I was invited to sit down with Holliday Grainger (The Borgias, Bonnie & Clyde, Cinderella), for a round table interview to promote her upcoming film, Disney’s The Finest Hours.
In addition to Grainger, The Finest Hours also stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, Wonder Woman), Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Interstellar), Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand, Pandorum, Warcraft), and Eric Bana (Hulk, Star Trek).
The Finest Hours was directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, United States of Tara, Fright Night) with the screenplay written by Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile), Paul Tamasy (The Fighter), and Eric Johnson (The Fighter), based on the book by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias.
The film is based on the true story of four Coast Guard Officers who, against the advice of many, venture out into a fierce nor’easter storm in 1952, in order to try and save a crew of over thirty men who are stranded on their 500-foot oil tanker, which has been, literally, cut in half.
Grainger plays Miriam, a confident, young, telephone operator and the fiancé of Coast Guard Officer, Bernie Webber (played by Pine).
While Bernie goes off on this daring mission, Miriam, understandably terrified, must wait as patiently as she possibly can for him to return safely. However, Miriam is not exactly the “wait helplessly by the phone” kind of girl.
As Grainger says, Miriam is incredibly “self-assured” and she isn’t afraid to stir things up on land while she anxiously awaits news about the love of her life.
It was a lot of fun to talk to Grainger about making The Finest Hours and bringing Miriam to life on screen. She also said some very insightful and exciting things about solid female characters and roles for women in Hollywood.
Question: How difficult or easy was it to make this character come alive? Because, traditionally, in the 50s when this film takes place, the woman would just sit home and worry.
Holliday Grainger: [Director Craig Gillespie], definitely, from the offset, did not want that to be the case. I don’t think it does a movie or a story justice to have any character who isn’t fully rounded. So just because she isn’t part of the main action, why wouldn’t the girl be a fully complete character?
I don’t quite understand that movie making tradition.
I think she was definitely flushed out by the relationship with Miriam and Bernie which is real, as well as the events that take place on both of the ships and the small boat.
The Miriam that was written was very much based on the real woman and, so, for me, it was then important to get a full sense of that–
Miriam was quite a private person and her daughter [, whom I met,] wanted to respect that by not showing me any footage. So I never got to see anything apart from photographs of Miriam but it was just the idea of getting to understand how much she meant to her family and what a huge amount of love and respect was had for this woman who was definitely that matriarch of her family. – Strong and determined and warm and loving.
Question: How much modernization was brought to this character if any?
Holliday Grainger: Well, actually, the kind of old movies that I watched before doing this movie, mainly for the accent, were a lot of Katharine Hepburn movies. And she was as modern—or even more modern and fully rounded – than a lot of women characters in movies now.
If you put down a Katharine Hepburn movie in front of any actress now, [the actress] is not going to think, “Oh, that’s kind of an old school point of view of women.”
I think it’s far more refreshing than a lot of scripts you read now actually!
I think the thing about Miriam that stands out as being quite modern is that her self-assuredness and instinct makes her unafraid to defy any social convention. So she’s not afraid to propose because it feels right. And she’s not afraid to go talk to her fiancé’s boss because it feels right to her.
And so her instincts definitely override any respect or thought for social convention. But I think that if a woman nowadays would do that, it would still seem quite as shocking and strong so, in that respect, I think it’s pretty timeless.
Question: Finding strong female characters can be rare nowadays–What do you hope young woman will take away from this character that you helped bring to life?
Holliday Grainger: There is a real difference between being a strong woman and it being a strong female character. You can write strongly for a woman— She doesn’t have to be strong in herself. You can write a very strong character for a very weak woman. I think that is two very different things.
Actually, in the last year, I’ve read so many scripts with women in parts that, just a few years ago, would have been automatically filled by men. So I think it is getting better.
I think lots of young people can take a lot from both the male and female parts. Like Bernie has so much honesty and integrity and there is no facade of falsehood to the men, the heroes of this movie. Their morals and their values are strong they see them through. And I think that’s what’s so attractive about them.
And the same with Miriam – It’s like, what’s attractive about her is that she’s so self-assured and she goes with her instincts but at the same time, she cares about people and has a warmth.
Question: Is the approach to playing a character like Bonnie Parker very different than the approach to playing a character like Miriam? Because they are both very aggressive.
Holliday Grainger: I don’t think Miriam was aggressive. I think she’s far more warm than she is aggressive but she’s self-assured. And Bonnie – Bonnie in our Bonnie and Clyde was totally different. So I approached them in completely different ways.
Bonnie was such a pop heroine of the time. She was very into the fashion of the time. So, for her, I watched a lot of old movies and was constantly listening to the music that she would have been listening to at the time. She was all about façade.
And Miriam is totally the opposite – She’s all about what’s inside and what matters.
Question: Do you enjoy playing women in different time periods?
Holliday Grainger: I haven’t purposefully gone out to do different periods but it’s a lot of fun when you get to play different time periods. You can go from the 1500s to the 1950s to the 1920s to Victorian England – It’s a whole extra level of mindset and character and values that you can research and look into and it makes the job a lot more interesting.
Question: There is an old-movie quality to the film. How did that impact your performance?
Holliday Grainger: I think a lot of that has to do with hair and makeup and costume. Once you put that on it transports you physically. For me, I don’t ever really think about the physicality of the character; I think about the psychology. As soon as you put on the clothes, that kind of automatically alters your physicality.
Question: Well that Bear Coat must have been a lot of fun!
Holliday Grainger: Oh it was!
Question: It looked so cozy!
Holliday Grainger: It was! It was the only time I was warm in the entire shoot!
Question: Why could you not have had the Bear Coat in the car scene?!
Holliday Grainger: I know!!!
Question: When I saw that, I thought, “That poor girl!” And we heard that it was really freezing when you filmed that scene!
Holliday Grainger: Yeah!
Question: Was it really snowing?
Holliday Grainger: No! I kept forgetting that it wasn’t snowing because it was that cold!
Question: What do you feel that Miriam saw in Bernie?
Holliday Grainger: She didn’t see anything, she heard!
(Everyone laughs— **Grainger is referring to the fact that Miriam and Bernie spoke for months on the phone before ever meeting!)
I think what we see in the movie, and then what we fall in love with, is that integrity and that total—who he is! The morals, the values, the integrity and I think she had a lot of respect for that.
Obviously, as soon as she heard that, she knew that was the father of her children.
Question: Bernie is incredibly brave and heroic in his professional life yet very mild-mannered in his personal life– And even though his colleagues are saying that Miriam is wearing the pants in their relationship when they find out that she initiated their marriage proposal, he doesn’t seem to really mind.
Holliday Grainger: I think you’ve got to have a lot of strength in your own masculinity, particularly in this time period, to be able to allow a woman to be making those kinds of decisions without letting it offend your pride.
And I think that’s the attractive thing about Bernie. [Miriam’s] coming from the most warm and loving place when she proposes. It’s nothing about a false perception of roles—I think there are actually a lot more similarities between Miriam and Bernie than you think — which are common values and morals and not being afraid to be yourself and not trying to show anything that’s false.
Question: Several characters in the film warn Miriam about falling in love with and marrying a man who is in the Coast Guard. So why doesn’t she listen to them?
Holliday Grainger: I think the changing point for her is realizing that, when she meets Carl Nickerson, what a strong community it is and how much people care and that Bernie is out there to save people’s lives. And what a huge effect it had when he wasn’t able to save someone’s life. And seeing that showed her that it would be selfish to step out of that. And so there is a definite pride that he’s out there risking his own life.
If you are interested, you can check out my film review of The Finest Hours and my interview with awesome director Craig Gillespie here!