By Maureen Lee Lenker
September 14, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Amazon Studios

Rachel Brosnahan is trading in her girdle and black evening gowns for some bellbottoms.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star is time-hopping to the 1970s for her new film I'm Your Woman, coming to theaters in December. Directed by Julia Hart (Fast Color), who also co-wrote the script with Jordan Horowitz (La La Land), the film follows a woman named Jean (Brosnahan) who goes on the run with her child due to her husband's crimes.

The exclusive first-look photo above gives a glimpse of Jean on the lam, nestled in a getaway car as she contemplates what will come next. (Having endeared herself to television audiences as a brunette, Brosnahan sports her natural blond hair in the film.)

As she tries to stay safe, Jean's life intersects with a man (Arinzé Kene) and woman (Marsha Stephanie Blake) who help her learn how to do more than just survive. The film draws on signature '70s crime dramas to offer a compelling portrait of the women who are often left at home in those stories. "The primary inspiration for wanting to set in the '70s was to reclaim a bit of that period and that genre for a female protagonist," Hart tells EW.

It might draw heavily on 1970s cinema, but the movie is pure Hart, employing a soundtrack full of evocative needle-drops and presenting audiences with a compelling tale of a woman coming into her own. We called up the director to discuss her distinctive use of music, flipping the tropes of 1970s thrillers on their head, her and Brosnahan's mutual love of babies, and more.

I'm Your Woman will be released via Amazon Prime Video later this year. The film will premiere as the Opening Night selection of this year's AFI Film Festival, launching online on Oct. 15.

Read our Q&A with Hart below.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Like Fast Color, this new film revolves around a woman on the run. What is it that keeps bringing you back to that narrative?

JULIA HART: It's such a powerful metaphor for what it means to be a woman in the world. I just feel like we are constantly on the run, dodging misogyny and trying to push the glass ceiling up. So much of the world is against women or wants women to fail, or doesn't want us to succeed or come into our power. I often feel like we're constantly on the run and having to rescue ourselves, and give ourselves permission to come into our own powers since the world doesn't always seem to want us to.

Why did you want to set it in the 1970s?

One of my favorite genres of film is the '70s crime drama, even though they aren't necessarily as interested in female stories as they are male stories. There's so many incredible actresses who played supporting roles in those films: Diane Keaton, Tuesday Weld, Teresa Wright, Ali MacGraw. They are always pushed to the edges of those movies. The men are always the protagonists, and a lot of the time it's white men. You have these formidable actresses, and they always get kicked out of the movie just as the action gets going because the man doesn't think the woman can handle it. He often sends his wife and his children to safety. Every time I saw that in those movies I was like, "I want to know what's happening to her; I want to go see that movie." So I just decided to make it.

Where did the title come from?

One of the biggest inspirations for the film was the movie Thief. We actually thank Michael Mann, in the special thanks at the end of the movie, for that. There's a line in the movie where Tuesday Weld says, "I'm your woman and you're my man." That really stuck with me, especially because in crime drama there's always this idea of like, "I'm your man," like he's the man, like he's the one who's going to take care of it. I loved taking her declaration of being a wife and partner and putting it into the genre aspect of what that phrase can mean, which is instead of being the supporting character, this time I'm the one.

The whole atmosphere and tone of the film really capture the feeling of '70s cinema and the cynicism and existential dread that defined filmmaking in that decade. Can you tell us a bit more about how you achieved that, because it feels like something slightly intangible to strive for?

We wanted to make a movie that was set in the '70s, but as is always the case in real life, every single thing on screen isn't from the '70s. We wanted to have songs from the '50s and '60s as well as songs from the '70s. We wanted cars from the '50s and '60s as well as the '70s. To create that realistic image of what America looks like in the 1970s. Perhaps the instinct would be to shoot on film or with vintage lenses, and instead we took this, what we tried to make, authentic world that had pieces from all different time periods — hairstyles that were a bit more contemporary and some that were a bit more timeless — to shoot it digitally and on new lenses. It was fun to take those artifacts of the past, but shoot them literally through a contemporary lens, in order to make it feel like an authentic representation of the '70s.

Music is really important in your films, from Fast Color to the jukebox musical stylings of Stargirl to the soundtrack here. Why is it so essential to your process?

It's funny because movies are my calling. It's my career. It's what I do and have wanted to do for a long time. But music weirdly is my passion. I have never played an instrument. I cannot sing to save my life. I was a dancer my whole life. I do have musicality. I understand music, but it's this art form that's magic for me because I don't understand a lot of the technicality of it. There's this Audrey Hepburn quote that she said to Henry Mancini at one point about how a movie without music is like a plane without wings. That's so true — there's something about setting the right piece of music to the right image that is just the most transcendent art form we've been able to achieve. I feel so lucky that I get to do that all the time.

How early do the songs come into the storytelling process?

I work with this incredible music supervisor, Dan Wilcox. He's also a KCRW DJ. I work with him on a script level. When we're writing a script, if we're stuck on something, we reach out to him and start to have those conversation very early. So I put all of those songs in the scripts, literally like the lyrics and it'll say, "Aretha Franklin kicks in." I just feel so lucky every time that we actually get to have those songs. It's an incredibly important part of the process to start early because it can be tricky. There have been times where things haven't worked out and he's gotten creative with us and introduced us to other things. If you're patient and you're listening and paying attention, the right thing will usually come to you.

Rachel Brosnahan is the heart of the film and has long periods where it's just her and the baby on screen. Did you write it around her, and why was she your choice for Jean?

We were working on the script for about six years. Not trying to get it made, it wasn't like one of those stories. We just knew that we wanted to wait, that I had enough filmmaking experience under my belt to make a movie of this size and scope. So we had been working on the character of Jean for years, before Rachel was even on my radar because she's a fairly young actor. We had seen House of Cards, which she was amazing in, and then we started watching the first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel like the entire rest of the world. And we were like, "Oh my God, that range." That's the kind of actor we need to play Jean — someone who can believably go through the journey that she goes through, and we also thought it was exciting that it was such a different part for her than what she had done before. It also really helps that she loves babies. She's the only person I've met who loves babies as much as I do.

Considering the amount of screen time they share, I'd say that's hugely important.

We didn't know that when we cast her in the part. It was just a lucky happenstance. They literally tell you, "Don't work with kids and animals." When they say kids, they really mean don't work with babies, and I just always hated that because we all started as babies, and the representation of babies on screen, it's the beginning of life. It's such an incredible thing to be able to capture on film, but for obvious reasons it's very difficult. A baby cannot act. A baby is just living its life. A baby can only work a couple hours a day. It was so cool to watch everybody on set every day — [the babies] grounded everyone. They made you have to rethink how do you even make a movie because they're just in the moment, and it made all of us be in the moment. It was particularly incredible to watch Rachel have to do everything she does, have to go through everything she goes through, and do most of it with a baby as her scene partner.

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