When Samantha Morton got the email about starring in Maria Schrader’s “She Said,” she was “very busy”: projects she was working on included recording an album, directing a feature film and starring in a TV show.
But despite that full calendar, Morton knew she wanted to make time for the part of Zelda Perkins, who worked for convicted mogul Harvey Weinstein and whose career he ruined after she tried to speak out against him for raping a young colleague.
“I think it’s hugely important that this conversation doesn’t end and that this story is amazing and needs to be in a movie,” she says.
Schrader says when casting director Francine Meisler suggested Morton, she immediately said yes. “Sometimes you have a physical reaction and I felt like he had to be one, I was so excited,” Schrader said, praising Morton for being “a thinker but so seamless in character.”
Morton, however, was not moved by the overall importance of a film about a journalistic effort to bring Weinstein to justice. The role of Perkins, who spoke to and provided vital information to New York Times reporters whose investigation is the heart of “He Said,” carries personal significance.
“It wasn’t just about the overall project. I’ve met Zelda in the past — we have close mutual friends and she’s someone I really admire. So for me it was about Zelda.”
Morton says that he and Perkins are very different people but share a passionate commitment to justice in their activism; His respect and admiration made him “very protective” of Perkins.
“It wasn’t about what I wanted or needed from the movie, it was all about Zelda,” she says. So while Morton is a “huge fan” of screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz and generally likes to work closely with screenwriters, he knew the filmmakers wouldn’t have a say in the project.
“Once I was offered the role it was necessary for me to make sure Zelda was happy with the script and how the producers were making it and with my dialogue,” says Morton. “I told him I would only do it if he was happy.”
Indeed, Perkins had some concerns about the scene’s focus; With Morton’s help, pushback and filmmakers made changes to emphasize the issues of greatest concern to Perkins, who is co-founder of Can’t Buy My Silence, which campaigns against the use of nondisclosure agreements.
The movie is definitely not a documentary, and so once Perkins was happy with the script, Morton turned his attention to portraying a character. “When I play real people, I need the freedom to turn the person on the page into a character and bring them to life.” He is not interested in surface-level simulations. “I was trying to capture his essence. You want to own the character and make it your own.”
Morton is only in the film for one scene (all shot in one day), but it lasts about 10 minutes and is the film’s dramatic turning point. Morton brings a righteous indignation to the scene, yet retains his vision of Perkins, always the forward-thinking professional.
“I loved the intensity that he brought,” says Schrader, explaining that Morton’s commanding presence makes the beginning of the scene “feel like a fight with some tension that raises the stakes.”
Perkins embodies a compelling blend of preparation with passion.
“With Zelda, when she’s discussing problems she’s already thought of solutions, which is incredible to me,” Morton says. It was a challenge to capture, especially because Perkins doesn’t have any personal moments on screen. “I’m like a bull in a china shop and when I see injustice I’ve had to learn to think before I speak and take a more measured approach.”
The injustices the film examines still resonate deeply with Morton, so much so that he still hasn’t seen it.
“I want to watch it but I know it will be quite emotional and triggering for me and I have to watch it alone in a private place,” she says.