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Home The Disapperance Of Eleanor Rigby In Theaters October 10th

The Disapperance Of Eleanor Rigby In Theaters October 10th


When “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, it was already an intense project for first-time director Ned Benson: two separate films, one subtitled “Him” and the other “Her,” about a relationship fracturing in the wake of a tragedy.


“Him” was told from the perspective of James McAvoy‘s character, “Her” from the perspective of Jessica Chastain‘s; run back-to-back, the two films were stunning, deeply emotional and, possibly unmarketable.

Never having seen either version, ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’ was just one film for us. Every one handles loss in their own way and that is what filmmaker Ned Benson has tackled in his latest film ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.  Actress Jessica Chastian(Eleanor) does a spectacular job portraying  a woman who has chosen to handle her loss by committing suicide.  Her husband James McAvoy(Conor) tortured by his wife’s attempt and unable to come to terms with his inability to understand his wife decision to leave him.  The film explores the couple’s perception of the tragedy which is doled out to the audiences in pieces. If you have the patience to wait this film out, you will still be left wondering about this couple and who they really are.  Can they reclaim the love they had before or are they destined to separate futures?

Written and Directed by Ned Benson, Produced by, Cassandra Kulukundis, Ned Benson, Jessica Chastain, Todd Labarowski, Emanuel Michael

The film stars Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Jess Weixler, Nikki M. James, Jeremy Shamos




 What  inspired you  to make  THE  DISAPPEARANCE  OF ELEANOR  RIGBY?

Benson: I wanted to explore love  in relationships and  was  really interested in the idea  of subjectivity in terms of how  two people  can  experience the same  thing in different ways. And  on a broader scale,  I wanted to play with the idea  of subjectivity in terms of how  we all  experience the same  story, how  we each  experience the same  moments or periods  of time and  ultimately, how  different that is. I thought what better way to write a love  story than from  both sides of the relationship—it just seemed  more honest than just capturing one perspective.


When  you  guys  first showed  the film at the Toronto Film Festival,  it existed as  two  separate versions called HIM  and HER.  Can you  describe the process of putting them together into the most recent combined version?


Benson: Whether these films could  be combined was  a hanging question, so we took the opportunity to try it and  were all  more  than pleasantly  surprised with the result, especially after submitting it to Cannes  and  getting in, which is just crazy to me. I worked with the same  creative team I edited HIM and  HER with, and  we basically dropped into  an  editing bunker to find  this movie. The biggest challenges we faced  were that this third film had  to be its own  entity with its own  rhythm, themes, and ideas,  which meant that scenes that  functioned or played in the other two films didn’t necessarily work  or play in this one. We had  to focus  the film on the couple,  Eleanor and  Conor, and  the mystery of what happened to them, rather than each  of their disparate perspectives and  the themes that came with those. This  film becomes  a visual dialog between them, rather than just their subjective experience. It becomes  more  omnipotent. I got to use footage shot during production that  we didn’t use in the others. It was  an  incredible editorial experience, which in this wonderful way taught me a lot about filmmaking.


Tell us about the experience of making  what  is your first full-length  feature film?


Benson: This  has  been the most creatively overwhelming experience I’ve had  in my life, in the best possible  way. From the earliest of days, it was  such  an  amazing collaboration with a wonderful group of people  working to make this film  come together. I’ve tried many times to make other  films that just didn’t come together—and for some reason,  what in all  logic seemed  to be the most difficult to get made, was  actually the first one to happen. You  only get to make your first film once—and this has  all  been pretty incredible.


Kulukundis: Working with Ned  on this project has  been such  a great experience. Not  only because he is one of the most talented writers and  can  edit things in 10 seconds  when need be, but  he’s creative and understanding of the process  of putting a film together. There’d be moments where  I’d say something like—“Hey, I know you  love  that song, but  we can’t afford the rights to it.” And  he’d  just look at me un-phased and  be confident that we’d  find  another one that would work  even  better. And that’s the attitude you  need to come to the table with when you’re making an  independent film.  This entire  filmmaking process,  we’ve approached it as partners who  are 100% invested in everything.


Jessica  Chastain was  on board early  on—how  did she become involved to begin with?

