The Girl on the Train was one of the fastest-selling books of all time, but will the big-screen version appeal? Susan Griffin finds out
Fans of bestselling books aren’t afraid to express their views when casting decisions are made for the inevitable movie adaptations.
Take Robert Pattinson as Twilight’s Edward Cullen, or Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. There was consternation when their names were first announced, but now it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in either role.
Next up, it’s the turn of Emily Blunt, who has been deemed ‘too beautiful’ to play the lead in the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train.
“I understand if people have a preconception of what they think the character is, especially if they’ve passionately read the book, but I think they should see the film before they decide if I look pretty,” says the 33-year-old who plays Rachel, a recently divorced alcoholic who pretends to her housemate she’s heading off to work each day, when in fact she’s lost her job.
While travelling on the train into the city, she becomes obsessed with Megan and Scott, a couple who live a few doors down from the house she once owned with her husband Tom - who now resides there with his new wife Anna and baby daughter.
One day, after Rachel witnesses something that shocks her beliefs about this ‘perfect couple’, she embarks on a particularly epic binge, which leaves her waking bloodied the next morning. Shortly after, it’s reported on the news that Megan is missing - and Rachel can’t say for sure whether she has anything to do with her disappearance.
“This was a part I had never played before, someone this dark and in the depths of their despair and suffering, with a very real addiction. She is frightened of herself and she is potentially frightening, so it was a double thing to get to play,” explains Blunt, who came to prominence in The Devil Wears Prada a decade ago.
After its publication in early 2015, Hawkins’ novel became one of the fastest-selling in history. By then, the film rights had already been sold, a screenplay was under way, and the decision to move the action from London to New York had been made.
Welsh actor Luke Evans, who plays Scott, has a theory about the book’s success.
“I guess the big difference is the protagonist,” says the 37-year-old, who’s also starred in Tamara Drewe and Dracula Untold.
“One, it’s a female, so that’s unusual. And she’s very unlikeable. She’s drunk, she’s causing chaos for everybody she touches. She’s a total mess, so it’s very hard, even when you’re reading the book, to like her for quite a long period of the story. You can’t connect to her.”
Haley Bennett, who also appears in The Magnificent Seven, was chosen to play the beautiful yet damaged Megan.
“Megan is living in the suburbs as a social outcast. She’s lonely and becomes restless and reckless,” remarks the 28-year-old.
Despite many testing scenes required of her, she reveals the most challenging aspect of the shoot “was not having more scenes with Luke”.
“We were trying to string together this relationship while not having a whole lot of time to do it,” she explains - and Evans agrees.
“It needed to be meaningful to the audience, as much as it is to Rachel on the train, and to see that this relationship - as damaged and frayed as it is, there’s a huge amount of passion.”
They were required to film some pretty steamy scenes, but insist the process was more fun than awkward.
“We got very drunk actually, the first time we did it. It was Tate’s [Taylor, the director] idea and we went with it,” divulges Evans, laughing.
They even sang songs from musicals, The Lion King specifically. “If they’d put the audio on, I’m telling you now, it would’ve been a whole different scene,” he adds.
Blunt took a more traditional approach for her research, and watched numerous documentaries on alcohol addiction in preparation for her role.
“I didn’t want to do a sort of drunk uncle impersonation, and you start to see quite similar traits in what real alcoholics do, what really happens to their faces, how they walk, how they move, and it’s not usually what you think,” she observes.
“It was exciting to do that physical research because at the end of the day, I was completely stone cold sober doing this, yet having to portray someone who’s in the throes of a real buzz, to say the least.”
Blunt also discovered she was pregnant with her second child during the shoot, and because “it was a very physical film, more so than I’d anticipated”, she shared her news with a few people - including Justin Theroux who plays Tom, a man caught between his new wife and an ex who’s deteriorating into the madness of addiction.
“It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense,” says 45-year-old Theroux, star of the TV series The Leftovers. “It’s seen through the lens of a human problem.”
For the actor, the story is all about appearances. “It’s set in this suburban place so there is that picket-fence element to it, and wondering what’s behind those perfect little shutters and curtains.”
For Rachel and other commuters passing by, the view becomes all the more intimate. “There’s something about looking into people’s backyards that is almost invasive,” he continues. “You’re literally seeing their dirty laundry hanging out in the back; you’re not seeing what’s presented in the front.”
Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson was cast as Tom’s new wife Anna, a woman infuriated by Rachel’s continued presence.
“Anna is living a life that she dreams of, but not feeling she can control it,” notes the 32-year-old, who appeared in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
“Rachel is a threat but Anna will do anything to hide that and live the life of the perfect suburban housewife.”
Indeed, the movie is all about smoke and mirrors, deception and pretence, and like the book, will no doubt resonate with many in an age where people often live out a version of their life online.
“I think that voyeuristic element, that’s a universal trait in everybody,” says Blunt. “Whether they admit it or not.”
:: The Girl On The Train is released on Wednesday, October 5