley. Tomorrow, we’ll be filming a scene where you’ll be singing in opera, and you’ll be singing a French aria.” And I said, “Oh, well that’s lovely. I don’t speak French.” (Laughs.) And he goes, “But you will by tomorrow, right?” And I thought, “Oh my goodness.” So they gave me this French aria, and I was up all night learning it because we had to film it the next day. But now, in hindsight, of course, I needed to know the aria, but I think it was more about the intimidation and the fear of singing it, rather than singing it perfectly in French. I still know it because it induced so much terror in me that I had to learn it perfectly. (Bennett sings the French aria.) It’s ingrained in me. I can still do my Russian and German accents, too.

When you worked with Amy Adams on Hillbilly Elegy, had you already connected with each other through The Woman in the Window set?

Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. I really try to avoid set as much as possible. I try to hide and blend in, which was difficult because I was extremely pregnant. But I remember the first time I met her; I just was so embarrassed. I couldn’t really form sentences properly, and I was just like, “Hi.” I think I literally just said, “Hi. Hi, yes, hi. I’m Haley. Nice to meet you.” So then I just let them do their thing because that project was really emotional and intense, and you don’t want to distract or anything. You just want to let the actors and filmmakers do their thing. I would go to set just because I missed Joe and was extremely proud of the work that he was doing. So I just wanted to see it with my own eyes. The house that they constructed is incredible, and just to be on Joe’s set is so exciting. His sets are particularly beautiful and everything has a meaning, especially Bruno Delbonnel’s lighting. So I like to be in the shadows and watch all of that be orchestrated. Joe’s films are quite the production.

Since you’re one of the fourteen people who’s seen The Woman in the Window, can you briefly tease it?

It’s a beautiful thriller with an incredible central, lead performance by Amy. I’ve seen it with audiences, and where the film and character go, no one sees it coming. So it’s really a compelling thriller.

Between Amy and Glenn Close, did you consciously pick up anything from the Hillbilly set?

They’re just good people, who are doing their best. It’s funny because I don’t see actors in that way. I mean, I marvel at their talent, and when I saw the film, I was totally conscious of their talent. But in the moment, I just go, “Wow, they’re just interesting people that want to be loved and want to make meaningful films.” Amy’s such a good mom, and I love how she balances motherhood with her work. Her family comes first and I admire that. I do have an anecdote about Glenn Close that I find really fascinating. When we were filming, I said, “Oh yeah, when I did The Devil All the Time, I had Virginia.” Five or six weeks after giving birth, I was on set filming The Devil All the Time, but I looked like a beast in the film. And then, Glenn said that when she did Dangerous Liaisons, she had given birth three weeks before getting into that corset. She looked phenomenal. I mean, she’s not human. She is not mortal. She is a goddess. But, yeah, they’ve had such incredible careers. It’s not a surprise once you watch them up-close. You go, “Oh yeah, that’s why.”

Aside from that, we had extensive script and character conversations with Ron and Vanessa Taylor, the writer. I was amazed that Ron was open to having those conversations. You’d think someone like Ron Howard wouldn’t be open to that kind of dialogue.

You had a rather nomadic childhood as you moved every couple years. I know I’m reaching here, but could that explain why you’ve avoided the long-term commitment of television?

(Laughs.) I just really love the medium of filmmaking. Of course, I know how cinematic television can be, but I love three-act storytelling. It’s really satisfying to me. I’m not opposed to television, although the commitment does worry me. I’m probably stating the obvious here, but it would be so much work. I don’t know how anybody does it. There’s no time. Of course, I say that after making Swallow in 18 days. I just rely so much on prep, and I don’t know how’d you keep up with that schedule… But you never know.

When I went into The Girl on the Train, I knew I was going to be blown away by Emily Blunt, but I ended up being just as impressed by your own performance. At the time, could you sense that you were producing some of your finest work to date?

(Laughs.) There have been very few moments where I felt like, “Yeah, I nailed it! That felt really good.” There have been very few moments where I’ve had confidence in my performances. It’s not even about having confidence in my performance. I don’t think about it as “that was good.” I think about it as, like, “Wow, I was creative. I was flying. I was in touch with a creative source. I disconnected from myself and I became something else.” That’s what I’m striving for, I guess. It’s not “good.” It’s not “bad.” I try to be non-judgmental of myself and the artists that I’m working with. What we do is really hard. When we reveal ourselves, we become vulnerable in these positions, whether you’re an actor, a boom operator. a sound recordist, a director or a writer. To be non-judgmental and to just serve the story, that’s my goal. That’s what I try to do, but it’s that feeling of free-falling through an experience. That’s what keeps me coming back.

Swallow is now available on digital and on-demand.