Benson: I met  Jes about 11 years ago now.  I had  a short film playing in a film festival, and  there were something like 12 people  in the audience. Afterwards this girl comes  running up to me in the lobby and  asks  me if I directed the film  she just saw. I said  yes.  And  she said:  I want to work  with you.  And I thought to myself: Why? The  girl happened to be Jessica, who  had  just graduated from  Juilliard and moved to LA  to be an  actor. She was  my first fan  and  has  believed in me for a long time, which I am  extremely grateful for, because without that  I’m not  sure I’d have made this project. We became very close and  I developed what became the two-film project with and  for her…and here we are.  Life is funny.


Furthermore, tell us how  the rest of the incredible cast  became part of the film.

Benson: Once we had  Jessica involved, I knew  I wanted James McAvoy to play the role of Conor. Because of his scheduling, we actually didn’t have James locked  in until a few  months before  we started shooting. Having Jessica and  James was  sort of an  amazing coup  for me. The first to get involved after Jessica was  William Hurt. He signed  on a year before  we started filming and  was  a big proponent of the script. And  from  there this amazing thing happened where  everyone who  we reached out  to as my first choice  began  saying yes.  It felt  like all  of a sudden the film came  together and  I’m directing this incredible cast of Jessica, James, William, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Ciarán Hinds, Bill  Hader, Jess Weixler, and  Nina Arianda.


Kulukundis: I actually come  from  a long line of casting, so that was  helpful for us. Behind the scenes as the script got to a really good place,  I was  calling and  getting people  to read  it. The strength of the script made it its own  calling card  and  got us all  of the right people.  Like  Ned  said,  it took almost two years to get James attached because of his schedule. But as soon as he did  we jumped in and  went right into  production. Ciarán happened to be on the East  Coast working so I popped  the script over  to him—we’d worked together on There  Will Be Blood. I approached Viola’s team very early on and they couldn’t have been more  supportive and  we got her to sign on. And  of course Jessica was  there from  the development and  has  been a part of our team. And  like that, everything came  together piecemeal.


After many  years  developing the script, what  was  it like to finally  get behind the lens?

Benson: I’d envisioned this film for so long.  I created this whole  workbook of ideas  of what I wanted it to feel and  look like down to the moods  I wanted to set in every scene. I’d pretty much shaped the entire  world of the film out of my imagination. And  so to actually begin  directing and  working with our production designer  and  location manager to refine  these spaces  or sit down with the DP  to go through our ideas  and  actually develop the look was  an  incredible experience. Having  what  I’d ideated for years become  a reality made me appreciate that I get to do what I love  for a living.


How  did the film’s title come about?

Benson: I had been looking  at the song before  I began writing the script. And  listening to it, there was a mood,  a feeling  to that song and  to the characters—especially with the line “All the lonely people, where  do they all  come from.” From there I began thinking of this collective of people  who  experience their own  loneliness and  I wrote that line in a notebook. It became something that  helped  me create the proper  emotional space  for me to write. Then  I thought why not name the character after that and  create this moment behind her name. Cassandra knows from  working together that I love  this idea  of the disconnect between the baby boomer generation and  my generation. And  so I wanted to use the Beatles as just this abstract reference  in the film where  Eleanor’s parents name their daughter after this infamous song and  it sort of bridges  the two generations.


Kulukundis: And  if you  take what happens in the film, Eleanor just disappears. She’s  disappeared from  Conor’s life, from  the person  he knew  and  he’s trying to find  her. So it kind  of captured that feeling.


In your own  words, what  is THE  DISAPPEARANCE  OF ELEANOR  RIGBY about?

Benson: It’s a film about love  and  how  life is a subjective experience. We all  sort of live  this one story, but  everyone else who  is a part of our lives  has  their own  subtly or vastly different perspective of it. What I wanted to explore most was  a love  story about two people,  Conor and  Eleanor, who  are really trying to figure  out how  to understand each  other after going through something difficult. So it’s essentially a story about the endurance of love,  empathy, understanding and  perspective.

As Conor and Eleanor, James  and Jessica  had a real on-screen  chemistry.  Tell us about that.

