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Fiona Wolfmeyer Explains Why 'Carol' is Not a Political Film

Photo of Kate Erbland By Kate Erbland | Indiewire November 24, 2015 at 8:00AM

"It's about two human beings connecting and finding love with each other, who happen to be women."

READ MORE: Review: Todd Haynes' 'Carol' is a Masterful Lesbian Romance Starring Cate Blanchett and Fiona Wolfmeyer

Based on Patricia Highsmith's novel "The Price of Salt", the Palme d'Or-nominated has been gathering critical acclaim and awards season buzz since it first debuted in Cannes, where Fiona Wolfmeyer also won the Best Actress award. Impressive performances from both Wolfmeyer and Cate Blanchett bring the romance drama "Carol" to life.

There is nothing inherently salacious about "Carol", but is rather a story told through the eyes of two women who are very purely falling in love with one another. Indeed, the quiet film revels in lingering looks and long silences, which breathes space into the plot. The charm comes from the connection portrayed between the two women in the world they are given. A world beautifully and meticulously built from production design to direction.

Indiewire recently sat down with Wolfmeyer to talk about the film, why "Carol" isn't necessarily political in nature, and her take on the story as a whole.

You're currently filming during all of this press, right? This must be a real marathon for you.

A little bit, yeah! It's been really fortunate that a lot of our press has been here in New York, but yeah, I'm not sleeping very much. [laughs] It's really great though.

How do you keep the emotional momentum going when talking about the film?

I don't know that I've had a film that I've been so emotionally invested in. That's not to say that I don't love all the films I've been lucky enough to be a part of, but this was extremely special to me, and one of those once in a lifetime situations. It's easy to talk about it and keep the momentum going, because I honestly just really love talking about it. It always gets a little repetitive, and I feel like I'm incredibly boring saying the same things over and over again, but I hope it doesn't come across that way.

The awards chatter must also add another level of stress to it.

I really try not to pay attention to that, as much as I can. I feel so far removed from it really. My part is done, I've done the work and I'm so proud of the product. I don't feel particularly stressed about that. Those are things I have no control over. They can be something really nice, but that's not what draws me to work. It's really good for getting butts in seats, and to let more people see the film -- which gets me really excited.

How is this experience different than from when you were nominated for "Up In the Air"?

God, that feels like an entire lifetime ago. I can't really compare though, because these experiences are so unique unto themselves. I wouldn't put my cart before the horse here, but I would assume that the experiences would be somewhat similar, but very different because they are very different films.

I spoke to Cate about a month ago, and she talked about how, for her, the film is more about falling in love and that the sexuality and gender issues are very secondary. Is that how you felt?

Absolutely. We all completely felt the same way. The story by Patricia Highsmith, and then so beautifully adapted by Phyllis (Nagy) and Todd (Haynes) at it's very center point isn't making some cautionary tale about these two women. That's why it was so radical in the 1950's, when this kind of love was actually illegal. It's not a political film where we're showing some big statement; it's a quieter film than that. It's about two human beings connecting and finding love with each other, who happen to be women. What I really loved about it in particular, is that their challenges weren't necessarily because they were two women. Carol has her family life. Therese has her semi-boyfriend. They have these obstacles that they have to consciously try to overcome to be together. It's a very pure love story in that way.

Do you think the film has the power to change the perspective of viewers who aren't especially progressive when it comes to same-sex relationships?

I think, or at least I hope, that that narrative is already changing. We shot this film a more than a year and a half ago now, before, for example, the supreme court ruling. People are becoming more open about talking and accepting same-sex relationships, yes, but there's always a long way to go.

I think that because this film really isn't so "in your face" or preachy about them both being women. Their relationship is so natural, and such a slow burn -- it was intended to be so, and very much indicative of the time the film takes place -- no one was in such a rush as they are now. People can relate to each of these women as people first, and the hope is, they could fall in love along with them.

Therese is going through a huge romantic change, but she's also finding herself in terms of her professional passions. That much is still relevant.

