Powerfully defying the typical stereotypes that have regularly been placed on both men and women can be a challenge for anyone who strives to have their unique opinions be heard by society. It’s also a necessary plot element that has been severely lacking in mainstream Hollywood films in recent years. But the anticipated mystery thriller, ‘The Girl on the Train,’ is skillfully showcasing that female protagonists have just as much of a right to take charge of any situation as men do as they pursue what they want in life.
Based on last year’s hit novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, ‘The Girl on the Train’ was adapted for the screen by scribe Erin Cressida Wilson. The psychological thriller was directed by Tate Taylor, who’s also known for helming another film that’s based on a popular book, 2011’s Academy Award-winning drama, ‘The Help.’ His new psychological drama is set to be released in theaters this Friday by Universal Pictures.
‘The Girl on the Train’ follows the lonely Rachel (Emily Blunt), who is unable to move on from her divorce from her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who has a successful career in Manhattan. Rachel still lives near her former partner in the suburbs of Upstate New York, as she wishes to remain a part of his life, much to the concern of her roommate and friend, Cathy (Laura Prepon). Tom’s current wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), has also become an obsession for his former spouse, especially since the married couple has a young child, and a family is something Rachel has always longed for.
In addition to repeatedly calling and visiting Tom and Anna’s house, which she shared with her former husband when they were married, Rachel also spies on another married couple that lives down the block. Rachel passes by both couples’ houses twice a day on the Metro North commuter train on her way into New York City. She ponders about the lives of the other spouses, Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett), who works for Anna as her child’s nanny.
It’s revealed that despite her husband’s best efforts to persuade her to have a child of their own, Megan is hesitant to start a family with Scott. So she finds comfort in distancing herself from what she considers to be overbearing and possive behavior from her husband by regularly visiting her therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez).
One day when she’s traveling on the train, Rachel spots Megan on the upstairs deck of her home as she begins kissing Dr. Abdic. soon after Rachel witnesses the intimate exchange, she realizes that Megan has mysteriously disappeared. Much to the concern of Cathy, Tom and Anna, as well as Detective Sgt. Riley (Allison Janney), the lead officer handling the investigation, Rachel immerses herself into the case. She integrates herself into Scott’s life to not only offer him comfort about his wife’s disappearance, but also give herself what she considers to be an important reason to continue living. But the further she delves into the investigation, the more Rachel realizes that her life, and what she thought she knew, may not be as true as she previously believed.
During ‘The Girl on the Train’s recent press day at New York City’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, Blunt, Theroux, Evans and Taylor generously took the time to participate in solo press conferences, while Bennett and Ramírez took part in a joint interview, to discuss starring in, and directing, the thriller. Among other things, the actors and helmer discussed how the natural chemistry the cast immediately formed during the shoot, as well as the source material in Hawkins’ novel, helped them connect with each other and to their characters. The performers and filmmaker also mentioned how they appreciate that the story features such strong lead female characters, who prove that women in movies don’t always have to be likeable and supportive.
**For audiences who have not yet read Hawkin’s novel and are unfamiliar with ‘The Girl on the Train’s complete storyline, there are some spoiler alerts throughout this article. The details focus primarily on the characterization of Tom throughout the film, and how Theroux approached playing him, which hint at the ending of the story.**
The process of determining which aspects of Hawkins’ story that should also be featured on screen was an interesting process for Taylor as a director. “So much of who these characters are is told to by these women, and it’s such a fun narration…Rachel talks about being hung over, and deciding whether she’s going to drink again, and people can relate to that,” the director explained.
The filmmaker then noted that that type of information can’t be conveyed on screen. “It wasn’t that type of movie-it doesn’t include tense moments, and then two women talking at a bar,” Taylor noted. “So a lot of that narrative went away, just by the nature of what we were doing. But overall, I feel like the book is pretty well represented on screen, other than the anecdotal moments that we heard from the women.”
The overall experience of adopting books to the screen also excites Taylor as a director. “If I want to do something, it’s because I think I know how to do it. I only sign onto a project if I’m passionate about it. That passion is so strong that it’s my engine. What’s fun about it is the thought that the 10 million people who read the book might come to watch the movie,” the filmmaker said with a laugh.
“I liked these characters, and they influence the choices that I make. When I was first told the book is a thriller, I did a bit of an eye roll. But then I immediately realized that the story is set in this great genre,” Taylor also revealed while further discussing the process of adapting the novel for the screen.
Blunt also delved into the process of translating Rachel’s continued battle with alcoholism to the screen. She noted that she wanted her portrayal to be “as authentic, raw and ugly as possible.” She pointed out that once people are diagnosed with the disease, “the idea of a better life is an impossible one. (Rachel’s) infatuation with alcohol has become the only relationship that is ongoing in her life.”
