Director Tanya Wexler talks 'Hysteria,' vibrators, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Granville loses his job after developing severe hand cramps from giving too many "massages." So, he works with a friend (Rupert Everett) to develop a vibrating massage device. As Granville works to establish himself as a successful doctor himself, he is challenged by Dr. Dalrymple's daughters on how he feels about hysteria, his career, and love.
City Pages sat down with Wexler to talk about vibrators, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the making of Hysteria.
No. I knew a bit about hysteria as the catch-all diagnosis of the time because I was a psychology major in undergrad, but I didn't know anything about the history of the vibrator. Like most people, I was kind of shocked. When I googled "hysteria" and "vibrator," I was flabbergasted. I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
What was the craziest thing that you learned while doing research for the film?
People won't get this if they haven't seen the movie, but I learned that ducks are the rapists of the bird world. That was the thing that made me go, "Whoa!"
We researched a lot of different things. There's a bit in the film where Felicity Jones's character does this phrenology exam. We kind of have a comic riff on it but that's craziness, too.
This movie really isn't about the vibrator. It's about the cultural denial we go into over things. We all decide to consensually turn a blind eye to something that's right in front of our face. Most of the details are based on historic facts, though, and it made me laugh.
You have said that the topic of the film is something that still makes people blush today. Do you hope that the film inspires people to talk about attitudes toward women's sexuality?
I mostly hope that the audience has fun. In a way, the film is an empowerment narrative about you being in charge of your own happiness. If people take away more from the film, then that's up to them.
Let's talk a little bit about that. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Charlotte, a fearless, passionate, educated young woman who fights for what she believes in. Why was it important for you to have such a strong female lead?
I wanted a character in there who was someone I would have wanted to be if I'd lived back then. That's what she was. Even as a little girl, I would see characters like that in a movie and think, "I want to be like that!" There probably aren't a lot of little girls going to see this movie -- maybe twentysomethings -- but I think we always like to have models for behavior. I really wanted to see this story told, and it didn't exist. So, I decided to go make it. In a way, it was an empowerment narrative for me.
Hugh Dancy joked that the hardest part of the film was answering the question, "What's the movie about?" What was the hardest part of making the film for you?
Getting it financed was really hard. There was more resistance to this film than I thought there would be. Someone asked me what every film student needs to make a movie. I said, "Arrogance and naïveté." I think I had both. I thought, "Of course everyone is going to want to make this film!" Then I realized how hard it was. I thought it was funny and smart, and the writers had done such a good job. But it's always a battle to get any movie made because it is such a speculative venture. You don't know if it's going to work or not.
They made my job easy in that regard. It's cliché to say that casting the right people is 80 percent of the job, but it really is. They really bring thislife-infused, three dimensional person to the table.
In the editing room, we had so many choices as to what to include in the film, which was awesome. It makes you really spoiled as a director. To put people's name on a wish-list and to have them say yes is crazy. It was awesome.
Do you have a favorite memory from making the film?
I have a couple of non-favorite memories. We were filming a scene in Central London outside of this famous, beautiful building and we didn't know that the day we were going to shoot the
Pope was in town. There were no helicopters in Victorian England, but the day that we shot there were a lot of helicopters. It was crazy.
I think my favorite moment -- aside from some stuff in the shooting -- was when we did the score. We went to AIR Studios in London near Abbey Road. It's where "Yesterday" was recorded. To sit and hear an orchestra play the score to your movie is the most moving thing you're ever going to experience. I actually wept like baby when they were recording.
The first day you roll cameras is also amazing. It took us six years to get there, so that first day was pretty great.
Hysteria opens Friday, June 1 at Landmark Edina.