THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
About The Production
Lulled to Voyeurism:
The Dramatic Thriller Begins
Although former journalist Paula Hawkins had previously written several books
as an author for hire, "The Girl on the Train" was the first novel released
under her own name. After its publication in January 2015, Hawkins' story became
one of the fastest-selling novels in history, with more than 15 million copies
sold globally. In its first week, "The Girl on the Train" landed in the top spot
of The New York Times Best Sellers List. In fact, it remained on the list for
more than a year, spending much of that time at No. 1. In 2015, it became
Amazon's Best Seller in Books, Most Wished for in Books, as well as its Best
Seller in eBooks, while Hawkins was lauded by USA Today as Author of the Year.
The inspiration for her gripping whodunit of witnesses who become suspects
was inspired by Hawkins' daily experiences on the commuter rail through London.
"There was one particular route where the train was always breaking down, and I
would sit and look into these apartment blocks, and you could see right into
someone's living room," she recounts. "I was always hoping I'd see something
interesting, although I never did. But it started my imagination going, and
that's where the germ of the story came from."
Told from the perspective of three women, the book's primary narrator is
Rachel, a thirtysomething commuter on British Rail whose life is a wreck after a
failed marriage. While her drinking cost Rachel her job, she continues to take
the train into the city, in order to give the impression to her roommate she's
still working. But Rachel also enjoys obsessing upon the lives of others, while
furtively sipping liquor from a water bottle.
In Hawkins' tale, Rachel's plunge into the depths of alcoholism clouds her
memories. It also fuels her growing paranoia when her investigation into Megan's
disappearance points to the chance that she may have been involved. "That's when
we start to discover that Rachel isn't particularly reliable at all, and she's
got all these problems that suck her into the story," says Hawkins. "Her memory
loss is key to her sense of who she's become. She has a twisted sense of guilt
and responsibility because she doesn't remember her actions." Still Hawkins
advises, her protagonist is strong underneath the drama. "Over the course of the
book, we see her fight back."
Producer Marc Platt and DreamWorks acquired the rights to Hawkins' debut
thriller in 2014, prior to the novel's publication. "My colleague, Jared LeBoff,
read a manuscript that was submitted and thought it was a great story," recounts
Platt. "He gave it to me, and I loved it. DreamWorks was reading it then as
well, and they felt the same. We all got married together, bought the film
rights and developed it."
Platt goes on to describe why he knew Hawkins' novel would be perfect
material for a filmic adaptation: "It had genre elements of a thriller, and yet
it felt contemporary, full of interesting, flawed characters. We're all a bit
voyeuristic, so the notion of riding a train every day and being one of the
people in the crowd, and observing a life-and then all of sudden seeing
something wrong in that view-is very Hitchcockian, very Rear Window, which is a
But to Platt-and the millions of other readers who continue to devour
Hawkins' story-the book is so much more than a tantalizing, sexually charged
mystery. "In addition to having thrills, it's a satisfying character journey,"
he states. "Ultimately, it's about a character who renews herself and repairs
To adapt Hawkins' book, the filmmakers turned to Erin Cressida Wilson,
acclaimed for her film adaptations of female-centric stories, such as Chloe,
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Secretary, which earned Wilson an
Independent Spirit Award. "We were looking for a female screenwriter, and we had
long admired Erin's work," the producer says. "Of course, the writer didn't have
to be a female, but it felt like a woman could really capture the voice of the
women in Paula's story."
Describing "The Girl on the Train" as "the moving Rear Window," Wilson had
also spent much time as a train passenger. "I sat behind that window a lot, and
looked at the backs of houses and just loved it," she reflects. "Paula captures
that feeling of the rock-a-bye of being on a train, and being lulled to blissful
Wilson admits that which few of us have the wherewithal to share. "I've
always been interested-both personally and in terms of literature in cinema-in
voyeurism, and that's always been sort of a 'pervy' thing," the screenwriter
laughs. "Suddenly, Paula was able to make it not so, and make it a tale for
While certain chapters of "The Girl on the Train" are also narrated by Megan,
half of the perfect couple upon whom Rachel spies, and Anna, the second wife of
Rachel's ex-husband, Wilson knew that one character was pivotal to the
adaptation. "It was important to me that this film be written from Rachel's
point of view, just like the book was," she reveals. "The lens of the film is
hers. It's that of an outsider; it's removed. It's frustrated, angry and poetic.