Kulukundis: The  key to their chemistry was  the collaboration they had  behind the scenes. In a lot  of ways they had  a different approach to their work, but  they just really connected in what they wanted to bring  to the film. And  because of that they made a great team.


Benson: Their  different methods actually played into  the differences in terms of the characters, in how  Conor and  Eleanor dealt with things in their own  way. I’m really proud  of the performances they gave. As  actors they did  such  beautiful work.


What  was  it like working with  Jessica  Chastain on the film?


Benson: It was  fantastic. She’s  the type of actor that when you  have a tough emotional scene, you have complete trust in her because she’s going to get there. She’s  one of the hardest-working actors I know. She just has  this emotional depth that is so incredible to watch  when you’re shooting her, or when you’re working on a scene with her because she can  do it over,  and  over,  and  over  again. And  to have a film as emotional as this and  have somebody who  can  get where  she got in every take, and give  you  options—it’s a pretty amazing thing.


Kulukundis: Jessica’s role comes  out  of her. You  don’t  see gears  turning or feel she’s working. It’s coming from  the inside  out. And  what I love  about this film is that there’s such  levity there for her too in flashbacks running around in love  and  being  playful with James. She just embodied this happy youthfulness that she has,  but hasn’t really gotten to show  on film yet.


What  was  it like working with  James  McAvoy on the film?

Benson: He’s  a dream. He’s hilarious and  silly and  charming, but he’s also  a searcher. He works really hard and  wants to find  the scene and  will  constantly push  through each  take to sort of ask  a lot of questions. He really wanted to get to the epicenter of what the scene was  about. For  me he was  the guy that could  make me feel relaxed at all  times because he was  so relaxed.

Kulukundis: James commits and  nothing else exists. He is Conor and  there’s nothing else that is going to get in his way. It was  such  an  honor  and  blessing  to have him.  He was  100% available. And  the best part is that the moment you’d call  cut, he’d  be back to his own  accent and  personality. The moment Ned  yelled action, James and  his accent both disappear.


You  have  an extraordinary supporting cast.  Tell us about working  with  them.

Benson: I may have been a little spoiled  to work  with this incredible cast. In terms of William, Viola and  Isabelle—they’re like three teachers. I learned so much from  each  of them. They’re each  so accomplished. These  are people  I look up to and  I really wanted to create an  atmosphere for them that would allow them to do their best. William and  Isabelle actually both spend  a lot of time in France, so they had  a really nice relationship on set. They even  improvised this one scene in French that actually helped  it come  alive. And  what can  I say about Viola Davis—she’s amazing.

Kulukundis: Viola, I want to say this in the best way, is like a machine. She is just so powerful. Every take, everything is different. She was  actually on set very briefly, but she just delivered. And  because it was  Viola, it felt  like her scenes were  its own  beautiful movie. We both would love  to work  with her again.

Benson: And  the other supporting roles, these actors are so incredibly talented. We had  quite a few Tony winners and  nominees. It was  a really strong theater group.  Nikki James won  a TONY®  for The Book of Mormon, Nina Arianda won  a TONY® for Venus in Fur, and  both Katherine Waterston and Jess Weixler have done a lot  of theatre in New  York. Ciarán Hinds is also  an  amazing stage actor, and the friend  I never had. He’s such  a lovely man and  beautiful actor. He’s so subtle in everything that he does.


Kulukundis: It was  great seeing Bill  Hader take on a different type of role. He did  a step here. I mean, it’s  Bill  Hader so there’s still that  charming goofballness, but  there are moments that really allowed him  to shine  in his role as a great friend  genuinely trying to help.


Benson: It was  a dream cast. And  they all  were just so different, but so wonderful, each  of them, and each  of their processes.  That was  amazing in itself, to see all  of these actors working in different ways and  how  they came  together and  collaborated.


At the heart of the film is a couple trying to reclaim the relationship and love they  once had. Talk  about how  they  seemed to come at  it from different angles.


Benson: I think if I were to sum  up the dynamic it would be that Eleanor is trying to let go and  Conor is trying to chase  her.  And  in a weird  way, you  see that at the end; Conor has  realized that to understand what Eleanor needs, he has  to let go. Similarly, for Eleanor, you  see that in the process  of letting go she’s been brought back to the moment where  she’s ready to come back to him.  So in terms of an  active verb, I’d say Conor is running after her and  Eleanor is running away  from  him.  But at the end of the day they’re both moving towards finding their own  way to move forward into their future together.


