HBO’s new five-part miniseries Mildred Pierce is based on James M Cain’s 1941 novel about a proud single mother (played by Kate Winslet) struggling to earn her daughter’s love during the Great Depression in Los Angeles.
The two most important relationships in Mildred’s life are with her upper class boyfriend, Monty, played by Guy Pearce, and the turbulent one she has with her daughter, Veda, portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood, who yearns for a life unlike her mother’s.
Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood stopped by the TV Critics Association to speak with us about their new project.
Did you have a rehearsal period on this miniseries?
Guy Pearce: Yes, which is not what you get on every film that you work on. It always surprised me on films that you don’t rehearse because you really are discovering what you can once the cameras have already rolled, which often feels too late.
So to even have a week or two to just sort a few things out beforehand means that the edge is definitely taken off it, not that it made it any easier for Kate.
Wasn’t there a lot of preparation for you before the miniseries began shooting?
Evan Rachel Wood: The preparation for the film was difficult, [between] the ‘30s dialect, having to learn opera in three different languages and having to learn the piano.
Guy: [I had a lot of preparation] having to have my mustache trimmed!
Can you talk a little about Monty’s character and what it was like playing him?
Guy: It was delightful playing Monty. He’s somebody who really is pleasure-seeking. He’s had everything pretty much that he’s ever wanted in life. Financially he’s never struggled. And I think having been brought up in a particular world which is very different to what Mildred has experienced, he just doesn’t struggle with the same things that Mildred does.
On some level, the coming together of these two people is one of the things that I found quite fascinating, because he obviously sees this woman who is very attractive, very able, and I think just doesn’t have the pretensions or brittleness that perhaps other people in his class might have.. So there’s something appealing about her and meeting her at this point in her life. At any other time they may not have been drawn together.
Can you tell us your take on Veda?
Evan: Oh, wow. Yeah, Veda. That character almost killed me. She’s just warped at such an early age, especially because it does take place during the depression that there’s such a focus on class and money, and I think it just gets to her in this way that she obsesses over just getting out and being in that upper class, and not being like her mother.
It would have been so easy to play her as just this bratty daughter that everyone hates, but I think there are so many different levels to her, and she’s so complex and she’s too smart for her own good and too manipulative. She sees her mother’s flaws and weaknesses and she knows how to pray upon them, especially because it teeters on that line of, ‘Can you love your child too much?’ If you love them too much, do you smother them and is it for selfish reasons?
Are you loving them because you’re trying to live vicariously though them, and therefore, they lose themselves? They don’t know who they are anymore, and then they feel like nothing is ever going to be good enough.
What is Monty’s relationship with Veda like?
Guy: Obviously the relationship [with Mildred] develops and the strange twist about all of this is she has this daughter who is far more like somebody from Monty’s world. So it’s very easy for Money to relate to the daughter from very early on, even when she’s very young. I think she’s 11 when Monty first comes into Mildred’s life.
I think we see the childlike quality in Monty brought to the surface very quickly because he’s able to relate to these kids like a kid himself. The upper class person that he is, [Veda] wishes that she was from, and on some level it’s like she’s from another world, and she’s been born into the wrong family.
So it’s a very strange, twisted little trio. But for me personally, it was a delight to play such a character, obviously so well written and in [director] Todd Haynes’ hand, he makes you feel very capable of doing what it is that he’s cast you for. So it was a real delight.