Take This Waltz director dances with desire

By Helen Barlow

Talented director Sarah Polley has cast the unlikely duo of Michelle WIlliams and Seth Rogen in her powerful new movie about love. She talks to Helen Barlow.

Michelle Williams gives in to temptation with Luke Kirby in Take This Waltz. Photo / Supplied
Michelle Williams gives in to temptation with Luke Kirby in Take This Waltz. Photo / Supplied

She's an unassuming quietly spoken Canadian, yet actress and director Sarah Polley is a powerhouse of talent.

The willowy 33-year-old became an arthouse star in the likes of The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, Go and My Life Without Me with occasional forays into cult horrors like Dawn of the Dead and Splice.

She started out as a child actor on Canadian television and as a 9-year-old played the female lead in Terry Gilliam's legendary flop The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Spreading her wings as a writer-director, her feature debut behind the camera was 2006's Away From Her which won Polley a best screenplay Oscar nomination and Julie Christie, who she had lured out of retirement, a best actress nomination.

Christie played a woman with Alzheimer's in the poignant, gut-wrenching drama.

Polley has delivered another emotionally searing movie again with Take This Waltz, another relationship drama starring an impressive Michelle Williams as the eccentric Margot and comedian Seth Rogen as her husband Lou.

The thing is, even if the couple have a happy Toronto existence and a seemingly happy five-year marriage - Rogen's fun-loving cookbook writer regularly cooks up a storm in the kitchen and seems rather perfect - maybe it's a little too quiet and comfortable because when on an out-of-town trip Margot meets bohemian artist Daniel (Luke Kirby) she does not resist. Invariably the film elicits a strong audience reaction.

"People are sharply divided over what she should do," says Polley, "whether she should stay with her husband or she should leave. People feel very passionately one way or another. They also feel certain that the film backs up their point of view, which actually was kind of my hope, that people would project their own relationship history on to it. I have heard people say, 'Oh, it made me feel so good about leaving my long-term relationship' and I have heard other people say, 'How could she leave such a great guy? I hated her for that.' There are actually some people who have stayed together rather than breaking up after seeing the film."

Interestingly Polley had been married for five years to film editor David Wharnsby. He still works with her on her movies.

She is now married to Toronto law clerk David Sandomierski. She says Take This Waltz was in the works when her first marriage was still fine.

"I actually came up with the idea and wrote the outline and a few scenes when I was editing Away From Her," Polley explains. "I think because I had looked at the end of a very long marriage in that film I was curious to look at a marriage earlier in life and also the beginning of falling in love and what that felt like." Her own marriage break-up was even stranger and sadder than in the film, she says. "It just ended. There was nobody else involved, there was no venom or anger or sense of betrayal. That made it harder to deal with."

Polley depicts Williams' character and her new lover in adventurous sex scenes which she says was necessary. Another scene has Williams and two women friends naked in a communal shower.

"From the very beginning I wanted to make a film about someone trying to fill a gap in their life and dealing with emptiness," says Polley. "I wanted to explore filling that gap with desire and how that addictive that is. I knew that sexuality had to be a big part of that and since sexuality is a big part of the film, to shy away from the nudity would have been very obvious and slightly prudish. I was committed to not shying away from the sexuality and at the same time I didn't like the idea of all the nudity having a sexual context. I wanted to shoot a scene in which people were naked which had a casualness and an ordinariness to it. It happens all the time but for some reason we don't own it in movies."

When she wrote the screenplay Polley had written Williams' character "as a blank slate". The only person she was specifically writing for was Rogen, a fellow Canadian and accomplished comedian she had long wanted to cast in a more dramatic role.

In the film Polley says she wanted to explore the arrested adolescence so many people suffer from these days.

"I don't necessarily think of it as a generational thing. We all have an immaturity that is difficult to let go of and that can come out in relationships almost more than in any other place. Our most needy, clingy, embarrassing selves can come out in our most intimate relationships, so I wanted to look at who we are behind closed doors and at a self that we would rarely want to present to the public or to the outside world.

"It's funny because I think the film would traditionally end at a certain point but I wanted to show what happens afterwards. I wanted to explore what happens after people get together and what happens when the relationship isn't in the height of passion.

"There ends up being another stage where you find yourself maybe back in a situation that feels quite familiar to who you have been in other relationships."

What: Take This Waltz starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen directed by Sarah Polley
When: Opens at cinemas August 9

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