Richard Linklater, Cate Blanchett Describe the Not-So-Easy Process of Adapting 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette'

Director Richard Linklater, Emma Nelson,Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup -Getty-H 2019
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The Annapurna film follows Bernadette Fox, a renowned architect known more for her misanthropic attitude and agoraphobia, who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is among the horde of book-to-film adaptations hitting the big screen this year, but the Maria Semple novel of the same name presented a unique challenge for director and co-writer Richard Linklater: a narrative driven by elements like emails, letters and texts.

That didn't faze Linklater — the book had already "got its hooks" into him.

"It's exhilarating — the language, the humor, the characters, everything about it," he told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday night at a New York screening of Bernadette. "It's so witty and lively. We just had to imagine a cinematic form for it. And it was a storytelling challenge, too. But it was a fun process."

Finding the right person to play Bernadette — an anxiety-ridden mother who was once an award-winning architect — wasn't easy, either. Even now, Linklater can't think of many people who fit the role. Except for Cate Blanchett.

"I always say to portray a genius, you need a genius. If you’re going to make a movie about Beethoven, the actor you get to play him better be a genius," he said. "Most people aren’t and it never works. Bernadette, a MacArthur genius — I think people believe Cate."

Blanchett described herself as "a huge Maria Semple fan" at the screening. According to costume designer Kari Perkins, Blanchett's signature sunglasses in the film are duplicates of the pair Semple actually owned when she moved to Seattle, where the story — which was inspired by Semple's hatred of the city — is set.

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To honor the book's version of Bernadette, Blanchett said she wanted to maintain her "sense of isolation and desperation."

"[She has] the need to please, but she's also so full of disgust for the rest of the world because she's so full of disgust for herself," the actress told THR. "Then there's all these strange and heightened relationships that she has with the mothers at the school, with the neighbors, with the virtual assistant, all of those quite remote and strange relationships, I thought were very important to carry through."

One of the story's most prominent relationships is between Bernadette and her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, played by newcomer Emma Nelson in the film.

Offscreen, Nelson was able to establish a repertoire with Blanchett that helped solidify their cinematic chemistry.

"She gave me the same respect that she would’ve given an actor with 20 films, and I really appreciated that," Nelson said.

For Linklater, Nelson was just as good of a fit as Blanchett.

"She's awesome. Some people were like, ‘Oh, she hasn’t done a movie.’ I said, ‘No, she’s gonna be fine,'" said the filmmaker. "She’s so smart, so confident. I knew she would be great."

Beyond Bernadette's connection to her daughter, she also sets out to reconnect with herself — or more accurately, the person she was before she became a wife and a mom.

"A lot of people say you can’t do it all, but I totally believe you can do it all," said producer Ginger Sledge. "When you’re trying to balance and do everything, sometimes it recharges you — kind of like the Energizer bunny, you just recharge over and over and it keeps you going — but if you stop, you’re in trouble. Things kind of just plateau out, so you’ve got to keep going. And when you keep going, you kind of thrive on yourself."

Where'd You Go, Bernadette also stars Kristen Wiig, Billy Crudup, Troian Bellisario and Laurence Fishburne. The film is set to open Friday.