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Sundance 2023 Q&A: Cast, director of thriller film ‘Eileen’ discuss complex character dynamics

Anne Hathaway smiles to the right. The actress plays Rebecca in “Eileen.” (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

By Alexis Jones

Jan. 28, 2023 2:39 p.m.

Eileen finds an unlikely companion in prison.

Based on the novel of the same name, William Oldroyd’s thriller, “Eileen,” screened in the Premieres category of Sundance Film Festival 2023. Set in 1960s Boston, the outcast titular character, played by Thomasin McKenzie, is working at a prison and quickly becomes friends with her new colleague Rebecca (Anne Hathaway). But their relationship goes awry when Eileen becomes complicit in a life-altering crime thanks to her associate.

Oldroyd, McKenzie and actor Marin Ireland – whose character’s son is an inmate at the prison – spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Alexis Jones at a festival press line about the characters’ dynamics and the elements of the story that inspired them to be a part of the film.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Sundance 2023 Q&A: ‘Infinity Pool’ director, actors reflect on film’s commentary on human nature]

Daily Bruin: What was it about this story that compelled you to direct the film?

William Oldroyd: I found it very, very funny and very, very dark, and I thought that the characters of Eileen and Rebecca – those sort of central characters – were incredibly compelling. I thought actors would want to play them, and I wanted to see them on screen.

DB: How did you direct Hathaway and McKenzie to have that kind of chemistry given their characters and what they go through?

WO: They found it themselves, to be honest. We had a period of rehearsal beforehand where we went through every thought and each beat, and we made sure that they were clear in the actors’ minds. They’re such great actors. You just put them in the scene together, and you see how they play off each other.

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
Thomasin McKenzie poses at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. McKenzie stars as the titular character in “Eileen.” (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

DB: Between “Last Night in Soho” and “Eileen,” what is it about the nature of this genre that entices you?

Thomasin McKenzie: I think they are very different films, but the characters Eileen and Eloise – they’re both very complex characters with a lot going on inside of their brains. I think I really like characters who have got a lot going on, and I want to dive into that and figure them out. Complex characters are what attract me.

[Related: Sundance 2023 Q&A: ‘Theater Camp’ writers, directors discuss reflecting friendship onscreen]

DB: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

Marin Ireland: This is one of those ones (movies), to me, that feels like a poem or a painting or a sculpture, where I feel like it’s so deeply subjective. I hope that people just have a private experience with it that is mysterious and their own. I’m really excited to hear more about what people take away from this movie. I have no prescriptive eye on it whatsoever. I sort of feel like, ‘Wow, this leaves so much room for people to find their own way in,’ and that to me is a thrill.

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Alexis Jones | Arts editor
Jones is the 2022-2023 Arts editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2021-2022. She is a fourth-year psychology student from Las Vegas.
Jones is the 2022-2023 Arts editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2021-2022. She is a fourth-year psychology student from Las Vegas.
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