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‘Women Talking’ Jessie Buckley and Sheila McCarthy Says Film’s Cast Was a “Band of Sisters, Like a Pack of Wolves”

In Sarah Polley women talkingg, Jessie Buckley and Sheila McCarthy play a daughter and a mother who have been raped by men from their Mennonite community. Buckley’s character, Mariche, is opinionated. As the women of her enclave debate her future, she is tied to the past, frustrated with the potential for change. McCarthy’s Greta is comparatively serene. She finds metaphors in hers for her beloved horses, Ruth and Cheryl, who might know the way forward.

It’s heavy stuff, but when Buckley and McCarthy get a Zoom call on a Saturday night, they’re giggly and cheerful. It’s a reflection of the experience of making the film, balancing the disturbing circumstances of what they were portraying with a jovial camaraderie. “None of us went back to our trailers,” McCarthy says. “We were always in these big common rooms…all the time. That was [like a] private girls’ school, a sorority. We all sleep together.” Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, which itself was inspired by real life events, women talking Buckley and McCarthy teams with Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey and Ben Whishaw.

The partnership between these two actresses, Buckley, nominated for an Oscar for the lost daughterand McCarthy, a veteran of Canadian cinema, is evident throughout their conversation about sandals, hard days and false teeth.

How was the experience when you met the rest of the cast?

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SHEILA MCCARTHY I remember emailing Jess while watching wild Rose. I was literally watching your movie, I emailed you and we couldn’t see each other due to COVID. He was isolated for two weeks. We thought about sneaking out and then we didn’t. And then we did the Zoom [rehearsal] for a whole week. It was a lot of fun when we finally met in the hayloft. [to shoot].

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JESSIE BUCKLEY And we all showed up in our funny little dresses and socks and sandals and we all started laughing. You could do a whole article on socks and sandals at women talkingbecause everyone’s socks and sandals were very particular.

MCCARTHY And you had those fake tits.

BUCKLE I had fake breasts because I thought, “I’ve breastfed an army.” I bought a fake bra full of birdseed and then I drew two faces on my bra: one named Ruth and one named Cheryl.

MCCARTHY It was like a theater thing. We were together every day for months, doing some intense stuff. But, oh my gosh, we also had a lot of laughs.

Now that you mention it, Jessie, what did each of your socks and sandals look like?

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BUCKLE Mine were the saddest socks and sandals. My socks were pretty dirty. They were like little armadillo shoes. They were a bit hard. But then the back of one of my shoe straps broke.

MCCARTHY And it stayed broken, I think. It’s not like that?

BUCKLE Oh no. It started broken. We decided that he would have a broken leash…like his heart.

MCCARTHY Mine were Birkenstock-y, sort of…

BUCKLE Oh wait a second. Sheila looked so effortlessly chic. We all looked like complete trash. And Sheila with her hat and her beautiful face and slim body… Me and Claire [Foy] and rooney [Mara]we’d say, “Fuck her, we look awful.”

MCCARTHY You’ve seen the movie? The only thing that saves me now is people coming up to me and saying, “Oh, you actually look a little bit younger in real life.” And I’m like, “Thank God.” When I first saw the movie, Judy [Ivey] and I was like, “Oh my gosh, you can’t even find a chin.” I remember Sarah [Polley] telling me, “You may be a little too young for the movie.” And I said, “Are you crazy?” You take off your mask and put on those polyester dresses. We will be fine.

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This is already a charming and funny interview about a very serious movie. They’re dealing with horrible incidents, but they obviously had a good time together.

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BUCKLE There was an incredible generosity of heart on this set. It was intense. And sometimes we’d be doing 150 takes of a scene over three days, and each person in that room would be there for the other person when it was their turn and give 120 percent and hold out a hand to say, “I’m here.” .” I think that’s why making this movie was so different; it was an experience more than a performance. We really were like a band of sisters, like a pack of wolves. and good [Whishaw], who is my Friday wife, aka my drinking buddy. Sarah [has] such a vulnerable powerhouse on her, and that’s how she leads. She creates a space where everyone is equal. And that meant that the hard days were just as good as the good days.