The Golden Globe Award-winning actress added that she watched a lot of documentaries about alcoholism while she prepared to play Rachel in ‘The Girl on the Train.’ “I needed to watch the reality of what it was. ‘Intervention’ was a fantastic source for me. I also read books on depression and drinking,” Blunt divulged.
The performer noted felt the sources she relied on to help guide her portrayal of the title character were helpful. but “At the end of the day, this film isn’t just a portrait of an alcoholic; it’s also a thriller, and has to move like one,” Blunt pointed out. She also emphasized that the film “is less about Rachel being a Nancy Drew-type of character, who was trying to figure out who done it, and more about making sure she didn’t do it.”
While Blunt did extensive research into what daily life is like for alcoholics, Ramírez admitted he didn’t do as much preparation into what a therapist’s professional life is like before he arrived on the set. “I couldn’t research as much as I normally do, and would have loved to do, because I was basically thrown into the movie. I was finishing (the upcoming thriller,) ‘Gold’ here in New York when Tate called me,” the performer revealed. “He said, ‘Please read the script, and if you like it, let’s talk about it.'”
After he initially spoke with the director, Ramírez read the screenplay. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I then sat down with Tate, and the next day we were rehearsing. We began shooting the following day. So I had to ease my nervousness of not having the chance to prepare as much as I normally do,” the actor explained.
But Ramírez described the new experience as being “fantastic, because I was able to discover the character through the words on set, since he mainly listens to Megan and Rachel. As an actor and a person, you always want to say things. But it was great to just listen.”
Further speaking about her character’s struggles with alcoholism, Blunt noted that “Some people take life’s setbacks a lot harder than others. It’s not for us to judge them on that, because this is a disease; it’s not like she just likes to drink socially.”
One of the key factors in Rachel’s continued pursuance of her ex-husband and his new wife is the fact that the lead character was never able to conceive a child, while Tom and Anna started their family right away. “That was the thing that I found such empathy for while playing Rachel,” revealed Blunt, who was pregnant with her second daughter while she was filming the mystery movie. “When you become a mother, your heart becomes completely cracked open.”
Rachel and Scott are similar in the sense that they both want a child. “There’s a bit of role reversal in the film,” Evans noted while discussing how his character is desperate to start a family with Megan. “The most masculine alpha male is a victim in a sense, as he’s struggling with something that’s often given to female characters. That’s very clever, unconventional and refreshingly different.”
The feeling of being pregnant while shooting ‘The Girl on the Train’ was strange for Blunt. “But I’m someone who tries not to torture myself while I’m playing any part. So I find ways to unwind, like enjoying my long car ride home,” the actress revealed.
Despite the terrible things Tom does throughout the story, Theroux didn’t feel as though he needed to take specific actions to separate himself from the character once he finished playing him. “I’m pretty good at not taking my characters home. I’m not really method in that way. I don’t have to go home and live in the shoes of the guy; I can pretty much leave him at work.”
Bennett also discussed her process of disengaging from Megan when she wasn’t filming her scenes in the mystery film. While the cast was on the set, “We were able to have relief from the intense scenes we were in, because we were able to keep (the mood) really light on set. But there were definitely days when I went home and washed the character off,” the actress admitted. “I would literally go home and scrub my skin, and went through the physical act of shedding her.”
Since the performers decided not to become completely method in the way they played their characters in ‘The Girl on the Train,’ there were times when the cast would relax between takes. “It really depended on what the scene was,” Theroux revealed.
“I think you intuitively know when someone has some difficult work ahead of them, and you obviously don’t want to disrespect that. We often had long days that included taking a lot of time to set up the next take. So we couldn’t remain quiet for that long,” the actor also explained.
“Emily, Rebecca and Hayley are some of the funniest women I know. So we would often laugh together, because not only were we killing time, we were also having fun together,” Theroux added. But whenever one of the cast members had a more serious scene to film, “everything would settle down about 15 minutes before the take. We’d then shoot the scene, and once we knew it was done, we’d go back to laughing a lot.”
Also speaking of forming her connections with her co-stars, Bennett pointed to the fact that they “had great material to work with from Paula’s novel. So the relationships my character had were developed in the book. So when the other actors were cast in these roles and we met, our chemistry formed a life of its own,” the actress explained.
“I was so fortunate to have acting partners who brought out the best in me, even though we didn’t have a whole lot of time to develop these characters and their relationships,” Bennett also divulged. “But Tate allowed us to improv, so there was a freedom in that.”
Ramírez added that the natural connection that formed between him and his co-stars was very freeing for him as an actor. “I felt like I could get to know my character by watching, and listening to,” Bennett. He also described their rehearsal process as being similar to what happens between doctors and patients in real life, as they “get to know each other more and more during each session.”
