Interview: Director Claire McCarthy on Ophelia and The Importance of Female Voices

By Claire L. Smith

At ITOL we love getting a chance to speak to filmmakers, and we were especially excited to speak to Claire McCarthy after recently catching her latest film, “Ophelia”. McCarthy is an Australian filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and visual artist. Throughout her career, she has brought audiences such films as “The Waiting City” (2009), “Little Hands” (2011) and “Skins” (2007) with actress Mia Wasikowska. Her feature film “The Waiting City”, which starred Joel Edgerton and Radha Mitchell, was released in North America after premiering at TIFF 2010, and has gone to be sold to over 40 territories world-wide.

Now, she brings us a new twist on Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet entitled ‘Ophelia‘ which stars “Star Wars” Daisy Ridely and Naomi Watts. The film follows the titular character and brings new light to once forgotten characters. Claire L.Smith was lucky to speak to McCarthy regarding her latest film, and what drew here to the character of Ophelia.

CS: Let’s start off with talking about Ophelia herself. There’s been a lot of attention towards Shakespearean women over the years, but I was just wondering why specifically Ophelia? What drew you to her as a character and what were you hoping show of her character throughout the movie?

CM: Yeah, as you say, it’s such a timely subject, Shakespeare’s women, but [so is] thinking from a contemporary viewpoint in [asking] what we’re tasked to be as women in this particular time that we are in. 

Daisy Ridley in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing) (02)

So I was drawn to her because she’s a character that’s traditionally portrayed as kind of tragic and sort of subordinate and undone by love, and there’s something really interesting about giving her currency and thinking about her story from a different perspective [and] asking the question ‘what would happen if she was a different? If she had a different ending or perhaps was filled in the gaps of her journey in a different way?’

So yeah, I kind of think there was there is currency in that. It gives us a contemporary viewpoint about women but it also has an opportunity to retell Shakespeare’s story from a different angle and give you new layers to not only Ophelia, but to Queen Gertrude who is often considered so frail you know that she’s a woman that’s kind of almost two dimensional as well. So yeah, there’s an opportunity deep within the female characters and then give complexity to the relationships that Ophelia had otherwise sort of not thinly drawn. But we’re looking at it from a different perspective. 

cair
Claire McCarthy on the set of Ophelia with cinematographer Denson Baker

“I was drawn to her because she’s a character that’s traditionally portrayed as kind of tragic and sort of subordinate and undone by love, and there’s something really interesting about giving her currency and thinking about her story from a different perspective.”

CS: Speaking of Gertrude, is there anything else you’d like to add to her character. Because in Hamlet, the original play, she was not as focused on but in the film she very much gets her own voice as well so is there any more like you’d like to add? 

CM: Absolutely. I think this cast in particular working to bring these characters to life thinking about how brilliant Naomi Watts is playing Queen Gertrude. She just brings so many layers and so much more complexity and empathy to these women that we understand from a different perspective. Naomi such a beautiful actor and I think both her and Daisy Ridley who played Celia are very complex women. And I think that was the theme for this project was trying to think about how to get these women to have a voice.

“I’m drawn to stories that asks questions, that ask what it is to be human. I also love to work on films that are somewhat off limits.

McCarthy also comments on the importance of sharing female voices. Stating that “its a really interesting time” since “female directors have really streched their muscles” and taking on projects with “ambition and scale.” She also comments that women are becoming “archtypes” and more than just “a mother or crone”, and that we are beocming “empowered” by these new opptunities which are starting to “shape society”.

Claire McCarthy
Tom Felton and Claire McCarthy in Ophelia (2018)

CS: If you could choose or come up with your perfect project/film to work on, what would it look like?

CM: I’m drawn to stories that asks questions, that ask what it is to be human. I also love to work on films that are somewhat off limits. I’m also really drawn to the characters, execially flawed characters. I guess my perfect project would be made up of those components.

“Ophelia” is now on demand from Blue Finch Film Releasing. You can check out the film’s trailer here. Thank you to Claire McCarthy for her time and we can’t wait to see what she does next.  You can follow Claire over at Instagram.

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