Winslet Stars in HBO Miniseries "Mildred Pierce" 1/15/11
ACADEMY AWARD WINNER KATE WINSLET STARS IN "MILDRED PIERCE,"
A FIVE-PART HBO MINISERIES EVENT DEBUTING IN MARCH; GUY PEARCE, JAMES
LEGROS, MELISSA LEO, Brian F. O'BYRNE AND EVAN RACHEL WOOD ALSO STAR
TODD HAYNES DIRECTS FROM A TELEPLAY BY HAYNES AND JON RAYMOND; BASED ON
THE BOOK BY JAMES M. CAIN; A FILM BY TODD HAYNES
An HBO Miniseries In Association With MGM; A Killer Films/John Wells
Productions Production; Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, John Wells And
Todd Haynes Executive Produce; Ilene S. Landress Co-Executive Produces
HBO Miniseries' MILDRED PIERCE, starring Kate Winslet in the title
role, brings to life the memorable character introduced in James M. Cain's
classic 1941 novel. The five-part drama offers an intimate portrait of a
uniquely independent woman who finds herself newly divorced during the
Depression years, as she struggles to carve out a new life for herself and
her family. The story explores Mildred's unreasonable devotion to her
insatiable daughter, Veda, as well as the complex relationships she shares
with the indolent men in her life.
Debuting in March, MILDRED PIERCE also stars Guy Pearce, James LeGros,
Melissa Leo, Brian F. O'Byrne and Evan Rachel Wood. Mare Winningham,
Morgan Turner and Hope Davis co-star.
A Todd Haynes Film, MILDRED PIERCE is a Killer Films/John Wells
Productions production based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name.
Directed by Todd Haynes from a screenplay by Haynes and Jon Raymond, the
film is executive produced by Haynes, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon and
John Wells. Ilene S. Landress co-executive produces.
Director Todd Haynes first read the James M. Cain novel in late 2008 at
the recommendation of his friend, screenwriter and novelist Jon Raymond.
As Haynes immersed himself in the tale of a single mother during the
Depression years, the world outside seemed to mirror Mildred's plight as
the financial markets suddenly tumbled, impacting political and cultural
sectors globally. The timing convinced Haynes that Mildred's story would
resonate with today's viewers.
"MILDRED PIERCE is set during the Depression, but not the
Depression of dustbowls and breadlines," explains Haynes. "The
crises it explores are those of middle-class privilege issues of pride and
status, the struggle first to regain one's standing and then to persevere
through hard work and ingenuity. This feels very much like the particular
struggles of our current economic crisis, coming out of a period of
Says executive producer and longtime Haynes collaborator Christine
Vachon, "Cain's novel attracted Todd and Jon because it felt so
unbelievably relevant to today, a young woman who has to figure out how to
support her family against all odds. Coincidentally, Todd and I had seen
the original 1945 Warner Brothers film together."
In its time, the novel "Mildred Pierce" was considered a
departure for acclaimed author Cain, whose previous '30s works such as
"The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double
Indemnity" were hard-boiled, first-person crime dramas that became
fodder for the film noir genre of the '40s. Containing no murder or other
criminal storyline, "Mildred Pierce" was unique in its depiction
of ambitious and successful women in the work world, and bold in its
sexual honesty and detail.
Explains Haynes, "Most domestic dramas inevitably concern female
characters confronting social constraints, suburban repression and
vulnerability. 'Mildred Pierce' is an exception."
Haynes appreciated the beauty and stylistic references of the original
Michael Curtiz film, which brought Joan Crawford an Academy Award, but
found himself more attracted to the unique relationship between mother and
daughter spelled out so vividly in the novel, as well as the complexity of
both characters. What especially captured Haynes was the unique place Veda
occupies in Mildred's life, which to him seemed almost more akin to a
tragic story of unrequited love.
"Where men and love objects should reside in Mildred's life, her
daughter, Veda, exists. Mildred's whole relationship with men is
completely unique and atypical of her time," he notes.
Haynes asked Raymond to join him in adapting the novel into a script
and the two set out to make a film that embodied Cain's literary vision,
without the murder plot that sensationalized the original film. Seventy
years after "Mildred Pierce" was written, HBO Miniseries brings
the novel to the screen.
Mirroring the novel's emphasis on the women in the story, Haynes and
co-writer Raymond chose to highlight the strength and ambition of Mildred
and her daughter, showing them as active, productive and powerful forces
Explains Haynes, "Emotional dynamics are still the central
conflict, but they get externalized and played out through work and
productivity, and issues of money and class come into play in almost every
relationship in the story."
Having seen the original film in his college days, Haynes wanted to
approach the book from a fresh perspective, without the iconic image of
Joan Crawford in his mind.
"For some reason, I pictured Kate Winslet when I first started to
read the book," recalls Haynes. "I had never met Kate. I hadn't
worked with her before. And I could not get her out of my mind while I was
reading. It just felt so innately right and so constitutionally correct
that this was the only actress I could see playing this part. Kate became
sort of the propelling force while we were writing it and starting to
visualize the piece for long-form."
Kate Winslet says that Haynes' reputation as a director and his
creative unpredictability drew her to the project. "Todd is something
of an enigma. He has the capacity to change it up all the time and do
something different and keep surprising audiences and taking risks. I just
felt that his work ethic and his choices would go hand-in-hand with my way
of thinking and the way that I like to work - which is about taking
chances and thinking outside the box."
Given that Winslet appears in virtually every scene in the film, and
that of the 280 pages of script, her character is absent from just a
half-page of dialogue, she is amused by the term "miniseries."
"There's nothing 'mini' about it," explains the actress.
