Directed by Aisling Walsh, Maudie tells the story of folk artist Maud Lewis (played with both heartbreaking and heartwarming beauty by Sally Hawkins) and the unlikely romance between Maud and hardened reclusive bachelor Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). With hands crippled from arthritis, Maud’s desire for independence led her to Everett’s doorstep, and even though he was initially hesitant to hire her to help take care of his house, she soon finds herself going from painting doodles on the walls to working on canvas, and the partnership that the two develop helps turn her into a famous folk artist.
During the film’s press day, actress Sally Hawkins spoke to Collider for this 1-on-1 interview about how she came to this project, being both excited and nervous about taking on the life of Maud Lewis, the great time she had with co-star Ethan Hawke, being such a huge fan of art, and why she loves Maud Lewis’ paintings so much. She also talked about making the sequel for Paddington, with that adorable bear, and returning for Godzilla: King of Monsters.
Collider: When the possibility of stepping into the shoes of Maud Lewis came your way, were you immediately excited or immediately nervous about how you would pull it off?
SALLY HAWKINS: Both, actually, very much so. I’d worked with (director) Aisling [Walsh] before, a few years ago, and we’d stayed in touch. We’re good friends and wanted to work together, but this came out of left field when she emailed me a picture of Maud Lewis, later in her life, in her corner with her little painting table and by the window that she looked out of, and she had this incredible smile and sparkly eyes. And then, there were a few samples of her work. I immediately went, “Yes, who is she? She’s amazing and beautiful!” And then, I learned more and more about her, and this beautiful script followed, which was a two-hander, but it was real. She existed. Not that there’s much known about the intimate details, so they took artistic license with that, but I just fell in love with it.
I was incredibly excited, and then I thought, “Oh, goodness, where do I begin? How do I take that on?” You never know if it’s going to work or not, but all of the components were in place. When I read the script, all I thought of was Ethan [Hawke]. We were very, very blessed to have him. It couldn’t work without somebody that you trust, and I adore his work. We had a great time. We had to create a relationship very quickly, and I felt very lucky. You never really know if you’re getting it right. You do all of the work and all of the background, and you try to do the best prep that you can, tying all of the threads together, but once you step on set, you have to just jump and hope that you come out the other side okay.
When you’re representing someone who existed, and people knew her and loved her and had a relationship with her and friendships, they’re very passionate and protective of who she was and her art, and you have a responsibility to that. Also, people are suffering with the disease of rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis, to varying degrees. I didn’t want that to be all that you saw. She was so much more than that. Even when you’re in pain every day, it doesn’t define who you are. You just deal with it and get on with it. She was incredibly inspiring, in that way. She was quite phenomenal. They both were.
What do you think her paintings say about who she was, as a person? And did you have a favorite painting of hers?
HAWKINS: No. There were actually so many. What you get from them is a real joy. Her spirit comes out through them. There’s a wit and a humor that comes through, and makes you want to smile. A lot of people love her art because it’s so honest. It’s void of pretension and pretense. For me, I can’t stop looking at them. I just love looking at them. I’ve looked at them, long and hard, for many hours over time. I’ve found them a great excuse to step into her art and recreate it. During preparation, it was a great excuse to pick up a paintbrush. I got so much enjoyment out of that. There are so many, and I recreated a lot of her art, just for me. I started with “Three Black Cats,” and I loved doing that. I love art. I just happened to get lucky with drama, but art is a huge part of my life. I get a lot from it. I love folk art because it’s so honest. I’ve been drawn to that, all my life.
You’re returning for the sequel for Paddington. How was it for you to return to that character? Does it get any easier interacting with an adorably cute bear that isn’t there, once you’ve already done it?
HAWKINS: I don’t know if it ever gets easy, but that’s acting. Whatever it is, whether it’s a magical bear or someone who’s not there, it’s just the challenge of that. You never quite know what the challenge will be, for each film. I love working with (director) Paul King, who’s a great friend of mine. He’s incredibly creative. It’s a very different film, but not any less intimate or relatable, you hope. You want to touch people and move people. That’s when films affect people. Even if it’s a big film, you want it to be intimate and human, whether you’re dealing with an imaginary bear or not. I love film. Whatever story it is, I love it.
What made you want to return for the Godzilla sequel, Godzilla: King of Monsters? What are you looking forward to, in regard to working with director Michael Dougherty?
HAWKINS: I spoke with him the other week, and he seems really smart and excited. Going from a small, tiny, intimate indie film to Godzilla is quite a change, but it’s also the same. A camera is a camera. You’re dealing with human beings. The circumstances are quite extreme with Godzilla. I didn’t really have much to do in the first film, and I can’t tell you much [about this one]. But it’s nice to be asked back, always. It’s never guaranteed.
Since they only scratched the surface with your character in the first film, the fact that you get a chance to explore more of that in the sequel is cool.
HAWKINS: I hope so! Whether I make the final cut or not, I don’t know. Touch wood.
Maudie opens in theaters in limited release on June 16th, and nationwide in the following weeks.