By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com September 14, 2012 at 10:57AM
Anyone who says that actors are an afterthought in a Terrence Malick film are doing a serious injustice to the director and his work. It would be somewhat surprising to find A-listers queueing up to work with the filmmaker if he wasn't someone who worked well with his performers, and one doesn't have to think very hard to come up with memorable turns in his pictures -- Sissy Spacek in "Badlands," Richard Gere in "Days Of Heaven," Jim Caviezel in "The Thin Red Line," Q'orianka Kilcher in "The New World," Hunter McCracken in "The Tree Of Life" -- even if the landscape and imagery is just as important.
So it was no surprise to learn when we sat down for roundtable interviews in Toronto earlier this week with Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams, the female leads of the director's latest film "To the Wonder," that both actresses had clearly loved working with Malick. Both are impressive in the film (which we loved, bad buzz be damned), and it's clear from speaking to the pair that they adore the director and his methods, even if much of their dialogue ended up on the cutting room floor. Read on for highlights from the interviews. Mild spoilers follow, but of course, plot is hardly the point in a Terrence Malick film.
One of the ways that "To the Wonder" impresses is in how it's able to sketch out backstory and its main narrative in a minimal manner. Which is not to say that it all wasn't carefully worked out in advance. "I had spoken to Terry for maybe two years before we started," McAdams said. And when arriving on location, the director gave a little tour of her character's old stomping grounds. "He drove me through Bartlesville one day," she told us, "and said 'Maybe,' and I love that he said maybe, not definitely, 'Maybe you grew up in that house, you went to that high school, that's where you met Ben Affleck's character. If you like that idea.' So I got such a sense of the character and where she came from and where she was going that I could take ownership, and go out there and," she added with a self-aware laugh, "wander the fields and see what comes."
McAdams' role is fairly small, and she gets as little dialogue as the rest of the cast, but she says she knew what she'd be in for. "Terry told me the role would be smallish," the actress said, "so it freed me up to go in and have a good time, and not expect too much in that way... I think he's a lot like a sculptor, he brings a lot of clay in, like way more than anyone would ever need, and allows the story to reveal itself to him. Which I think is beautiful, and brave. I think he's just collecting. Collecting great things."
Though her character is a rancher, McAdams is severely allergic to horses. But she believed that the animals were crucial to the understanding of her character, and pushed on through.
Crucial role of how to be an actor and land jobs: never say that you can't do something. Terrible fear of heights, but need to jump out of a plane? Just say yes. Auditioning to play a getaway driver, but never sat behind the wheel in your life? Cross that bridge when you come to it. And so it was with McAdams, whose character runs a ranch full of wild horses. "I'm quite terribly allergic to horses," the star admitted, "so it was one of those things where I was like 'Yeah, I love horses! They love me! It's gonna be great!' And then I got out there, took a lot of anti-histamine and prayed that my eyes didn't explode. My first day, I was in a corral full of wild horses, who'd never been touched by humans."
But McAdams ultimately felt that there was something of a connection between her character and the animals. "Terry never said this to me, but to me, she was represented by those wild horses: a bit skittish, bold, brazen, but also careful, having been hurt before, and timid at times. And so full of life and love to give. And lonely. But also meant to be that way, I think, as well, in that situation by necessity, but also making a life for herself too, and being strong. So I felt like the horses were my character."