The Partnership: ‘She Said’s Zoe Kazan And Jodi Kantor Discuss How Art Imitated Life In A World-Changing #MeToo Story 

She Said
Celeste Sloman for Universal Pictures

In She Said, Maria Schrader’s telling of the Harvey Weinstein take-down by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, we see the birth of a historic moment: The turning of #MeToo from a movement into an unstoppable train of change. Based on Kantor and Twohey’s book, and from a screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the reporters painstakingly gather evidence from silenced survivors, many of whom consulted on, and in some cases starred in, the film. For Zoe Kazan, alongside Carey Mulligan as Twohey, playing Kantor meant understanding her humanity, the practical nuts and bolts of reporting life, and the weight of what it is to bring others’ devastating personal truths to light. In conversation with Antonia Blyth, Kazan and Kantor discuss the portrayal of women at work to change the world.

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DEADLINE: Jodi, when you and Megan wrote the book about breaking this story, did you ever have any sense that it would be a film?

JODI KANTOR: No. I mean, listen, I’m not a Hollywood person, but I know enough to know that these things often do not get made, and so the last thing we were doing was swanning around our book-writing office saying, “Well, when the movie gets made…” It was much more a sense of trying to write the best book we could write. We wrote this book as an invitation into our partnership and into our story. I think we wanted company in those moments, and we wanted the rest of the world to understand what we had seen and what we had heard. Whether it’s those very first phone calls, very hushed, very secret, where actresses began telling me the truth about their experiences with Weinstein, to the very dramatic stuff that happened in the lead up to publication.

We had a series of confrontations with [Weinstein], including him bursting almost unannounced into The New York Times. And so, we were trying to nail those on the page as well as possible and still do yet more in investigation into the story for the book. I mean, we’re still flabbergasted that this film was made, but one of the many reasons we’re grateful to Zoe and the rest of the team is that they’ve given us so much more company in what was initially a very lonely endeavor. And I think enabled, and hopefully helped convince people of what we really feel, which is that a very small group of brave sources really can have enormous impact and that it is possible to confront a bully. You just have to do it together.

She Said
From left, Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said. JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

DEADLINE: How did you feel about having Zoe cast to play you?

KANTOR: I feel incredibly lucky. This is my first time saying these things to Zoe’s face, so you have to forgive me. It’s sort of two levels, because I think it’s the attention and care that Zoe put into the role, and then there’s what’s up there on the screen. I think Zoe approached this with the actor version of what I felt in approaching this story, which is responsibility. This is a sacred story. And so, I think that both Carey and Zoe, in terms of the technical feat of playing a real-life person, did it so naturally and gracefully. But I think they also accomplished the bigger task on screen, which is to get beyond the not-that-interesting question of, how does Jodi walk down the street, or whatever. And to get at, I think, the bigger question, which is, what’s it like to be under this kind of pressure and what do journalists really feel as they’re doing these jobs?

Throughout the film and in a couple of scenes in particular, I feel that Zoe was able to explain and demonstrate the world of emotions that I had, that I never thought anybody else would understand. I feel like what Zoe taught me about good acting is that it’s really the ability to convey several emotions at once.

For example, in the moment that Ashley Judd goes on record, I just feel all the layers in her performance. I feel the layers of believing for the first time that the story is really going to work. Trying to accept what Ashley did, which is, how do you respond when another woman puts her career on the line for your story? And the combination of feeling this enormous emotion but trying to stay professional about it at the same time, which of course only makes you cry more in the moment. I guess I’m still totally confused about how you did it, Zoe. I know the time we spent together, I know the performance we saw on screen. Everything in between is still sort of a mystery to me.

ZOE KAZAN: Carey and I had a conversation very early in the process where we talked about how we were approaching this, and Carey’s instinct I think was dead on, which is we can’t be doing an imitation, we’re not playing people that everybody knows the inner type of how they behave, and how they talk. We really felt like something would be lost if we made our main aim to sound exactly like Jodi and Megan, and walk like them and talk like them, and that it felt like that’s going to be incredibly distracting for an audience.

We re-watched All the President’s Men and Spotlight, and the thing I really felt was the less acting, the better. I think that Carey and I were really trying to capture an essence of who Jodi and Megan are as people and how they approached the work, and what work means to them, and then put ourselves in the imaginary circumstance. So, I think that on screen is somewhere between Jodi and me.

