For the pivotal scene in which Lou, freshly heartbroken, pours out his pain, Polley trained her digital camera on Rogen in close-up, and filmed for three hours. Without cutting. “I wanted it to be as brutal as it is, if you’re the person on the other side of that conversation and you can’t look away,” she said. “I also wanted to have an unblinking eye on the chaos of your emotions when someone breaks up with you. And since Seth hadn’t done that kind of dramatic work before I didn’t want to miss a second of what it was for that seal to get broken.”
Some of Rogen’s torrent was scripted, some not. “Some things were emotionally shocking to be there for,” Polley said. “When he said, ‘I thought you were going to be there when I died,’ all of us kind of looked down. The focus puller was crying, the camera operator was blinking and blinking away tears.” They cut three hours down to two minutes, the longest they worked on any scene in editing.
The third bomb Polley exploded: She got her actresses to do full-frontal nudity, but not in a sex scene. “A lot of the film is about sexuality, how mercurial it is, how erratic and unpredictable. It felt weird to me to shy away from the body,” Polley said. “At the same time, I didn’t want to do anything that objectified anybody.” As a member of the YMCA, Polley is used to the scene in the communal shower, where naked women chat casually to one another. She’d long pondered how something so normal in life would be startling on film, and decided to write a shower scene into Take This Waltz.
“Generally, when I’ve done nudity, it’s very controlled, it’s very specific about what you’re going to see, and it’s usually looking really sexy,” said Polley, who’s been taking a break from acting of late. (“I don’t know what my relationship with acting is any more,” she said. “I might be really interested in it again, but it’s not my priority. My priority is writing and making films.”) But she wanted her shower scene to feel casual, with no limits on what could be seen. Williams and co-stars Sarah Silverman and Jennifer Podemski agreed to go for it.
On the shooting day, however, the actresses were anxious – photos of them in costume in bathing suits had appeared the day before on the Internet, along with the usual snarky comments. Polley offered to scrap the scene. “There’s a certain feminist aspect to it that would be subverted if anyone felt pressure to do it,” she said. “But it turned into this roaring, ‘No! We’re doing it!’ Everyone was super on-board.”
The result is like the rest of the film: brimming with a raw honesty that makes us realize how unreal most movies are about women and relationships. “If we were to take anybody who we think is strong and together, likeable and rational, and see them alone in the confines of their long-term relationship, we would see a bit of a mess, and someone they’re not necessarily proud to be,” Polley said. “I wanted to not shy away from that. I wanted to see Margot’s mess. It’s really in romantic relationships where we show our most embarrassing selves.”
So yes, the film is about Polley. Because it’s about all of us.