Three eras, three stories, and three women coalesce into a continuum that flows through the heart of "The Hours. " Each woman is joined to the other like links in a chain, unaware that the power of a single great work of literature is irrevocably altering their lives. First there is Virginia Woolf, in a suburb of London in the early 1920s, battling insanity as she begins to write her first great novel, Mrs. Dalloway. Over two decades later, Laura Brown is a wife and mother in Los Angeles at the end of World War II, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway and finding it so revelatory that she begins to consider making a devastating change in her life. And then, in contemporary New York City, there is Clarissa Vaughan, a modern version of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, in love with her friend Richard, a brilliant poet dying of AIDS. Their stories intertwine and finally come together in a surprising and transcendent moment of shared recognition.
Inspired by Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours over 75 years later. Now The Hours has been made into a film, the result of an inspired collaboration by some of the most creative and accomplished talents working in film today.
A Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films presentation, "The Hours" is a Scott Rudin/Robert Fox Production starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. The film is directed by Stephen Daldry and produced by Scott Rudin and Robert Fox. The screenplay is by David Hare and based upon the novel by Michael Cunningham. Executive produced by Mark Huffam, the film also stars Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Stephen Dillane, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Eileen Atkins and Linda Bassett.
Paramount Pictures is part of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc. , one of the world's largest entertainment and media companies and a leader in the production, promotion and distribution of entertainment, news, sports and music.
When Scott Rudin purchased the screen rights to Michael Cunningham's novel, many wondered how easily a film could be made of such a nuanced, non-linear literary work. Yet the idea of multiple, interweaving story lines in disparate historical time-frames is a highly cinematic concept going back at least as far as 1916 in D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance. " With the addition of a top-flight cast and director, and a screenplay by one of the most acclaimed contemporary dramatists, The Hours has made an assured, enhanced transition from page to screen. Director Stephen Daldry says: "I actually found that the idea of three stories and three women, and the relationship among them, was a wonderful opportunity to try to create a single narrative. "
Screenwriter David Hare saw Michael Cunningham's novel as an "extraordinarily accomplished piece of literature. " He adds: "I thought that the tactic of telling three stories without the reader being able to understand the way they connected was completely fascinating. Somehow, Michael managed to sustain your interest even though you didn't know exactly how the pieces fit. And the fascination of that he accomplished beautifully. Then, when you did understand how they fit, it became profoundly satisfying. "
Hare understood the screenplay would have to be a different structure from the one in the novel. "I found my own way of mixing the stories up and making new connections," he says. "I knew we could replicate the pleasure the book gives--that of slowly understanding the way in which the three stories fit together. "
But because nearly everything in the book is what goes on inside the characters' heads, the biggest challenge for Hare as a screenwriter was to communicate through action and behavior what was internalized thought in Cunningham's novel.
"In film, you can't have inner voice unless you have voiceover," observes Hare. "We made a very specific decision at the very beginning not to have voiceover, and once that was decided, I had to invent a certain number of events which expressed what was going on inside the characters' heads without spelling it out. For instance, the whole theme of the way in which Laura's husband has come back from the war--we need to know how his experience of the war has marked their marriage. There is the sense of World War II seeping into the film, which I've had to make explicit in that birthday-party scene at the end of the film where he talks about how he first saw her. In the book, of course, that's not expressed outwardly. I had to invent a whole series of events like that in order to express what went on inside the characters. For instance, I also quite radically changed Clarissa's partner and her private life in order to try and express various things which went on inside their heads. "
It was a challenge Hare enjoyed. "This is where filmmaking becomes fun. Because not only was I denying myself voiceover; I was extremely keen to deny myself flashbacks. Obviously, in the book, there's a great deal about what happens to Clarissa and Richard as young people, and that informs the book in a wonderful way. But we already had three stories, and the idea of flashing back within one of those stories seemed to me a bad one. I wanted to do it through the things the characters said, and the way they were together, rather than by showing it. I think that by denying yourself those routes out, you put a discipline on things which is much richer. "
Hare met with Michael Cunningham before beginning his work.