For one of the social media posts there was a clip of me in the movie next to a clip of Jodi talking, and I thought, “Oh, there’s more of Jodi there than I thought there was.”

DEADLINE: Zoe, you and Carey are longtime friends, and with Jodi working so closely with Megan, how did you work out the pair dynamic on screen? Did the four of you figure that out together?

KANTOR: From our end, we were trying to give Zoe and Carey license. We wanted to really give them the room and permission to interpret these characters as they wanted. There were tons of recordings of Megan and I in public, we had written a book together, they could observe what they wanted to observe. I’ve only been through this once and it’s a pretty singular experience, but I think you can’t dictate it. In part because even the relationship that I’m in with Megan, it’s like a marriage. Do you know what I mean? Because of all of these internal currents and dynamics… We, I think, shared parts of ourselves with the public, but there’s always been a big part of it that’s been just for us. And so, Zoe, I don’t know if you feel this, but when the four of us were hanging out, I don’t feel that Megan and I were trying to ‘market’ our relationship to you. I think it was much more an act of trust, I think, of just letting you and Carey observe whatever you wanted to observe.

KAZAN: I mean, honestly, I think that just huge kudos goes to Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who wrote the script, because she had done so much of this work already, so much of the bone structure was already there in terms of just, the movie is not about their relationship, the relationship happens over the course of the movie. And I think she had done a really delicate and careful job of showing these women growing in closeness and growing in partnership over the course of getting this story. Carey has said before, and I think it’s true, that the hardest part for us in portraying this partnership was the parts where they weren’t already super close. We had to remind ourselves to step back and think about where they were at each point in their relationship. Also, Jodi and Megan’s partnership now is years down the line from where they were when they were coming together to get this story. So, I think that we felt incredibly buoyed by Megan and Jodi’s support, and I think inspired by their partnership. I also think it was just a tremendous pleasure for us to get to be in partnership on screen, and even in the parts where we weren’t yet deeply in portraying two people deeply in partnership with each other, feeling the support from the other person.

She Said
From left: Kazan, Mulligan, Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson. JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

DEADLINE: I have this mental image of you, Zoe, going into the New York Times building and sitting at Jodi’s desk and getting a feel for what it’s like to work there.

KAZAN: Yeah, so I have friends who are journalists, and the first time I met Jodi, I had this feeling of like, “Oh, I know Jodi, I know who this person is.” It felt like some sort of deep recognition. And then of course, as I think one of the great joys of getting to be an actor is that as you scratch the surface, you realize, of course, that there’s a whole mystery of a person there, that your first impression is only that, a first impression. I asked Jodi a lot of nosy questions about how she conducted herself in interviews, and what her family life looked like, and that helped me fill out my imagination and be very specific about props and things like that, which is hugely important in building the life of a character.

As for your vision for The New York Times, I mean there’s truth in it and then there’s also this other strange [pandemic] reality, which is that Jodi hadn’t been in the office for, what? A year and a half when we filmed this. And walking into the New York Times building was a little bit like walking into a space where everyone had been raptured. There was Valentine’s Day stuff still on people’s desks and Clif bars that people had just left there and never come back for, people’s shoes under the desk.

DEADLINE: That’s kind of creepy.

KAZAN: It was. Our production designer, Meredith Lippincott, who’s wonderful, was like, “This is just a treasure trove for me,” because they had to dress certain areas. The area that we used to be Jodi’s desk in the movie is not really her desk, it’s actually the book department, I think, but it was better light for the camera.

I also had this really uncanny experience of reading The Times on my phone in The New York Times [office] and having this sense like you do as a child about Santa Claus, like, oh, somewhere else the news is getting produced and there is a New York Times somewhere that’s beaming it into my phone. And then me being like, “Oh no, I’m standing in the New York Times building and they’re all in their bedrooms at home, working as I do, crouched over a little desk in my kid’s room or whatever.” So, it was really strange, but totally wonderful. And I think sometimes when a piece of work is particularly meaningful to you, as an actor, you are endowing those objects and those places with a lot of significance. And I had this feeling of like, now when I pass The Times building and, “Oh, there’s my workplace,” I have a little feeling of ownership.

DEADLINE: Jodi, the day you actually watched the finished film, were Zoe and Carey there?

