Sarah Polley Talks ‘Take This Waltz’

Sarah Polley Talks ‘Take This Waltz’
“I wanted to make a film about
the concept of emptiness”
by Peter Knegt
June 29, 2012
Post Created
by “the secret keeper”

Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley

“I feel like this film does raise questions that can be uncomfortable for people,” Sarah Polley told Indiewire about her second directorial effort, “Take This Waltz.” “About familiarity and passion… and whether those things are mutually exclusive. That’s been really interesting to get to listen to the conversations that come out of that and hear the debates that break out in terms of which characters people sympathize with and which ones they don’t.”

Those conversations and debates are about to be heard across North America as “Waltz” makes its theatrical debut this weekend, nine months after it premiered in Polley’s hometown at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Undeniable in its authenticity and perception, the film is Polley’s follow-up to her universally acclaimed directorial debut, “Away From Her” (which earned her an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay). Based on her first original feature script, it stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a 28-year-old aspiring writer married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chicken cookbook author who clearly adores her. But their relationship is somewhat stagnant despite its sweetness, and Margot is definitely not entirely satisfied — with Lou, or with anything. Enter sexy artist Daniel (Luke Kirby), who she meets and flirts with on a work trip only to find out he lives across the street. And of course, trouble ensues.

In said trouble Polley approaches a common cinematic theme — love versus lust and why we make the decision to stay or leave a relationship; all with an intelligent, heartfelt spirit essentially extinct from Hollywood romantic comedies. When it all comes together, it’s difficult to avoid feeling awed by Polley’s gently profound musings on love, life, and how we often selfishly handle both.

Sarah Polley on the set of "Take This Waltz"

Sarah Polley on the set of “Take This Waltz”

“I wanted to make a film about the concept of emptiness and about life having a gap in it,” Polley said of the film. “I had this idea of having the film beginning and ending with the same image of a woman sweltering hot in kitchen, content but feeling like there was something essential missing. A kind of feeling of emptiness hanging over her. All I knew about the film was that it would begin and end with that image and that in between we would see her try and upend her entire life to try and avoid that very feeling.”

Polley said that secondary to that came the idea of making a film about relationships and romantic desire.

“We blame that feeling of emptiness very often on our romantic relationships or our lack thereof,” she said.

Despite a lot of raw emotion on display, Polley insists the film’s is not at all autobiographical.

“I feel like I connect to all of these characters very equally and that I’ve been bits of all these characters at various points in my life,” she said. “I feel like everyone who sees the film seems to connect to one character over another. It’s interesting to me. Some people love Michelle’s character and some people really hate her. Some people love Seth Rogen’s character. Other people think she should have left him years ago. It doesn’t seem to me like there’s an obvious point of view in terms of the characters.”

There also aren’t any obvious answers in terms of the narrative. Polley never relies on convention to explore her story. It isn’t tied all up with a perfect ending, nor does it bring resolve to the questions it asks. And there are many: Why do we always want something new over what we already have? And why don’t we actually go for it? Are we simply afraid of being afraid? Is monogamy even possible? Do sex and love really go hand in hand? Is love even real?

Take This Waltz in France

Take This Waltz in France

“Because the film wasn’t specifically personal to me in terms of the story,” Polley said, “it sort of just felt like making any other film where it’s talking about things or saying things you’re interesting in spreading conversation about.”

Another topic of conversation likely to spread from “Waltz” is the way it uniquely approaches sexuality. The film has many scenes of explicit nudity, including some incredibly sexy moments between Williams and Kirby. But it also explores nudity without a romantic context, particularly in one scene where Williams and a bunch of other women of all sizes and ages are showering after a swim in the pool.

“A lot of the film is about sexual restlessness and sexual desire,” Polley said. “I didn’t want to shy away from it. I certainly didn’t want to shy away from the human body. But I also wanted to avoid some of the cliches that I’ve seen in films like this before. The shower scene for me was a way of combatting some of that stuff. I feel like whenever we see the female body in films — at least in North American, English-speaking films — I do feel the female body is either objectified or made fun of, depending on what age it is. I just wanted to — since I was going to be showing the human body in a sexual context anyway — show it in a more everyday way as well without too much comment.”

Polley also wanted to show something equally underrepresented on the big screen: Her hometown. “Take This Waltz” is a rare high-profile film not only shot in Toronto, but set there. Save “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” it’s hard to find an example of a Toronto-set film with well-known actors and a considerable American release.

“It was really important for me to have Toronto play a central character in the film and to really feel the texture of the city in the summer,” she said. “I wanted to show Toronto through the romantic goggles I see it. I feel there’s a lot about Toronto in the film that is real and is what I love about the city… and a lot of it is a little bit of a fairy tale about Toronto.”

