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Rachel McAdams and Abby Ryder Fortson on Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret

Apr 25, 2023


Listed in Time magazine’s “The 100 Best YA Books of All Time,” Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has finally evolved into a feature film adaptation. For over half a century, fans of the best-selling novel have had to imagine what the characters might look like.

Here’s what they look like. The brilliant Rachel McAdams (Spotlight, The Notebook) and Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man, Tales From The Loop) star as mother and daughter, playing Barbara and Margaret Simon in the movie version of Blume’s classic and beloved tale.

Together in an exclusive interview with MovieWeb, the two actresses shared some of their thoughts and inspiration from behind the scenes of the production.
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Kathy Bates and Rachel McAdams as Mother and Daughter

Lionsgate

From each of their opening scenes, both McAdams and Fortson captured the essence of their characters — carefree, pure, kind, and un-pretentious — as well as the hearts of viewers.

Kathy Bates (Misery), who portrayed Margaret’s paternal grandmother Sylvia Simon, described the moment, very early on, when McAdams captured the essence of who Barbara Simon in the film.

“There was a scene in which she tells Margaret why they have to move to New Jersey, and that she wants to be a full-time mom,” said Bates. “She did this scene so beautifully and flawlessly that I couldn’t look away. It brought tears to my eyes, and I saw this mother, I didn’t see Rachel.”

Related: Rachel McAdams’ Best Comedy Movies, Ranked

McAdams was quick to return the compliment to Bates. “She’s delicious and delightful and heartbreaking and bedazzled. Where Kathy has been on the set as Sylvia, she leaves a trail of glitter and sequins everywhere she goes. She’s larger than life, and gives just a gorgeous performance.”

Whereas Bates and McAdams’ characters — a mother and her daughter-in-law — are near rivals, Fortson knew that bonding with McAdams off-screen would be essential to their on-screen chemistry. Their close-knit mother and daughter bond is essential to the story, the same way McAdams and Fortson’s relationship is.

Abby Ryder Fortson on Yelling as Bonding

Lionsgate

Fortson explained how they established cast bonding right from the onset of pre-production of the film:

We met at a meeting where we were just talking through all the members of the family. We had Benny [Safdie, who portrays her father, Herb] there and Kathy [Bates] there, and we kind of just bonded over stuff. We had a couple of games of Anomia, where we just got to scream at each other about random facts. Anomia, in fact, is a fast-paced card game that leads to fun and exhilarating yelling. Players take turns pulling cards from a deck and, upon placing the chosen card face up, must yell facts about various categories. Fortson explained how easily they bonded with her on-screen Mom as McAdams joined her in nostalgic laughter. “Games are always a great icebreaker,” she added.

She then addressed McAdams directly, “It’s just incredible to be able to build a bond with such a lovely person. And you know, especially you’re playing my mom. It’s an important thing to have in an important relationship. So glad I got to do it with you.”

In a real-life moment as tender as their on-screen scenes, McAdams received Fortson’s heartfelt compliment with a genuine warm smile and replied to Fortson, “Thank you. And likewise…”

Are You There God? It’s Barbara, Too

McAdams reflected on parallels between her character, Barbara, and the struggles that her character’s daughter, Margaret, endured.

In Kelly Fremon Craig’s cinematic adaptation, Margaret’s mom, Barbara, has a bit of a character comeuppance. Much like her pre-teen daughter and focal point of both the novel and the film, Barbara struggles with her own insecurities. Due to the adaptation’s ability to explore omniscient point of view, however, viewers are able to see and root for a great deal more of Barbara’s arc than in the book. The novel is written in first-person, through Margaret’s eyes, so there is limited information about what Barbara is going through.

“During the film, Barb’s not 100% comfortable in her skin,” said McAdams. “There’s always something that didn’t quite fit or wasn’t tucked in right. She can be a little bit of a mess.”

The same, of course, can be said of Margaret. Barbara is perhaps even more lovable to viewers, just like her daughter, because of her imperfections.

Related: Best Rachel McAdams Movies, Ranked

With a long and eclectic list of transformative and critically acclaimed performances, its no wonder why McAdams is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after and respected actors and was able to bring the character, Barbara, to life in such a meaningful way. Viewers are able to connect with Barbara in similar ways to how they identify with Margaret.

Lionsgate

In her approach to developing the character of Barbara, McAdams elaborated on what she discovered to be the fundamental structure and root causes of why Barbara is the way she is. She felt that Barbara’s strict Christian upbringing in Ohio was instrumental in her struggle with uncertainties:

Going back and looking at Barbara’s past, I think, really informs who she is as a mother, now. Having parents that did not support who she was, and were very restrictive, and I think she’s definitely going the opposite direction of that. Set in the 1970s, McAdams is referring to the way in which Barbara and her husband are raising their sixth grade daughter. As a Christian mother with a Jewish husband, with Margaret their only child, the choice was made as parents to allow Margaret to grow up without a religious attachment.

Having an interfaith marriage and having been raised with strict religious perimeters, it turns out, has complicated life for Barbara as much as puberty and having strict religious freedom has complicated life for Margaret. It is captivating to watch Barbara, through McAdams’ remarkable performance, figure out her how to stand on firmer emotional ground as her daughter does the same.

McAdams said of Barbara, “She wants Abby to find herself on her own and be her own person and maybe to a fault where she’s hiding religion from her and sort of not letting Margaret explore that herself.” She added, “Which, I understand. It’s easy to misinterpret some religious teachings, so I get where she’s coming from. But, I love that she was kind of a hands-off mom. Like, I’m here if you need me, but you know, you’ve got to figure some of this out yourself.”

Blume’s Characters Are Trying to Get it Right

Lionsgate

In the first act of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Barbara, a New York City-based art teacher and painter, has decided it is best to quit her job and for their family to move to New Jersey where she can focus on being a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. Ironically, once their family relocates, just as her daughter’s life then catapults into angst, in some ways Barbara’s life spirals because of this, too. Whether it’s the never-ending decision on selecting a new living room couch or learning how to speak up and set boundaries for herself within parent groups at school, Barbara, just like Margaret, must seek and grab a hold on self-acceptance in order to feel that she’s getting things right in life.

“Barb is a woman struggling to be everything she wants to be: a great artist, mother, wife, daughter, and housewife,” said McAdams. “She’s caught between two worlds, especially in the ’70s. I completely related as a working mother, as a mother that’s constantly looking at herself as a parent and asking if she’s doing it right.”

Fortson, too, was concerned about doing things right. Well, getting something else right, that is. She recalled one of her favorite days on set when Judy Blume put straight the answer to a perplexing mystery:

When you read the book, everybody has their own interpretation of how the ‘I must — I must — I must increase my bust’ exercise is done. We tried so many variations of it; when Judy finally taught us the right way, it was like, ‘Oh, oh, that makes so much sense!’ We were all laughing and doubling over. For as much as the actors felt good while filming Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, audiences will arguably feel better watching both McAdams and Fortson as well as the entire delightful cast.

Lionsgate will release Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret on Friday, April 28, 2023.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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