KANTOR: Megan and I watched it with our husbands for the first time. But that was really only the beginning, because we had been warned by the director, Maria Schrader, she gave us very good advice, and she said, “Watching yourself depicted on screen is one of the strangest experiences a person can have.” And she said, “You’re going to need to see the movie several times,” and I found that to be absolutely true. For me, it took me three viewings to be able to absorb it.

I think that one thing I didn’t expect was that there was more I understood about Zoe’s performance each time because it is a pretty subtle, layered performance. In some of the most important scenes, she’s really just listening, very active, [it’s an] emotional kind of listening, but she’s also being professional in the moment. To me, you can see both the professional containment, because you need to be a rock for these women in interviews, you can’t fall apart even when they’re telling you really horrible things.

But of course, Zoe was able to make visible some of the things that I was feeling under the surface as I was listening to things. And I think what’s also amazing about those scenes is that Zoe, you were able to do such a sensitive job of, in a way, giving the scenes to the women in question — to Zelda Perkins, Laura Madden and Rowena Chiu — and that’s what you try to do as a journalist too. I mean, it’s very unprofessional, as you know, to make it about yourself in those moments, and one of the things you learn as a journalist over the years is to be more and more of a minimalist and just to stop talking, to resist the urge to go on and on and let the other person fully fill the space.

KAZAN: Jodi, I saw this thing that made me think of you that’s from [journalist] Robert Caro’s Instagram, which are his notes from his first interview with Robert Moses in the 1970s and it’s basically a blank page and at the top of it it says, “Shut up.”

KANTOR: Right? Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up. And on that note, I mean, the last thing I want to say about that is that maybe the two of you can help me with this list. I am trying to think of how many other films there are that are led by two female figures with an emphasis on their professional capacities, where they’re the agents of the action and it’s not their romantic lives that are mostly on display, it’s the work. It’s just their work every single day. I’ve been trying, I’m sure there are other films that do that, but I’m having a little trouble.

She Said
Jodi Kantor, Kazan, Megan Twohey and Mulligan at the New York Film Festival screening of She Said. CJ Rivera/Everett Collection

DEADLINE: The only one I can think of is 9 to 5, which is absurd. Obviously, their work life is the joke there.

KAZAN: And I thought of A League of Their Own. It’s a movie that I wore out the VHS tape as a child.

DEADLINE: That’s slim pickings. Why don’t we see women at work on screen in a real way?

KAZAN: There’s been a lot of conversation about women having a ticking clock on them in Hollywood or whatever, and I do think that it’s a larger problem of how we think about women as they get older. There are a lot of coming-of-age stories about young women and there are fewer stories about women in the meat of their lives. It’s like we have internalized a marriage plot structure where once a woman becomes of an age where she wouldn’t be seeking out a mate any longer necessarily, we think about them as their story is done. There are no stories to tell about them. And I loved getting to be a person in the swing of their life on screen. The depiction of working motherhood, for instance, was so important to me and how I approach this movie. That juggle is so familiar to me, and I think, just as what Jodi’s saying, I just think you see it on screen very rarely.

DEADLINE: Playing a real person can’t be easy, especially if they’re there to see it.

KAZAN: I had to compartmentalize as I was playing it and start to feel like I’m not playing this real person that I’m in contact with on text, I’m playing this other version of a person. Also, I felt such a weight of responsibility portraying all these real-life situations where women were coming forward and being so brave and speaking with a journalist, that the weight of those stories felt to me like much more present tense than the weight of Jodi’s story.

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DEADLINE: Ashley Judd survived her own experience with Harvey Weinstein. She appears in the film alongside other survivors, while more still consulted. What did it mean to you to have their involvement and support?

KAZAN: I don’t think that we could have made this movie without their involvement. I don’t think that that would’ve felt comfortable to anyone. I don’t think that would’ve been the right way of going about things. And I felt tremendous confidence in [producer] Dede Gardner from our first conversation about the movie. I felt like she is going about this exactly how I would want to go about this, where she’s speaking with all these women, she’s taking their stories into account, she’s letting them have input on the script. Knowing that Ashley would be involved, it just felt like a huge honor to me. I feel such a debt of gratitude to all of those women.

I remember reading Ashley’s account in Jodi and Megan’s story in 2017, and thinking, “Wow, she’s really put herself on the line here.” And I think that what all of those women did, including the women who spoke to Jodi and Megan off the record, that their bravery made such a huge difference and their willingness to take this enormous leap of faith, so having their involvement felt like it blessed our film in a way.

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