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With movie theaters on indefinite shutdown, releases are either being delayed, or they are arrangements are being made for VOD play. And while people are at home looking for great VOD content right now and those films will get seen, losing a theatrical release can feel like a bitter blow. Not only in terms of potential award qualification, which requires a theatrical release, but also because the theater still means so much to so many—perhaps simply because it upholds the pure magic of the movies.
For first-time actress Sidney Flanigan and newcomer Talia Ryder, starring in Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always was their big break, but after only two days in theaters, shutdowns forced the film to move to VOD on Friday, robbing the women of the full release they so richly deserved. The film follows 17-year-old Autumn (Flanigan) as she is forced to leave her home town to find an abortion, supported by her cousin Skylar (Ryder). Along the way, the young women deal with sexual harassment at their supermarket job, a creepy stepfather (Ryan Eggold) and the manipulative advances of an apparently ‘nice’ guy they meet on the bus to New York (Théodore Pellerin). The film’s subject of abortion is especially pertinent right now, given that several states have deemed the procedure ‘non-essential’, and are therefore refusing to provide any terminations during the pandemic. As Flanigan points out, “With these people trying to block abortions, and trying to take advantage of the pandemic in order to further their own agendas, I think the film is very relevant.”
Flanigan and Ryder connected via phone with Deadline to discuss the change in the film’s release, how they’re handling isolation and their experience embodying this poignant and vital piece of storytelling that matters now more than ever.
DEADLINE: How are you both doing in all this isolation right now?
SIDNEY FLANIGAN: I’m doing pretty alright. I mean, I’ve mostly just been spending a lot of time in my house watching television, reading books, playing video games, playing guitar. I really like going out and seeing live music, so I haven’t been able to do that in a while. But I did do this virtual music festival called Coping with Dystopia with a bunch of friends of mine around the country. It went from 5:00pm to midnight, and a lot of artists played. We’ve raised $1,500 to donate to the Prison Policy Initiative, which is helping people in prisons. They’re still doing them, like a little conference every week. They have a Facebook page and an Instagram page. People can find it on both of those. There are a lot of artists contributing.
TALIA RYDER: I’m doing OK. It’s just that things have been very different lately. I mean, I’m a senior in high school and not getting senior spring has been a little tough. We’re doing classes on Zoom, which is like FaceTime. We’re lucky enough to live in a time where friends and family are really accessible, with phones and stuff so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to keep in touch with loved ones that are not close by.
DEADLINE: This film is so important, especially with some states stopping abortion right now, because they consider it a non-essential medical procedure during the pandemic. You’ve made this beautiful film that’s really representative of young women. It will be seen by a lot of people on VOD, but how do you feel about losing the full theatrical release?
FLANIGAN: I think it’s the kind of movie that you go out and see it a theater. And then you go to dinner with your friends and you talk about it, and there’s a discussion to be had. But I still don’t think it’s the worst thing for it to be going straight on demand, as much as I would have loved for it to have a theatrical release because of obvious reasons. But I mean, the COVID thing is affecting everybody, and it was unexpected, and it’s out of our control. So, all we can really do is go forward.
RYDER: Like Sidney was saying, while we had hoped to delay the film’s release, so people could see it after this whole thing was over, right now, there’s not really an end [to theater closures] in sight. But we’re really grateful that the public will have the opportunity to see it now, because I still think that there’s a great deal of urgency in seeing the film right now. Reproductive rights are being even more attacked with everything going on. And while conversations may not be able to be had in a more traditional standpoint, with technology and with other resources that we have now, I think we can still make that happen.
DEADLINE: How did you both get involved in the film?
FLANIGAN: Eliza’s partner, Scott Cummings, was making a film in Buffalo, and I happened to be hanging out on the fringes. We met in passing, and they saw posted videos of me playing music, and they watched them, and followed me. And then eventually they asked me to audition for the film.
DEADLINE: How did you feel about the topic of the film?
FLANIGAN: I mean the topic has always been important to me. So, being presented with an opportunity to be useful, and to be able to contribute to telling that kind of story? That was a done deal.
RYDER: This is Talia. I had more of a traditional audition experience than Sidney. I went in and read in an audition room, and eventually got to meet Eliza and Sidney and read with her. But it was kind of the same for me seeing the script for the first time, and just getting to look at Eliza’s approach to the topic. It didn’t really take a right or wrong angle. It does tell an honest story of what one girl was dealing with, and it humanized the issue, which is something I hadn’t really seen before, and something that was really intriguing to me. And also, the prevalence of women supporting women, which you can see in both of our characters, is something that unfortunately is rare in film, and it really compelled me to want to be a part of the project as well.
DEADLINE: It also tells a story of sexual harassment, like that boss that’s really inappropriate, or meeting someone on a bus who thinks they can touch you. Did that resonate for you? Was that something that you really wanted to get out there?
RYDER: That was also something I really appreciated about the project that goes along with what I was saying earlier about the honesty of it. It would be an unrealistic story if the girls didn’t have those type of encounters, because that’s something that every female deals with in their day-to-day life. And I like that Eliza draws attention to it, because again, you don’t get to see that too often.
FLANIGAN: I thought it was pretty compelling. I think Eliza did a really great job of portraying this perspective of fear and hostility. Like everywhere you go, you always feel kind of uncomfortable about men, even if they even do it or not. If it’s intentional or not.
DEADLINE: Sidney, you have an extraordinary scene where the nurse in the clinic is asking Autumn questions about her relationships. The camera stays on your face the entire scene, and we watch you go from fine to emotional. It’s a very impressive feat. How did you approach it?
FLANIGAN: I guess I just tried to do think about my own life, and dig around for something of emotional substance to match up with that, or to trigger some painful memories. I don’t know. I’ve never acted before. I had to think about something really messed up and sad, and I just tried to do that.
DEADLINE: Have you felt affected by the experience of making this film after the fact?
FLANIGAN: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think you can spend two months on a set and not feel different afterwards. It was really amazing. There was like a really strong sense of community, and also, it felt like a world of support. Then the other day. I was walking down the street, and I was listening to movie soundtrack, because I was like, “Oh, I see it’s on Spotify now.” And it was very weird, because I’m walking down the street, and I could see images of the movie [as Autumn] in my head. It was just really kind of a weird, trippy moment of like with the music playing, and then like putting myself in this like moment. It’s almost like I don’t want to do that, because it seems kind of unhealthy. But at the same time, I do feel attached now in a way.
RYDER: Coming off of the film, I felt very changed. I definitely learned a lot, so I felt wiser. Working those hours and rehearsing and just putting yourself into the story for so long, you feel like you grow up a little bit. In the script, there’s a lot of unwanted moments you see between the girls and the men in the film, but also, Eliza really pays attention to a lot of really beautiful moments that happen between the two of them [Autumn and Skylar], like the handholding at Port Authority, or just simply the moment on the train when they feed each other the Chinese bakery goods. Seeing an appreciation for those small moments like that in a film, it’s really nice. And I guess, I look at things in my own life like that. Like, Oh, that’s an Autumn-Skylar moment. So it’s nice.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available to rent on VOD on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes and other participating platforms.