‘Girl on the Train’ screenwriter turns defiant when producers ask her to make a character ‘more likable’

10.06.16 2 years ago

The Girl on the Train shows us Emily Blunt as we”ve never seen her before.

In so many of her films, the Brit is poised and eloquent, a queen, ballerina, or high-level secretary, and her more recent turns in action flicks and sci-fi movies have had her playing badass, very capable women. Soon she”ll play the practically perfect in every way Mary Poppins.

So it”s a bit of a shock to see Blunt looking rather pathetic as The Girl on the Train“s Rachel, who is far from perfect. A deeply unhappy divorcée, Rachel commutes back and forth from the suburbs to the city each day, usually in varying states of intoxication. She slurs her words and leans in too close as she tries to talk with the mother and baby in the seat next to her on the train. Sunken into the train seat swathed in her wool scarf and jacket, she leans her head against the window, sipping out of a water bottle we soon learn is always full of vodka.

Though the film didn”t have Blunt plump up for the film (Rachel in the novel has gained a good deal of weight since her divorce), the makeup team did use gray eye shadow to create bags under her eyes and made her face appear puffy. Contact lenses gave the appearance of bloodshot eyes for various levels of Rachel”s drunkenness.

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Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Rachel is not okay, and she”s not exactly likable either, a deviation from what”s often expected of protagonists, especially female ones. The rise of the anti-hero aside (though you”ll notice most of those are men), there continues to be a Hollywood standard that main characters be likable. ‘How to create a likable protagonist” is part of Fiction Writing 101, and studio executives see it as a necessity that their movie star play somebody we all want to be or be with.

Blunt recently spoke about this with The Hollywood Reporter:

“With so many movies, women are held to what a man considers a feminine ideal. You have to be pretty. You have to be ‘likable,” which is my least favorite bloody word in the industry. Rachel isn't ‘likable.” What does that mean? To be witty and pretty and hold it together and be there for the guy? And he can just be a total drip?”

Erin Cressida Wilson, who wrote the adapted screenplay for The Girl on the Train, has also felt this pressure to create likable characters.

“Almost always on any project I”ve ever done, I”m about to start writing, and I always get a call that says, ‘Make sure to make her likable though!”” Wilson told HitFix, though she noted that didn”t happen with The Girl on the Train. “It's usually the producer who”s, like, getting a little worried about whatever you”re up to.”

Wilson continued, “I always say to myself, ‘Don”t do that.” They”ve just told you to do it, but don”t. I want to please them but, frankly, I always I've made it a rule to say, ‘Don”t do it.””

Ultimately, likability will come later, Wilson says, if she writes a character those in the audience can understand.

“If you write someone, and you don”t see why they”re doing things, or you don”t see the cause and effect, you don”t like them,” she said. “But if you can get inside and crawl inside their point of view and tell the story from their point of view, they can do almost anything. You will love them. That”s always my task.”

Wilson comes to The Girl on the Train after writing a handful of other female-centric adaptations, including Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and the Amanda Seyfried film Chloe. HitFix will have more of our discussion with Wilson to share as The Girl on the Train hits theaters this weekend.

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