"Michael had originally planned a far longer book, so he was able to give me invaluable background on all the characters and their lives," remembers Hare. "He knew everything about them. He was very generous with his time and his goodwill. My admiration for what Michael wrote only grew the more I worked on the screenplay. I think it's very unusual to write a film of a novel and admire the novel just as much at the end as you did at the beginning. That was true of Michael's book. It withstood the scrutiny of film writing brilliantly. What we're talking about here is a tradition of writers handing on subject matter, one to another. A woman's life, in a day, is the arc of her whole life: that's the idea. Michael told me: 'Virginia Woolf took it one way; I took it another way; now you, David, run with the ball and go off wherever you want. ' And that was a very generous offer. It was an offer of trust. And of course, if one author makes that offer to another, you tend to do your best to respect it. "
Hare had already had a long association with Stephen Daldry before "The Hours. " Daldry directed him in his acting debut in Hare's theater piece, "Via Dolorosa," which played at the Royal Court in London and ran for four months on Broadway. "He is a director who has a great gift for understanding the emotional heart of any material," says Hare.
Daldry had not yet read Michael Cunningham's novel when Scott Rudin presented him with an early draft of Hare's screenplay. "I was on holiday in the south of France when I received the script," he says. "My first response was that this was a fantastically well-achieved screenplay, and a wonderful opportunity to try to explore and investigate Mrs. Dalloway, one of the greatest books ever written. "
Daldry adds that he enjoyed Cunningham's book enormously, and that even though the author gave the filmmakers free rein to transform the novel into a film, they remained true to Cunningham's work. "Michael told us that we should feel free to do whatever we felt was appropriate," says Daldry. "It was a very liberating, and as the script developed, we ended up remaining quite faithful to the rich world explored in the novel. "
For Daldry, the essence of The Hours is its profound respect for women and the challenges they faced throughout the turbulent, utterly unpredictable developments of the twentieth century. "In the film, our women struggle through the day that they're given, a day they define for themselves and that others have defined for them," explains Daldry. "There is a real heroism, and I think that's one of the things that originally drew me to the script--it's a day in the life of these three women. And maybe that's every day. Maybe the journey, and the struggle, and the stoicism and the emotional difficulties they are facing--maybe the battles and heroics are as much in the backyard and in the bedroom, as much when you're baking a cake in the kitchen as they are climbing mountains or winning wars. I think that often the heroics in women's lives are underestimated, or put into the background by the heroics in the lives of men. Obviously, the struggles are enormous and profound; just as important, if not more so. "
Meryl Streep, who plays Clarissa Vaughan, had originally received Cunningham's The Hours as a gift from a friend. "I thought the book was beautiful," she says. "When my agent called me about the film I couldn't imagine how they were going to make it into a movie, how so much of an interior world could be translated into a film. But when the script came to me, I thought it was really wonderful. David Hare has such a compassionate nature, and he's a consummate wordsmith. "
Streep was familiar with Hare's extraordinary ability to explore people's inner thoughts, having appeared in the film version of his play, "Plenty. " "David is able to express things that are inside people," says Streep. "He puts them in the situation and makes it actable. And I think that was what convinced me that 'The Hours' would be an interesting project to work on. "
"What David Hare managed to do," says Julianne Moore, who plays Laura Brown, "was to translate both the emotional reality and the structural reality of the novel. I honestly didn't think it could be done, but he did it beautifully. "
A fan of Cunningham's novel, Moore adds: "I'm a big reader of fiction, and I'm very rarely surprised by it. When you read a lot of literature, you learn to look for clues, and you see what's coming. But The Hours completely stunned me. I was really surprised by it, and so thrilled. When someone manages to do that, you feel like you're twelve again. Michael Cunningham is able to be so incredibly truthful about the things that are painful and difficult in the human condition, yet he's tremendously hopeful and inspiring, too. His concept of getting through 'the hours' of our day and of our lives, and what that means--that is what is both painful and valuable about life, all at once. I was so moved by it. "
Moore sees her character as having much in common with Virginia Woolf. "What Laura shares with Virginia Woolf is her depression. But whereas Virginia Woolf is aware of it as an illness, something she struggles with, I think Laura is almost underwater. She's not a person who's even present in her life. Her deep unhappiness is the state of her life. What I love about both the novel and the movie is that this is just another day, another morass of a day, another set of hours she has to get through. What she doesn't expect is to have a cataclysmic event in it. It shouldn't be a day that leads to any other, but it is actually her penultimate day in this particular life. If Laura defines herself in any way, she's a passionate reader. That's something that I used for myself. She shares that sense of literary-ness with Virginia Woolf. "
