She Said’s Maria Schrader: ‘Fundamental Change Has Happened’
Feb 13, 2023
Twenty years ago, sexual harrassment incidents that happened in the workplace were often discounted (not all, but many). As a working actress for over three decades, Maria Schrader witnessed numerous experiences that were not talked about because it was considered “normal.” On Oct. 5, 2017 there was a seismic shift in that regard and the #MeToo movement was born. A moment Schrader hs now chronicled as a filmmaker with the new drama “She Said.”
READ MORE: “She Said” Review: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan expose the Weinstein #MeToo story in a ‘Spotlight’-esque procedural [NYFF]
Adapted from the non-fiction novel by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, “She Said” follows the two journalists as they endeavor to break the story on Harvey Weinstein‘s long history of sexual harassment in the movie business. Schrader, who won an Emmy for directing the limited series “Unorthodox,” made a gutsy creative choice by having at least one of the subjects of the novel, Ashley Judd, portray herself onscreen. She wasn’t the only real live victim she spoke with about participating in the project.
“I had a long conversation with Rose McGowan and I was very grateful to speak at length with her, and, in the end, it did not come together,” Schrader says. “And Gwyneth decided to appear with her voice. And Ashley, as she said on the open stage when we premiered the film, it was an easy decision for her. And I cannot speak for her of course, but maybe it has to do with her becoming an activist also and feeling validation by performing herself and taking ownership in telling her story. And I thought it was an incredible and powerful moment in the movie. I was very grateful to be working with her. And I, of course, as a director said, ‘Listen, this is your stage. I tell you how I want to film it, but it’s your decision how you portray yourself.”‘Right?”
Over the course of our discussion, Schrader discusses what was important for Kantor and Twohey, working in the COVID empty New York Times offices, and how she belives the world has fundamentally changed thanks, partially, to the #MeToo movement.
The Playlist: What made you want to direct this film?
Maria Schrader: Well, first of all, probably my own experience in the wake of this article being published. I have worked in this business since I was 16. I was on stage when I was 16. I worked as an actor most of my life. And as you know, I live in Germany and even there, there was an incredible echo after this article was published and I was immediately involved in countless conversations in the workplace, but also among colleagues and friends. And I think I was among those of us who thought back to my own experiences throughout the decades and rethought and reframed experiences that were looked at as being normality, and my own navigation through uncomfortable experiences. Something you just tried to forget and ignore. And that was considered a strength, to be strong, to not be affected by it, and to meet it with either humor or a certain acceptance that this is what the world is, right? And in that sense, I would consider myself part of that world. And the reframing, the new definition, and the whole discussion, which started then, also caught me by surprise sometimes. What story made it to the front page? Just incidents that I would not even have talked about 20 years ago, because it was considered to be so normal.
So, this is something which meant a lot to me and which kept me busy also in my work. And then there was this script that tells the story of how that story came about. And here I was, of course, incredibly curious because I had no idea who Jodi Kantor or Megan Twohey were and what initially made them take on this journey, and how it came about. Well, I opened the script and then I was blown away by the multiple topics it is talking about. And not only meticulously following the detailed investigation, but opening up to truly a bigger question and even a bigger question than what was the exact hierarchy system around a predator like Harvey Weinstein, but even furthermore, for how long are we in a society which has a certain perspective on what is a man? And what is a woman? And what exactly does it mean to be a woman in a basically male-dominated society? And this is probably something that opens the story to have an echo in very, very different places than only Hollywood or the entertainment industry. Right?
At least around the women I know, I hardly know a woman who does not carry some kind of experience or issue or even heard of a [friend’s experience]. We all carry stories.
It’s now been almost five years, I believe…
A little more. Yeah, October 5th.
…since the article came out and since the #MeToo movement really exploded. Do you worry at all that it will fade into the background, that it isn’t the lasting change the industry needs?
Well, I do hope that the s movie will help to propel the conversations again and probably, maybe poses the very same question, “Where are we at, and what happened during the last five years?” And then, of course, there were so many other crises. I think a fundamental change has happened and I do not think we can go back to the time before that change, and we will not. And that change, I would define it as the breaking of the silence and really people speaking up. And I do not think that specific voices can be easily wiped off the table any longer, as they have been in the past.
And I think, yes, it feels like windows have been opened, doors have been opened, there is light in the room and people talk. Not to the extent maybe we all wished. And I do hope that this movie, even though it touches very dark subject matters and it’s emotional at times and maybe also hard to watch or to listen to because there’s a lot of narrative. I hope that at the very end, it’s inspiring and it’s uplifting to witness that people, not necessarily famous people, not necessarily incredibly privileged people, but they took the courage to share the most traumatic and private and personal experiences and trusted other people with this. And I think the most brutal thing is that room of isolation. And even if there are tears involved, I always try to get to this point where it felt relieving, or is that the right word? Or that we feel the relief to share something and to connect with someone and to have the courage to entrust someone else. And I think that’s most important.
As a filmmaker, you made a very gutsy choice by having Ashley Judd play herself in the film. It could have been a distraction, but instead works in the context of the film. What made you make that decision to include her as herself as opposed to having someone else play her or finding another way to tell that part of the story?
I wouldn’t even know how it could have gone wrong. I never looked at that, that way. I think we tried to make this movie an open process, an open project to include multiple voices, to include contributions of real people. We open up the scenes for the survivors and make sure they’re O.K. with the narrative of their accounts, with the wording. And we of course respected each individual’s choice of how much to contribute or if even, right? I had a long conversation with Rose McGowan and I was very grateful to speak at length with her, and, in the end, it did not come together. And Gwyneth decided to appear with her voice. And Ashley, as she said on the open stage when we premiered the film, it was an easy decision for her. And I cannot speak for her of course, but maybe it has to do with her becoming an activist also and feeling validation by performing herself and taking ownership in telling her story. And I thought it was an incredible and powerful moment in the movie. I was very grateful to be working with her. And I, of course, as a director said, “Listen, this is your stage. I tell you how I want to film it, but it’s your decision how you portray yourself.” Right?
And from an acting point of view, from a filmmaking point of view, this is of course very exciting, because it’s surprising for the audience within actors taking on other people’s parts or characters, all of a sudden she’s there. It’s almost like tearing down the fourth wall in the theater. It’s almost like the New York Times opening its doors for us, for the first time for a film to film in the newsroom. And then this is also a specific form of reality because it’s Jodi’s and Megan’s actual workplace, and Rebecca Corbett [Patricia Clarkson]. And of course, it’s incredible, it’s incredible to be able to really film in that venue. And I would probably call it the only silver lining of COVID because everyone was [working at home], so it was a big, empty stage.
Before I let you go, was there anything Jodi and Megan told you they specifically wanted to be conveyed in the film?
We had a lot of conversations, but what I sensed is that it was very important for them that we, as filmmakers, treat the scenes with the ex-assistants and the survivors who entrusted them, with equal care and integrity, like they did when they met them. And I think the other thing which was really important for them is the depiction of their workplace, the details of their work, to get it right. They’ve been a generous source for us with every single question we had. It wasn’t that easy. Every person you see in there is a background actor, and we took a great effort to also ask the right people to collaborate with us. It’s interesting that these two things were so very important to them, even though they allowed us to integrate the private sides of their lives, which they consciously, of course, left out of their factual report, “She Said.” Yeah, it’s interesting.
“She Said” opens in limited release on Friday.
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