The last time Todd Haynes was here at the Cannes Film Festival with Carol two years ago, he delivered a best actress win to Rooney Mara for playing a precocious girl who has a forbidden lesbian affair during the 1950s.
It’s not out of the question, especially in a year where Cannes has programmed a number of titles centered around child protagonists. Simmonds plays Rose, a deaf girl in 1927, who is a fan of a popular actress at the time, Lillian Mayhew (played by Julianne Moore), and who travels to New York City to find her. In Wonderstruck, Rose’s story runs parallel with another deaf child, Ben (Oakes Fegley), who is also venturing to New York City 50 years later.
In discovering Simmonds, Haynes sought to cast out of the deaf community. “It was a risk, but I so wanted to bring that experience, selfishly to me, I wanted to be around a deaf actor and deaf kid who could interpret this role in a way that I could not anticipate,” says the filmmaker.
On Simmonds, Haynes says, “She has a real depth, who also uncannily knows how to represent herself on screen and not overdo it and knows how to underplay, and the subtly she brings to her performance — it’s something adult professional actors take their entire careers to get to.” Meanwhile Fegley “had a complexity to him and seriousness to him that I think you needed to buy, the fact that this kid is traveling on his own from Minnesota to New York City.”
Here Haynes also talks about what sparked him to Brian Selznick’s script, its innate power as a silent film and its cinematic vernacular, as well as how The Miracle Worker has long stood as one of his favorite films: Haynes portrayed Captain Keller in a school production and as a kid “would secretly dress up as Helen in my room.”
Wonderstruck, from Amazon Studios, comes out on Oct. 20 from Roadside Attractions.