On December 11, directors Stephen Daldry and Robert Benton discussed Daldry's film The Hours, which recently was named Best Film of the Year by the National Board of Review.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham about the lives of three different women, in three eras all of whom are profoundly affected by the works of Virginia Woolf — the script was adapted by David Hare. "In terms of writing the screenplay, Michael Cunningham spent some time with David (Hare), some incredibly useful time," Daldry said. "He was generous about allowing us the freedom to explore and change and reinvent."
Featuring a stellar cast boasting such names as Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly and Miranda Richardson, Daldry said, "You just ask people to be in the film and then they will be in the film or they won't be in the film. We're lucky that this lot agreed to be in the film."
Nicole Kidman was cast in the pivotal role of Virginia Woolf. It was actually producer Scott Rudin who suggested that Kidman would be perfect for the part. "That seemed to me a good idea," Daldry said. "We were concerned that the character should be contemporary, vibrant, dangerous, vivid — and we'd all seen Nicole in The Blue Room so we knew she was a transforming actress.
"To get some of the feral, dangerous, emotionally vulnerable, it just seemed like the most interesting possible choice for her (Kidman) to play Virginia Woolf," he added. "We didn't necessarily know that we would do a transformation when we cast her. That came out again, through the testing. While we were testing filters and things, Nicole was there and we asked why don't you think about changing your face as well. But that came after Nicole had already started working on movement and body language."
Daldry confessed that he didn't initially consider using three different film stocks to differentiate each story. "Originally, I suppose we thought that we would probably try to match the three different looks into one. And then once we started working on testing different stocks we decided against using them that way. The linkage would be in the production design, so there is a separate stock for each story."
Daldry also told Benton that he loves to rehearse. "We built a version of the set in the rehearsal room then we mapped it out, blocked it out, explored it. I did that with the cinematographer. Then on set, once you got the main building blocks, you then try to find the behavioral language that will release the emotions. Behavior is terribly important to me."