“Eileen,” a darkly funny thriller that premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, offers two killer roles for Anne Hathaway and Thomasine McKenzie as a psychologist and a prison secretary who are drawn together in unexpected ways. But the film carries an emotional resonance for Hathaway, she revealed to the crowd during a post-screening Q&A.
“I just remember when I started acting and had to do press the first question I was asked was: Are you a good girl or a bad girl?” Dr. Hathaway. “I’m 16. And my 16-year-old self wanted to respond with this picture.”
Hathaway said she decided to sign up for “Eileen” after seeing director William Oldroyd’s acclaimed 2016 drama “Lady Macbeth,” which starred Florence Pugh as a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage to a much older man.
“I thought it was a tremendous job,” Hathaway said. “I saw a study of female complexity that struck me really, really deeply, and I felt that Will was a filmmaker who could be trusted to tell complex stories, especially about women.”
As Hathaway plays a mysterious doctor who forms a homoerotic bond with a fellow prison worker, McKenzie, a young woman forced to care for her alcoholic father, may be the film’s most surprising twist. This is partly due to his on-screen Massachusetts accent. It is a dialect that has produced many skilled performers, although a Mackenzie nail has to overcome some geographical barriers.
“I love my accent,” McKenzie said. “I’m a very proud New Zealander, but I find it quite confusing myself.”
On set, whether it was in “Eileen” or “Last Night at Soho,” where she had an impeccable English accent, McKenzie said she spoke in her character’s voice for the duration of the shoot.
“It’s really funny at the end of a job when I break out my Kiwi accent and the crew is like what is that?” she said.
“Eileen” was adapted for the screen by Otessa Moshfegh and Luke Goebel (“Causeway”), authors of the novel of the same name. Moshfegh, who has become a literary sensation with acclaimed works like “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” and “Lapvona”, said he hopes to direct a film one day.
As for Oldroyd, he says he believed “Eileen” could move from page to screen in parts because of its unique tone.
“I love…dark, weird, weird stories,” he said.
Others may like it. “Eileen” hopes to leave Sundance with distribution, and the Eccles Theater where it premiered was packed with studio executives. WME is handling those negotiations.