There is a line that  Eleanor says,  “It’s like we’re a million miles away in the same  room.” Can you elaborate on what  she’s feeling?


Benson: As a couple  they’re under  an  enormous weight of this personal tragedy and  even  though it’s not  directly unfolding on screen, you  can  feel that they are dealing with it in different ways. They just don’t  know how  to communicate anymore. And  because of all  of that, they seem to be speaking different languages which then causes  them to feel like strangers to each  other.  I’d say they’re looking at each  other like who  is this person  and  why are you  behaving this way over  the exact same  thing that happened to me?


Kulukundis: I think in general they feel like they’re completely alone,  even  when there are surrounded by people.  When  they are with each  other there should be a shared understanding, but because they are dealing with things so differently it is as if the other person  doesn’t really see you.  And  they don’t exist to you  either, because you’re not emoting in the same  place.  That’s how  you  can  become strangers with someone  you  love.


Benson: Eventually  these two people  get to a place  where  they understand why they each  dealt with everything in a separate way. The truth is we all  deal  with things differently—that’s part of who  we are  and  it’s something we have to accept in order  to love  each  other.


Though we  learn a tragedy  has  taken  place in their lives, it is never shown  on screen. Tell us about making that decision.


Benson: That was  a really important decision  because this was  a film about this couple’s  love—and less about the tragedy. I was  interested in exploring their behavior around that tragedy and  its effect on the relationship itself. Eleanor says this line, “I  wasn’t ready for what this feels like”  at the end. It’s sort of the ultimate description of their experience. They both weren’t prepared to confront that feeling  and  what it did to them. And  so I think the relationship and  what life can  do to us was significantly more  important in telling their story than the actual tragedy.


Kulukundis: Just about every relationship begins  bright and  happy until eventually something happens. The buzz  wears off  of the relationship and  then it feels like there’s a metaphoric death. And you  have to decide  is there enough  foundation there to come together and  continue on as a couple,  or does it affect the relationship so much that you  have to free it forever.


There is a moment in the film where  Eleanor is speaking to her father and he is desperately trying to connect with  her. He says “Tragedy is a foreign country—we  don’t know  how  to talk  to the natives.” Tell us about what  he means.


Kulukundis: Well  often, when there is a tragedy, there’s nothing you  can  say that ever  makes anyone feel better. Because no matter what, everything IS wrong in that  scenario and  although you  want to help  them, you  can’t. To have that powerlessness as a parent has  to be the most frustrating thing. And it’s a fundamental  struggle between all  of these people  in that they want to help,  but  they’re not necessarily fully equipped to.

Benson: I think every character is struggling against the fact that  there’s nothing that  changes the circumstance. It’s a feeling  that these two people  have to go through and  there are no right words that can  make this better or solve  it.

What  is the relationship like between Conor and his father?

Benson: I think the relationship between Conor and  his father is a man looking  at his son and  seeing himself. And  it’s a son trying to pave his own  way. Conor’s reluctance in taking his father’s hand, who has  sort of reached out to help  him,  is Conor trying his hardest to be an  individual and  not  exist in the shadow of his father. Emotionally, I think they are very similar and  I think they’re both terrified of that and  trying to reconcile  it.


What  is the relationship between Eleanor and her parents like?

 Benson: Eleanor has  a difficult relationship with her mother, who  I think is still coming to terms with the life that she gave up in order  to be a mom. And  in that light, she almost resents  and  hates seeing her daughter go through something so difficult, because she too is feeling  her pain. There’s  a scene where  Eleanor’s mother says to her,  “I  never wanted to be a mother.” And  that can  be interpreted in so many different ways, but  I wrote it as if she’s almost dreading the fact that her daughter is suffering this much, because she doesn’t want her daughter to hurt in this way. She’s  in a weird  way, trying to push  her daughter from  becoming what  she became, which is sort of this woman who struggles with herself  and  gave up things. I think she’s pushing Eleanor to run  off  and  escape.  With Eleanor’s father, there’s a communication barrier where  they aren’t able  to articulate their love  to each other, but  there’s an  understanding deep underneath. And  because he’s a psychiatrist and teacher, he has  this pedantic side to him  that’s trying to help  her but she’s not open to it.  So the only thing he can  do is tell a story about how  he felt  when he lost her in the ocean,  and  what that was  like for him.  It’s his way of letting her understand that he knows what she’s feeling.


