Tribeca: 'The Seagull' Stars Talk Bringing Chekhov to the Big Screen
Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss and Corey Stoll star in Michael Mayer's film adaptation of the play, which had its world premiere at the New York festival Saturday.
Performing a play by Anton Chekhov usually takes a long rehearsal period, but the cast of the film adaptation of The Seagull, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, just dived right into the material without practice time.
However, some of the cast, which includes Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss and Corey Stoll, gathered to read the play about a year before shooting began. “That was the first time we all came together,” said Ronan, who plays Nina in the film. “So it was something that had been in my head for about a year before we actually shot it. I think we all had a connection to it earlier than usual.”
Annette Bening, who plays the Russian actress Irina, had been attached to the project for a long time and was thrilled the film was finally seeing the light of day. "I'm so grateful that they wanted to do it. It took a lot of work for these people to get the money together to do a period film of Chekhov in this environment,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
“When I did one of his plays like 30 years ago, I was playing the ingenue in The Cherry Orchard and a very good director said, ‘What is ridiculous about your character?’ Which is really a smart thing because Chekhov always found what was ridiculous in people, but he loved people,” Bening said.
The actress said having the opportunity to play this role onscreen was "a dream come true."
"All of us grew up doing plays. I was a theater major at San Francisco State. We all fell in love with Chekhov because he was a genius," she said. "He managed to find that fine line between what is tragic and what is hilarious."
Many of the castmembers have a long list of theater credits, and director Michael Mayer and screenwriter Stephen Karam both come from theatrical backgrounds. However, the experience didn’t feel like doing a play.
“I had to constantly remind myself to allow it to be a film,” Stoll told The Hollywood Reporter. “Trigorin is a role I wanted to play ever since I knew about the play, and I have very strong opinions about the play and the role. I had to constantly remind myself that that’s not what it is at all.”
The on-set experience was a bit like “summer camp,” many of the castmembers said. They filmed at Arrow Park Lake and Lodge in Monroe, N.Y., and instead of trailers, each actor had a dressing room in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the house where they were filming.
“There was something special about staying in the little rooms and running down the hallway and playing and leaving flowers in people’s dressing rooms. And some people slept there, which was wild,” said Mare Winningham, who plays Paulina.
There were other “camp-like” factors to the shoot. There was a bear sighting at one point, and each cast- and crewmember was given a bear whistle, though they never had to use them. The actors had to fend off mosquitoes and ticks, and Bening even got bit.
“I’m from California so Lyme disease is very scary,” she said. “I overreacted a little bit. I had a little tiny tick bite. It was no big deal. I tend to be pretty calm about things in general, but when that tick bit me, I was scared.”
After the screening, the cast — including Ronan, Bening, Mayer and Zegen — toasted the film at the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Party at the Mailroom in downtown Manhattan.