What is so incredibly beautiful and so rewarding is [hearing] young women [in the cast] talk about [feeling that] this has changed their lives. There is no way at 18 that I could articulate what these women have come to be able to articulate from this experience. Standing in front of people and saying, “It takes a lot of courage to stay, it takes a lot of courage to fight, it takes a lot of courage to leave,” and knowing that. And also say: “I know I have a voice that deserves to be heard. Before I would have thought it just had to be good.” That was exciting. That comes from actually living something.

MCCARTHY I think having them on set made us all very aware of the need for sensitivity as well. We had a lovely crisis counselor. [clinical psychologist Lori Haskell] with us most of the time. He’d look around at all the seasoned ones and I’d just say, “I’m going to find another Starbucks. I’m pretty good.” But with young girls, we were all very aware of the need to be careful.

Left to right: Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod and Jessie Buckley in United Artists' Women Talking, written and directed by Sarah Polley

From left: Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod and Jessie Buckley at United Artists’ women talkingwritten and directed by Sarah Polley

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Courtesy of Michael Gibson/Orion Pictures

Jessie, how helpful was it for you to have Dr. Haskell on set?

BUCKLE I didn’t realize how difficult it was to wear a Mariche knot. I’m not one to take it home, but sometimes you do take it home. There was probably a day or two where he got to me and I kind of thought, “You could stand away. Get away from me with your healing hands.” And then he needed her. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great gift to have that support. But we were also all there to [one another] when it was hard for us.

MCCARTHY And that includes the crew as well – they were all very responsive to the experience. And I think we all also realized that it was something really special.

Jessie, what was your initial approach to Mariche? She is opposed to so many people throughout the movie.

BUCKLE I immediately responded to Mariche in many ways. She also sits on the other side of my life from me, which is partly why I was curious about her. I wanted to know what she was that woman, because I know that woman in my life. What you think you know about yourself or what other people think they know about you, there is a whole world inside people, secrets and hopes and dreams and fears. Mariche was someone who had a lot of internalized violence due to a legacy of violence that she was experiencing at that time. But she has also lived that with her own mother, and her mother probably lived that with her mother. The chain has been going on for centuries. The thing about all the women in that loft is that we had to unlearn things in order to learn something new about ourselves and be brave enough to go into a place where we didn’t know what was there yet.

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Sheila, what did that unlearning mean to you in playing Greta?

MCCARTHY Greta was pretty assertive from the beginning, but my way was through this very soft humor that Sarah really wanted to push, because it sort of takes the air out of the balloon in tense scenes. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she talks about [her horses] Ruth and Cheryl and speaks in metaphors. There was such a calm strength about her that came from her faith, which is something I don’t have, but I understand. For all these women, their faith was steadfast in their lives, and that is what helps them. She kept thinking about how these women had never spoken before, ever, and how compelling it is to have a room of eight or nine women talking about something for the first time.

Jessie mentioned playing this woman who has given birth to so many children. Sheila, how did you want to take Greta?

MCCARTHY Losing your teeth. [was], for me, a metaphor of not having his voice. I don’t know if Miriam Toews wrote that on purpose, but it tells me a lot about finding her voice again with mismatched teeth. That was huge.

Did you wear false teeth on top of yours?

MCCARTHY No, that was my makeup. I remember the first time I pulled my teeth and you didn’t know what was going to happen, Jessie, you started laughing so hard.

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BUCKLE Cruel daughter, cruel daughter.

MCCARTHY I’m not doing light, because it’s horrible. But I didn’t tell anyone the first time I took them out. I always had a tissue in my hand because can you imagine having teeth that don’t fit in your mouth and how painful that would be all the time?

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a December standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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