In some ways, I had to make the camera drunk. I had to write it like the camera
was inebriated, and that was fun."
Platt understood the translation from book to script would be a challenging
one indeed. "Erin's take on the material was interesting, and she delivered," he
commends. "It is very much taken from the book, so fans will be satisfied, but
Erin also found a way to enhance and embellish elements to make the language of
it even more cinematic...yet retain the integrity of the source."
One key change from the novel would be the film's setting, which was moved to
New York and its Metro-North commuter rail line, which runs to Westchester
County from the city. The most western of the routes that originate at Grand
Central Station in Manhattan, Metro-North's Hudson Line, passes through Harlem
and the Bronx before hugging the Hudson River. Its commuter trains travel
through the working river towns, forested parkland, and leafy suburbs of
Westchester, and these scenescapes would offer the production an abundance of
looks from which to choose.
While the novel is set in London, a city that is built on commuters coming in
on a complicated railway system, the filmmakers opted to set the thriller in and
around Manhattan. "We thought in New York we could find the same kind of
environment because New York is also a commuter city that's parallel to London,"
states Platt. "Setting it in New York also allowed us to have a stronger
relatability for our domestic audience, but it doesn't change the dynamics of
Switching locales made it even more intriguing for the screenwriter. "I never
considered putting it in England, partially because we didn't know the book was
going to be famous," adds Wilson. "From day one, I said I wanted it on the
Hudson Line. I was thinking of films like Falling in Love and Unfaithful, and I
love that route and the way that it's been depicted in films."
There was no more important audience member to satisfy than the story's
creator. Hawkins, who says that the universal themes of voyeurism and
loneliness, addiction and passion in "The Girl on the Train" allow for the story
to take place in any city with a mass transit system, blessed the relocation.
"We've moved out to Westchester, and I actually love the look of it," she says.
In an interesting twist, Wilson turned in her first draft of The Girl on the
Train the same week that Hawkins' book was published. At the time, no one could
have known that the novel would go on to produce such record-breaking sales. "I
particularly didn't expect it to do this well on this side of the Atlantic,"
says the author. "But it's been amazing."
As the screenwriter adapted Hawkins' work, she felt that the author hit
something in the zeitgeist about what makes us all so very human. "With longing,
your lover never lets you down by being boring; they're whatever you make them
up to be," reflects Wilson. "Rachel's longing for the perfect lives of the young
couple she sees from the train is something many can relate to, especially with
the rise of social media, where everyone's family is beautiful and always happy.
We look at people's relationships and think they're perfect." She pauses. "But
there are so many things we just don't see."
To helm The Girl on the Train, DreamWorks and Platt turned to Tate Taylor,
director of the former's acclaimed drama The Help and Universal's powerful
biopic Get on Up. Nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, The Help was
also honored with Oscar nominations for several of its female cast, with the
film's Octavia Spencer winning the statuette for Best Actress in a Supporting
Role. "Tate is someone whose work I have long admired," raves Platt. "His
strength is that he understands people, and he has a particular affinity for
understanding women. He was drawn to these characters and also has had people in
his life who have gone through addiction...and emerged on the other side."
"Tate is obviously a fantastic director, and his vision for the film is quite
similar to my vision for the book," adds Hawkins. "We talked about keeping the
sort of paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere, but the heart of the story is the
Taylor describes how he once again became involved with the studio, which had
proved to be such crucial partners on one of his first films: "Holly Bario,
president of production at DreamWorks, called and asked me to read 'The Girl on
the Train' and if I'd be interested in directing the film. As I read it, I saw a
way into it, and I called her and said, 'I'm in.' Thus began the process." As
was the case in their last collaboration, the book phenomenon was just beginning
to take hold. Says Taylor: "Much like The Help, it unfolded as I began the
The director appreciates any source material that allows him to explore and
deepen a character on the screen. "When I saw another book told from the
perspective of three women, that immediately interested me," he offers, "and to
flex my muscle in the area of a thriller was exciting. As well, the universal
themes of loneliness, desperation and battling addiction touched me. It was
important to reveal and portray them truthfully." In fact, that's one of the few
things Hawkins asked of him. Taylor recalls: "She said, 'Just make it great, and
make it truthful.'"
