Compiled by: Jack Foley
Excerpts from a syndicated interview with Michael Cunningham
(MC, novelist), David Hare (DH, screenwriter) and Stephen Daldry
(SD, director), as conducted by Sheila Johnston
Q (to MC): What prompted you to write a novel based on Virginia
Woolf's Mrs Dalloway?
MC: I read Mrs Dalloway when I was 15. I couldn't make
sense of it, but I did get something about the complexity and
density and beauty of its language. I remember thinking, 'Oh,
Virginia Woolf is doing with language something like Jimi Hendrix
does with a guitar.' It got me and it made me want to do something
like that myself. It made me understand what a book can do. I
had thought they were dusty, sad little things that lived over
there in the dim silent library. That book came to life for me
in a way that changed me forever.
Q (to DH & SD): How did you go about adapting Cunningham's
DH: It was slightly unnerving, the number of people who
came to me and said, 'Oh, you're doing The Hours - poor you.'
I couldn't see what the problem was in that the book seemed to
me so cinematic. You've got three stories and slowly, as the thing
proceeds, you begin to understand, not just how they're connected
thematically, but how they're connected literally.
If anything was an inspiration, it was Amores
Perrros, which similarly had a triangular structure and made
me feel that three is a much more exciting number than two. The
films that are really boring to me are those which go back and
However brilliantly you do it, eventually it becomes like the
Williams sisters playing baseline tennis. Possession was, I thought,
slightly trapped in that motion. What's wonderful about a triangular
structure is that you never know where you're going next. The
difficulty is at what rate you tell people things. The one thing
you must not do is obfuscate. On the other hand, you must never
let the audience get ahead of you. What was interesting was that
at the very first preview we asked people what genre they thought
it was like and the majority said it was most like a thriller
because you're trying to understand what happens and pit your
wits against the film as this is slowly revealed.
SD: Because of the very complex nature of the three stories,
we spent many, many months getting to a point when we could shoot
it. This was certainly not a film that was created in the edit
room. We pretty much knew how the stories were going to connect,
thematically, intellectually and emotionally before we shot them.
We would literally know how we would cut from one to another while
we were shooting. We prepped very well.
Q: What was Cunningham's involvement in the film?
MC: I really don't have very high moral standards and I will
do anything for money, so I was surprised when Scott [Rudin, the
producer] called to find that I was a little bit reluctant. I
did not want my book to be made into a bad movie. But when Scott
brought it David Hare, I thought, 'Great'. I don't have that thing
that a lot of writers do about the sacred text.
As far as I can tell, the only way to respond to an invitation
like this is to decide whether you're interested in the people
who want to do it and, if the answer is 'Yes,' then just turn
it over to them and say, 'Go, surprise me. See where you can take
this.' Otherwise, what fun is it? I think of my book in musical
terms, the way a jazz musician might play improvisations on an
older, existing great piece of music in order to pay tribute to
it, play around with it, understand it better, make something
new out of a work of art that already exists. The movie is an
improvisation on an improvisation.
DH: Michael and I had a sort of psychic tryst. We met for
four or five hours and he said to me, 'Look, I took Virginia Woolf's
novel, Mrs Dalloway, and did what I wanted with it in order to
rewrite it in a contemporary way. Now you must go off and write
what you wish to and we'll hand the baton on.' I never met Michael
again until the film was completed. And I feel that, by as it
were being unfaithful, I remain true to the spirit of what he
Q: What does Virginia Woolf mean for you?
SD: Having done an English Literature degree at university,
I was deeply aware of Virginia Woolf and somehow she'd always
stayed with me. The great thing about her, one of the reasons
she is so current in our consciousness is that she can be reinvented
by each generation. She feels like a contemporary rather than
a literary figure from the past. She was a central figure in the
1970s women's movement with A Room Of One's Own, so she has huge
social as well as a literary and cultural importance.
DH: We were worried the Virginia Woolf story would come
across as a conventional period piece, but I think the casting
of Nicole Kidman was very much an attempt to avoid that. In Britain
there was a certain amount of snobbish laughter at the idea of
Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf, but that was an absolutely
deliberate attempt on Stephen's part to confound expectations
and I hope it does make that Virginia Woolf material seem much