For Moore, who has two young children, the role of Laura had enormous resonance. "When I made the movie, my son was three-and-a-half, and during the shoot I was pregnant with my daughter. In the book, the little boy is actually younger, but it would have been impossible to work with a three-year-old on film. I understand what the connection is between a child and his mother. The fact that this boy was so connected to his mother, and could feel her depression, and was so lost--this was absolutely heart-wrenching to me. I'm not certain I would have understood this had I not been a mother myself. But what's agonizing is that you realize Laura makes the only choice she can at the end of her story. In effect, she's choosing to live rather than die. This is a woman who is confused by issues in a marriage she doesn't want to be in; she doesn't have any idea about her sexuality; she's desperately unhappy; she doesn't even know whether she wants to be in this life--she's a reader, not a participator. And she's just lost. She has no options. Nothing. It's a different world, and you see a different world in Clarissa's life. Here's a woman who had a child because she wanted a child; is with the lover she wants to be with; has made choices about her life. Laura has made almost no choices; she's retreated into books. "
In preparation for her role as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," Nicole Kidman immersed herself in researching Woolf's life and work. "Part of playing someone who really existed is finding her essence," says Kidman. "David Hare gave me a lot of insight into her, and of course, Michael Cunningham did, too. Through this period, I just fell in love with her. She was a woman who grappled with death and madness and love. The profundity with which she managed to capture the pathos of life has always been incredibly interesting for me. Yet there was a mischievousness, a playfulness and joie de vivre in her that made people want to be in her orbit. They were fascinated by her, attracted to her. And she felt such gratitude to her husband Leonard for being so tolerant of her. So much of what she was fighting for was just being able to breathe, being able to live in London if she wanted to live in London, and not be trapped, as she saw it, out in Richmond. I think that your creativity stems from your environment a lot of the time. That really resonated with me. "
The character of Virginia had a particularly profound effect on Kidman. "It's very interesting," she says, "how characters come to you at a certain time in your life when you need them. I don't think I was in my most fun-loving frame of mind at that time, and she was cathartic for me in a strange way. There is a beautiful line in the script about how the dead give us gifts. And for me, Virginia gave me a gift. That's what's quite strange about the whole experience: At that time in my life, I needed her. I needed to play her. "
To many, Nicole Kidman might seem an odd choice to play Woolf, especially due
to the lack of a strong physical resemblance. "There's not a lot of natural physical similarity between Nicole Kidman and Virginia Woolf," Daldry admits. "But there is a similar kind of animal magnetism. And I use the word 'animal' in the best sense--in other words, a danger, an alertness. People describe Virginia Woolf as having been birdlike. But there is a danger to Nicole and, from what one reads, a danger to Virginia Woolf. They're both thoroughbreds. Since Nicole cannot look exactly like Virginia Woolf, we tried to somehow give an essence of what that extraordinary face was. "
Kidman herself had some trepidation about taking on the part. "You know, when you have to distort your face the way I did, and when you are playing something that is so different from you--particularly as an Australian playing a character that is iconic for Britain and iconic for feminists--you think, Oh, this is frightening! I really had to trust the person who was leading me through it. And Stephen led me through it. He really helped mold and direct me, and gave me an enormous amount of confidence to move forward with it. "
"I was blessed with my actors," says Stephen Daldry. "Not just Julianne, Meryl and Nicole but also a supporting cast of extraordinary ability and extraordinary talent. It was a joy and an education each day watching their very different methods of working. "
Indeed, "The Hours" was a magnet for actors, and even the smaller supporting roles attracted major talent
"I thought I would never be allowed to do it," says Allison Janney, who plays Clarissa's lover Sally. "I thought they could never let me out of filming "The West Wing" long enough. But they were just as excited about it as I was, and they worked like crazy to enable me to be a part of it. So I was thrilled. " Janney was also delighted to be playing opposite Meryl Streep. "We were doing a scene where she was on camera and I was in bed with her and I have my back to her, and I just went, 'I'm in bed with Meryl Streep!' It was truly a wonderful moment. "
Toni Collette, who plays Kitty opposite Julianne Moore's Laura Brown, was equally delighted to be part of the remarkable ensemble cast. She describes her character as "the bubbly, made-up face of suppression, always saying one thing and meaning another. Kitty has lived in a tower her entire life, and now it's her turn to fall. But she will do it with a smile on her face.
