Taylor Schilling’s star is on the rise in a big way lately. After starring in the single-season NBC hospital series Mercy, Schilling went on to star in Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 and co-starred with Zac Efron in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Lucky One. Then, last year, she starred in massively succesful Netflix series Orange is the New Black, which has garnered huge acclaim and an even greater fan base.
In Stay, which is being released this weekend, Schilling stars as Abbey, a Canadian woman who went off to Ireland to study and ended up falling in love with a professor, Dermot, played by Aidan Quinn. Now she lives with Dermot in a small Irish village. At the start of the film, Abbey learns she’s pregnant. When she reveals the news to Dermot, the two get into a spat and Abbey takes off back to Montreal to figure out her next steps and wrestle with the very idea of becoming a parent. The film follows both characters on their separate journeys as they each do some serious soul-searching.
Stay is a quiet film, and it deals with some heavy subjects, including postpartum depression, but it carries on with a light touch, more than a few glimmers of comedy, and a deep affection for its characters. Schilling brings a lot to Abbey, who spends most of the film isolated from the some of the more eccentric characters back in Ireland. Her performance is a very interior one, with much of the character coming through in quiet moments without any dialogue at all.
I reviewed the film when it premiered at TIFF last year, and at the time I got to sit down and speak with Taylor Schilling about the film, about Abbey, and about the fears of having a child and being a parent.
Dork Shelf: You’re only really in about half of the film, but your character really drives the story. What was that like in terms of creating a character who’s sort of on her own, isolated from another half of the story.
Taylor Schilling: I think that’s kind of was attracted to about her, that she’s making her own decisions and she’s really trying to find a path on her own. And I thought that was actually interesting, you know, and that was cool to me. And I guess that plays out in the movie, that she’s separate from a lot of the people.
DS: Right, she starts off in Ireland and goes off separately to Montreal, and she’s having her own journey off to the side.
TS: Absolutely, so it’s reflected in the geography.
DS: So she starts off the movie with Dermot. Do you feel like when she goes to Montreal she’s splitting up with him, or is she trying to hold on to something?
TS: My take on it was that she really doesn’t know, and she’s really trying to reconcile her past. She’s really trying to go do some self-discovery, which will then inform her future. But she doesn’t know.
DS: Because on the one hand Dermot is so against having a child, but in a way you discover that she’s anxious about having a child and that she has her own demons.
TS: I think she’s terrified, but I don’t know if she wants people to know that. I think she has to go and discover what that is before she can move forward.
DS: And one of the things that she’s battling is her mother was not the greatest mother to her, and she has issues revolving around that, and hints of postpartum depression. How do you think that affects her psyche, around having a child?
TS: Again, I think that she’s terrified that she’s going to make those mistakes, and then I think that a lot of times that experience of being left or abandoned can leave a child feeling like they’ve caused it; that their being is the reason for their parent’s behaviour. And I think that Abbey certainly experienced that. I think that she’s been traumatized for a lot of her life, thinking that her mother just hated her, and then what happens if she has a daughter and she hates her daughter, or her son or her child. So that’s what she has to unbraid. That’s her task to look at.
DS: Do you think that affects her in terms of why she wen to Ireland in the first place?
TS: For sure. For sure. I think—I feel that those experiences when you’re younger form your character and they do thread through your whole life, you know.
DS: In Ireland she’s having this relationship with an older man. Do think she sees it as a serious relationship, or is it kind of an affair? Because the other people in the town in Ireland certainly seem to brush it off as an affair.
DS: So does she see it as a long-term relationship?
TS: I think that she’s so—I think she’s trying to escape herself. She’s trying in a lot of ways to just get out, you know?
DS: So it’s not necessarily long-term.
TS: Yeah, but I think that she’s in love. But I don’t know how much you can love until you know yourself. I think that you can only give out what you’ve got.
DS: Do you think she feels a sense of alienation living in Ireland?
TS: Yeah, I think whenever—it’s that expat thing—when you put yourself in a situation where you are a stranger in a strange land, you are a foreigner, and that feeling of being displaced, that feeling of not fitting in, that feeling of being unlike everyone is something that she’s carried through since she was very young with her family. Being unlike everybody else because her mother hated her, or she experienced her mother’s hatred.
TS: Absolutely. I think something that she realizes is that there’s no place that she’s going to be able to go to run away from or fit in anymore, so she has to find out for herself. She’s a stranger wherever she goes because she has not found a home, she’s not found out who she is, or begun trusting herself. I think there’s that terrifying moment to sort of say “I’m not going to find the answer outside of myself.”
DS: In terms of comparing it to the other characters that you’ve played, was there a difference in how you approached this character, because the journey is so introspective? Was there a difference in how you approached that compared to other films that are more dialogue-heavy, or Orange is the New Black, which is also more broadly dialogue-heavy?
TS: You know I think I approach everything—I don’t think there’s just one way. I don’t even know how I approach things. I think that I probably approach everything differently. Do you know what I mean?
DS: Yeah, well you find what you need within the character.
TS: Exactly, exactly. And it’s sort of like each project, with each director and each circumstance is so unique.
DS: What was it like playing a character who’s so often quiet?
TS: Interesting. It was really interesting. Abbey, in some ways I kept thinking, she’s trapped within herself. She’s trapped by her experiences and she’s trapped in her head by her own experience, and she’s trapped physically because she can’t relate to the people, she’s not a part of the culture. And she goes inward. And I though that that stillness was interesting, really interesting.
DS: Well, it’s sort of right across the film. There’s that stillness between all the characters, except, funny enough, the character of your father, who’s pushing you constantly. Did you feel that informed your character, because on the one hand you had a mother who was not there, but then a father who’s almost too controlling?
TS: I think that she in some ways, I think Abbey was a parent to her dad.
DS: That’s interesting, actually.
TS: You know, she kind of had to take care of him, and I think she was also escaping that idea of, “are you going to be able to get off the couch to work.” And she was escaping that world as well, when she went off. And I think all of that—There was no role model for how she could be a parent.