Polley certainly doesn’t hold back in showcasing this love, fairy tale or real. There’s a trip to Toronto’s Royal Cinema, coffee in Kensington Market, a glimpse of the CN Tower… At one point, Margot and Lou are watching Canadian TV news coverage of the the minor earthquake that hit Ottawa a year or so back. Margot even constantly carries around a Pages Bookstore tote (the iconic Toronto bookstore that went under last year), and her and Daniel share poutine during an afternoon in Toronto’s The Beach neighbourhood.

“It does have Canadianisms and Toronto stuff in it but at the same time what I think is funny is that I didn’t intentionally slather it with Canadian references,” Polley laughed. “I just feel like we’re so used to seeing Toronto disguised that as soon as someone doesn’t disguise it seems like it’s incredibly self-conscious. I feel like I wasn’t incredibly self-conscious about making it overly Canadian. I think I just didn’t try to avoid it being Canadian.”

Polley is currently spending most of her time in Canada focusing on her latest project: Motherhood. Her daughter was born earlier this year, and recent press for “Waltz” has been the first time she’s been, uh, away from her.

“Right now I’m not juggling anything,” she said. “I’m just staying at home with my baby. So it’s quite easy. This is the only time I’ve had away from her since she’s been born. But generally, I’m not a workaholic. I feel like I do kind of one thing at a time and I do them kind of slowly. I don’t do a lot of juggling. I feel I’m interested in a lot of different things but I tend to do them all kind of separately and in their own space.”

But Polley has optioned Margaret Atwood’s novel “Alias Grace,” and confirmed she had begun working on the screenplay before giving birth.

“When I return to work that’ll be what I do first,” Polley said.

We can’t wait. In the meantime, “Take This Waltz” opens in theaters this Friday. (Is available in DVD as of the writing of this Post on Sarah Polley. 01.07.13)

“Take This Waltz” writer/director Sarah Polley in Studio Q

Take This Waltz-Interview with Writer/Director Sarah Polley

7 thoughts on “Sarah Polley Talks ‘Take This Waltz’

    • “Sarah Polley quoted this in the interview. She didn’t agree or disagree. I love the feeling of being in love or feeling love. It is a very powerful feeling. Can it burn you out? No, I think it energizes you and it enlivens your creativity and brings alive your muse to an ultimately high level.” jk


  1. Listened to the first interview. Sounds like a very good movie about relationships. I have enjoyed watching Sarah Polley grow from a child actress on the Disney program Avonlea (sequel to Anne of Green Gables in the 1980s) to a respected director. Thank you for the interview and the video clips. I will look forward to seeing the movie that I wasn’t aware of.


    • i did the same with Sarah. My partner told me about a show called Avonlea. She didn’t think I’d like it but I was hookd from the moment I started watching. Sarah Polley was so brilliant as Sara Stanley. If I ever had a human child (lots of animal children) she would have been quite welcomed. Wasn’t that a brilliant interview she did. Her insight into the making of the film was so perfect. She is so enlightened. The film is quite thought provoking. I have different feelings on the ending but the rarity of finding a good film being made today and one that is relatable is “Take This Waltz.” When I found the title I put it on my Netflix queue and then discovered that Sarah had written and directed it. I was so enthused about watching it and turning it into my first film review for the secret keeper. Good choice, I believe. Read the top part of my review before the poster and it will give you my feelings. Don’t read the synopsis until after you have seen the film, if you do want to read at all. It was a good exercise for me but probably will do a bit differently in the next film I pick. I am pleased I found this film and delighted that you are going to check it out. You’ll have to let me know what your reaction is. Would love to know. I am also a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables. Loved Mirella & her brother Matthew. The whole series was wonderful to follow. I believe I saw the complete newer version. Green Gables and Avonlea. Both quite addicting. jk


      • I look forward to seeing the film. Little Sarah Stanley was a very bright little girl, so I’m not surprised that the she is directing very meaningful and thought provoking movies. I agree, I felt she was very enlightened. I read your review, but it won’t impact me. My guess it will be in the art theaters, but I hope it’s in the main theaters. It was a cold day here, so your post prompted me to play Anne of Greene Gables while I was working on bills.


        • I believe I watched Anne of Green Gables, at least part of it, sometime over the past year. Whenever PBS shows it I check in on it. And I beleive we have it in out DVD collection and VHS. Lucy Mauf Montgomery is a marvellous writer. If I am not mistaken I even have some of her writing on my kindle. The Story Girl, which I think is about Sara Stanley. A good way to spend the time if yiu have to do the bills. I saw “Take This Waltz” on Netflix so I think that means it probably is avaliable in DVD. Now I am not absolutely certain about that but you might want to check that out. Thank you for reading my review. It gets rather specific in certain sections. That was not for shock value. It’s actually a very intense scene in the film. I am definitely going to watch again without the film reviewer’s hat on so that I can enjoy more thorougly without trying to be on the alert for specifics that I might want to add in my write up. Enjoy when you get your chance to watch it. If you don’t have Netflix, I highly recommend it. My favorite part is that I have so many choices of British TV and films. Love being an Anglophile. jk


  2. Pingback: Next up at Splendid Cinema: Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2012) on 10 February | splendidcinema

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