"The Hours is a brilliant book and the film adaptation is exquisite," adds Collette. "While working on the film I had the feeling that I was very lucky to be even a crumb to this very special cake. It's such an intelligent, inspirational and emotional piece, I am proud to be a part of it. "
When John C. Reilly was offered the role of Dan Brown, he didn't have to deliberate long. "It was pretty much of a no-brainer for me," he says. In addition to the quality of the project and its cast, Reilly was intrigued by the possibility of building upon a character that was similar to one he'd already played in another film. "My first impression when I read the script was that I'd played this character in a previous incarnation. I felt like I already knew this guy somehow. He's a war veteran who was in World War II in the South Pacific, and I was in "The Thin Red Line," playing a guy who goes through Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. Somehow I felt like I could relate to his experience. "
Jeff Daniels, who plays the role of Louis Waters, the former lover of Richard, the poet who is dying of AIDS, was also intrigued by his character.
"What I liked about the part was bringing to life that universal situation in which two people, revisiting old times after many years apart, find their way back through the good, the bad and, most importantly, all those things left unresolved. For better or for worse, here we are again, as if it were yesterday. It doesn't take long for the small talk to be replaced with some rather pointed comments, then the missiles are launched and everybody's ducking for cover. What are old friends for?"
Daniels was especially delighted to be in the company of his collaborators. "It was like being asked to play in the All-Star Game. Go down the list. It's loaded. Then, throw in Stephen Daldry, David Hare, Ann Roth costume designer -- forget it. For me, however, the highlight was working with Meryl.
"Also, Stephen is from the theater, as are most of the cast, so the attention paid to exploring the character was very specific. Stephen's a great collaborator. He would go over each and every moment, making sure we had thought of everything. Sometimes, one choice would lead to another idea and we'd try that. It was exciting to work with him. "
Tony Award winner Stephen Dillane, who appears in "The Hours" as Virginia's husband Leonard Woolf, found the key to his role in David Hare's screenplay.
"I thought the screen adaptation was excellent, very moving. Leonard Woolf was a remarkable man in his own right, deeply committed to his ideals both in his personal life and politically. His autobiography is a good read. Woolf has the unusual ability to capture contemporary details that give us insight into the times in which he lived. He was unusually engaged in the political and aesthetic debates of his period. He was also a man who tried to live according to his beliefs, and he records with disarming sincerity and honesty his successes and failures in this endeavor.
"Some people think Leonard Woolf was insensitive and overprotective, and that he obsessively controlled Virginia Woolf's life. Some say Virginia Woolf both needed and wanted Leonard Woolf's protection from her own self-destructive instincts. Who knows? The screenplay follows the book by inclining towards the former interpretation. "
Two-time Academy Awardâ nominee Miranda Richardson, who portrays Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell, says that one of the reasons she was attracted to the "The Hours" was the strength of David Hare's writing and the idea that her character brings a certain lightness to Virginia Woolf's life and to the film as well.
