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Five years after New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor released their bombshell report alleging decades of sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein, the film version of their journey to the story has arrived.
In She Said, Carey Mulligan stars as Twohey with Zoe Kazan as Kantor, illustrating the months of reporting and conversations with survivors that would go on to launch the #MeToo movement. After debuting at the New York Film Festival last month, the Universal film screened at Los Angeles’ AFI Fest on Friday.
“I’m so interested in the psyche of someone who can ring someone up in the middle of the day and ask them the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, that they can gain that person’s trust and then relay that to the world,” Mulligan told The Hollywood Reporter of getting into the mind of a reporter. “I’m just not made of that.”
The actress took on the project just shortly after starring in (and landing an Oscar nomination for) another sexual assault-related film Promising Young Woman, and said she was in the middle of awards season promotion when she was sent the script. “They didn’t feel kind of comparable to me, they were such different stories,” Mulligan said of the two projects. “Promising Young Woman was such a dark fairy tale and this felt very, very real. It’s touching similar issues which feel very sensitive, but they felt like polar opposites in terms of style and character and everything.”
Aside from the two stars, She Said also features several Weinstein survivors in onscreen roles — including Ashley Judd, who plays herself when telling her story to the journalists and allowing them to name her in their story.
To have survivors’ involvement “was just extraordinary, and I think our biggest goal was if Megan and Jodi can walk away feeling OK about this and [the survivors] do too, then the job is kind of done,” Mulligan said. “The way that they were involved the whole way through and consulted about the script, I think, has been key to us wanting to do it.”
Director Maria Schrader said Judd was actually the first person she physically met on the project as they were both in Berlin during the pandemic. After reading the script, one of Schrader’s first questions to producer Dede Gardner was, “So, is Ashley playing herself?”
“It was clear to me that Ashley Judd playing Ashley Judd, telling her own story with her own words, is something extraordinary,” said Schrader. “It’s like a different kind of reality which all of a sudden enters the movie; it’s kind of like tearing down the fourth wall in the theater.”
Kantor said that in watching the real-life Judd sit down with her onscreen alter ego, “I just feel so glad to have a little more company [via the audience] in what started out as a bunch of pretty secretive conversations.” She added, “I think that Ashley playing herself in this movie represents something really important about the project which is we want you, the viewer, to feel enveloped in the experience, to have the chance to listen to these stories, to come inside the walls of the New York Times.”
Weinstein survivor Sarah Ann Masse also has a role in the film, which she landed after cold-calling Universal to ask that they be inclusive of survivors and offer the help of her initiative “Hire Survivors Hollywood,” and eventually was offered an audition herself.
“I had lost a lot of time in my career because of what Harvey did to me; I faced direct retaliation these past five years and it’s been slower,” Masse said. “When I walked on set I immediately felt like I was at home. It was my first big studio feature, and then today here I am at the Chinese Theatre at the premiere of this huge film that I’m in, and it’s really healing. It’s poetic justice; it feels like the start to the life I was always supposed to have and I’m just excited at the new opportunities that are going to come.”
The film’s release also comes alongside Weinstein’s L.A. criminal trial, “which I think it’s just a reminder that this is ongoing,” Masse explained. “This isn’t linear, and sexual violence is so deeply ingrained in our culture and there are a lot of different paths to take in order to find healing and find change and develop this. I’m so grateful for the women that are participating in this trial; it takes so much bravery.”
Co-star Patricia Clarkson, who noted she’d “worked with Harvey and been bullied by Harvey,” said that the timing of the film and the trial is “apropos and divine.” Gesturing down the carpet, she added, “Look at us, we’re all in power. It’s women from beginning to end and we are powerful, we’re all beautiful, we’re all strong, we’re all in a better place. And he’s in jail.”
She Said arrives in theaters Nov. 18.
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