The actor also noted that he’s attracted to “characters who struggle with contradictions. The terms hero and anti-hero don’t really define the human experience.” Ramírez added that he believes that people, including Dr. Abdic, have a blending of traits in their personalities that everyone can understand.
Blunt added with a laugh that while the movie was filming, she “also had a toddler at home, who didn’t care if I was good in a scene. It’s interesting that you don’t often hear of women being method in their roles; I don’t think we get much of an opportunity.
“It is hard to find these types of good roles; you have to delve through a lot of bad ones to get to the good stuff. By that point, everyone wants that same role,” the performer explained. “But they are there, and I do feel like the tides are turning. We’re now talking about the lack of equality of great roles for women, and how we’re viewed in the industry.”
While she emphasized that the quality of roles for men and women isn’t completely equal yet, Blunt also noted that she feels Hollywood is “moving in the right direction. I really hope films like this one prove that women don’t always have to be likeable, witty and supportive, and we can instead be bankable. I hope we continue to move in the right direction.” The actress also said that she feels that Hollywood needs to support more female screenwriters, because “they’ll ultimately write better roles for women.”
Ramírez also expressed his belief that the female characters in ‘The Girl on the Train’ are enriching and notable ones that audiences won’t soon forget. “I think we haven’t seen female performances that are raw in mainstream American cinema in a very long time,” the actor pointed out. The fact that ‘The Girl on the Train’ does feature such vulnerable female performances is “very refreshing, because I’m not from here.” The Venezuelan-born actor added that “I grew up watching American movies. I wanted to become an actor because of a lot of great American movies that I saw.”
**SPOILER ALERT** The fact that Rachel is presented as such a compelling female protagonist is aided by the fact that Tom has a more sinister side that’s cleverly revealed during the later part of the story. The lead character’s ex-husband’s true nature couldn’t be completely showcased in the beginning of the film, as Rachel’s journey is driven in part by her discovery of who Tom truly is as a family man.
Theroux admitted during his interview that he initially questioned how he could convincingly portray Tom’s true nature as it’s revealed toward the end of the story, without giving too many details away ahead of time. “He’s not a traditional guy, whose life is miserable, and then all of a sudden, he turns to the dark side. I just kept thinking of him as being incredibly selfish.”
The SAG Award-nominated actor added that “If you look at what their life was like before, he was in love with (Rachel). But for whatever reason, their marriage didn’t work out. It may have been because they were having fertility problems, and she was drinking too much. He then cheated on her, and married the woman he cheated on her with, and then cheated on his second wife.”
Theroux also reference the fact that Tom was presented in both the book and script as having “very little remorse for his actions. So I took the tact that he’s a narcissist, in the true sense of the word. He would blame other people for things he did. So if Rachel was stalking him, or his current wife was giving him grief about something, he would blame them.”
When Tom is presented with the situation that Megan finds herself in, “it’s a selfish opportunity killing. So that presented him a straightforward way, and made it easier to play him. It wasn’t one of those roles where I thought, I have to get into the mind of a serial killer,” Theroux explained.
Since his character never took on any responsibility, “that weirdly made it easier to play him in a straightforward way,” the actor added. “I could show him to be the typical suburban dad who doesn’t take anyone else’s feelings into consideration. It’s more terrifying that he’s just a normal guy who does something terrible.”
Despite the cruel ways he treats the people in his life, Theroux finds it fun to play such a villainous character. But he emphasized that “it’s more fun than playing the alternative, in which the movie has a pretty boring or predictable story. I find that villains, in the traditional sense, have a much more interesting psychology and backstory behind them. They usually have a good reason” for being the way they are in the story. “There’s something satisfying in playing that complexity.” **END SPOILER ALERT**
While Theroux conceptualized some of Tom’s story, “a lot of it was in the book. We know that at one point, he was in love with (Rachel), and they were having problems conceiving. We also know that she began drinking more heavily, possibly because of her depression. So all I needed to know was that at one point, he did love her. Then he made a series of bad choices.” While the actor didn’t map out his character’s full life story, he did develop a sense of who he is now.
Much like Theroux, Blunt is also garnering attention for her gripping portrayal of the dark journey her character takes in ‘The Girl on the Train.’ Since she thrives on taking on new challenges in each role she plays, the actress was approached with an offer to play Rachel in the drama.
When Blunt received the opportunity to lead the film adaptation, she was aware of Hawkins’ book, because she “had seen everyone reading it. At first, I was a bit contrary, because I didn’t want to be in (the film adaptation of) the book everyone’s reading.
“But then when I was offered the role, I thought I better read the book. Right away, it was easy to see why it become such a runaway hit,” the BAFTA Award-nominated actress divulged. “It grips you in the most jarring way…I think these domestic thrillers are really tantalizing audiences because they’re relatable.”
