Katherine Dieckmann has had it with Hollywood’s depiction of women.
“Especially women over 50,” the Strange Weather filmmaker tells EW. It’s partly what inspired her to write unconventional lead characters for Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and The Leftovers star Carrie Coon in her latest drama, an exclusive trailer for which you can watch above. “You never see characters that are confused, complicated, not psychotic, take a drink, have sex, are funny, get mad. … I know so many compelling, interesting women in that age range and older, and I never see characters that embody their complexity.”
So, she did something about it. The result is Strange Weather, a poignant exploration of death and redemption navigated by its maker’s fearless commitment to exploring the truths about grief and loss with real women at the center.
Dieckmann calls the Sharon Van Etten-scored film a throwback to “strong, regional, singular American stories” that sprung out of indie scene. The film, which debuted last year at the Toronto International Film Festival (where Hunter’s work earned rave reviews), follows Darcy, who, after the death of her son, embarks on a road trip with her best friend (Coon) through the South to piece together the truth about his final moments on earth.
“I was trying to write [these characters] away from stereotype. I also have a number of friends who are southerners, and I have a strong connection to the South. … I’m equally frustrated as a filmgoer by southern people [presented] as backwards rubes, because I know that to not be the case,” Dieckmann explains. “I think in film, it’s been way more difficult for women to be iconic. I don’t know why that is. I want to see women who are aesthetically ruthless shake it up.”
And she might do just that when Strange Weather opens theatrically on July 28. Watch EW’s exclusive trailer for the film above, and read on for our full conversation with Dieckmann, during which she discusses Sofia Coppola’s historic Best Director victory at Cannes, the changing landscape for women behind the camera, and how a pair of high heels and a trek to the Mississippi capital (for a piece of jewelry) played a key (and comical) part in Coon’s transformation into her character.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you think of specific examples of female characters that prompted you to make a movie defying stereotypes?
KATHERINE DIECKMANN: Almost everything. There’s this movie called Gloria with Paulina García. It’s about a woman in her late fifties who’s divorced and sexually restless, and it was so liberating, complicated, funny, and inspiring to me when I was writing Holly’s character. In TV, we see more interesting women, but certainly in film, I see great actresses being reduced to playing the bitchy mom or the bitchy grandma or the drunk, and I’m exhausted by it.
Did Holly and Carrie’s interpretation of these characters surprise you? What did they bring to the script that you hadn’t written?
Carrie is private. Maybe I pictured it differently when I wrote it, but I loved the way she embodied [her character, Byrd]; she would do things like sneak off into Jackson, Mississippi and track someone down who sold vintage jewelry and buy earrings for her character that she thought her character would wear. She’s such a naturalistic actress. I remember one day she was going to do a scene in the car. She was coming across the lawn in really high heels, and I was like, “You don’t have to wear the shoes, you’re going to be sitting in the car. We’re not even going to see the shoes!” and she goes, “Katherine, I’m Byrd!”
Holly’s totally the opposite: extremely intense, extremely into process and talking about process, and that included coming up with things for the character that were surprising. There were certain scenes that she played way lighter than I had imagined them when I wrote them. She is the most deep-thinking actor. She never stops thinking. Her brain is whirring a million miles a minute at all times.
As this film debuted at TIFF last year, I’m curious as to how you see the relationship between female filmmakers and film festivals. Are they the way of the future for women to cross over into broader territory with their movies?
I’ve always gone to festivals with my movies. If anything, I’d say [festivals are] problematic. What female filmmakers need is visibility, and festivals aren’t really about visibility. It’s a little bit of a bubble. What’s more heartening to me is seeing what happened at Cannes this year, not just Sofia Coppola winning, but also Lynne Ramsay’s film [breaking through]. That has always been a male bastion of filmmaking, Cannes, except for Jane Campion winning once.
Well, she tied on top of that!
They didn’t even let her have it, even though she’s a genius! [This year] I felt, more than ever, like, okay, this is a sea change. Any woman director you talk to is going to say she’s so tired of the conversation about being a woman director. We all are. At the same time, we have to keep having it until something shifts in the way films are made and perceived and merging into the world.
As great as Sofia Coppola winning Best Director is, it’s only the second time it’s happened. That’s crazy.
It’s kind of appalling. Where is the female Jim Jarmusch or Pedro Almodovar or Martin Scorsese? Those are iconic auters, and not that many women — for whatever reason — have been able to assume that kind of a role. We’re seeing it more in television now, like Jill Soloway has a certain brand, Shonda Rhimes, Jenji Kohan — they have a brand of what they do, and it’s recognizable, and it’s tied into who they are as makers, but I think in film, it’s been way more difficult for women to be iconic. I don’t know why that is. … Where are the women that occupy those roles? I want to see women who are aesthetically ruthless shake it up.
But then there’s Wonder Woman with Patty Jenkins this weekend, and people are saying it has a directorial stamp, like this is a Patty Jenkins movie!
Yeah, that’s what I mean. I feel more optimistic than I’ve ever felt. It’s funny, [Four Rooms director] Allison Anders [said to me], “We are women who made films in the ’90s. We have to band together!” It’s true. When we started doing it, very few people were doing it. It was an outlier position to be in, and that’s definitely not the case now, 20 years later.