Claire Foy & The ‘Women Talking’ Cast Drank Tequila After Tough Scenes

Claire Foy is known for her royal portrayals. She’s starred as everyone from Queen Elizabeth II in the first two seasons of The Crown, to Anne Boleyn in the BBC miniseries Wolf Hall, to the Duchess of Argyll in A Very British Scandal. But it was the possibility of playing a fictional Mennonite mother that made Foy burn with desire. “It was bordering on desperation. I would’ve done anything to be in it,” Foy tells Bustle of her latest film, Women Talking. “I read the book, then read the script, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so jealous of whoever’s going to play [Salome].’ Then [director] Sarah [Polley] gave it to me. What was she thinking?”

Women Talking is a slight, slender film that takes place over the course of 24 hours and is set almost entirely in one location. Yet despite its simplicity, it feels epic in scope. Based on Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel of the same name, the movie opens on the precipice of a horrifying discovery: the male members of a Mennonite community have been drugging and raping the women and girls in their sleep. But the film doesn’t center on the violence, and the audience never witnesses it. Instead, it follows the conversations between 11 women who have gathered in a hayloft to decide whether or not they should forgive the men, fight them, or leave them.

In Foy’s hands, Salome is also a small package that packs a big punch. She’s amongst the angriest of the women — her 4-year-old daughter has been raped and she’s eager for revenge — but it’s the subtlety and nuance of her anger that makes the performance sing. “I loved talking to Sarah because I was constantly looking to her for answers and she absolutely refused to give me any,” Foy says of their reherasal process. “I just remember her saying, ‘Whatever you do, it’ll be great.’ And I was like, ‘But it won’t be, though!’” Yet in the end, it was through this freedom that Foy found her Salome. “Just knowing that I could take risks, push things, and that she would be genuinely engaged in what I was doing, was all I needed for encouragement.”

Below, Foy reflects on self-preservation, Mennonite community documentaries, and drinking tequila with the cast.

Michael Gibson/Orion Pictures

You mentioned that your desire to play Salome was “bordering on desperation.” What was it about the character that you had such an affinity for?

Everything. I loved her fire, her energy. In the book, Miriam describes Salome as having “vesuvian eyes.” That you were terrified of her, terrified of pissing her off, and that you would know when you did — that’s why you were terrified. But I think she had a huge capacity for love. She loves her children, her family, her community, her faith. I think she’s a very giving person. She’s that person who goes to bed at midnight, wakes up at six, milks the cows, she does it all. And she would never complain about being tired, while I complain about being tired all the time.

There’s a ton of source material for this film. Obviously there’s the book, Women Talking, but there’s also the tragedy of the Bolivian Mennonite colony that inspired Miriam to write the book, not to mention Miriam’s own stories of growing up as a Mennonite. How far down the rabbit hole of research did you go? Which layers of this story most helped you in crafting your Salome?

There’s so much about her in the book, so much about her character and how she expresses herself, which I just clung onto for dear life. I then tried to do as much research as I could into Mennonite communities with a couple of documentaries. They’re very closed communities, so it’s very difficult to gain access or information, but Sarah knows a lot about them and has been fascinated by them for years. And obviously Miriam was in a Mennonite colony herself. So I felt like there was ample research done and that we had to have faith that it would all be set up around us.

Michael Gibson/Orion Pictures

As much as Sarah worked on the script ahead of time, she also left certain elements open to collaboration. People on set shared their own stories harassment or assault, and she found ways to imbue the script with them. Did you find yourself opening up in ways that surprised you?

Everyone has a different approach to stuff like that. I share a lot, but I’m also quite protective of myself, about how much I’m willing to give to certain things. But I think that Sarah has an incredible capacity to be aware of however many people were on the set at all times. She realized that this story wasn’t just going to affect the actors who were in it. It was going to affect the people who were filming it as well. And she just had an amazing capacity to read the room and we’d just stop. We’d just put down the tools and have a break and then come back to it.

How are you able to protect yourself in those moments?

I don’t know whether it’s a good wall. It could be a really bad, toxic wall that I’ve built up. I haven’t done it with all films, some things I’ve done have bled far too much into my life or vice versa. But with this one, I was playing someone whose daughter had been sexually abused at the age of four, possibly by relatives and members of her community. It wasn’t like there was a wall, it was that I couldn’t feel those things until I was on set. It would’ve been very unsafe for me.

How did you and the cast unwind after shooting?

It depends what sort of scene we were doing. If we were doing a very intense emotional scene, we’d all have a cuddle. We would have to be like, “Who wants to go out for a drink? We need to shake this off.” There was a lot of tequila that was drunk, there was a lot of pizza, and just a lot of decompressing and spending time together and having each other’s backs.

Any tequila and decompression nights that you’d be willing to elaborate on?

No! I’m not going to share anything with you. They’re sacred!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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