If you’ve not seen Tully, stop reading now!
As 2018 draws to a close and we look back at some highlights of the year, Tully is among the best pf the year. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, Tully stars Charlize Theron as frazzled mom Marlo. Her hands are quite full with three children and her life is anything but perfect, especially as the youngest of her brood is an infant who keeps Marlo up at night. Husband Craig (Mark Duplass) suggests a night nanny so Marlo can get a good night’s sleep. Any parent with a newborn will know how rare a good night’s sleep is, so Marlo agrees. Enter Mackenzie Davis as Tully, she is almost too good to be true, the perfect angel and night nanny who helps Marlo.
Tully is a truly fantastic film that addresses motherhood in ways we rarely see. Kudos to Cody for capturing her own experiences to bring Marlo and Tully to life in the film. I caught up with Cody to talk about Tully and whether we’ll ever see Jagged Little Pill on the Great White Way.
Where did Tully begin for you?
Tully is completely rooted in my own life experiences. I wrote it after I had my third son and I was really exhausted and overwhelmed at the time. I had committed to writing a big studio movie which is something I don’t normally do. I’m usually in the Indie spec script world.
I honestly couldn’t do it. I honestly didn’t have the energy to deliver it. I was thinking I needed help. I felt like my younger self could handle it, but there I was in my late thirties with three kids, completely under water. That was where the idea of Tully was born.
What if we could channel all the energy that we once had into our present-day lives, wouldn’t that be incredible? It was basically a fantasy for me.
I loved when Tully appears and who she represents, especially at the end.
Writing Marlo was deeply personal. I think a lot of the time people tend to assume that when women write protagonists, it must be autobiographical. Marlo is different to me in a lot of ways. She’s a lot more cynical and she doesn’t have the creative outlet that I have. She doesn’t have the support system that I have.
I was trying to think that what if I didn’t have the opportunity to write movies and live my dream, but I still had the same responsibilities that I have now, who would I be? I think that was Marlo. I had it in my mind as I was writing that Jason and I wanted Charlize Theron to play Marlo. For us, it was also the first time in my career when I could write to a specific voice. To be able to think of someone like Charlize who is so brilliant as you’re writing is so inspiring. It was me thinking about Charlize and her skillset in her talent, and also weaving and embroidering my own experience into that character.
Jason is another great person who tells stories about women and he gets it right. What was his reaction to Tully and what was it like working with him again?
I pitch him all the time. Whenever I have an idea for a movie, I call him. In this case, I remember telling him about the idea, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel. Honestly, I was in a weird psychological place, in a lot of the same ways that Marlo struggles with in the film.
I didn’t know if he was going to say, “You’re crazy.” I was fortunate that he got it immediately. I told him the entire story and I laid it all out for him. He said, “Yes, I’d direct it.” So, it was amazing knowing that we’d get to collaborate again. He is my favorite person to work with.
The way you address post-natal depression and address the comedic aspect. How did you strike that balance?
Trauma is one of those things that I can not suppress. For me, what I was really trying to write was the truth of the drama. The truth of what Marlo is experiencing and I knew that humor would find its way in. I really sat down to write a drama and it became a dramedy as opposed to the other way around.
When you’re shooting the scenes of the infant, and the mother taking care of the baby at 2 am, was that always in the script or did Jason put it in? Because it’s something we rarely see so well done on screen?
It was half and half. I never imagined that it would be executed the way it was. I wasn’t there for the whole shoot. Jason shot a piece of that whole montage over a day. It was actually one of the more complicated aspects of the movie because you’re dealing with a newborn. It had to be totally surreal and have that dreamlike quality it had. It had to be really stressful. I get so stressed out watching that scene.
You totally feel that stress in that scene.
He really captured that feeling of terror.
Talk about the mermaid imagery and the use of water. Why the mermaid?
I was thinking of the idea was a woman who was so deep underwater. It was that thought of sleep deprivation and that feeling of being trapped and almost being unable to even move properly.
I kept having this visual of what if you were underwater and somebody came to pull you to the surface and there’s that feeling of relief? That’s who Tully is to Marlo.
When we dream at night, we have these little snippets of what happened to us during the day that rise up in strange and fantastic ways in our subconscious and Marlo is watching this mermaid movie with her daughter and so her own mermaid comes to save her.
Let’s talk about the ending and the discussions and theories you’ve heard about it. Have you read them?
I wish I read more online reactions. I don’t, because I’m a big baby. I stepped away from all of that because I can’t stand any criticism and I have the thinnest skin of any creature on the planet. I also miss out on a lot of fun discussions.
In terms of Q&A’s and people who we talked to about it, Jason and I realized we needed to be upfront about what our interpretation of the movie was. I had originally said, “Let’s tell people it’s up to them and let’s keep it vague.” Jason said we needed to say what our intentions were.
We wanted for Tully to the manifestation of Marlo’s younger self and not in fact real. That is the truth right there. Jason is making me say that.
You spent the summer doing Jagged Little Pill which was quite an album for the 90s. I had it on repeat for the entire decade. How was that and what’s happening with the show?
That was one of the craziest experiences of my life because when I signed on to do that, I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought I was trying for a musical. I didn’t realize I was walking into the most time consuming and most complicated process that I had ever walked into. But, it was so incredibly fun. We did it in Boston and we had an incredible run there. We’re toying with it to go to Broadway but that’s harder than I expected, but we are on track. The pieces are still moving. We are still a company in production and I believe it will happen. I just don’t know when.
It has to happen!
You know what’s brutal about Broadway? You have to wait for another show to close because there are only so many theaters. To me, that’s antithetical of me being an artist. I don’t want to sit around hoping for someone’s show to close, but I’m in a position where I have to.
It’s insane. It’s like that in the West End.
I guess if a show doesn’t close, you don’t go to Broadway. I have to wait. [laughs].