DE PALMA TOLD HER LAURA DERN WAS THE ONLY ACTRESS TO HAVE THE GUTS TO TAKE THIS ROLE
The Tale, a deeply personal story of abuse from filmmaker Jennifer Fox, premieres on HBO this Saturday (May 26th). Fox is a friend of Brian De Palma's, who, by several accounts below, was instrumental in bringing this project to the attention of Laura Dern. Broadly's Kerensa Cadenas posted a profile/interview piece on Fox today-- this is from the introduction:
Jennifer Fox isn’t new to Hollywood—the accomplished documentarian has directed and produced many of her own docs and supported others work as well. She can count Hollywood legends like director Brian De Palma and Oren Moverman as friends and mentors. (Both of whom were more than willing to call up Laura Dern on her behalf.) Though many would be apprehensive to divulge their personal histories on film, Fox was excited to do so with The Tale.
Premiering on HBO this Friday, May 26, The Tale tells the true story of Fox’s own childhood. When Fox (played by Dern) was 13, she wrote a short story documenting her relationship with an older man. When her mother Nettie (Ellen Burstyn) discovers the story decades later, Fox is forced to take a hard look at her childhood sexual abuse and the memories she twisted and repressed.
The Tale is gut-wrenching and tough to watch, but with Fox’s deft hand as a documentarian and a towering performance from Dern (who De Palma told Fox was the only actress to have the guts to take this role), it is a complex and unflinching look at the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
Also today, Deadline's Joe Utichi posted a summary from Sunday night's director and cast panel at the AwardsLine screening of the film at LA’s Landmark Theatre, which Utichi moderated:
Based on Fox’s own life—Dern and Nélisse play Jennifer Fox at different ages—The Tale deals with the moment, years after the fact, that Fox was forced to grapple with the memories of her first sexual encounter aged 13. “It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that what I called a relationship, all of a sudden I realized was abuse,” she noted.
Fox, whose storied work in documentary film includes the highly personal series Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman, turned to narrative film for the first time to construct a wholly unique portrait of the way memories can shift and rewrite themselves in our minds. It is with the rediscovery of an essay written when she was 13 that the older Jennifer Fox, played by Dern, is forced to confront the 13-year-old version of herself (Nélisse), who framed her relationship with a much older running coach in the language of first love and unforced desire.
“It took me years to write [the film] because it was such a complicated telling, and it’s really more about the stories we tell ourselves to survive, and why we need to tell ourselves stories,” the filmmaker explained. “There are so many things that are too heavy to deal with when you’re younger, that it takes until maturity to be able to face.”
Dern’s journey with The Tale stemmed from a conversation with filmmaker Brian De Palma, an important mentor to Fox. Dern recalled De Palma’s powerful and compelling brief: “[He] said, ‘You’re going to receive a script that is difficult and painful and brave…But take it seriously. It’s so radical, it’s so brave, and you should go on this journey.'”
For Dern, “What’s extraordinary about this time is that we all are considering together how we’ve normalized behavior, to ourselves, as a community, as a culture. It has been a reckoning for many of us individually, to see how we said things like, ‘Well, it was the ‘70s,’ or ‘I looked very mature for my age.’ We took the blame, and we were silenced by our own cultural shaming.”
It was a welcome, if unexpected, climate in which to launch the film, she said, noting the conversations about taking on this story began many years ago. “This zeitgeist has said that there is restorative justice here,” Dern said. “There is reward in being a witness to something and sharing your voice, and that has really changed the conversation. There is therefore less fear, through a piece of art that you make, to all have conversations together, and hopefully, allow it be the groundbreaking time we all so desperately need.“
Fox noted the particular courage shown by Jason Ritter in taking on the role of her abuser Bill. “I think, Jason, you’re the most courageous, actually, of all of us,” she said. “We know from statistics that 93% of perpetrators are known by the children who they abuse. That means that they don’t look evil; they’re part of communities; they’re successful, they’re loved. Jason really embodied the kindness and the complexity of what I wanted to bring to this telling.”
But by the time he’d read it, he insisted, “there had already been so many incredible acts of courage that led up to this moment—Jennifer writing it, people coming on board. If I was going to be the coward to back out at the end, I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself. The truth was that I read the script and I thought it was so profound and incredibly honest, and I felt like I was opening doors in my mind that I hadn’t even cared to open, looking at this experience and getting a deeper understanding of what this can be like.”
And one more article, from USA Today's Patrick Ryan
When filmmaker Jennifer Fox was 13, she wrote a story for English class about a young girl who is coerced into a sexual relationship with her 40-year-old running coach.
Little did her teacher know, the story was true.
"I got an A," says Fox, now 58. "My teacher wrote on the back, 'If this is true, it's a travesty. But since you're so well-adjusted, it can't be.' "
Four decades later, Fox has adapted her account into a harrowing feature film, The Tale, which premieres on HBO Saturday (10 ET/PT). Two-time Oscar nominee Laura Dern plays an adult Jennifer — a successful documentarian and professor — as she confronts the truth that her childhood "romance" with Bill (Jason Ritter) was sexual abuse. With the support of her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and boyfriend (Common), she reconnects with people from her past in an effort to remember what happened after years of suppression.
"The film is about memory and the stories we tell ourselves to survive," says Dern, 51, who was brought the script by director Brian De Palma, Fox's friend and mentor. "I think we all find that relatable, not just people who have experienced sexual abuse or assault."
Dern identifies with Fox's story, having grown up as a teen actress on movie sets, where she experienced sexual harassment. She says she never recognized it for what it was until the Me Too movement started last fall, as women and men came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct and abuses of power.
"I didn't realize until recently that my experiences of harassment were harassment," Dern says. "For so many young girls and boys, behavior is justified because it's like, 'Well, they did that. Maybe that's normal.' We presume that's just the way it works in Hollywood."
Like her fictionalized character in The Tale, Fox didn't fully process her trauma until middle age, as she interviewed women around the world for her 2006 documentary Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman and began to hear similar stories. She's careful to make the distinction between sexual assault and abuse, when someone is manipulated into thinking "he or she is agreeing to something which is sexual, but it isn't often violent," Fox says. "It's different from rape."