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Ruth Wilson is taking back control.
Since her starring performance in Jane Eyre (2006), Wilson has been a regular on TV (BBC’s Luther, Showtime’s The Affair), film (The Lone Ranger, Saving Mr. Banks) and theater (Constellations and King Lear on Broadway), and has collected a small trophy case of awards, including two Oliviers, a Golden Globe (for playing Alison Lockhart in The Affair) and a BAFTA Cymru best actress prize for playing Marisa Coulter in the BBC/HBO fantasy series His Dark Materials.
But Wilson has never been one to sit back and wait for roles to come to her. “It’s in my nature to make work for myself when I don’t have work,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Even early on in my career, if I wasn’t getting the offers I wanted, I’d find things to develop and pursue on my own.”
Following the lead of top-tier actresses like Reese Witherspoon (The Morning Show) and Nicole Kidman (Nine Perfect Strangers), Wilson has re-schooled as a producer, finding and developing the stories and characters she wants to play on screen. Her first TV production was the BBC mini-series Mrs. Wilson (2018), in which she starred as her real-life grandmother Alison Wilson, wife of the M16 officer and novelist Alexander Wilson.
True Things, her first feature film as a producer, with Harry Wootliff directing, is an adaptation of the Deborah Kay Davies’ novel of the same name. Wilson stars as Kate, a seemingly ordinary woman who, bored and alienated from her own life, starts up a passionate and dangerous relationship with a rough stranger, played by Tom Burke (The Souvenir). True Things premiered in Venice Horizons and made its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 14.
How did you come across Deborah Kay Davies’ novel and what appealed to you about the character of Kate that made you wanted to develop it for the screen?
I was working with Jude Law on a play called Anna Christie, and he was being sent material by his agents in various books to option for films. He read True Things by Deborah Kay Davies and he thought there was something in it. So he gave it to me to read and he said: “Just have a look at this and see if you think it’s got something that’s worth making into a film.” And I agreed with him. At the time, this was like 2012, although there were female-led stories, it didn’t feel like there was something very, truly subjective and seen through a really intimate feminine lens. Reading the book, what stood out to me was [Kate’s] brutal honesty about how this character sees the world and her own choices. There was also a level of humor in it.
But I thought what was really interesting was how universal the kind of story was: you know that sort of infatuation you have when you first fall in love and when you project everything onto that person. I thought that’s actually, quite a universal experience that lots of people have, that I have had, too. I know lots of people like Kate. She’s not dissimilar entirely from aspects of myself. A lot of people, women in particular, who have seen the film feel the story really resonates with them. They understand it. It’s familiar.
What was your collaboration like with director Harry Wootliff?
It was a really close collaboration between the two of us in terms of creating the character and deciding what the story was over a number of years. I loved the experience because I’ve never worked that closely with a writer-director before where you feel like your story and the characters become truly yours together. I was in the whole process from development through getting all the creative teams on board. Even up to the edit. Harry was pretty much in the edit alone, but she’d show me various versions of the film and we’d do notes. Even that process of notes was really interesting as was being with her to the end of the process. I think both of us are really aligned truly as to what Kate was feeling at every point. It was a truly collaborative experience.
How did it compare with films when you are “just” an actor?
Usually what you do when you’re cast in a role is you have a script, you do your work and of course, you work with the director, with the makeup and hair people, with the DP. But you don’t really have a close relationship with the set designer or the sound engineer, or with the editor or with the sound composer. It’s a quite transient sort of job. Even though you are an important part of the process, you’re a very small part of the process. You do your thing and then you leave. And there are people who might be working for another year on the project. So to me, working this way, was a more holistic process. To have an idea and see it through from the beginning to the end and to see the contribution of all those creative people that contributed to making this film. I love it. I’ve done this twice now and I’ve got a taste for it. I’ll be doing it more.
Does being a producer of your own work allow you to create roles for yourself that you might otherwise not get offered?
Yes! Yes! Yes! I mean, it is in my nature to kind of make work for myself. Even early on in my career, if I wasn’t working, I would find projects to work on. I would find things to develop or pursue. So if I’m getting offered only the same sort of roles, Mrs. Coulter-type roles, say, but actually, I’d love to play a part like Kate, do a more modern piece, then I can create that for myself: I can now find the material and find the team that’s willing to develop that with me. That’s really exciting; that you can push and go for parts that you otherwise wouldn’t get because you don’t have access to them or people don’t see them in you. I actually feel there’s a lot of me in Kate. There’s a goofiness to her, which I very rarely play in my parts. I’m definitely a bit goofy, but I haven’t had the opportunity to explore that side of me. I really enjoyed exploring that with Kate.
Were you the one who picked Tom Burke to play Kate’s boyfriend Blond? With The Souvenir and this film, he has become the poster boy for the bad boyfriend club.
Poor Tom. Well, I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time. I’d seen him in The Souvenir and I thought he was quite extraordinary. But initially, I didn’t Tom was right for the role because he comes across as so intellectual. He is an intellectual. So he wasn’t necessarily in my head as the first choice for Blond, because I had more of a two-dimensional sort of bad boy in mind. But Harry really wanted Tom. She thought he would bring more complexity to the role. She wanted the Blonde character to be as complicated and as messy as Kate. And Tom brought an amazing amount of complexity to the character, both an allure and sexuality, but also a kind of resistance and lack of intimacy, someone with his own problems and issues. And that just, of course, created a much better dynamic on the screen.
Do you feel having more women involved behind the camera — as directors, writers and producers — has an impact on what stories get told and how they get told?
Yeah. Definitely. On this film, you not only have myself and Harry, but you have Ashley Connor, who’s the director of photography, a brilliant DP. So it’s three women at the heart of this film creating a story about a woman, and I honestly feel that’s what you see on the screen. All the intimate moments that you see of Kate — in her house eating toast or doing her makeup or whatever. They all felt more truthful, intimate than any I’ve shot before because all of us felt very comfortable in that environment. We didn’t feel objectified. We didn’t feel seen through a different lens. It felt incredibly organic and safe. I do think that women getting behind the lens, that any more female influence on the actual process of cinema is creating different work. And that’s really exciting.
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