Director Todd Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, and cast members of “Carol” gathered for a press conference in New York on Nov. 16, 2015. Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, and Jake Lacy talked about their roles in the film, which is about a same-sex romance in the 1950’s.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, “The Price of Salt,” the movie is an unusual portrait of women in love with each other at a time when no one talked about such things. Read my review of the film from the New York Film Festival last month. “Carol” opens in theaters this weekend.
Cate plays the title character, Carol, while Rooney plays her love interest, Therese. Kyle plays Carol’s husband, Harge, and Sarah plays Carol’s ex-lover, Abby. Jake plays Therese’s fiance.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos at the press conference, but we were given permission to use Getty Images of the event. Cate wore a jumpsuit with high-waisted black pants and a white top. Rooney has a small, delicate face that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. Sarah wore her hair a la her character in “American Horror Story.” Kyle and Jake looked very handsome, as did director Todd Haynes (who directed one of my favorite films of all time, “Velvet Goldmine.”)
Below are highlights from the question and answer session:
Todd Haynes on what attracted him to the film:
I really was taking it on as if for the first time looking at the love story, something that I felt I hadn’t really ever accomplished directly in my other films. And that really began in reading “The Price of Salt,” Patricia Highsmith’s beautiful novel and the gorgeous adaptation of Phyllis’ script that first came to me with Cate attached. So, it was quite a bundle of incentives when it first landed with me in 2013.
But unlike war, which is about conquering the object, love stories are about conquering the subject. So, it’s always the subject who’s in a state of vulnerability and peril at some level. And through much of “Carol,” that is the character of Therese, who occupies a much less powerful position in the world than Carol, is younger, is more open, is sort of experiencing this woman with the freshness that is different from Carol’s life and experience. But what I loved about the story was how what happened to the two women really moves them through a series of events which change them both.
Phyllis Nagy on keeping the film very much of its time period in the 1950’s:
That was one of the things that I was intent on doing – to not overlay a contemporary psychology on any of the characters. When you overlay any kind of a psychology and overview, an ethos, you’re judging those characters immediately, and it seemed very important for all the nuances of the relationships among the central quartet that you don’t do that.
Cate Blanchett on the character of Carol:
I think Carol’s a deeply private person whose sexuality in relationship to herself is not unsettled or ambiguous, but she lives in a quiet hell because she’s not able to fully express herself….
She has not been in a loveless marriage. I think that the complicated thing for Carol – and being confronted by Therese at the time in her life that it is – is that she’s got an enormous amount to lose. She’s found a sort of an unhappy balance (if you can find an unhappy balance with Kyle Chandler; it’s very difficult [laughter]) with Harge because of her love for her daughter. So, she’s risking a lot.
There was a beautiful line that Phyllis wrote describing Therese as being flung out of space. But I also think Carol’s describing that situation of being in uncharted territory, free-floating, as you do when you fall in love with anyone for the first time. You feel like you’ve never been here before. You’re being confronted with questions, confronted with sides of yourself.
Kyle Chandler on the character of Harge:
At some point, I realized that it could be a stereotypical character very easily, and portray what you would imagine of a guy from the 50’s under these circumstances….
The worst possible moment in a man’s life, or a woman, and they’re in love is when they realize they’re not in love anymore. And this character never realized he wasn’t in love anymore. He was always in love, and he was intensely in love. And he also had this little child – not just his wife, not just his child, but his family unit. So important to him and so important, to say nothing of his social status.
Todd Haynes on the character of Harge:
The interesting thing about Kyle’s character, Harge, is that we are introduced to Harge at an uncustomary period in his life as a character. One presumes that Harge has always pretty much taken Carol for granted most of their life. But when the film begins, he’s already reevaluated her value in his life, and the way he’s inviting her out and wanting to spend time with her and share time with her seems to be a new project, a new regimen.
Sarah Paulson on how she approached the character of Abby:
I really just tried to think about friendship and selflessness and kind of unwavering loyalty because I think Abby still has feelings for Carol. And I think it’s a challenging thing – I wonder what I personally would do if somebody I loved and still had feelings for … if I was called upon to come in and rescue the person that she currently loves. I don’t know.
It was, to me, a testament to her [Abby’s] friendship and her love, and I think the desire to be around Carol and Carol’s orbit no matter what. I think Abby’s sense of society – I don’t mean literal society, but her community, her friendships – they were probably quite narrow at that time. So, to lose something like that would be … the consequences of that would be too enormous.
Jake Lacy on the character of Richard:
I think Todd and I spoke when we first met about the idea for Richard that the world is there to take. He’s young, he’s in New York, he’s first generation American, he’s smart, he’s handsome, he has a job, he’s got a girl – the world is his for the taking, and yet, it slips away from him. And it’s sort of without knowing it, and thank God that it does because he’s 15 or 10 years earlier than Carol and Harge….
I think for all these characters, I think for Richard in particular, there’s a complete lack of vocabulary, a complete loss for how to describe this or experience it. He’s searching for someone to put a label on what this problem is, and even Therese is unable to define it for him as she’s going through it. And that speaks to Richard, I think, and to the time that they’re living in.
Phyllis Nagy knew Patricia Highsmith in the later years of her life, so what follows is a short discussion about Highsmith’s opinion of film versions of her novels:
Phyllis: She didn’t like many of the film adaptations of her work. She couldn’t stand them, especially “Strangers on a Train.”
Cate: Oh! What does she know?
Phyllis: From her perspective, the guys trade murders in that book, and the film, of course they don’t. And it was one of the first arguments we had when I said, “Oooh, I love ‘Strangers on a Train.'” She said, “Hmmm… really?” with disgust!
But she liked aspects of the films. Robert Walker she loved… So, I hope that she would find this entire enterprise extremely attractive. I think she would. I think we are all of us not betraying the intent and the tone of her work, which really, I think, is the only thing that you can do – to be reverent to a source material. Everything else is up for grabs.
Cate Blanchett on wearing 1950’s girdles during filming:
There was a scene where Rooney was playing the piano, Therese was playing the piano, and I found this position on the floor. And I thought, “I have to be graceful,” and I rehearsed a lot so I could get up in one movement in a girdle, which was difficult.