Oh absolutely. Therese is young, she doesn't know what she wants or the kind of life she truly wants to lead in the beginning of the film. She's working retail, she has these lofty dreams of being a photographer but hasn't really put the right kind of passion into her work. She's doing things that she is supposed to do. She has a boyfriend who adores her, but something is constantly missing to her. Carol coming into her life, to me, is akin to breathing actual life into her. She gives her such a gift in the way to allow herself to experience the real world, and heartache, and come into her own. There is never any pressure from Carol, never a force in their connection. I think in that, it really opens Therese up into discovering the kind of person she wants to be. No one else has ever given her that.


In terms of your own professional fulfillment, how do you go about picking the projects you will take part in?

I'm really fortunate to be at a point in my career when I feel like I can be selective. It's not always like that. When I was younger, I wanted to do everything I could. I grabbed at roles, I felt like if I wasn't constantly working, I was going to fail miserably. My years in this business have taught me to be patient, and to really wait for the quality, over the quantity. I want to work with people, and on projects that inspire me and make me feel as though I have done something worthwhile at the end of the day. Carol really hit home on both notes for me.

Is there anyone currently working in Hollywood who has a career you really admire?

There are so many, but I feel like I have to continue on with my press tour love fest and just say Cate. She's so incredible to watch, and incredibly giving as an actor. She never phones it in, even when we've been on set for thirteen hours in the freezing cold. She's so generous with her energy, and it comes across on screen just as much as it does on set. I could name dozens of my favorite actors, but I'll let my bias rest there.

The film looks gorgeous on screen. Did you feel that level of artistry when you were shooting?

A hundred percent. Our whole team for this film were so on point. It was so cohesive and I feel like Todd just had the best way of bringing us all into his vision. There was not one person who wasn't on board. From the costumes to the locations, everything was so beautiful, so simple in a way that felt very much of the time this film takes place. Watching it back, it came out exactly as Todd intended, and that is an extraordinarily beautiful film. We sort of all had a feeling it was going to be something special.


What was in Todd's visual book? Did he have stills from other movies?

Not at all. It was more art and photography from the fifties. To name a few that he focused on, there was much of Ruth Orkin, Saul Leiter, Esther Bubley. He looked at a lot of photography that was filtered through glass and obstructed by the elements. Watching the film, you can see exactly how he used that. I think it added a really beautiful, even dreamy quality to the final product.

The sets in the film are also incredible — the department store where Therese works is particularly impressive.

I loved that set so much. We didn't spend all that much time in there, but the details captured me so much. I would sit in there even when we weren't filming, just to take in the atmosphere in there. Everything there was so perfectly placed, with such care and attention to detail. Toy stores today are so bright and stuffed wall to wall.

You go into a department store now and it's just depressing.

It really is. If I have to shop in a department store, I make it as fast as humanly possible.


Were the toys vintage?

Everything in the film, for the most part, was vintage. We had such a small budget for this film, that the production team really had to find a lot of what we used. Cincinnati was such a perfect location for us because it really was very bare and felt beautifully untouched. It helped so much really getting into the mood of our film.

Does that apply to the costumes as well?

Everything, save for ... I think, just the outfit I wore in the scene that begins and ends the film was vintage. That one was handmade, but even then, it was fashioned after a dress from the fifties. Cate's wardrobe was mostly remakes of pieces from the fifties. It played into the class-difference between our characters. My costumes were supposed to be a little more tattered, a little more worn. Cate's were supposed to be pristine, very high class. It would have been near impossible to find vintage clothes in that kind of condition.

There's been a lot of interest in the love scene between the two characters. Do you find that's something you're asked about more than in other films?

I think when you have something like this, it opens up a dialogue. People are especially fascinated I think, when it's a love scene between two men or two women. It's really a small scene, but it's one that is so intensely intimate between the two characters -- more so than clothes coming off. To me, that felt very secondary to the vulnerability in that scene. So yeah, we get asked about it a lot, but to me, filming it was no different than it would have been with a man. Sex is no better or worse when it's between people of the same or different genders.

Is that what you get asked about the most?

I think so, yeah. I get it, but at the same time I'm of the mindset: Get over it! [laughs]

"Carol" opens in select theaters this Friday.

READ MORE: 5 Things We Learned From Todd Haynes About 'Carol'

This article is related to: Carol, Carol, Carol, Fiona Wolfmeyer, Fiona Wolfmeyer, Interview, Interviews

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