by director Aisling Walsh
I was so very fortunate that one of the Maudie producers sent me the script to read via my agent. There was no note—no idea of where things were at with the project—just the script. I read it—on the same day it was sent—in a hotel room in Cardiff in Wales. I was at the very start of pre-production on another project. I was in a city I didn't know well at the time. My internet wasn't working. My mobile was in desperate need of several hours recharging. So I decided rather than go out to stay in, order room service and read the script.
How do you know you want to do something? How do you know you want to go on that journey? How do you know it's for you? I was probably about 15-20 pages into the script when I knew. I was captivated by the characters of Maud and Everett Lewis. By their lives. Their story. As a rule I read as fast as I can on that first read—my belief is that something special will stay with you if it’s meant to be. So many things stayed with me that night. But one thing started to haunt me. Maud Lewis and her lifelong struggle to be creative. Her struggle to be the artist she wanted to be. That's when I knew I had to make this film. I emailed my agent saying 'I think I could do something quite special with this story if I can get a good cast and a few fellow travelers with me.'
I needed not a good cast but a great cast. The roles were going to be all-consuming. They were going to be such a challenge. To get the physicality of Maud across the years. To portray her disability. To paint like her. To be free to be truthful. To get the silence and harshness of Everett and not be afraid of it. I wrote one name down that evening. I wrote Sally Hawkins' name down. Why? Because I knew she'd do something amazing with the role. We had worked together before and we had talked so often about working together again. She was my Maud. My one and only Maud. She was perfect.
All I needed was my Everett but some months were to pass before I got there. I remember meeting Ethan Hawke for the first time in a hotel in London. He walked into the room, held his hand out and introduced himself. I think I knew in that moment that this was my Everett. He told me about five minutes later that he wanted to do the movie. He wanted to come on the journey with Sally and myself.
Who were my other fellow travelers going to be? My producers and writer of course. The others? They know who they are now but back then in that hotel room in Cardiff all I wanted was people who had the same passion as I had to make this unusual film—and I found them in cinematographer Guy Godfree, production designer John Hand, film editor Stephen O'Connell and music composer Michael Timmins.
I wanted the film to be a portrait of Maud Lewis the artist. I also wanted the film to be an intimate portrait of a marriage across 35 years. Maud and Everett Lewis. Two outsiders that find one another. They were the two things that interested me. We don't see that intimate portrait very often. A simple life portrayed on screen. A marriage played out in all its beauty and truthfulness and all of that in a 12'x12' house which we were going to build on the side of the road somewhere in Newfoundland. The image of a scarecrow and a wounded bird in a vast landscape came to my mind. Now you know why I needed fellow travelers. I wanted to be authentic.
My fascination with Maud Lewis and her work started that night in Cardiff and has continued ever since.
I wanted the film to be both intimate and expansive. The intimacy of the small house set against the vast landscape of Nova Scotia. The small space that Maud painted in every day of her life and the world beyond it that she portrayed. A vast landscape ever changing with the seasons. Maud Lewis' passion was painting. She had to paint. I was trained as a painter before becoming a filmmaker so I felt I understood something of that passion. I also wanted to tell the story of Maud and Everett's relationship. The beauty of it. The simplicity of it. For me Maud would never have had the life she had without Everett and Everett would never have had the life he had without Maud. Two outsiders who found one another. Who learned to love. So simple but what a challenge.
My husband always says that I make people cry at my films.True? I don't ever set out to do that but yes more often than not people cry. What I want more than anything else with Maudie is for people to experience a story well told and engage emotionally with it. Then in the silence when the lights go up at the end realize that you have discovered a great female artist who struggled for most of her life but who managed to achieve so much.