Tanya Wexler Video Interview On Directing 'Hysteria,' Vibrators
As the director of Hysteria, a film surrouding the delicate topic of the invention of the vibrator, Tanya Wexler was pre-occupied with being accurate.
“We were surprisingly fastidious about historical accuracy,” Wexler told Uinterview exclusively about Hysteria. “I mean, if something was just so funny that we couldn’t restrain ourselves. Like there’s a shot where all three actors put on these goggles, and I was like, 'I don’t really care. I don’t care if it’s period accurate — it’s too funny.' But on the whole, everything was supposed to be incredibly buttoned down, so that we could feel like this really happened, you know?”
Despite the sexy subject matter, Wexler pitched Hysteria as a romantic comedy. “I think what’s great about the film is that it lets us laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of human behavior. So I always wanted it to be a comedy,” she said.
And there’s also a serious underlying message to the lighthearted film. “It’s really an empowerment message, which is, ‘You’re in charge of your own happiness.’ And sometimes, your happiness needs a charger, I guess.”
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Read more about Hysteria, starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, here:
- Q: I was curious to know if you deliberately chose the romantic comedy format to tell the story of the invention of the vibrator, or if it was in the natural development of the writing process. - Gemma Juan-Simo
- A: It came to me as a romantic comedy. It was pitched to me as a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England. So for me, it wasn’t much of a choice, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way, because I think what’s great about the film is that it lets us laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of human behavior. So I always wanted it to be a comedy.
- Q: Given Hugh Dancy’s superbly good looks, and then pair it with the often tongue-and-cheek subject matter, were there any moments on set that stand out as either awkward or hilarious? - Siobhan McBride
- A: I have to say, I wish I could give you some dish. There’s not a ton of dish with Hugh, who is a cutie; he is really a handsome fellow. He was quite a good boy. He’s really fun on set, but he does not get up to no good. We definitely had a few random, silly, make-out things. We staged a little thing with Sheridan Smith where you’d open the door and suddenly she’s making out with the on-set art director, but only in jest. But the most bizarre thing was a bit where Hugh’s character and Felicity Jones’ character are walking in the park and they see some ducks, and that is supposed to be this romantic, beautiful, Victorian walk in the park, but then the ducks start “shagging”, and that was impossible to find. So I think the funniest bit was trying to get these trained ducks to mate, which they just won’t do on command. So later in post-production, I had to have my boom operator, who is a naturalist photographer by hobby; he had to try to shoot ducks shagging in this rookery. And I have like 10 days-hard drives full of duck porno. It’s ridiculous. Finally, three days before we locked picture, I was able to find in the stock footage bank ducks shagging on command in the right shot that would match everything we shot. But I definitely had a struggle, I had a producer come up to me about a week before we locked picture and say, “You know, were gonna have to contemplate a duck-f***ing-free movie.” And it was really upsetting to me; I don’t know what I would have done.
- Q: Being that your film is a period piece, how important was it for you to get historical accuracy during the film making process? - Siobhan McBride
- A: Historical accuracy was incredibly important to us, because for me, the big joke isn’t “Ha ha, vibrator.” The big joke is, “Can you believe they really did this?” And in order to believe they really did this you have to believe it happened. We were surprisingly fastidious about historical accuracy. I mean, if something was just so funny that we couldn’t restrain ourselves. Like there’s a shot where all three put on these goggles, and I was like, “I don’t really care. I don’t care if it’s period accurate, it’s too funny.” But on the whole, everything was supposed to be incredibly buttoned down, so that we could feel like this really happened, you know? It’s not really supposed to be a comment on anything, it was supposed to show what happened when we played it straight and let people laugh at the absurdity of the human condition.
- Q: On the surface, ‘Hysteria’ looks like quite a departure from your previous work. Why did you think this story needed to be told, and how did you get involved in a project that was a period piece? - Mijon Zulu
- A: I think that the story is just funny. That’s basically it. A producer who’s a friend of mine came up to me and said, “I know what your next movie is, it’s a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England.” And I said, “Yes! Sign me up, I’m in.” It made me laugh, and that’s why it had to be told. I just thought, no one’s making this, so I’m gonna have to make it, cause I wanna see it. And that’s it. I wish that I had more noble reasons, but I just thought, “Oh my god, I’m gonna pee my pants laughing, this is so funny; I have to take this movie.” There you go.
- Q: Would you consider this a period piece, or a modern piece set in a different period? - Mijon Zulu
- A: Yeah, you know, that’s a good question. That isn’t something I get asked a lot, but it’s something I think about a lot. It is definitely, in my mind, a romantic comedy that happens to be set in the Victorian Era, due to the facts of history. I didn’t set out and go, “I want to make a Victorian film, what would be funny?” I said, “I want to make this film about the invention of the vibrator that took place in Victorian England.” That’s a very good question.
- Q: ‘Hysteria’ is a light and humorous romantic comedy, but what is the serious underlying message viewers can take from it? - Siobhan Goddard
- A: Yes, ‘Hysteria’ is a light romantic comedy, and I think in a way, that is the message. The message is, if there is one at all, “It doesn’t take a doctor. It’s only supposed to be a bit of fun.” And I think Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is in a large part the truth-teller, to kind of say, “Let’s not medicalize and turn things that are supposed to be fun into serious stuff. There’s plenty of serious stuff there, let’s keep the fun things fun.” It’s really an empowerment message, which is, “You’re in charge of your own happiness.” And sometimes, your happiness needs a charger, I guess.
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