Also discussing the process of making Rachel’s feelings and motivations sympathetic throughout the film, Taylor noted that he intentionally used slow-motion shots in certain scenes. “They added to the question of whether Rachel’s drunk in each scene, and if the things she’s recalling are true memories. This was a device that was deliberately planned, in order to show her pain,” the director explained.
“When the script came to me, I realized there would be some emotional holes that needed to be filled,” Taylor also revealed while further discussing how he helped make the characters in the script feel sympathetic. “My job is to focus on these characters.
“The first thing that came to mind was Rachel in happier times. She spends a lot of time talking about her loss,” the director noted. “So I needed to film scenes of her during happier times, while she was at her best, before the rug was pulled out from under her.”
When it came to showcasing Megan’s journey on screen, Taylor added that he knew people would unfavorably judge her. “So I also thought, why do people like Megan act out? So I needed to show what happened to her” in her past, as well. The director reassured Bennett that he wouldn’t show her portrayal in a grotesque way, and she agreed to his ideas.
While Bennett noted that she was eager to distance herself from her characters at times, she also wanted to make Megan feel relatable to audiences. “That’s a difficult thing to do when she’s having affairs with multiple men. I didn’t want her to just be a mistress; I also wanted her to have layers,” the actress explained.
“I wanted her to be human, and not just a monster who’s damaged. So I was glad there was an opportunity in the film to fill her in, and add different shades to her personality,” Bennett also divulged while further discussing the process of building her character. “She masks her pain with the validation and love she tries to get from the people she surrounds herself with, which was a fantastic challenge for me.”
Also speaking of the underlying struggles that make Megan both relatable and tragic, Evans noted how the behavior of his character’s wife affected their marriage. “I think the jealous and possessive part of his nature was fueled by the way she acted towards him in the relationship,” the British Independent Film Awards-nominated actor revealed. “I think she gave him reasons to feel very insecure and vulnerable.”
While Evans doesn’t think Scott’s decisions, such as checking Megan’s emails, were the right ones to make, “it came to the point where he didn’t have any answers, and he was with someone who didn’t want to be with him. It’s a really intense emotional journey for him.
**SPOILER ALERT** “I feel like (Scott’s) constantly deceived and lied to throughout the film. The worst thing is that this woman (Rachel) comes along and tells him that she’s best friends with his wife, and even that’s a lie,” Evans also noted. “No wonder he’s upset!”
For part of the film’s story, Scott arises suspicion by the police for possibly being involved in his wife’s disappearance. “But I tried to play that innocently,” Evans explained. “Like every relationship, they had good and bad moments. Overall, they had quite a relationship that was both tumultuous and passionate. So we had to show all the parts of their relationship in the few scenes they have together.”
The actor also noted that when Scott began talking to Rachel, “I was able to show the other part of his personality. He feels bad that he went to a bar and got drunk the night Megan disappeared. So as the details are presented to the audience, they’re able to decide whether they think he’s a suspect or not. But in my head, I never thought I had to play him like he could be; I just played him the way Tate and I discussed it,” Evans also revealed.**END SPOILER ALERT**
The actor also praised the way Taylor and the thriller’s editors, Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker, cut the film, as it “leads you in a certain way, and rightfully so. Over the course of the film’s two hours, the audience has to take all of the story’s factors into account, and make a decision based on what they’ve been given, much more quickly than when they’re reading a book.”
While also discussing Megan’s destructive behavior, Taylor revealed that he thinks she and Tom “are the most similar. In my mind, they were voted most beautiful person in high school, and everyone wanted to be them. But they were two of the most insecure people in the world. So all they had as their shield was their looks.”
But then as things started to not work out for them, “as they do in real life, you feel like you have a loss of control. So you then want to find something that you can control. As a result, these two characters relied on sex to make them feel as though they’re in control,” Taylor stated.
The director also pointed out that overall, “This movie is about coping. Tom and Megan had to learn how to cope, because their lives didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to. I think he came to New York and hit Wall Street, and wanted to own an entire floor of a building and be a billionaire.
“I think that’s probably where he met Rachel. I told Emily that Tom probably thought Rachel was the fun girl at first, and that didn’t happen,” Taylor added with a laugh.
Blunt also noted that stories like the one presented in ‘The Girl on the Train’ “are so human, and show the underbelly of domestic life, which a lot of people experience. There’s also the thought that the grass is greener on the other side. There are so many themes that are so accessible in this story.”
While portraying the role of Rachel, Blunt didn’t aim to persuade the eventual viewers of the drama to view the character in a sympathetic light, or in any other specific way. But she added that she “really understood her by the end of my research. I had such empathy for this person. So if my love of the character, no matter how much I disagree with what she’s doing,” translates to audiences, the performer would be happy. “She’s doing these things because she’s scared and ashamed most of the time. So if that translates, than I’m happy.”
Watch the official trailer for ‘The Girl on the Train’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello