Article from Vanity Fair
Writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal breaks down the moment in which Olivia Colman’s Leda finally reveals a long-held truth—and the screenplay diverges significantly from the Elena Ferrante novel it’s based on.
What is Leda (Olivia Colman) hiding in The Lost Daughter? What is it about her past that is haunting her as she vacations in Greece? In this pivotal confession from Leda to Nina (Dakota Johnson), the young mother who’s become Leda’s obsession, the central piece of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s cinematic puzzle clicks into place.
Based on Elena Ferrante’s novel, The Lost Daughter (Netflix) honors the thematic core of its source material while charting its own path in crucial ways. Gyllenhaal, making her feature writing and directing debut, rigorously twists this story of maternal ambivalence into her own creation. This scene’s reveal—that Leda abandoned her young children for years, initially to pursue an affair—arrives much earlier in the book, more as dramatic setup. Gyllenhaal realized that to preserve the tension of her film, she needed to hold it as long as possible. “It really threw my entire script into shambles,” she says of the shift. “But out of that cracking it up came the space where I started to come through.”
Filmed in intimate, moving close-ups with the actors, the sequence is at once agonizing and heartbreaking. Gyllenhaal, Oscar-nominated for her script, walked us through executing it on the fly—both on the page and for the screen.
Filming in a crowded flea market offered Gyllenhaal and D.P. Hélène Louvart an authentic way of staging a suddenly, intensely intimate conversation. Says Louvart, “[You’re] walking, stopping, walking, stopping—it was a way to trap her.”
A prop mishap involving the pin that Leda fastens on Nina’s hat required adjusting the scene as originally envisioned due to budget constraints. “We had no time, and we lost a whole lot in the morning,” Gyllenhaal says. “This scene did not really come to life until we shifted it and cut it quite a lot in the editing room.”
An earlier scene in the film, when Leda becomes dizzy in a toy store, is tellingly referenced here by Gyllenhaal: “In the book, this reveal happens in the toy store. I loved that you know that she’s left her kids, and then you have to live with her for more than half of the book. That’s originally how I structured the script.”
“We shot every single take all the way through,” Gyllenhaal says. “That’s important for a scene like this—I don’t think you end with Olivia doing this beautiful work if we just pop in on a close-up of her. Not every take looked like this. There were takes where she was totally stoic, takes where she was angry.”
Leda unburdens herself unexpectedly after Nina checks in on her. In the book, “she doesn’t even know it’s going to happen,” Gyllenhaal says. Similarly, in the film, “it’s not like it’s a planned confession or something. It just comes out of her.”