Dream trip

Tara Miele and Katie Byron on time, memory and storytelling in Wander Darkly

by Jennie Kermode

Sienna Miller and Diego Luna in Wander Darkly
Sienna Miller and Diego Luna in Wander Darkly

There’s always an element of gambling involved when an already happy couple have a child. As a society, we tend to assume that it will bring them closer together and help them achieve a state of bliss, but the reality of missed sleep, constant work and having to set everything else aside to focus on the needs of an utterly unreasonable newcomer can do the opposite. Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) quickly reach a point where they’re taking the stress out on each other. Then life is interrupted by a shocking event. Only a difficult journey through their shared memories has the potential to bring them back together.

The course of love does not run smooth
The course of love does not run smooth

Memory is a tricky thing. It doesn’t always spool out in linear order, and attempts to disentangle it can lead to unexpected shifts in perspective. When we met at a press event a couple of months ago, I asked director Tara Miele if, for her, this resembled the process of filmmaking itself.

“You know, I would say that's a very astute observation,” she responded. “I think the older I get and the longer I'm working as a creative person, the more I feel like my job as an artist is to become the most me and the most observant of my inner awareness as possible, and the most grounded as possible. So so I think they're indelibly connected actually, like the process of being an artist and tthe process of being, like, a whole-hearted person, which is sort of what Adrienne is trying to do with what she goes through. I think those things are the exact same thing.

“I also am just obsessed with the power of story and how we narrativise our own lives, and how what we say to ourselves about our past determines our future. And so maybe for me as a storyteller, understanding the power of story changes who I am as a person, and how I maybe want to narrativise my own life and what stories I tell about myself, and what stories I foresee myself living out in the future, what sort of possibilities.”

In the apartment
In the apartment

Also present is production designer Katie Byron. We talked about how, often, much of the job of production design involves telling us who characters are at a particular moment in time. What was it like for her to tell Adrienne and Matteo’s story over time and to look at the way their environments changed over that time?

“Well, yeah, so we see their home. We see a variety of different books and CDs that they’ve bought as a couple together, we see the couple together with the addition of the baby, we see, obviously, the modern time with Adrienne at home. And, you know, we talked a lot about how much things to clean. And there is quite a lot, like, if you were to pause the frame, the things that you would see would evolve and change. When the baby comes, things are a bit more chaotic. I remember it was like, we were always working with a schedule where we were always on our feet, moving things back and forth between different scenes. And so it was like, you know, this is this period of time, and we'd run in and move things around. We were really limited by the schedule to do, like, crazy changes, but they are subtle and they're in there.

Out on the boat
Out on the boat

“I love how there were times where Brad [Frizzell], our dresser, would be like ‘Matteo’s shoes or by the door, because I just don't think he would have like, moved them.’ You know, like, they're there. There was such deep thought – even like, I think, the plant, he never changed it or watered it in the bedroom. So that stuff we did shoot mostly in order, so that really worked. I mean, there's a lot, a lot of art department work. And the detail, the level of detail is really incredible, like what books are on their nightstand.

“Adrienne [García, the set decorator] had a lot to do that with that too, because she's from the same area of Mexico that we thought Matteo should be from. So the textiles are very specific. And even Sienna and Diego were involved in a little bit of that conversation. And, yeah, lots and lots of thought. I think that one thing that's great about when it's mostly one location, you are relieved because all of your work will be seen, you know that every single corner will be shown. I mean, our team likes to be detail oriented, even if we only catch a little glimpse at it, but it felt really great that we could just put tonnes and tonnes of love into this particular set. And I think it really lends for the actors to to do their best.”

Wander Darkly poster
Wander Darkly poster

With so much for everybody to keep track of, the actors found support from lengthy backstories which Tara wrote for them. I asked if they contributed to that aspect of character development themselves.

She nods. “We had a really wonderful week of rehearsals, Diego and Sienna and, I before we started shooting, which is so rare on a film of this budget. We spent a lot of time building the two of them together, building some real physical history. So like, when they pull themselves forehead to forehead the way they do, that they created as ‘This is something we do.’ And I think that's really powerful. And they also were so vulnerable to me about losses they've had in their lives and any sort of like sort of supernatural or ghost experience or premonition experience.

“We just had a lot of time talking about what we don't know and how sometimes those moments have deep instinct, or trauma or whatever you want to call it, and change your whole life. And I wouldn't share anything that they shared with me personally, but I think that kind of vulnerability really bled into their relationship so that they've known each other a long time. But it mimicked their onscreen relationship in that Sienna needed to be very untethered, in order to portray a dream being so not lucid, and Diego sort of became a rock for her, so that she could be that way. So that was really their dynamic, that was perfect, it was just what it needed to be.”

Katie went on to work on the new Olivia Wild movie Don’t Worry Darling, beginning in July, whilst Tara has had two major projects on the go.

“Right before leading up to finance I'd worked a ton and been out of town a ton shooting. And so I didn't want to take the first six months of 2020 off anyway, it wasn't exactly what I intended, so I've been developing. I am writing and directing a movie about a Carol Burnett play, that Tina Fey is producing. So we'll drag these two ladies along for that when that is actually written. And I'm excited about that. And then I'm also developing a limited series with the same producers that did Wander Darkly, that's called The Penny Saver. That is about – my mom was a like a late blooming feminist in the Eighties. She was a Catholic schoolgirl who popped out two kids and then read Gloria Steinem and thought ‘Oh, shit.’ She got a job working as a reporter, so it's a story inspired by that.”

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