On VOD: Ruth Wilson in "A Walk Among the Tombstones"
Playing on VOD
On VOD: Ruth Wilson in A Walk Among the Tombstones
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 1/29/15)
By Danny Peary
Until she recently won Golden Globe as the Best Actress in a Drama Series for Showtime’s “The Affair,” Ruth Wilson was known best in the US for her TV work at home in England: “Suburban Shootout,” “Jane Eyre,” and as Alice Morgan opposite Idris Elba in “Luther.” That didn’t change despite her having the female leads in two major American movies, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “The Lone Ranger.” But now that she’s captured a major award for a critically-acclaimed (and renewed) TV series, her celebrity has increased and there is new curiosity about her two movie performances before she was a drawing card. ”A Walk Among the Tombstones,” which director-screenwriter Scott Frank adapted from the novel by Lawrence Block, is now being featured on VOD. Initially, the film’s lone drawing card was Liam Neeson, who plays Matthew Scudder, a troubled former cop who is now a troubled unlicensed P.I. hot on the trail of murderous kidnappers. But you might want to take a look now because of Wilson, who plays Jo, a police detective who once had a relationship with Scudder. For the Australian magazine FilmInk, I did a set visit for Scott Frank’s thriller, during which I watched a scene in which Joe and Matt reunite in a bar and did the following brief one-on-one with the very cool actress.
Danny Peary: Is the scene we saw today Jo’s first scene in the movie?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, it’s the first time she and Matt meet. She doesn’t appear until halfway through the movie, actually. She comes in quite late. They haven’t seen each other for a number of years, and he has left that world because the drink was getting to him, he needed to get out. And in the first half of the movie, he’s being dragged back into the world. And he comes to Jo who he used to work with and had a certain chemistry withyears ago, to get information out of her. To share information, is how they do it. In that time that they’ve not been in each other’s world she’s gone from being a cop on the beat to being a detective, so she has much higher standing. It’s almost an alternative life he could have had. You never know what would happened between them…
DP: Are you wearing the ring of your character?
RW: Yeah, yeah. The wedding ring isn’t mine, I’m single still.
DP: How did this role come to you?
RW: Scott Frank offered it to me. He’d seen Luther and heard that I worked with John Lee Hancock and Gore Verbinski last year. Both are friends of Scott’s. Scott was looking for someone and I think John said, “You really got to see this girl.”. So he went to see a film I did last year, and he offered to me.
DP: You’d read the script…
RW: I read the script, of course, and thought the characters are really strong. Scott’s writing has a real depth of character, the scenes are complex and quite interesting; it’s not straight-forward, everything is very subtle and underneath the words. He’s an amazing writer, the best, so to work with him as a director is really exciting.
DP: I would say the scene you did today would have been appropriate for audition. Did you audition?
RW: It is, but he offered me the part without an audition. That doesn’t happen very often. You take the jobs that are given to you, and you don’t have to audition for them, it’s much easier.
DP: Did you and Liam know each other before or meet each other on the film?
RW: Liam I met when I came out here and we started filming. I met him on set so we chatted then. Liam had seen a lot of my work, and I know a lot of his friends. We chatted a bit about it. We spoke to Scott a lot about our scenes.
DP: How many more scenes do you have to film?
RW: I’ve just got one more left, tomorrow. In the whole film there are only four scenes. They’re all quite long. What you saw today is our first scene, and there’s three others after it. That’s a four-minute scene. The other ones are very long and kind of detailed. A lot of comes out in those scenes. I have found that quite hard, that you come on to something and you’re drafted and we film these scenes over three weeks, so it’s hard to do. You drop in, do your bit, out again. Each day feels like the first day, which is always rough. But Liam has made me feel at ease, and Scott has too, so it’s been good. I usually prefer more rehearsals, I quite like working it through and deciding what you’re going to do and then –”got it!” And then a scene doesn’t take so long to shoot. But in this case we have scenes that are long and we’re finding the way to go. It’s quite a demanding process in that way. But it’s interesting.
DP: In the scene I saw, it takes only about 20 seconds before we know most of their history, which is impressive. Did you talk more about their history off-camera?
RW: Yeah, yeah. We talked about how things could have happened between them. She’s much younger, but she has that relationship with him. They had a real connection, and they understand the world in the same way. Everyone knows stories about him. She’s the one person who can put him on the spot, ask him questions, and say to him, “Why are you here, what are you doing, have you stopped drinking?” She’s the only person in the whole film who does that. She actually questions him. And that’s why he respects her and wants to be around her.
