One of the frustrating things about watching late night talk shows is that sometimes right as the guest is getting to the good part of the story and steering things in a potentially interesting direction the host will switch the topic to something vapid. But, wait, what were they about to say?
Stephen Colbert, a host I love and adore, had one such moment on The Late Show tonight when he interviewed Emily Blunt for her new movie Sicario in which she plays a by-the-book FBI agent who gets sucked into a battle between the American government and Mexican drug kingpins. Several minutes into the interview, Colbert observed, “I heard that this film almost didn’t get made because it had a female lead in the action position,” and Blunt confirmed, “The writer was approached by one financier who said, ‘If you make her a dude, we’ll up your budget.'” The character remained a gal, but it meant having to settle for a smaller budget. When Blunt turned to the crowd and joked, “Welcome to the Hollywood. It’s how it’s done,” Colbert quickly lobbed her a joke about whether or not being the woman in an action film is kind of like prison in that in order to prove her toughness she has to punch the biggest guy on set on the first day. The interview rolled on, and it was delightful.
However, there has to be more to that story about the financier, right? George Clooney just said the other day that Hollywood would work better if producers would allow more roles originally written for men to be switched to female, but here’s Emily Blunt providing a practical example of how the funding infrastructure for films still favors stories with male protagonists because the money people think that offers a higher probability of seeing a return on investment. Surely, Colbert should have pressed her for more details or thoughts on the subject?
Well, maybe a late night show isn’t really the proper arena for a deep discussion about gender roles in Hollywood. After all, Blunt got to explain the backstory, and then play a game where she read the final scene of Gone With the Wind while pretending like she had to throw up after every other word. It was hilarious.
Now I can do a Google search to easily find an interview where Sicario’s director gave a much longer response. From IndieWire:
IW: There’s been a persistent rumor that you were pressured by the studio to change Emily’s character into a man, is that true?
Denis Villeneuve (Director): Yes and no. It’s a confusion that came from an early press conference. The truth is that Taylor Sheridan, when he wrote the screenplay, it got a lot of interest, but people were approaching him saying, “it’s a great screenplay, but it’s a female character, can you make it a man?” Taylor had the guts to say “no, this is the story I want to tell, she’s a woman for specific reasons and I won’t change the screenplay.”
When I met him, the first question he asked me was, “so what do you think?” and I said, “no, no, I like it the way it is,” and then he trusted me. So the pressure was on Taylor. And it’s true that he had a lot of pressure to change it, and most of the time there were people who said, “we will sign if you change it,” and he said no. Once I got on board, I heard a little bit about it at the beginning, but it was not a fight. People respected the screenplay as it was, and at Black Label they were totally supportive of this idea, and Lionsgate too. The people I work with were supportive of this idea, but I knew I would have less money. That’s the reality, to make a movie that the lead is a female. And that is very sad, but that will change with time, I hope.
Oh. Actually, maybe there really wasn’t that much more to this story than i thought. Kudos to the screenwriter Taylor Sheridan for standing his ground.
IW: Do you think that’s something that’s going to change, or it is in the process of changing?
Denis Villeneuve (Director):I’m going to say something spontaneously, and it might be something stupid. But I think that at the beginning [of cinema], the women that were very famous were famous because of their sexual appeal or beauty, and I think that is changing. Now we respect actresses for their skills and for what they bring on screen. I think it’s evolved, but it’s still a very masculine world.
Cinema is a very rough society, on the screen and behind the camera, too. And it’s true that the woman’s condition is still a fight, and there’s still a lot of things that have improved in the past century. In some parts of the world, it’s getting worse. But in the western world it’s evolving in the right direction, but there’s a lot of battles to be fought by a woman, I think.
It’s just the way a woman has to deal with power and what a woman needs. I have friends, directors, women, that to get the same job it’s a different fight. I am aware of that. It’s very sad, but everything is evolving.