I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the energetic and truly lovely cast and writer/director of the film “Katie Says Goodbye” at the Toronto International Film Festival recently. Olivia Cooke, Mireille Enos, Chris Lowell, and Wayne Roberts openly and eagerly talked about the intensity of the story, its origins, and how they brought this film to life.
“Katie Says Goodbye” was the brainchild of Roberts who conceived of this character during his college days, over a glass or two of “…cheap wine in a cafe in some little dive that no longer exists, listening to music and I just had this image of Katie. [She] touched me in some way and selected me to tell her story.” The story is a harsh, yet beautiful and inspiring one, as Katie waits tables at a truck stop and prostitutes herself to raise money to support her mother and to ultimately escape this life. Her coping skill is her positivity, but as she falls in love with a newcomer, her reputation catches up to her, challenging her seemingly eternal resilience.
As we sat around the banquet conversing about how each exceptionally rich character came to life, the cast resoundingly credited Roberts. Everyone appeared excited to tell me how Roberts, in his atypical style of directing, helped them perform to their potential. Enos, in her sweet, soft voice with a huge smile on her face, said, “The script spoke for itself, but then this man has such clarity of vision…everything he said was so compelling and it was so clear.” Lowell chimed in to explain that Roberts gave each of the cast members “…a list of extremely specific details about moments in our life that helped shape the people that we became.” For example, Enos said, “I once hitch hiked with Katie when she was a baby.” And Lowell, playing the evil character of Dirk said that his list included, “Dirk has more than once taken advantage of a woman who has had too much to drink. He’s crossed the line in certain ways…never to the extent that we see in the film. It’s like a monster is lurking.” He and Roberts talk over one another as they recall that Dirk is his mother’s favorite and that she still does his laundry. It was this attention to detail, the cast agrees, that allowed the creation of, as Lowell explained, such “multifacted and three dimensional” characters.
It was obvious that the cast was more than comfortable with Roberts “at the helm,” as Enos described. He exhibited the ability to find the right dialogue, no matter the character. Roberts admitted that he is an intense observationalist, truly listening to everyone around him and their style of conversation. He thoughtfully shared, “I try to connect with every single character that I do write…and if I’m lucky, then the character will speak to me and I simply tell their story and don’t interfere.” Having seen the film, I wholeheartedly agree that these characters spoke through Roberts.
This interview felt more like friends or family, sitting down to chat about their shared experiences. Even given the dark nature of this drama, they all had fun. Lowell said, “The subject matter was so intense that you were spent at the end of every day. You had to shake it off…we laughed a lot. We joked a lot.” However, Roberts broke in, “The day of the assault was different.” Cooke then reminded everyone that they all went out for dinner that night and had a wonderful evening. Like her character of “Katie,” Cooke is the one to find the positive in that day.
It was quite obvious to me that this family of actors were not only proud of the film they have completed, but they were better for it. Before I left, I wanted to know how they each have grown from this experience. Cooke felt that Roberts allowed a part of herself to shine through “Katie” and Enos, although her character is never going to receive the Mother of the Year Award, expresses deep appreciation to the lessons her own mother taught her and that she hopes to teach her children. Lowell felt empowered to know that he could play such a dark role and because of Roberts’ nurturing leadership, he is now able to trust his instincts more. “It was all the things that you hope a project is going to do for you…this project did.”
Roberts response? “Very damn sweet…I gotta keep it together,” he chuckled, but beneath the laugh, you could hear that he was truly touched by what they all had to say.