CATEGORIES MoviesCanadian actor/director Sarah Polley's latest directorial venture, Take This Waltz, strays into uncomfortable territory: we follow a young woman (Margot, played by Michelle Williams) who contemplates leaving her doting husband (a subdued Seth Rogen) for the new titillating neighbor (Luke Kirby). The movie floats through a colourful Toronto landscape as Margot bounces between commitment to her husband and curiosity about the new guy. Moviefone caught up with Polley at the Toronto Film Festival to discuss love, non-salacious nudity and why this movie is making some people feel unsettled.
I felt like this movie was a commentary on human relationships. Would you agree with that? Yeah, I do. I think, more to the point, it's about the idea that generally in life we feel there's something missing and we try to figure out a way of covering that space and going after things to fill it. We assume that we'll then feel fundamentally different about being alive when we've fulfilled that thing. So the most obvious thing to explore that concept was desire and falling in love. I think that's the way we think we'll be able to reinvent ourselves, reinvent our lives and take away the gap within us. So I wanted to explore that and how difficult it is to actually feel like something isn't missing.
Why the oversaturation, the heightened color of the film? Well, I thought if I make a film about desire, I really want to embrace and go into how it feels when you first fall in love or fall in lust. The world does come alive, it's in Technicolor, things pop and you notice colour where you didn't notice colour and you notice sound where you didn't notice sound. It's like all of your senses are heightened into this hyper-real state. So I wanted the audience to have the experience that Margot has, of just falling into that sweltering desire at the beginning of a relationship.
I also wanted to capture Toronto in the somewhat-romanticized way I experience Toronto, which is through rose-coloured glasses. I do feel in the summer, when it's humid, hot and sticky that it's kind of a sexy, hot, humid, popping colourful place. I think you have to live here to discover that side of it -- Toronto's not necessarily a city that jumps out at you if you're here for five nights. But if you actually live in the downtown area, where there's amazing residential areas in the middle of this urban environment, it's pretty amazing.
You told me that this movie is your love song to Toronto. Were the locations that you used in the movie areas that you were familiar with, or did you discover any new places? Some of them I certainly knew, like Kensington Market, more iconic places like that. But we discovered a lot as well. The location scouting was awesome, because a lot of it was just walking down streets with the production designer and seeing the city anew and finding corners and pockets that we didn't know about, but were very close to us.
Very cool. I really liked the fact you used the Centre Island Scrambler in the movie. That is actually one of my favorite things to do in Toronto -- that's autobiographical.
Do they actually play that song there ['Video Killed the Radio Star', featured in the movie]? When I've been on it a couple times. They've played that song and the ride is infinitely better when they do. To the point where I sometimes try to make my way to the booth in the dark to ask them if they can play that song instead. They're generally kind of grumpy with the request, but it's awesome. I will go on it 11 times, sometimes alone as a grown woman, and it's kind of scary.
Were you trying to differentiate between sexual love and friendship love? With Seth Rogen, Williams has the jokey, friendship-y type of love, and there isn't so much of a sexual connection there. I wouldn't say trying to differentiate, but I do feel like I wanted to explore what happens to a sexual relationship when you become very familiar with each other. Like, does it end the passion or can those two things co-exist? I've seen passion and familiarity co-exist, but it's rare and it's difficult. Because, in a strange way, a lot of romantic love and a lot of that passionate, honeymoon period is a lot about the mystery of the other, so what happens when that mystery goes away?
There's this great line that Bette Davis says: "50 percent of a woman's charm is mystery." I think that's not just women, I think it's men too, and I think that we lose our charm to each other somewhat when we lose our mystery. So then what? And I think that's the question that it's hard for us to ask generally, "So then what?" It's not a question we're prepared for. We're just supposed to find the person we're in love with and settle down, and everything's gonna be great, but it takes a lot of work, I think. It also involved being satisfied that things aren't always going to be perfect. And that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the world.
The nudity was refreshing because it wasn't so salacious; it was more respectful in a way. Was that your intention? I just didn't want to shy away from nudity in the film because I've had so many conversations with older women, with friends in the shower at the YWCA ... I've always just wondered, it's so weird that I wouldn't be able to put this in a movie without everybody making a really big deal out of it. So I just thought, "Screw it, I'm gonna do it. I don't care if people make a big deal out of it." I wanted to show women's bodies honestly, the way they look and not oversexualized or over-lit all the time. There's a lot of incidental nudity in the film, and there's sexual nudity as well, but if I'm going to have sexual nudity, I also want to have incidental nudity because somehow otherwise it's dishonest.
Tell me more about the pool aerobics scene with that Aquafit instructor, because honestly, I was crying with laughter. Oh, I'm so glad! That's definitely a function of finding a really awesome actor and letting him go. And it was really funny because I said, "Maybe we can go to a couple classes just to get a sense of what the classes are like." And I'd written a little bit for the instructor, based on the instructors I've had. But I'm a very non-athletic person, so that was a huge challenge for me. Damien really took the role and ran with it... literally!
What's it like working with traditionally funny people like Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman and then putting them into more dramatic roles? It was amazing. It was intimidating, but it was great. I always felt like both Sarah and Seth had great dramatic performances in them. And as a fan of both of theirs, I've always hungered to see them do dramatic stuff. It was kind of a selfish move on my part, just wanting to see them in a movie doing that. The weird thing about Seth Rogen is, as much as he's a great comedian, he might be an even better dramatic actor.
Michelle Williams is fantastic. Is there any particular element that you try to infuse in your female characters? Yeah, we had lots of talks. Michelle's quite a bit like Julie Christie in that she's one of the best actresses in the world, who could do anything on their own, but actually wants and likes a lot of direction. So we had long, very intensive conversations about the character. And it's a complicated character. She's not always necessarily sympathetic to every audience member and she's not always completely understanding.
I think it's a very, very tricky tightrope walk to play that character and not go extremely one way or the other. What I find fascinating about this film is that people really project their own relationship history onto it. So there are people who are like, "I loved Margot! Finally somebody made a film that I can relate to" and other people are like, "I just wanted to kill her, she's so selfish." I'm so thrilled by that because I feel like people are projecting their own lives onto the film and feeling passionate and somehow supporting their point of view. Even what she does at the end -- there are some people who have judged it so intensely. It makes me so happy to know that people are that invested in the film.