Director Julia Hart couldn’t stop thinking about Tuesday Weld. She had just watched Michael Mann’s 1981 thriller “Thief” and Weld’s character Jessie had taken over her imagination. Where did she and the baby go? What was going through her mind?
In some ways, Jessie is just the girlfriend. She’s there to up the stakes for the main character and exits the frame when the action begins. It’s not uncommon in the genre. Just think of Michael Corleone closing the door on Kay at the end of “The Godfather.”
But, Hart thought, what if we followed the woman instead of the man? It wouldn't be revisionist or corrective, just a different path. And it was the beginning of the yearslong process of creating “I’m Your Woman,” which turns the lens on the suburban housewife who has to go on the run with a new baby when her criminal husband disappears. The film starring Rachel Brosnahan opens in select theaters Friday and will be available on Amazon Prime Video on Dec. 11.
“It’s not like I want ‘Thief’ to have followed Jessie,” Hart said. “The movie was so good that I couldn’t stop thinking about this character and the story of all these women. In these crime dramas, even though the women weren’t the main characters, they were amazing characters. They were complex and flawed and interesting and well performed and well written. They just didn’t get their own movie...That’s what inspired me to create Jean.”
Hart and her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz, got to work writing the script. And when Amazon Studio heads, who had been impressed with her superhero drama “Fast Color," asked what they wanted to make next, they had this ready to go.
And after a meeting with Brosnahan, she knew she’d found her Jean.
“She’s such a chameleon,” Hart said. “And she feels like a real woman. I think a lot of the women in the 70s movies did as well — not like someone who had been airbrushed and made to look perfect.”
The “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star was all in. Despite her successes over the past few years, she’d been frustrated by the “one-dimensional” roles that were coming her way. Jean was a refreshing departure from that.
“Jean is a quiet woman’s action hero. That’s something that I’ve never seen before,” Brosnahan said. “And it’s a really nontraditional look at motherhood. Motherhood is more often than not, not the picture perfect journey we see on Instagram.”
The shoot was going to be hard. Hart knew she’d have her work cut out for herself directing her first car chase and big club scene with hundreds of background actors. But the biggest challenge would be the fact that they’d decided to work with real babies, who in the process of the chronological shoot would go from 6 to 8 months in age.
“I am constantly frustrated by how people treat babies like they’re not people both in real life and on film — like it’s fine to have a fake baby or it’s fine to have four different babies playing the same character,” Hart said. “We knew it was a big risk, but we felt like it was one worth taking. We wanted to commit to making the baby a character in the film who you could connect to and know.”
It added stress and time restrictions but also beauty and spontaneity to the shoot.
“There were times when things happened with those babies that we never could have expected,” Brosnahan said. “And that added a layer of magic to certain scenes.”
In one tense scene where Jean’s home is broken into and she has to hide in the closet and make a desperate phone call, the baby unexpectedly fell asleep in her arms.
“It added this layer of urgency,” Brosnahan said.
And although Hart is proud of the action sequences, the mother of two does not remember feeling more joy and exhilaration than knowing that they got a shot of the baby sleeping.
“Getting a baby to fall asleep in its period costume, in its period crib at the time when you’re scheduled to shoot it is a bit of a miracle,” Hart said.
There are exactly two of those miracle shots in the finished film.
Brosnahan also took on a different kind of role in “I’m Your Woman:" as producer. She’d been thinking about it for some time, “looking for a way to carve out a path for myself.” And she’s immensely grateful to Hart and Horowitz for giving her the opportunity.
“This is such a literal example, but most of the time you show up on the set as an actor having never seen what could be your house, the character’s house that they have lived in 30 years. And you’re showing up on day one and trying to pretend you’ve lived there for 30 years,” she said.
As a producer, she was involved in everything from script development to location scouting. When she showed up to her character’s house this time, she knew it already.
“It made me a better actor,” she said.
Hart has spent most of her career as a writer and filmmaker trying to convince studios that stories about women are worth telling. After years of fighting, she's finally starting to see the change.
“The studios are starting to really take female filmmakers and filmmakers of color more seriously,” Hart said. “It’s not just lip service anymore.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr