The story about this group of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances who have to fight for their survival.
Based on the popular U.K. television series of the same name, Widows – created by Lynda La Plante–is directed, co-written and produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen, whose 12 Years a Slave won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture.
“I remember exactly where I was at thirteen years old when I first viewed Lynda La Plante’s TV series, Widows,” recalls McQueen. “I was lying on the carpeted floor at my parent’s house, head propped up by my hands, my usual viewing practice at that time.”
“The show immediately transported me into a criminal world where the most vulnerable and overlooked people were women. These women were deemed incapable of anything other than being judged by their appearances, yet they took on challenges against their stereotype and transformed themselves into more than capable forces, determined to take their destinies into their own hands. At that stage in my life, I felt a strong parallel to these women as I too experienced being looked at under a similar gaze. Their adversaries considered the widows as people who couldn’t achieve anything, and they did. It had a profound effect on me.”
“When I first came to Hollywood, I was struck by how many talented actresses weren’t working. I decided then that after I made a movie about slavery that I wanted to make a female-driven film.”
Widows is set in contemporary Chicago amidst a time of political and societal turmoil. When four armed robbers are killed in an explosive heist attempt, their widows – with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities – take fate into their own hands to forge a future on their own terms.
“To bring the story into the now, I changed the location of Widows from London in the early eighties to Chicago of the present. This was vital for me in order to also tackle politics, religion, class, race, criminality and mourning, and to look at the locale (Chicago) and revert it like a telescope into the global.”
Directed by Steve McQueen from a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen, based on the U.K. television mini-series, Widows, written by Lynda La Plante, the film stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Jon Bernthal, Carrie Coon, Lukas Haas, Daniel Kaluuya, and Brian Tyree Henry.
When McQueen approached renowned screenwriter Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to co-write the script, she says she jumped at the opportunity.
“Steve McQueen called me, which was a great phone call to get out of the blue,” she recalls. “He knew I lived in Chicago, and he wanted to do a heist film starring four women, so I’m already in. Then it’s going to be shot in the town I live in and love, Chicago, which is such an underused town and such a cool town. And he wanted to use all the neighborhoods and really employ the city as its own character. And you just don’t see Chicago enough, the real Chicago in film. So, I was immediately, like, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
According to Flynn, the story offers a twist on the typical heist film in that each character that intersects comes from different ethnic, financial and social background. “My favorite part about heist films are when the team comes together. I love that,” she notes. “That’s one thing I wanted to keep about that heist feel, was that these women were coming together, not because one was a jewel thief, and one was a safe cracker, that type of thing, but because they just happen to all be connected by their husbands. “
Producer Iain Canning was approached by McQueen early on about the project. “He’d grown up watching the show and it was powerful for him when it was on television, this story about this group of women, which was very rare,” Canning says, “and it just sounded like an interesting, new area for Steve to move into. He’s made these incredible films about incredible subjects and it just felt like it was a good moment to tell the story about this group of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances who have to fight for their survival.”
The filmmakers assembled an impressive cast of actors for the film. McQueen says it was very important to make his cast feel comfortable and at-home, so to speak. “It’s very simple: they’re all great actors and you need to create an environment in which they feel safe to experiment and explore. That’s what I hope I provide actors, a safe space to fall on their faces, brush themselves off and try again in search of some kind of truth.”
Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis was cast as Veronica Rawlins, the lead widow of the film who must pick up the pieces of her life after her husband, Harry (played by Liam Neeson), dies in a failed heist.
Davis says it’s a role that she never imagined she’d be asked to portray. “It’s a huge departure for me,” she exclaims. “I wouldn’t imagine myself being in this. First there’s a nice love scene in there. It’s kind of action-packed. I don’t know, I just didn’t see it. So, Steve McQueen literally coming to me and saying, “I do see you in this role,” was sort of exhilarating to me.”
Once getting over the pleasant surprise of being approached for the role, Davis says she found herself drawn to her character as well as to the story. “I liked Veronica’s journey,” she relates. “I liked that she was sort of mysterious, but at the same time she was familiar to me. I liked the fact that there’s a love story at the center of it. I like me in a love story, because, you know, I played a lot of lawyers and detectives and CIA directors, people like that. It’s a hell of a love story.”
Michelle Rodriguez plays Linda, a widow struggling to keep her family and dress shop afloat after her husband’s death. Rodriguez admits she was afraid to take on the role at first. “I think it was the challenge of considering the woman that I’m playing weak; my fear of that, of projecting a character like that to the world,” she recalls. “I’ve always been all about making women as independent as I possibly could, especially the image of a Latina woman, who faces the machismo of our culture. That’s my go-to thing.”
Ultimately, it was her decision to face her fears of the unknown that made up her mind. “I sat down with Steve and he’s just such an artist,” she recalls. “So, I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. And I’m very comfortable in my little niche of making action movies. But I’m not going to evolve here. There’s no room to grow.”
Elizabeth Debicki, cast as Alice–the Polish immigrant and controlled wife – says she wanted to be part of the film in order to work with McQueen. “I met Steve and he has an incredible warmth and generosity to him, but he’s also very exacting in this fascinating way, and I suppose as an actor, what you’re really always looking for is someone who is going to ask everything of you, and that you trust them so much that you’ll give that to them and give that to the role,” she says.
