Gillian Flynn loves to weave her twists and turns, and her latest outing in Widows is no different. The film about four women left to pick up the pieces of a failed heist after their husbands are killed is filled with surprises and thrills. Flynn teamed up with director Steve McQueen to pen the script based on the original British series by Lynda LaPlante. As these characters were women who were ahead of their time in terms of confidence and asserting their strength, it was easy for Flynn to carve these characters for 2018.
I caught up with Flynn after she returned to LA, having just flown back after hosting the film at the Chicago Film Festival. We talked about what it’s like collaborating with McQueen and joked about Daniel Kaluuya’s evil character in the film. “He’s so so scary,” says Flynn.
These women were first introduced in the 80s and were so ahead of the game. Talk about reviving them for 2018.
It was actually surprisingly easy. Lynda LaPlante wrote a series that was so far ahead of its time. She’s just amazing. It wasn’t like we had to say, “Look at all these outdated notions of women that we’d have to figure out what to do with them” because they were already so interesting and the dynamic was there.
We took the great DNA that was already there and we did our thing so there wasn’t this big conundrum for it at all.
How did you and Steve get together and collaborate on this?
It was interesting. We are based in two different countries. We weren’t always over each other’s shoulders, we were simply swapping scripts. Neither of us are trained as screenwriters and neither of us had gone to school for it. He comes from an art background and I come from being a novelist and journalist. I think you can see that in the way we write. He’s very great with visual and cool strokes and great set piece ideas. I think I work good at a lot of the character work and setting up the different dynamics. We’re good at swapping ideas back and forth. We also didn’t approach it like, you do this scene, I’ll do that scene. Or, you do the boys and I’ll do the girls. We really had a no holds barred approach. We’d drop characters, add characters. We went scouting together. Steve came to Chicago and we’d do interviews together, speaking to FBI agents to get a feel for how the city works together.
One of the great things was moving the location from London to Chicago. It worked so well with the socio-politics and of course, there’s that scene with Colin Farrell’s character driving from the poor area to his wealthy residence.
You can thank Steve for that scene. It was also Steve’s call to choose Chicago. He had wanted to set the film there when we started talking. I think Chicago is the perfect setting for the film. It became one of his favorite lines when we were doing research: “I know a guy.” He thought it was perfectly emblematic of the intertwined corruption of Chicago, this idea that it’s not necessarily outright criminality, but more that it’s about favors, calling in favors, who you know, and how incestuous so much of it is. And how that’s shown in the screenplay where all the characters are two or three degrees away. At the beginning of the film, you think there’s no way any of these characters could have met before, but then you realize they’re actually a few degrees away. The Mannings know Harry. Harry knows the politicians. The politicians know Veronica from the Teacher’s Union. They all have these different connections.
That film is filled with twist and turns, the Harry twist!
That Harry reel is Lynda LaPlante.
Who gets the credit for making Daniel so evil in this?
[laughs] Oh, Daniel does. I love when actors share their range so early on. He’s such a lovely guy. You love him so much in Get Out and he’s so so scary in this movie. [laughs].
He terrified me.
He was absolutely terrifying. The scene where things take a dark turn with those kids. I think I’ve seen this film eight times, and I saw it at the Chicago Film Festival the other week, and it was the first time I didn’t scream out loud. I’ve finally gotten past that.
Ha! It still made me jump on my second viewing.
It goes all the way to the seven.
Let’s talk about the draft process. Was much culled out from it because they would seem such fascinating characters to write for, never-ending stories?
There was a lot of culling down. We wanted it to be so much. I liked the challenge of the heist. The only reason I liked the heist was that it gave me the chance to do what I love doing with all my writing which is that engine to be able to say interesting things about other things. I could talk about race and gender. We also wanted it to be a portrait of a city. There was so much we wanted it to do. I have one entire wall of my office was a whiteboard. I had one part of the wall which was the characters, the Widows and how can we show them coming back to life and coming into their own.
Early on, I loved the relationship between Veronica and Alice. I felt like Belle and Linda were going to be OK. They are both moms and they have to be tough. From the beginning, Veronica is in deep mourning and only goes further. Alice has that horrible mom. I just worried about them so I liked delving into them. I was marking them and trying to resolve these characters. I wanted to make sure they felt full-bodied because how often do you get the chance where four women of different races were all on screen? I didn’t want to spoil that chance. I wanted to make sure they felt real and interesting. There was also the heist written down and who learned what and where. There was so much to keep track of. There was the cop at the beginning who says, “I always say you should burn in hell, but Chicago will do just as well.” That guy originally had a full storyline, he had been a full character. He had a wife and home and a whole backstory, but we didn’t have room for him.
It was making those choices and who needed to be stripped away.
What is it like to see your work come to life from Gone Girl to Sharp Objects and now Widows?
It’s cool and scary and just exciting. It’s not wanting to spoil the opportunity and make the most of it. I do not ever forget how lucky I am. Ever. It’s about picking the smart stories to tell.
Did you go back and watch the ITV Series?
I did. I didn’t know what it was and I wanted to see the whole thing so I could talk smartly about it, but after that, I didn’t revisit it. I might watch it one more time, now that I have beat notes, but at this point, I couldn’t even tell you which parts diverged from what. I did the same thing with Sharp Objects and Gone Girl where I re-read them once, made notes and I wouldn’t let myself go back.