Also struggling to reach the couple are their friends, particularly  Conor’s best friend, Stewart.  Tell us about that dynamic.


Benson: At  one point Stewart looks  at Conor and  says, “I  don’t  know how  to be your friend anymore.” And  that kind  of said  it all.  He’s essentially telling Conor that he doesn’t know what to say because he’s afraid of setting him  off,  of not  being  delicate enough  or dwelling on it too much. He’s trying to allow Conor to be the person  he is, but he’s watching his friend  struggle and  it’s having an  effect on their friendship. He’s trying to be the best possible  friend  for him,  but  also  wants Conor to be a friend  to him.  For  them, it came  down to not the words  that were said,  but  the  shared moments where  they could  look at each  other and  understand.


Viola  Davis’ character  becomes a friend to Eleanor. And in the film, her character  is the only  one who has  no knowledge of the tragedy  the couple is reeling from or what  is happening between Conor and Eleanor. Tell us about her character.


Benson: She’s  the only person  in the film  who  has  no idea  what Eleanor’s been through. And  Eleanor wants it that way because  everybody in her life knows exactly what happened and  treats her accordingly. I think Viola’s character recognizes  something, maybe a similarity within herself, whether it’s  the sadness, loneliness or struggle, which she projects onto  Eleanor. Whatever it is, there is recognition between these two people  and  they have a shared feeling  between them, which becomes a bond.


There is a scene close to the end where Conor and Eleanor truly  connect and have  an understanding of each  other. Can you  discuss that scene?


Benson: In this scene Eleanor’s returned to their apartment.  She and  Conor both break down together. It’s the first time you  see Conor and  Eleanor actually  understand each  other and  speak  the same  language since they’ve been apart.


Kulukundis: What I liked  too about this scene was  that leading up to it you  see another scene where Eleanor goes to Conor in what is an  attempt to start connecting. And  as they’re driving in the rain and in the car,  they are both trying so hard to recapture something but they can’t. They’re not  ready to move on. And  I think that’s what’s so great about the last scene—they need to have the breakdown before  they can  actually rebuild.


What  was  the rehearsal process for the film?

Benson: We didn’t have a lot  of time, about a week  or week  and  a half. And  because of their schedules, not all  of the actors were able  to come in that early. But we had  about a week  with Jessica, James, William, Jess, and  Ciaran. It was  a great experience working through the script and  hearing the dialogue coming from  these actors. We worked on their characters and  talked a lot  about their world to help  discover who  these people  were.  It was  amazing for me, especially working with William Hurt who  is a meticulous actor. I learned so much from  him  in those days leading up to the shoot  just in terms of talking with him.


Was  there any  room for improvisation from the actors?

Benson: Yes.  We mostly stuck to the script, but I wanted to give  them the freedom to try something. I usually gave the first take to the actors, and  if we had to make adjustments, we’d  move elsewhere. Ciaran and  Isabelle especially would tailor it more  to who  they were as an  Irish man and  a French woman so that some of the script felt  more  organic coming out of their mouths. But we’d  do the same for all  of the actors. We wanted everything to feel natural and  real  to them. I think we all  just sort of used the blueprint of the story and  went from  there.


Tell us about the experience of shooting in New  York.

Benson: It was  a dream because Cassandra and  I are both from  New  York. The extras are almost built-in. There  are so many shots that we filmed where  people  are just riding  bikes,  walking by  not interested in the camera. You  really feel the city and  we created what is our version of New  York.


Kulukundis: Most of it was  shot in the East Village which is in a transitory stage right now.  And  that was  great because it kind  of reflects where  Conor and  Eleanor are in their relationship. You’ll see a lot of construction and  it’s like a little metaphor for the characters trying to transition themselves through something. Shooting in New  York really gave the film the right energy.


