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Getting to Know Miss Sloane With John Madden

Getting to Know Miss Sloane With John Madden
madden If you’re a fan of the film “Shakespeare in Love”, the director of that film, John Madden, has a new release this month, “Miss Sloane” and it’s fantastic.  I had an opportunity to sit and have a chat with him.  Here’s that chat.

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari:  So this was a story you felt compelled to do from the moment you read it.

Madden:  I think, to me, there are many, many terrific things about the script and the film.  The script, when it came to me was, mechanically, I’m talking about the mechanics of the storytelling were pretty much in place.  Johnny had written a very cleverly constructed piece.  I wouldn’t say the chronology isn’t exactly the way it is in the film now, certainly the elements in it, the content has developed and there was an amazing character there but it… the character essentially had not developed fully in terms of… what she did was there but what happens to her was not.  And I thought the most interesting thing about the film was to take this character who is, you know, so empowered so powerful so brilliant at what she does, so sought after, so successful but also ruthless, dangerous, heedless of the collateral damage she causes on the way to achieving the goal she sets for herself or somebody had set for her and finding out what’s going on underneath all of that and the price that she is paying personally for that because she has no life at the beginning of the story.  She eats her meals in some godforsaken place simply because it’s functional.  She buys intimacy, she has no friends, she has nothing that we would call a life outside of the world that she’s got; which seemed a fascinating thing to explore particularly in light of what happens and that– what does happen to her and what she does, and what happens as a result of that, is a massive challenge to her.  The core relationships developed as Johnny and I worked on the script … and also adapted, forensically, the political assumptions so we made sure we had those right.   

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari: She was so cold in this role.  Was it hard to get her there?

Madden:  No.  Not really because I know her and I know what she’s capable of.  We talked a great deal about how that character operated.  She’s very, very smart and because we have a lot of trust between us, that’s a very intuitive process.  She’ll say, ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing in this, you tell me what you think when I’ve done it’ or ‘I don’t know what to do here, should we go this way or that way?’ 

Shari:  I know the answer before I ask but did you ever question your decision?

Madden:  No, she’s got– there are a handful of actors of both sexes in this business who just have the skills of a virtuoso mastery of their instrument, let’s say, like somebody who can play a Mozart concerto perfectly.  She’s in that league without any question whatsoever.  She can do, sort of, anything but the most extraordinary thing is that she can inhabit anything.  There are very few actors that have the range that she has.  When my film, “The Debt” came out, she had done “Tree of Life” by then, some of those came out before our film because did because for various reasons it got delayed, but she had done “The Help”, “Take Shelter”… there was a huge range in there and “Zero Dark Thirty”, obviously, is another side of her, which this has more of an infinity with, I guess.

Shari:  She’s very intimidating as Sloane.  She towers above everyone, whether it’s psychological or not I don’t know but she felt like a giant.

Madden:   She’s, realistically, small in stature but she totally dominates the entire film to the point where you would think she was an exceptionally tall woman, taller than most of them around. 

Shari:  She’s not?!

Madden:  (Laughs) No. No. No.  I mean, she wears heels, obviously in the film, as that character would and quite deliberately but no… and she has a fragility about her that belies the ferocity and so the paradox is that even though she behaves in ways that you pull back from her, shocked by, you still are rooting for her in some way.  I certainly intended that you’d be rooting for her when she begins to make mistakes, because I think it’s human nature to do so but I hadn’t quite anticipated that you might be rooting for her almost from the very beginning, which I think you are; weirdly.

Shari:  I was.

Madden:  Yes.  I’m sure.  And I think women in particular are.  And, you know, it’s partly the way we’ve written the character and it’s also partly the way she does it.

Shari:  I want to see it again and I think seeing it twice is what a lot of people will be doing.

Madden:  Good!  But it’s a different experience when you see it again because now you know so you’re surfing through it differently.

Shari:  Since this touches on the subject of the guns how do you see this film playing in America now that Trump was elected?

Madden:  It’s hard to say, you know, I think… I can’t say I’m entirely happy about this but it seems to me that, that argument is– obviously this movie is, to some extent, a fantasy even because it actually purposes that such a piece of legislation would be under consideration in congress, which was unimaginable before this event, it is now completely unimaginable that there would be any shift in this… and if anything, you might go backwards.  I think, however, the gun issue is not the subject of the film.  The subject of the film, aside from the character study, is the political process itself and, strangely, the film has become richer in terms of what it’s saying now because you’ve seen that process laid bare in such an extraordinary and, sort of, startling way and in ways that we can’t completely track and understand. 

Shari:  Guns aren’t the situation and the political message is there for us to pick up.

Madden:  I think broken politics is something of a truism now but I think it’s never been more demonstrated than right now.  When I say that, I’m very aware that half of the voting population, it was a very low turnout, have got exactly the result they hoped for and that’s an exercise in democracy that I couldn’t and wouldn’t argue with, it’s not my country… but I think we’re witnessing a massive realignment of how politics functions and I can only, myself, lament and express my dismay at where the country appears to be pointed.  The idea that climate change is going to be arrested stopped and moved backwards is shocking and deplorable to me and that is what is being proposed.  As I said, the gun issue is its own thing and I look at that as a primarily, well, exclusively, American issue; I have my own views about it but they’re not relevant in the film but I think it, strangely, the movie plays more strongly– I was shocked after the election thinking, ‘Wow!  Is anyone going to go to the movies?  I don’t feel like going to the movies right now.’  But I think Americans do go to see the movies when they’re disoriented, depressed, dismayed or even jubilant, as some presumably are… and I think it has something to say in that context and so, yeah… it casts some unexpected light on the situation or rather the situation casts an unexpected light on the film… let me put it that way. 

Be sure to read my review of “Miss Sloane”.   You can catch the movie which is out today at a theatre near you.  Jessica Chastain will surprise you with her best performance yet.  Remember, it’s not at all a movie about gun control, only the reason for Miss Sloane to be working.  It’s barely even noticed.  As Madden said, she is the subject.  It’s a great story and one not to miss, especially if you think it’ll be political leaning left or right.  As mentioned in my review, don’t wait for Netflix.  

tmc contributor: ShariK.Green

I'm the Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager for tmc.io. I write, direct and produce short films with my production company, Good Stew Productions. I'm now working on my first feature film which is a lot of work but a lot of fun! Though it's hard to answer this questions when asked, I'd say my favorite movie is “The Big Chill.” I enjoy photography, poetry, and hiking and I adore animals, especially elephants. I live in Arizona and feel it's an outstanding and inspirational place to live.

About The Author

ShariK.Green avatar

I'm the Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager for tmc.io. I write, direct and produce short films with my production company, Good Stew Productions. I'm now working on my first feature film which is a lot of work but a lot of fun! Though it's hard to answer this questions when asked, I'd say my favorite movie is “The Big Chill.” I enjoy photography, poetry, and hiking and I adore animals, especially elephants. I live in Arizona and feel it's an outstanding and inspirational place to live.

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