DP: She’s alone in a bar, which his kind of interesting.
RW: I think she’s happy there; she’s popular in that environment with the boys. I got a sense that my character was from a cop background, the family was in the industry, there was no choice really but for her to go into it. She’s had to fight her way to get to where she is. She’s got a really tough shell, and she’s learned the male banter as well–she’s had to speak in that language in order to survive.
Q: Did you talk about Jo with Scott?
RW: Yeah. Where’d she come from, how is she in this environment–is it through her family? What’s her relationship with Matt? What happened with him before–anything sexual? He said, “No, I don’t think so.” He looks out for Jo, she’s his family in a way.
DP: Having read the script, were you and Scott on the save wavelength, or did you say, they definitely had sex and he said the definitely didn’t?
RW: I’m sure they’ve had something in the past, and maybe she not really married, she’s just lying that she is to protect herself.
DP: Your character was originally a guy, so what difference did it make changing it form Joe to Jo?
RW: I think you need a woman in this piece. It’s incredibly male-dominated, it’s violent, women are getting abused and destroyed. There’s a lot of that in this thriller genre, and it’s good to have a female role in it that represents the other side, actually, the tough woman, the strong woman in that environment. What I think is interesting about changing it to a woman is that she’s had to get through a lot to get to this point in her life, and be that successful in her career. And she makes Matt more 3-dimensional in that he can have this relationship with this woman he’s intrigued by and is also put on the spot by. I think she makes Liam’s character a lot of more interesting.
DP: Jo doesn’t answer Matt when he asks if she’s really married. I think she’s really married, but I’m not sure.
RW: When I first read the script, I asked Scott, “Is she really married?” And he said, “I think so.” It was like maybe, maybe not. If you leave that hanging, no one knows. You should infer what they want from it. I think she is married, She has made that choice. But I quite like the idea of her still being single, because I can’t really imagine her at home with her kids. If she is married her husband must be someone who would have probably known Matt Scudder as well, when he was a cop. But you never see her husband and there is never a reference to a family–I think that’s often what the police are like, but I still think it could be that she’s lying there!
DP: When Matt asks the married Jo, “Are you happy?,” she replies, “On occasion.” What is she thinking when she says this?
RW: Part of it is: it could’ve been you. I wanted Joe to make Matt feel he’s put on the spot, more than make it so that she’s made the wrong choice in her life. I wanted to make it more of a “I don’t know, what do you think, Matt?” kind of thing. She’s always antagonistic with him, it’s never I’ll give you my weakness and open myself up to you. It’s always I’m going to fight you.
DP: They’re a potential couple who’ve never had the right timing.
RW: It’s something like that. He was off the rails, it was never going to work out. But there’s always a connection between them, they really enjoy each other’s company and as I said, they understand each other. I think that never goes away. With that chemistry there will always be potential.
DP: Do you have any action scenes?
RW: I would have liked to shoot a gun, but I don’t have any action scenes. I just have all those talky scenes where I’m speaking all the time.
DP: Since you came late to the project, did you get to do any research for your part?
RW: Yeah, I met with a female detective from Queens. It was really interesting because she discussed what it’s like to be a woman in that environment and what it’s like to see these things every day and deal with drugs and violence and death. She was saying, “You can really only last in that business for twenty years because you get downed by what you see.” It’s kind of like how bruised people need to put on a shell for protection, because they’re constantly seeing things people shouldn’t have to see, and dealing with those images. It’s how you define yourself. That’s who you are. There’s nothing else, that’s what you become.
DP: Is there a point doing a role like this that you say, I have to stop researching?
RW: Yeah, it becomes unhelpful after a while. It’s important for us to just tell the story and do those scenes with Liam as written rather than having us become this odd couple who’s not really adhering to the script. I think you’ve got to do research and then use that for the scenes that exist.
DP: Yes, Jo has only four scenes, but if what should her fifth scene be?
RW: We were saying that we’d like to a film a scene of Jo and Matt together on the beat. I think it would be quite fun to see them younger at a time before this all happens.
DP: Where does this fit into your career?
RW: This is about being in New York, working with Liam, and doing a modern thriller. And working with Scott, of course. I respond a lot to the director because they bring depth and detail to the script–and in this case, Scott was the writer, too. It was important to do something like this and challenge myself. Take a small role and see what I can do with it.