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September 27, 2018 at 02:12 PM EDT

You’d never know it by the way Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) — a struggling comedian preparing to audition for a primetime stand-up special in Raising Victor Vargas writer Eva Vives’ brilliant directorial debut — boisterously charges through a series of spirited impersonations of Shakira, Céline Dion, and Cher she hopes will land her the gig. On the surface, she’s a lively, gifted storyteller with a knack for mimicry, a quirky woman with a rocker’s edge and a testy temper most chalk up as a byproduct of her effortlessly cool demeanor. But a cloud of darkness stirs within, one that previously raged as an eight-year storm within Vives herself.

“Sometimes you meet a pissed off person, and most of the time there’s a reason why,” she tells EW. And what’s behind the facade is exactly what she wanted to explore in All About Nina (out Sept. 28), a character study that skewers the patriarchal desire to control a woman’s trajectory as she navigates the road to recovery after sexual trauma — a road Nina (and Vives) are all too familiar with.

“I wouldn’t say it was the rage that sparked me wanting to tell it, but I certainly didn’t want to shy away from the rage,” Vives explains, adding that the abuse she endured from her father for eight years as a child laid the foundation for All About Nina‘s script. “Until very recently it wasn’t really allowed in women, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. We’re certainly feeling it a lot more in the last year — specifically this week. I’m incredibly triggered by what’s going on with the Kavanaugh hearings and how Dr. Ford is being treated. I’m upset that it feels like she’s being bullied into testifying and it’s a bunch of white, straight men trying to overpower her and not believe her!”

For Vives, that cycle of mistrust and skepticism ends, in a way, through Nina, a character born out of her frustrations and destructive behaviors while grappling with the aftermath of the crimes committed against her.

“The liberation happened already; that’s why I was able to write about it, because I didn’t have to create that much. She’s similar to how I was in my twenties,” Vives continues. “It was more empowering to write in the sense that I don’t really think about my father anymore. As Nina also says in the movie, he committed suicide years ago, so he was already not part of my life. For me, maybe it will be liberating soon enough…. We’ll see what happens when it comes out. It was empowering to at least have some say on how I told the story, because for so long he defined me, what he did to me or what he was how I had to live.”

Below, Vives opens up to EW about the process of adapting her story into All About Nina (in select theaters Friday, Sept. 28). Read on for the full conversation.

Elizabeth Kitchens/The Orchard

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The film industry still considers characters like Nina unique and daring for being “unlikable” and “gritty,” but the point of this film is that, under the façade, many women experience a lot of pain society tells them how to move on from. Nina’s unique in film, but she’s scarily true to life.
EVA VIVES:
I grew up in Barcelona and my mom used to take me to the cinema there and almost all of the main character I identified with were men. That was because there weren’t many great female roles. The ones [I responded to] were complicated enough, interesting enough, and human enough…. despite their gender. When I wrote Nina, and even though she’s very close to me and very close to what happened to me in my life, I think men and women can recognize that even if it isn’t exactly their story, there’s a level of honesty there you can understand.

There’s a distinct rage coursing throughout Nina and the film, too. I don’t mean to probe into your past, but is that what inspired the script: a personal rage from a similar experience?
I wouldn’t say it was the rage that sparked me wanting to tell it, but I certainly didn’t want to shy away from the rage…. Until very recently it wasn’t really allowed in women, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. We’re certainly feeling it a lot more in the last year — specifically this week. I’m incredibly triggered by what’s going on with the Kavanaugh hearings and how Dr. Ford is being treated. I’m upset that it feels like she’s being bullied into testifying and it’s a bunch of white, straight men trying to overpower her and not believe her! I was, funnily enough, trying to write a movie that’s somewhat hopeful for survivors. At the end of the day, she’s somebody who has a passion and does what she does well, and hopefully by the end of the movie you feel like she will at least be able to open herself up to love. I also didn’t want that to mean she wasn’t in touch with her anger and her rage. Keeping that stuff down is really hurtful.

You’re a survivor as well?
It’s very much my story, except I’ve never done stand-up comedy. Everything else is very much taken out of my life. Definitely in terms of everything she says on stage during her breakdown is me. I was abused by my father for eight years.

Was writing Nina’s liberation liberating for you?
The liberation happened already; that’s why I was able to write about it because I didn’t have to create that much. She’s similar to how I was in my twenties. I’ve calmed down since…. The bulk of my recovery — not that it ever ends —  was 10-12 years of living in New York, exhibiting [destructive] behaviors Nina does…. I was able to write this with some distance because I’d recovered and healed enough. I also had a son five years ago, and becoming a parent gave me that kind of power. I want to be strong and good for him in the way my parents weren’t able to be for me, and that gave me strength and security.

It was more empowering to write in the sense that I don’t really think about my father anymore. As Nina also says in the movie, he committed suicide years ago, so he was already not part of my life. For me, maybe it will be liberating soon enough…. We’ll see what happens when it comes out. It was empowering to at least have some say on how I told the story, because for so long he defined me, what he did to me or what he was how I had to live.

The way you reveal what’s at the core of Nina’s struggle is so wisely done. It allows the audience to focus on her as a person versus letting her be defined by trauma.
It was difficult…. the more I could show her being the way she was without letting you know why, the better the point would be made. In my own mind, I’ve done a lot of therapy and I know a lot of survivors and we all talk about this: One of the conversations we often have is there’s no easy way of revealing this information to a significant other…. At the end of the night, you’re out on a date and you’re like, “Hey, by the way, just so you know…. I was raped by my dad for eight years.” It’s not an easy conversation to have…. There were a lot of men who walked away [because] they couldn’t handle it or it was seen as something taboo, [or they felt] people who’d gone through that weren’t worthy of being loved or having a relationship. There’s a shame that accumulates on shame, even if it’s not your own. I wanted to show some of that. When the movie starts, she’s already a little bit healthier than the moment I was just describing. She has a strong sense of self and she’s been able to hold on to comedy to save her, which is what I did with writing.

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