In the middle of the night, Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) receives a phone call. His wife and perfect counterpart, Joan (Glenn Close), runs to the other room to get on the line at his behest. They are informed that Joe has won the Nobel Prize for his body of literary work – a legacy 40 years in the making. And just like that, the Castleman’s are whisking off to Sweden to participate in the pageantry and traditions of the Nobel ceremony.

Though it should be a marvelous time and an honor, something is brewing just beneath the surface for this seemingly perfect duo. Years of self-sacrifice, infidelities, and resentments are ready to come out and the prize is simply the catalyst.

The Wife is directed by Björn Runge, and adapted by Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer’s best-selling novel of the same name. In addition to Close and Pryce, it stars Christian Slater as Nathaniel Bone, an eager reporter looking to write the Joe Castleman biography (with or without Joe’s permission), and Annie Starke who plays a young Joan and who is also Close’s daughter.

ScreenPicks spoke with both the off-and on-screen talent about what it was like bringing The Wife to the big screen.

On the inspiration for the novel:

Meg Wolitzer: I’ve been thinking about a lot of issues that are at play in the book for a very long time, and I’m the daughter of a writer… [My mother] was a housewife who began writing. When she published her novel in the 70s, a review said something like “Housewife Turns Into Novelist,” and she said it was as if she was a superhero who came out of a phone booth – it was so strange for a housewife to do that. So, I was struck watching my mother write. I was very moved by it … though [the novel] is not so much a story about writers as it is about marriage, really. I’m interested in marriage and the geometry of marriage — power dynamics, male power, female power, complicity on both parts. So, marriage really interested me and then I had seen the world of my mother.

On adapting the novel into a script:

Jane Anderson: My job is to pick those lines that will resonate. You pick and choose.

Wolitzer: In a funny way … I put [something] in [the novel] and she takes a piece from it. It’s like a collage quality almost, the way a film gets made.

On what drew the actors to the script:

Christian Slater: Well, I read the script and thought it was amazing. I sat down with the producer Rosalie [Swedlin] … and I was intrigued by the character of Nathaniel Bone. I thought he was a fun journalist guy. I had a lot of experience doing interviews in the past, so I tried to just collect whatever information I could remember from people I’ve met in [the press].

Annie Starke: I’ve been a fan of Jane Anderson. So, I voraciously read the script. I almost got tunnel vision, I would say, reading it. I just really fell in love with the story and the complexity of it all and just the wonderful Joan Castleman.

Glenn Close: I usually get a really, really instant reaction to a script – the style of the writing … a certain kind of writing that I would say is elegant, that leaves a lot of room for an actor … but I was also intrigued by her [Joan] and thought it was new territory for me.

Jonathan Pryce: Money.

[Everyone laughs]

Pryce: It’s simple. I just really, really liked the script. It’s the kind of script that you don’t get very often. It’s a script that didn’t need endless rewrites. It was concise, economical and had a complex story that one would find interesting to find a way of telling. Also, the director, Björn, I saw two of his films and I liked them very much. And, I was very much looking forward to doing this with Glenn.

On the challenge of getting inside Joan’s head:

Close: I had to understand why she never left him. I thought that was the obvious thing. I didn’t want to make a movie where all the woman would just jump up and say, “Oh, just leave him!” It was so much more complex than that. I think the journey, the exploration we all did to answer that question really made – for me – ultimately a character I could believe in and love.

On audience’s perceptions of the film:

Close: The thing I’ve been really gratified by with talking to a lot of people in the last few days is that numerous people have said that they look at it as a love story.

Pryce: I’m one of them! Yes, it’s about a couple of writers and the Nobel prize, but it’s a love story and it has all the complexities of long-term relationships.

On those complexities:

Anderson: This is not a film about a victimhood – it’s about a marriage. The deals we make in a marriage, you make them originally out of love and a need to be with someone.

Wolitzer: It’s like a secret, invisible contract you sign.

On the role the #MeToo movement and the current climate is playing in the release of the film:

Close: The fact that this movie is called The Wife and it was a novel written by a woman and adapted by a woman, and it was so hard to make – that says something about the #MeToo movement and the need for it.

Anderson: Here’s the thing, back in 2004, the studio system was not ready or willing to do a film that featured a female protagonist. If it was called “The Husband” it would be different. But now, in 2018 with #MeToo, this film – we’ve hit the zeitgeist. So as artists you write what you write and you create what you create and then once in a while your work gets released at the right moment.

Wolitzer: You can’t game it. You write the things you’re obsessed about … and it’s so gratifying [now] to hear an audience respond.

Close: We represent what I hope continues to happen – two women writers, a woman composer, a woman editor, a woman costumer, and many women producers, who happen to be the best for this project. Rosalie Swedlin, without [her] this movie never would have been made. So, I hope this movie represents the kind of collaboration that will happen going forward. I hope that with the success of this movie it will give people permission to go after these kinds of movies and stories.

On how much was planned versus unfolded organically on screen for the actors:

Starke: I think what was incredibly unique about this experience was the environment that Björn and the DP Ulf [Brantås fsf] created. There were always two cameras filming simultaneously, getting all of the coverage that you needed, and they were also set up in such a way, and they would move the camera so that it was right exactly where it should be at any moment. And in doing that, it gave us an enormous amount of freedom to find performances and little nuances organically. So from my experience, we did the takes many different times, different ways, and each time you just allow yourself to be in the moment.

Pryce: We’d been doing all these things organically, instinctively – the looks and especially Glenn’s silences — and often those things end up on the cutting room floor. But the objective of this editor was to show what happens –

Slater: Internally. You’re saying everything but saying nothing.

Close: I really think that Björn knows where to put the camera to record what we’re doing. He knows how to use a close up and to light the face so that you can see the eyes. You might think “Well, that’s what everybody should do.” But that’s not what everybody does.

Runge: For me, I tried to create an atmosphere of trust so that the actors know that we will take care of that acting energy in the best way. I remember the moment when Glenn came up to me and said, “From now on, I’m going to trust your instincts … because I trust you now.” We [got] to a level where we were free to be free.

On getting those beautiful shots Starke and Close mentioned:

Runge: I met Glenn many times before the shooting … And I always loved her face. She had a face that I didn’t recognize from the films in recent years. I wondered, “Why do I not recognize her face privately from the face I see publicly?” And then I was talking with my photographer, we were saying it was something with the light.

We began to do screen tests with Glenn with a very soft light – nearly shadeless light. And that allows us – the audience – to see whatever happens in a face. And that was the key to the close-ups.

The Wife opens in theaters Friday, August 17th.