Cynthia Erivo, in her first major film role, portrays Belle, an ally who steps in to help the widows in their quest. “I just think it’s a massive vote of confidence for Steve to put someone who’s really new at film in a role like this,” Erivo says of McQueen’s decision to cast her. “It’s not small, it’s a wonderful role to be a part of, and he trusted me in it.”
According to Swanson, McQueen was emphatic that the film feel realistic, not marred in movie effects. “When you watch the film, you’ll see there’s almost a mundane-ness to some of the stunts, to some of the action that happens,” he says. “There’s some big stuff that happens, but it’s all based in reality and that was always sort of a prime directive from
Steve to all the departments.”
Steve McQueen (Director, co-screenwriter & producer) is a British artist and Academy Award-winning filmmaker, and the recipient of an OBE (2002) and a CBE (2011) from Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2013, McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, dominated awards season, winning the Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, PGA (joint winner), Independent Spirit, African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) and the Black Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Picture. McQueen won the Independent Spirit, African-American Film Critics Association and Black Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Director and received Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and DGA nominations for directing.
His second feature, Shame (2011), received numerous awards and nominations as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Fassbender and the Venice Film Festival’s Volpi Award for Best Actor. SHAME ranks as one of the highest grossing NC-17-rated movies in US box office history.
In 2008, McQueen’s critically-acclaimed first feature, Hunger, won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. McQueen received BAFTA’s Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer in addition to numerous other international awards and nominations. HUNGER is one of the most awarded debut movies with 45 wins and 33 nominations.
McQueen is the recipient of many other accolades and awards for his work both as a filmmaker and visual artist. In 2016, the Johannes Vermeer Award, the Dutch annual state prize for the arts, was presented to McQueen at The Hague. The jury unanimously nominated McQueen for his profound and enduring examination of the human condition in his film and video works, which often depict people struggling to preserve their dignity in circumstances of repression. In that same year, the British Film Institute awarded McQueen with a BFI Fellowship. In 2003, the Imperial War Museum appointed McQueen as the ‘Official War Artist’ for the Iraq war for which he produced the poignant, controversial and ongoing project ‘Queen and Country.’
In his long career as a visual artist, McQueen won the Turner Prize in 1999 and also exhibited at the ICA and Kunsthalle in Zurich; in 1998, he won a DAAD artist’s scholarship to Berlin and in 1996, he received an ICA Futures Award. McQueen’s work has exhibited in leading museums such as the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Tate Modern, The Museum of Modern Art and Documenta X and XI. He also represented Britain in the 2009 Biennale. His work continues to be exhibited in major museums around the world and is held in their collections. A retrospective was recently exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Schaulager in Basel.
Gillian Flynn (Co-screenwriter) was born in Kansas City, Missouri to two community-college professors—her mother taught reading; her father, film. Thus she spent an inordinate amount of her youth nosing through books and watching movies. She has happy memories of having A Wrinkle in Time pried from her hands at the dinner table, and also of seeing Alien, Psycho and Bonnie and Clyde at a questionable age (like, seven). It was a good childhood.
In high-school, she worked strange jobs that required her to do things like wrap and unwrap hams, or dress up as a giant yogurt cone. A yogurt cone who wore a tuxedo. Why the tuxedo? It was a question that would haunt her for years.
For college, she headed to the University of Kansas (go Jayhawks), where she received her undergraduate degrees in English and journalism.
After a two-year stint writing about human resources for a trade magazine in California, Flynn moved to Chicago. There she earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and discovered that she was way too wimpy to make it as a crime reporter.
On the other hand, she was a movie geek with a journalism degree—so she moved to New York City and joined Entertainment Weekly magazine, where she wrote happily for 10 years, visiting film sets around the world (to New Zealand for The Lord of the Rings, to Prague for The Brothers Grimm, to somewhere off the highway in Florida for Jackass: The Movie). During her last four years at EW, Flynn was the TV critic (all-time best TV show: The Wire).
Flynn’s 2006 debut novel, the literary mystery Sharp Objects, was an Edgar Award finalist and the winner of two of Britain’s Dagger Awards—the first book ever to win multiple Daggers in one year. The book is soon to be an HBO® limited series starring Amy Adams.
Flynn’s second novel, the 2009 New York Times bestseller Dark Places, was a New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite, Weekend TODAY Top Summer Read, Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction choice. In 2015, the movie adaptation starring Charlize Theron was released.
Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl, was an international sensation and a runaway hit that has spent more than one hundred weeks on the New York Times bestseller lists. Gone Girl was named one of the best books of the year by People Magazine and Janet Maslin at the New York Times. Nominated for both the Edgar Award and the Anthony Award for Best Novel, Flynn wrote the screenplay for David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gone Girl for the big screen, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
Her newest release, The Grownup, is an Edgar Award-winning short story and an homage to the classic ghost story. Universal has optioned the rights to The Grownup.
Flynn’s work has been published in forty-one languages. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Brett Nolan, their children, and a giant black cat named Roy. In theory she is working on her next novel. In reality she is possibly playing Ms. Pac-Man in her basement lair.