INTERVIEW: Coming of Age in Swingin' London; Goldbacher's "Me Without You"
by Jessica Hundley
(indieWIRE/ 06.28.02) — With her sophomore effort, “Me Without You,” British director Sandra Goldbacher (“The Governess“) has added her voice to the long chorus of coming-of-age films, tracing three decades in the tumultuous friendship of Marina (Anna Friel) and Holly (Michelle Williams), two women whose bond is as nurturing as it is suffocating. Goldbacher recounts the trials and travails of growing up middle class in the English ‘burbs with sensitivity and sly humor, and her carefully constructed narrative is fueled by a wonderfully evocative soundtrack, following the girls through punk rock and adolescent experimentation to New Wave and university angst. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Goldbacher has created a refreshing and authentic portrait of female friendship and the ways in which relationships can evolve (or devolve) along the path to womanhood. Jessica Hundley spoke with the director about personal films, obsessive relationships, and living-room improvisations. IDP releases “Me Without You” next Friday.
indieWIRE: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you began working in film? I know you made some shorts before “The Governess.”
Sandra Goldbacher: I started making films at university. I always knew I wanted to write, but I never thought of making films as an option that was open to women; growing up as a teenager, it just never seemed possible. When I got to school I realized that in fact you could do it. I began making shorts and documentaries and I actually thought “Me Without You” was going to be my first feature film, but I got the money for “The Governess” first. This is my most personal project.
iW: So you had written this first?
Goldbacher: I had, but the financing came through for the other project first. I started writing this film seven years ago actually. It’s changed a lot, but the core idea was to make something about an obsessive relationship between women. It’s something that’s always fascinated me. It kind of kept coming up when writing other shorts. I wanted to explore that subject.
iW: I imagine that was due in part to your own experiences. How autobiographical was this script?
Goldbacher: I drew from my own experiences tangentially. I had a very intense friendship with a girl from the ages of 7 to 17. Then we went our separate ways when we went to school. So this is sort of my projection of how a friendship like that might have developed, something that is this claustrophobic and how it can affect both your lives as you carry on.
iW: It’s interesting, because female friendships are so different than male friendships. I think you want to get inside each other’s head much more. Which can be both beautiful and stifling.
Goldbacher: Exactly. And it can bring out all your insecurities, and you can project that onto the other girl. It’s not a question of envy so much as it is your insecurities and what you feel you lack. I saw Robert Altman‘s film “Three Women” when I was quite young and I found it so fascinating. I thought that was a good study of female relationships.
iW: There’s a certain sort of hothouse atmosphere in female relationships that’s recognizable in the way you shot the film. That intensity. I think most male directors miss that nuance.
Goldbacher: Yes, I think that orchid house atmosphere is absolutely fascinating, and it’s something you can render on film so perfectly.
iW: Were there any other films that you looked to for inspiration?
Goldbacher: Well, recently I thought “The Virgin Suicides” was a beautiful film and captured that atmosphere wonderfully.
iW: So you had this script and after seven years, you must have felt very close to these characters. Once you began, how involved were you in the casting process?
Goldbacher: I was very involved. Anna Friel came first. I thought she has that fantastic mix of vulnerability and invulnerability, so she was able to make the character very authentic. She had to have this incredible charisma and yet have this sort of waiflike, vulnerability to her. We did feel we wanted an American in one of the roles, which would gives us access to a wider pool of fantastic talent. I did meet quite a lot of American girls, but as soon as I met Michelle, I thought, “She is Holly.” She’s such a clever woman, she’s fascinating and very funny and quite open about her own neurosis. Kyle MacLachlan‘s character was always meant to be an American character, because I wanted him to have this sense of freedom, of being a visitor and therefore not really having to be fully responsible for his actions. I think Kyle gave that character a slightly comic edge, but at the same time was a believable character.
iW: Did you have them spend time together before you began shooting?
Goldbacher: Yes, I wanted them to spend as much time together as possible — the girls particularly. As soon as they met I forced them to start improvising in my living room. I felt it was important that they start to respond to each other as if they’ve known each other since they were very young. So we started this improvisation as 12 year olds and they spent a couple hours chatting in character. I wanted them to get the sense of that inbred familiarity. And then we used that a lot in rehearsal. It seemed to work to do it that way. All those dynamics that friends have started to come up.
iW: That’s a rare thing to be able to work with them so much before filming.
Goldbacher: They were absolutely into it and so many things came off well because of that time. And Anna and Michelle went out into the street in character, to get to know one another and for Michelle to get comfortable with her accent, which she pulls off. She has a great ear.
iW: Is this how you usually work or was it specific to this script?
Goldbacher: I think it was specific to this script. I think it’s project by project really and with this I felt it was important for the familiarity, but I think in the end you just do what’s right. I think it was that time we had together that captured the essence of what I was trying to convey about female friendship. In the end, I’m very happy with and thankful for how it all turned out.