"It's such a beautifully complex script, which reflects the book and yet has qualities all its own," observes Richardson. "I quite enjoyed that my character Vanessa, by comparison to her sister Virginia, has an almost carefree quality about her. The push and pull between them reminded me of so many sister relationships. They were practically symbiotic, with a subtle undercurrent of rivalry. I think that Vanessa felt she had to look after Virginia as she would one of her children, and yet she also seemed to have the temptation to duck away emotionally from Virginia's intensity. "
During pre-production, Daldry insisted on a lengthy rehearsal period for himself and the actors, something that is rare in feature filmmaking. "Since I come from the theater," he explains, "it's very hard for me to predetermine my view of a scene, or of a sequence of scenes, without an exploration with the actors beforehand. For me, it's the only way to work out the internal dynamics and the emotion of a scene. From that, I can plan where the camera might or might not be. There's a great joy in having the writer at rehearsals; he can rewrite to the input of the actors, and to their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, what we were lucky to have was a wonderfully experienced group of actors, many of whom have worked extensively in the theater and are used to this way of working. They were able to participate in the rehearsal process in a way that David and I could understand. We found it incredibly useful. "
"Stephen is very attentive to the actors and the acting process," says Claire Danes, who plays Clarissa's daughter, Julia. "I have a modest role in "The Hours" and I rehearsed it more than I have for some leading roles I have played in other films. Stephen understands what acting is, and takes real pleasure in helping an actor assemble a character from the bottom up. "
There was another reason Daldry felt a long rehearsal period was crucial. "One of the great joys of rehearsing and knowing the screenplay very well before we shot it was knowing the cutting pattern from story to story. So rhythmically, what you see is basically what we rehearsed -- which is unusual. We pretty much knew where one story was going to lead into another story, and what the collective rhythm of the stories was, before we shot. In other words, that was not created in the edit room. We were always able to clue the actors in to where we were going next. "
To create the look of "The Hours," Stephen Daldry had the help of production designer Maria Djurkovic, costume designer Ann Roth and director of photography Seamus McGarvey. All worked together to create a visual scheme that would unify the three stories and emphasize the qualities they shared.
Roth concentrated on the look that was found in the Bloomsbury group. "That whole crowd," she says, "the Bloomsbury crowd -- the painters, Vanessa and Duncan Grant--their colors were so strong. They were a rusty color -- a green and a gray-blue. I wanted to tie all of it -- the whole movie -- all together with those colors. Julianne Moore wears the same colors as Meryl, who wears the same colors as Nicole Kidman. "
Nicole Kidman singles out Ann Roth's costume for her as a key that helped her shape the character of Virginia. The shoes, the fabric of the dress, even a handkerchief --all immediately allowed Kidman to react in a way that was true to the period and, perhaps, to Virginia Woolf as well. "As soon as I put that outfit on," says Kidman, "it was like I was able to move in a different way. "
"This was like designing three separate units," says Maria Djurkovic, "but making sure that they're all under the same umbrella, so that the film works as a single entity. For a production designer, it's a fabulous job. It's almost like putting a collage together, and you're contemplating what colors to put in, what colors to leave out. Ann's costumes and Seamus' lighting helped complete that, so that we have a unified whole. "
However, Daldry knew that to strive for total unity among the stories would be a mistake. "We knew we always wanted a specific process to unify the stories, so that there would be not only a coherence in look, but also a difference. There is a visual opposition that works from story to story. And a lot of that is in simple things like color. There is a different palette from story to story, but somehow the palettes in each one refer directly back from one to another. So the unifying elements are found in the editing pattern, the color palette, the camera movements from story to story, and the film-processing techniques. We tried to avoid what I would describe as 'decorative' camera movements. Rather than predetermine an emotional response from a camera movement, we tried to allow the actors to control the emotional response. We let the camera respect the actors. And of course, we had a fantastic cast, so the actors do an awful lot of the work. "
Composer Philip Glass, whose work often seems to distill the very essence of passing time, has provided "The Hours" with a tightly-woven musical fabric. "I used the music to bridge the stories rather than separate them," he explains. "One of the most interesting things about the movie is that it moves from story to story and it's common for a theme to start in one story and to move to the next two. One might have thought each story should have its own music. I decided not to do that. "
Instead, Glass chose to echo the style in which Michael Cunningham wrote the novel and in which David Hare subsequently wrote the screenplay -- using patterns upon patterns, building a continuum that moves through time and space as the stories meld together.
"I made a key decision early on that each musical cue would bridge all three stories," says Glass, "and that turned out to be a very persuasive way of presenting the score. After all, they really aren't separate stories at all--each segment is really telling part of the same story. And the emotional point-of-view remains very coherent, as all three have to deal with self-annihilation, with survival, with facing themselves. I was looking for the same sort of coherence in the music, for it to be a thread that weaves its way through all three periods in time, a way to bind them into one. "
Structural coherence was the big issue for everyone on the film, remembers Glass. "Michael Cunningham grappled with it in his novel, Stephen Daldry had to deal with it as a director, and it was essential to the music. It's a very interesting idea that the imagination of a writer can reach that far into different times and different lives and find the connections -- it makes a powerful statement about the power of art. "
Filming began in February 2001 in New York, with two weeks of work that was mostly confined to the modern sequence in Greenwich Village. The exterior of Clarissa's apartment was on an historic block of West 10th Street, next to a house where Mark Twain had once lived. Richard's apartment was located across town in the Meat Market district.
