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Interview with TANYA WEXLER, the director of HYSTERIA at Tribeca 2012


 

Fest 21 (Suzanne Lynch) sat down with Tanya Wexler, the director of the frothy new romantic comedy Hysteria, starring Maggie Gyllanhaal and Hugh Dancy, about the invention of a novel treatment for women suffering from the broadly defined illness of hysteria in Victorian England.

Dancy plays Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who earnestly wishes to advance the medical profession and cares greatly about new discoveries like germs. He soon finds himself working for the wealthy Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) in his hysteria clinic, while simultaneously becoming quite keen on Dalrymple's daughter Emily (Felicia Jones), who is the very embodiment of Victorian propriety.

Mortimer's exhaustion in the face of the clinic's rising popularity, however, lead him to clashes with his boss. The latter also forbids
that any assistance be given to his eldest daughter Charlotte (Gyllanhaal), a renegade from the upper crust who runs a center for the poor in London's East End, where she fervently advocates women's rights. Mortimer's natural inclination to help those in need puts him in a tricky spot.

Luckily Mortimer's wealthy friend, Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett in a plum supporting role) has an invention that just might save the day.

While the comedy is lightweight, it's in the best sense of the word. The juxtaposition between the Victorian age and the subject
matter at hand (ahem) is ripe with humor. There are some juicy cameos turned in by the older women as clinic patients. Yet while the film is mainly silly fun, some of the historical facts about hysteria are also food for thought.

-- Suzanne Lynch

How did the idea for Hysteria come about and what was the film's journey? 

My producer, Tracey Becker, is a friend. We had kids at the same time. And I made two little movies and then I had a bunch of little kids. I have four kids now. I was kind of in Mom-land, and developing stuff but not super-aggressively. And she said, I have your next movie. And I said OK, great, what it is it? And she said the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England. And I said, Yes, I'm in. I have to make that.  It makes me laugh.

When you have a lot of kids and you are tired...something difficult or something incredibly somber... I just don't think I had it in me at the time. But when she said that, I said I have to make that movie if it's the last thing I do.

We were starting with kind of nothing. So I went to find writers - friends who are fantastic writers who wrote it on spec, and then it was just building the team. It took a while because we wanted the script to be perfect. And then Sarah (Curtis) who produced Mrs. Brown and all these amazing period pieces... which they call costume dramas ...came on board. We made a British movie and I happened to be the American on board more than the other way around, so it was really important to have a great British producer. I kind of got a bit of the cast and a bit of the money together but we needed a bit more to close the suitcase. And Judy Cairo who had produced Crazy Heart was putting a fund together and they put the last chunk of money in and she got it to Maggie. We already had John and Rupert...and John had stuck with us for like four years while we tried to put the financing together... and then we finally nailed it down. And then we made it. Not this autumn but the one before.

It's been kind of cool. We got into Toronto - world premiere there. The US premier here at Tribeca. It's awesome. I'm a New Yorker so it's really awesome.


How did you find the right tone for the movie? 

I would say the synopsis was already infused with it. I always say I wanted it to be like Merchant Ivory, Jane Austen, and Richard Curtiss had a movie baby -that's what I was trying to make. Somebody called it "Howard's End with Vibrators." Howard's End is like one of my favorite all-time films, so I was good with that. I hope we got there (with the tone).

The joke is...it really happened. That's the joke. Yeah, we do funny movie bits but women were really treated for hysteria - this kind of fake diagnosis - with manual massage with paroxysm that was not recognized as an orgasm. And that's crazy. That's just crazy. The level of denial, and on both sides. I mean it's not just the patients. It's both. Just looking at the truth right in front of your face, and the ability to deny that, and how funny that is.

 

Hugh had to do this very difficult thing which is to walk this very fine line-- while still having this amazing comic timing, whether it's physical comedy or some of the reactions which are almost Chaplin-esque. He's amazing because he is incredibly authentic emotionally, but he's also a really good technician. And if you don't have someone that great for the spine of your movie, and you are trying to do that, as they say in Britain, "You're stuffed."

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About Tribeca Film Festival


Online Dailies Coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival, April 17-28, 2013

 

The Tribeca Film Festival brings together local, national, and international talent to provide the New York City, downtown community with five days of screenings, educational workshops, and various special events.
Live coverage with dailies from Lia Fietz, Suzanne Lynch, Claus Mueller, Maria Esteves 

 


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