She paused. “It was pretty sickening, I have to say. I hope I don’t go through anything as sickening as that in my life again. I was really, really sad for a long time. And I still am. I still miss him. I still miss having that person to talk to about everything I’m doing creatively. I’m married now, and I’m in an amazing relationship, and I’m super, super-happy. But David Wharnsby was responsible for me ever taking myself seriously as something other than an actor. That relationship will always be one of the most important of my life.”
They’re still close enough that he watched every cut of Take This Waltz, and is giving notes on her next film, a documentary about memory and storytelling that she’s editing now (it’s due out in January). “If this film had really been based on our relationship, he would have been so pissed off, I wouldn’t have had him to consult with on it,” Polley said, laughing. “There’s no freaking way I’m going to alienate him.”
But if viewers project their own feelings onto Take This Waltz, well, that’s exactly what Polley wants. “Different people seem to have fundamentally different experiences of it,” she said. “People feel very passionately that the film validates whatever their own point of view is – on long-term relationships, monogamy, what happens to romance, whether Margot and Lou should have stayed together. I’m happy about that. I feel the film’s point of view is ephemeral. I feel no judgment of Margot for doing what she does, but I’m not sure it’s the right thing.”
In fact, Polley admits she doesn’t fully understand Margot even now. “Her, her details, I don’t know exactly where they came from,” she said. “That’s why it was such a long process to cast the role. I needed someone to help me figure her out.” How can you write a movie about a character you don’t get? “I don’t know,” Polley replied, shrugging. “But Michelle [Williams]somehow understood her better than I did. She has a kind of poetry to her, such a profound intelligence, and such a genuine, self-deprecating, painful embarrassment about her. She made sense of the whole picture for me.”
A film with a not-conventionally “likeable” heroine, and without a crystal-clear point of view, is a risky thing in today’s market. Especially since Polley’s first feature, Away from Her, was such a success, earning her a Genie for best director and an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay. Polley knows this, but jumped anyway.
“I ran into a film critic about eight months after Away from Her came out,” she said. “He said, ‘Just so you know, it doesn’t matter what you do next. The reviews are already written. They’re going to say, “disappointing sophomore attempt.” So this is the moment to do whatever you want.’ It was the most liberating thing anyone ever said to me.”
She went for it, exploding bomb after bomb. First, she wrote a screenplay that flies against Happily Ever After. “I’m constantly fascinated by the contrast between what we’re told that long-term relationships are supposed to feel and look like, and what they actually are,” Polley said. “And the sense of inadequacy that I think most people have because of that.”
Second, she cast a comic actor as her co-lead, and put him through an emotional wringer. Though she didn’t know Rogen personally, she had him in mind from the earliest writing, because she knew audiences had to root for Lou to make the film work, and, “Seth has some kind of goodness that you feel come through his pores,” Polley said. She grinned. “I find him super-attractive in the film.”