The "Sincerity and Vulnerability" of 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': 'THR Presents' Q&A With Sidney Flanigan and Eliza Hittman

First-time actor Flanigan gives a commanding lead performance in director Hittman's drama about a pregnant teenager who ventures to an imposing New York City for an abortion.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always writer-director Eliza Hittman and its star Sidney Flanigan sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss their acclaimed film in a THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media.

Newcomer Flanigan stars as Autumn, a pregnant teenager in small-town Pennsylvania who is seeking an abortion. State laws prohibit her from obtaining the procedure without her parents’ permission, and a trip to a pregnancy crisis center results in anti-abortion literature being forced upon her. With the help of her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), Autumn embarks on a precarious journey to New York City to get an abortion at one of the city’s Planned Parenthood facilities.

Hittman has long been interested in the concept of “abortion tourism,” at first drafting a script that centered on an au pair in Ireland who ventures to London for the procedure. “It was really important to immerse the audience in the character's point of view, and I think of the film as a first-person narrative” Hittman says of the research she did while writing the film — which included traveling by bus from rural Pennsylvania to Manhattan, as her characters would. “In order to do that, I needed to walk through the story as much as possible from the character's point of view.”

Hittman reveals she first met Flanigan while she was working on a nonfiction film in western New York. While Flanigan did not end up as a subject of that film, Hittman did add her on Facebook and followed her coming-of-age online — which ultimately served as a reference point for the character of Autumn as she wrote her screenplay.

There was no question for Hittman that she would offer Flanigan the chance to audition for the role. “I always felt like this crossing of paths was somewhat meant to be, in a way,” says Flanigan. “When I got the email originally telling me about the film, it was really bizarre. I was skeptical of my own abilities.”

Hittman wasn’t as skeptical as Flanigan was — and the casting paid off, with Flanigan’s performance earning her Gotham and Independent Spirit Award nominations. “It was a risk to put the film on the shoulders of somebody who hadn't acted before,” Hittman says. “I think I'm the type of filmmaker that takes those risks for a reason and believes passionately in the people that she chooses. Sidney brought a level of sincerity and vulnerability to every take of the film. ... I couldn't have found that level of openness in any other actor or actress.”    

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