I heard there was  a serendipitous event that occurred when  you  were filming the scene in Tompkins Square Park.  Tell us about that.

Benson: We had  the scene at the park and  usually there aren’t fireflies in the middle of the East Village in New  York City, but  on that one night we were shooting, the fireflies hatched and  there were thousands of them. It was  such  a crazy night because it only happens once a year. We weren’t aiming to hit  that night, it just happened which is pretty close to impossible. Filming that  scene and having these fireflies actually  come  up from  the ground in Tompkins Square Park was  beyond belief because the fireflies were actually one of the first ideas,  one of the first images I had  writing the script. So having these fireflies really appear was  pretty magical.


Tell us about the song choices for the film.


Benson: Well,  music  is such  a huge  element to my life in general. I wrote the script listening to music, the title was  inspired by  the Beatles’ song, I gave playlists to the actors that I thought were relevant to their characters, and  we even  shot  certain scenes based  on the rhythm and  mood  of certain songs.

In terms of choosing  music  for the film, I wanted music  that  reflected the characters and  the story rather than just my personal tastes. We have a lot  of source cues that play diagetically in the scenes that reflect who  these people  are and  their tastes, but I think the most exciting thing for me was working on the score with the composer Son Lux aka Ryan Lott. Ryan and  his collaborators made instruments for the film, and  he had  the beautiful idea  after watching an  early cut  to use objects that exist within the space  of the scenes and  create instruments based  on them so they feel germane to the story. So, for example, from  the early scene of Eleanor and  Conor at a dinner  table on one of the first nights of their relationship, Ryan  had  the idea  to make an  instrument out of wine  glasses  which were on the table in front of them when they are in that happy moment. That instrument becomes  one of the recurring motifs in the score and  the songs that Ryan wrote for the film. He wrote a bunch of sketches and  then I’d give  notes,  and  he reworked them into the emotional texture of the scenes. That was  a very cool process  and  he and  Faux Fix and  his collaborators did  such  a beautiful job.  Most importantly, I wanted the music  to reflect and  feel ingrained in the world of the story rather than placed on it.


Talk  about the design of the film and how  it helped create the particular mood and emotions you  were trying to convey.


Benson: I wanted to create two completely separate visual spaces  or looks for Conor and  Eleanor. They each  have their own  color palette and  their own  visual rhythm for similar specific  reasons  that were  germane to the characters and  their personalities. Conor has  a cooler more  fluid  feel, while Eleanor has  a warmer looser feel except when they meet in the same  scene, all  of which I worked on with Chris Blauvelt, the DP, Kelly McGehee, the production designer,  and  Stacey Battat, the costume designer.  In the two separate perspective films I wanted them to remain in their own respective spaces  as those films were more  subjective to Eleanor or Conor. In this third film, I start them in their disparate color and  visual spaces,  and  ultimately want them to find  synthesis and understanding in a blending of those visual ideas.  Every creative choice  in terms of design  reflects the characters, their emotional spaces,  and  the story.


What  would you  like audiences to take  away from the film?


Benson: I want them to have their own  subjective experience with it and  see what they want to see in it.  I think that’s the beauty of movies: that we each  have a personal experience with them and  they reflect or articulate certain things that we recognize  in ourselves. This  is a story about two people  who love  each  other, but  they don’t know how  to do it right. They have shared a lot of life together and every emotion that there is to share.  Ultimately, I think Eleanor and  Conor can  represent any couple, straight, gay, together, broken  up, because to me the beauty of any relationship is that you  find  your own  private language together based  on the life you  share  with each  other  and  the experiences you  go through, good or bad. And  only the two people  in the relationship can  really understand the relationship and  speak  that language. When  you  go through something like Conor and  Eleanor have, everyone can  say what they want to say and  try to empathize, but nobody can  really understand what they went through, except the two of them cause  they lived it together. Sometimes it takes a long time to realize  that after things become  difficult. We are all  very different people,  with different ways of coping,  with different ways of seeing life, but we want to love,  and  how  do we do that right? I hope  audiences will  recognize  or perhaps see themselves and  their own  relationships in these characters and  this story.

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