STACK spoke with director Steve McQueen and the cast of Widows – a big budget reimagination of Lynda La Plante’s acclaimed TV mini-series.
With his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen made one of the most poignant films about slavery in the US, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see him shake things up again with a multi-cultural take on beloved ’80s Brit TV mini-series Widows – all wrapped up in a big budget heist movie.
Originally written by Lynda La Plante, a British national treasure also responsible for Prime Suspect, McQueen was just a boy when the show first aired.
“I saw Widows on TV in 1983 and it just spoke to me as a 13-year-old black boy in London,” the director tells STACK when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival. “On screen, these four women were being judged by their appearance rather than their character. And at that point I was too, and my compass was starting to be set in a direction I didn’t think was my destination.
“Widows gave me a connection to these women that they can achieve. At 13 I had no idea I was going to be a filmmaker, so making this film has been a personal 35-year journey for me.”
Scripted by Gone Girl/Sharp Objects author Gillian Flynn, who switches the original London action to Chicago, Widows is ultimately a film about female empowerment with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo and Michelle Rodriguez taking centre stage as a group of women who vow to finish the job after their husbands die attempting to do so.
“I love these themes because I love it in my own life when I surpass expectations. I love it when people underestimate me,” says Davis. “I think it’s only when you’re in dire consequences that you really see what you’re made of. When you have it easy, I think you can definitely wear the mask of grins and lies.
“But these women are absolutely catapulted together in dire consequences, and it’s a terrific metaphor for how change happens because change happens when you’re forced into it, kicking and screaming. And these women are forced to take ownership of their lives. And I certainly love kicking ass, I love carrying a gun – not in my life but on screen. I carry that power in my own life, it always helps me be a little better.”
Always a badass, for Rodriguez, her main challenge was in expressing feminine vulnerability.
“It was tough, I gotta say. I had to pretty much murder my ego to do this movie because there was a side of femininity that I don’t respect. The kind of femininity that I would find in my own mother; this vulnerability and unconditional love that is being stomped on by society, by men, by bad relationships, people who take people for granted… To see women suffer for most of my life growing up, just for loving unconditionally, it was painful for me to play a character like that.”
Jennifer Lawrence was originally offered a role in Widows but declined due to scheduling conflicts, the part ultimately going to Elizabeth Debicki, who gives one of the film’s standout performances.
“The thing that really spoke to me about this character is her quiet strength. Where we find her at the beginning of the film, there are many things in her life that could be breaking her like the abuse she suffers. She really doesn’t have a sense of self worth,” she says.
“But I don’t believe she ever sees herself as a victim, she just sees herself as a woman living in these circumstances. And there’s a tragedy in that because it’s so common. But, because she is thrust into this scenario and meets these women, she is taught new life experiences. Every little time she achieves something, or fails and then achieves something, is such a quiet victory for her. I hope women relate to that journey.”
Boasting an all-star cast, Widows also features Australia’s own Jacki Weaver, with Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya.
Ask McQueen where he looks to find his own inspiration for strong women, and he says, “I’ve been so privileged to be friends with, have a partner with, have a mother with, have a daughter, who are great people but who also happen to have vaginas.”