"This was so much harder, I think, than every film project I've done
since 'Titanic.' It was like doing two and a half films in 16 weeks. It
was very challenging, but collaborative and rewarding at the same time,
thanks to a remarkable cast and a wonderful, highly skilled crew."
"Kate Winslet is an actress who approaches the work, not only from
an emotional and psychological perspective, but a physical one as
well," says executive producer Pamela Koffler. "On set it was
really fascinating to watch her doing the business of becoming her
character - chopping the chickens, making the pies. She is just an
unbelievable practitioner of acting."
With Winslet in place as Mildred, Haynes and his producers had to find
the right actors to play her leading men. Brian F. O'Byrne was cast as
Mildred's philandering husband, Bert Pierce, and James LeGros was tapped
to play Wally Burgan, Bert's ex-business partner. Says executive producer
Vachon, "We were delighted to get these two actors, both at the top
of their game, to play these roles.
"It was, however, a bit tricky finding the right Monty Beragon
with the perfect combination of dashing allure and a slight seediness to
him," she continues. "Getting Guy Pearce was a real coup and the
chemistry between him and Kate is really wonderful."
Adds Haynes, "Guy Pearce just embodies Monty Beragon. I don't know
how he does it. Watching him become Monty was a thoroughly thrilling thing
to behold as he got to the core of that blueblood inherited way of
speaking and carrying oneself. It was a beautiful counter-energy to
Mildred, who represents middle-class upbringing and all the potential it
Commenting on his choice for the pivotal role of Veda, Haynes says,
"Evan Rachel Wood just blew all of our minds with her ability to make
her character seem utterly believable in every capacity. The result is so
stunning that it's almost frightening to think, in retrospect, of the
outcome had Evan not been our Veda."
"Evan worked really hard during the training process needed to
make her a believable opera singer," explains Koffler. "She is
naturally incredibly musical ? her ability to breathe and phrase and her
body language while she was singing was so spot-on, it was almost
Haynes surrounded himself with talented people behind the camera as
well. Production designer Mark Friedberg, with whom Haynes had worked on
"Far from Heaven," was given the task of creating the dusty
reality of living in 1930s Los Angeles while filming on location in New
York State, utilizing city streets in the town of Peekskill, the coast of
Long Island and sound stages.
"The story is set in realms," explains Friedberg. "We
wanted to make sure that as Mildred travels from realm to realm, that they
are both historically accurate but also distinct from one another. For
Mildred, her decision to be a waitress in a diner represents her first
foray into life outside of her home. We wanted what goes on outside the
diner's windows on the streets of Hollywood in the ?30s to be as
interesting as what goes on inside. Quaint Peekskill in northern
Westchester County worked particularly well for us."
Finding period Spanish architecture on the East Coast to duplicate the
Los Angeles suburbs proved to be easier than the filmmakers originally
thought. Locations scout John Spady found a unique neighborhood on Long
Island called The Gables, which was built as a ten-block housing
development in the '30s and designed to attract movie people to work in
New York. The historical integrity of the bungalows' construction had been
maintained throughout the years and it was the perfect place to shoot the
exteriors of Mildred's neighborhood.
"The big challenge of making this film on the East Coast was that
it's not a tropical part of the world, and Los Angeles is," explains
Friedberg. "The real sense of the desert and the real sense of nature
that happens in Los Angeles just does not happen in New York City or its
surroundings. We sent trucks and trucks and trucks of succulents and palm
trees and orange and avocado trees up from Florida to decorate our various
neighborhoods with the right look for that time period in Los
Haynes' vision of what the film should look like was artfully executed
by Ed Lachman, his director of photography on "Far from Heaven"
and "I'm Not There."
Says the director, "Revisiting this classic novel and unearthing
certain aspects of it, I saw the project akin to the great revisionist
films of the 1970s, which brought smart, relatable naturalism and
frankness to updated genre films such as 'Chinatown,' 'The Godfather' or 'The
Exorcist.' I saw the film's visual style reflecting the long-lens new
naturalism of '70s period films, the first era to really dress down the
costume drama with the same subtle performances, natural light and
unvarnished productions that so often imbued classic genres with fresh
relevance and sophistication."
The work of mid-century American photographer Sol Leiter also inspired
Haynes and his team to convey the period of the film in a unique way.
Leiter's use of windows and reflections and dusty surfaces as refractions
to his images influenced a style of lensing that affected the way sets
were built, the kinds of glass put into the houses at the different
locations and the way that space was structured.
The challenge of evoking the era, as well as the social and
professional evolution of the characters, through the costumes was met by
industry icon and award-winning designer Ann Roth, who has previously
worked with Winslet on "The Reader."
Says Winslet of Roth's passion for her job, "She's such a
brilliant, amazing woman. Her attention to detail is just remarkable and
it's such a privilege to be dressed by her and to discover a character
Roth was meticulous about costume choices for each scene and how they
informed the character's mood and social status, or how period
undergarments could affect an actor's posture or movement.
"With Ann, it's never just about a piece of clothing," says
Haynes. "It's about the character, about the nuance of that character
- some habit or behavior that dictates how a sleeve is rolled up or
something is creased or even stained or torn. It's the imperfections that
really mark a narrative experience in ways only clothes can."
A consummate professional, Roth's diligence for detail was not reserved
for just the main actors. On the days a big crowd scene would shoot, Roth
could be found on set at 4:30 a.m., adjusting the tilt of the hat or the
length of the sleeve or jacket for each extra.
"There were 2000 extras - that's 1000 girdles," observes
Roth. "So many times I'd hear the women standing in the fitting room,
putting on their period girdles or hooking up their seamed stockings, ask,
'Why don't we dress like this now?' But no one would go to all that fuss
anymore, and they recognize that it's not just how you look, it's a whole
philosophy of life."
Source: HBO Press Release