Mona Fastvold is the Norwegian-born filmmaker who directed 2014’s The Sleepwalker and scripted her partner Brady Corbet’s The Childhood of a Leader. With The World To Come, she directs Katherine Waterston as Abigail and Vanessa Kirby as Tallie, two farmers’ wives living in harsh rural conditions in 1850s America. The pair soon develop a tender and loving relationship away from their husbands.
ASFF: How did The World To Come develop?
MF: It’s based on a short story by Jim Shepard, same title. He and Ron Hansen wrote the screenplay together. Then they invited me in to keep developing and really just gave me so much freedom to make it my own story, which is really incredible.
ASFF: What did you like about the short story?
MF: It was so compelling to me. That is why I just immediately wanted to do it. But I think particularly the language was so exciting and beautiful, and then I saw this potential for how I wanted to tell the story. All of a sudden, I had these very clear images that I wanted to make right away. I had these structural ideas that were very clear to me. I knew what I wanted to do with the love scene, I knew what I wanted to do with all this voiceover. Upon reading the script, I was like: ‘Oh, I have to expand on this notion. I am itching to shoot that image of Abigail being tied by the waist with a rope to the farm, and then disappearing in and out of the whiteness. I must make that!’
ASFF: How did you find shooting in Romania?
MF: It was really challenging. We were up in the mountains and it was very remote. We started shooting in two sections as well, which is always very difficult on a smaller production like this. We had to enhance a lot of the weather too. I wanted it to feel as harsh and challenging as it would have been at the time period, obviously. I felt very grateful to my crew and cast for taking that journey with us. The exciting thing about the Romanian mountains, in that particular area, is that they don’t use hardly any machinery at all for farming. So the environment… looks very much of the period because they cleared the land by hand so it still has big roots and rocks.
ASFF: What drew you to casting Katherine?
MF: I’ve been such a fan of hers. I think she has a lot of filmmakers who are just drawn to her because of her performances… but you always feel like there’s all this stuff going on. You really just lean in. She is so tall as well and looks strong and powerful but at the same time, she’s got this incredible vulnerability to her. For me it was couldn’t be anyone else but her for that character. I loved her in Inherent Vice for example, she’s so good in that role. So different from this. You hardly recognise her from role to role. She just disappears into it completely.
ASFF: Did everyone start living like they were in the 1850s during the shoot?
MF: We had a couple of days, a farm workshop when everybody came. Katherine spent a lot of time learning to milk cows so she was up early in the morning, milking for our farmer neighbour’s cow. Because we were working so remotely and had a small crew, everyone helped with cooking, cleaning and carrying equipment. Sometimes it was just too muddy for us to bring something over with a car.
The World To Come is available in cinemas from 23 July. For more details click here.