Director Aisling Walsh talks about her film Maudie at the Chiswick In Film festival

Image above: Aisling Walsh and Sandra Parsons speaking at the Chiswick In Film festival; photograph Roger Green

Multi award-winning biopic of artist Maud Lewis shot in Newfoundland

Maudie, the true story of naïve artist Maud Lewis (1903 – 1970), has won a slate of awards – Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and Best Costume Design from the Canadian Screen Awards in 2018; Best Director, Best International Actor and Best Production Design from the Irish Film & Television Awards; British Actress of the Year from the London Film Critics’ Circle, to name just some.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins, the film was shot in Newfoundland and Labrador and directed by Irish director Aisling Walsh, who lives in Chiswick.

The determination with which Maud (Sally Hawkins) battles with rheumatoid arthritis to live life independently of her mean-spirited family, especially her avaricious brother, and the cruelty to which she is subjected is heart-breaking.

She answers an advert in the local store in Nova Scotia for a maid, posted by an emotionally closed man who lives alone working as a fish peddlar and living in a tiny cottage in the wilds of Nova Scotia. She ends up marrying him and becoming a farmous artist whose work hangs in the White House.

Aisling told the audience how she had become involved in the project some way down the line and what it was like working with two such great actors and such a wild and beautiful but unforgiving landscape. She was interviewed by fellow Chiswick resident, Daily Mail’s Books editor Sandra Parsons.

Image above: Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins in Maudie

Aisling wanted to make the film immediately she read the script

Aisling said Maud was not that well-known in Canada, but her paintings keep being rediscovered and four of them were used as the images on stamps in 2019.

“The way she operated is in the summer when there were a lot of tourists, a lot of Americans came up to that part of Nova Scotia to their holiday homes, she would put her paintings outside her house and sell them. People hung them in their summer homes and chalets and there they stayed.

“Her paintings have gone up hugely in value since the film came out actually, but there was a painting discovered earlier this year. It was given in exchange for some food in a cafe, 30 years ago, 40 years ago and it sold for over one hundred thousand.”

Aisling first read the story while she was in a hotel room in Cardiff, on a recce for another film.

“I just thought I’ve got to talk to these people and see if I can make this film”.

When she finished work in Wales she had a four or five day gap so she flew out immediately to meet the producers.

Image above: Ethan Hawke in Maudie

Filming in a space a little over 12 x 12 foot

The house, tiny, with one room upstairs and one down, no electricity or running water, out in the middle of a wild landscape by a roadside on its own, plays an important part in the story as Aisling begins to paint by using the walls and the windows as her canvas.

“It’s like another character in the movie” says Aisling.

After the death of Maud and her husband, the real house, 12 foot x 12 foot, was boxed up and left and some years later was brought to the museum of Halifax, Nova Scotia as a tourist exhibit.

For the film they built a replica, 13 and a half x 13 and a half foot and they filmed within it. The way the house evolves from a dingy, dirty shack to a thing of beauty throughout the film mirrors the evolution of her talent and the blossoming of their love story, says Sandra.

“It was a very lovely way to film” says Aisling.

Image above: Aisling Walsh and Sandra Parsons at the Chiswick In Film festival; photograph Roger Green

Ethan Hawke flew out to join them the night before filming started

Aisling had worked with Sally Hawkins before and knew straight away she wanted her for the role.

“She had just made a film with Woody Allen that they had seen, so when I said I could get her they thought ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing!'”

“Knowing Sally, what I did was sent her four pictures, two pictures of Maud, a picture of three cats and another of her paintings and the answer came back ‘Yes’.”

While Sally went out to Canada about a month before filming started, Ethan was working on The Magnificent Seven and flew in from New York just the night before.

Sally portrayed the worsening condition of rheumatoid arthritis with very little in the way of prosthetics. From the start of the film she dragged one foot and as time went on her back became more hunched and her hands more claw like.

Ethan made the emotional transition from a man who was unlikeable at the beginning of the film, to one who was likeable at the end.

“Sally and myself already had a relationship. I had worked with her twice. It’s difficult as another actor coming into that and arriving the night before we start filming.

“I met him at St John’s airport and drove him to where he was staying and we chatted for about two hours and he said to me ‘Don’t worry Aisling, I’ve been acting since I was a child and I will get the hang of this. It might take me two or three days but I will get the hang of it I promise you.'”

Image above: Aisling Walsh and Sandra Parsons speaking at the Chiswick In Film festival

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See also: Film star Sarah Miles makes surprise guest appearance at Chiswick In Film festival

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