Following the New York location filming, the crew moved to the Miami area to shoot exteriors for the Laura Brown sequence, which is meant to take place in Los Angeles in the 1950s. "We looked for a specific sort of '50s tract housing in L. A. ," says Daldry, "but there were better period residential areas in Florida, and they were perfectly maintained. A lot more modernizing has been done in L. A. "
Laura's street was in the Miami suburb of Hollywood. Many of the facades of the bungalows and one-story homes on the block were repainted in pastel 1950s shades, and cars of the period were also added. When Laura goes to a huge old hotel for the afternoon to escape her home life, it's the historic 1920s Biltmore in Coral Gables. One of the grandest and most venerable luxury resorts of the South, the Biltmore was receiving former president Bill Clinton on the same day the crew filmed there, and the hotel was crawling with Secret Service agents.
Production moved next to London, where many interiors were filmed on the stages of Pinewood Studios. For the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf in Richmond, an old house just south of the suburb of Luton was found. (Richmond now lies directly in the flight path of Heathrow Airport, and the noise factor prohibited filming there. ) Daldry had hoped to use Monks House in Sussex, where Virginia spent her final days, as a location, but it had been turned into a museum, and is also compromised now by restricted views
"We looked for other houses in Sussex," he explains, "and the location manager came each day to my house in Hartfordshire with all the pictures. Finally she said, 'What's extraordinary is that this house looks like the houses in Sussex. ' We talked it through, and realized my house would be the best location. And I loved filming there. It was glorious. The crew was very respectful of my house. Normally, I wouldn't let a film crew anywhere near it! Quite coincidentally, we had filmed Richard's apartment in New York City in a building where I also live, in the Meat Market district. "
In the early spring, Nicole Kidman had to film her suicide sequence. "She was aware," says Daldry, "that we would have to put her in a real river with a fast current, and she was going to have to get underwater and stay underwater. It was a seriously dangerous situation. But as far as Nicole was concerned, there was never any question that anybody else would do it. That sequence took several days to film, including the part where Virginia's body has to be dragged along by the current on the bed of the river. When you see those shots in the film, that is Nicole Kidman. "
Kidman, and the other actors, made it a point to come back in for even the smallest of insert shots. "At one point," explains Daldry, "I wanted some close-up inserts of Virginia's hand while it was writing. It seemed illogical to get anybody else to do those shots. Nicole was busy doing another film, but she came back in to London, got into costume, and we filmed her handwriting. That kind of professionalism and care from the actors was fantastic. They made huge efforts to come back in on the film after principal photography for small shots like that whenever we needed them. " Kidman, who is left-handed, learned to write with her right hand for her part, and even managed to imitate Woolf's distinctive script.
"The whole shoot was a good experience," says Ed Harris, who plays Richard, Clarissa's friend and former lover. "The set was run very, very well, with a lot of respect. It wasn't a lot of people fooling around. There was a certain demeanor which I appreciated a lot, because it was fairly intense stuff that we were working on. "
"Everyone was very focused on the work they were doing," Daldry agrees. "But it was fun, because the work was really serious. And that's what made it fun--serious fun. This was a fantastically collaborative process between all the participants. The level of collective creative investment was remarkable. All the way through, it felt like a serious team effort. And what a team to have!"
With a finished film rooted in a literary source that may be unfamiliar to many, is Daldry now concerned about "The Hours" being accessible to general audiences?
"I would hope," he says, "that if you knew nothing about Mrs. Dalloway, if you knew nothing about Virginia Woolf, that it would not make one iota of difference in your enjoyment and appreciation of this film. But people who have read Mrs. Dalloway know that it's a treasure map, and they will, I hope, find as much joy as we did in the exploration. "