As Taylor prepared for the shoot, he revisited many of his favorite thrillers
in film. Still, there was an ingredient he felt was missing in many of these
classics. He notes: "I noticed that while so many were beautifully shot and
thrilling, you often don't get to know the characters well. Perhaps there hasn't
always been room for that in a genre like this. But with Paula's book, I saw the
opportunity to have both for our film, which I call a dramatic thriller. The
more you can deepen character and dramatic elements, the more the thriller
aspects rise to the top; you're simply trying to figure everybody out in this
Finding the Passengers:
Train Is Cast
Once the production announced it was casting The Girl on the Train, the role
of Rachel Watson became a much-sought-after part. As there are not scores of
enviable female-leading roles in Hollywood that represent fully developed and
complex characters like Rachel, the calls for consideration were coming in all
over. When the dust settled, only one name rose to the top: Emily Blunt.
The Golden Globe Award-winning actress' versatility has shone in a wide range
of roles in such films as the comedy The Devil Wears Prada and the drama The
Young Victoria to actioners including Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario. "Emily has
tremendous skill as an actor, and she was our first choice," lauds Platt, who
had previously worked with Blunt on the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical
Into the Woods, which he produced. "We felt that she not only had the skill
required, but in all of her characters, there's something innately relatable.
Rachel is very hard on herself, drinks heavily and is destructive in her
behavior. Emily has the ability to play all those colors and complexities and
darkness but still remain likable, understandable and accessible."
Hawkins professed her excitement for the casting, noting, "Emily couldn't be
more perfect," and Blunt's director had nothing but raves as well. "She is
Rachel in a stunning way," lauds Taylor. Even though the story's setting has
moved across the pond, Taylor insisted that the British performer keep her
accent. "It added to the loneliness and isolationism to have a person from the
U.K. stuck without a life or a husband in America, and Emily pulls it off
fabulously. Audiences will be blown away by her performance."
Blunt first became aware of the phenomenon that was "The Girl on the Train"
through her sister, Felicity, who is a literary agent. "She told me, 'This book
is selling like quick fire.' I'd go into any airport or bookstore and saw that
it was the No. 1 bestseller. I could see people reading it on the subway and on
airplanes. So I was aware of the tsunami of interest before I was approached by
the producers. When they asked if I was interested in coming in, that's when I
read the book. And I read it in two days."
The performer admits that she was struck by just how visceral she found the
thriller to be, and grew further impressed with Wilson's work on the script
about this "delusional Nancy Drew character," as she puts it. "I loved seeing
the screenplay capture Rachel's intensity, and the fact that it is told in a
sort of blurry sense...because the lead character is an alcoholic and the most
unreliable witness to a crime.
"I was fascinated by how they were filmically going to capture that sense of
addiction and voyeurism," Blunt continues, "what we think we see and don't, what
we think we remember and don't...and the blurry lines between all of those
aspects." In fact, that commitment to unexpected narrative sold her on the story
and the film. "What I loved about the book and the script is that they
articulately managed to depict broken, damaged women. You don't see that in
cinema very often, as women are often held in a male ideal. Both the book and
the film strive away from that."
Blunt is the first to admit that, no matter the genre or motivation, she'll
only approach characters that have an unexpected depth. "All you want is to try
and understand the people you play. As the onion unravels with Rachel, you
quickly realize she has a drinking problem and is incredibly untethered and
unstable," she shares. "Rachel's riddled with guilt, loneliness and desperation,
as well as the need for love and connection, and she finds a great deal of
comfort and solace in the people she obsesses over. They seem like a match made
in heaven, and they know a love she no longer has in her life. I have huge
empathy for her."
To play the part of Anna, Rachel's ex-husband's new wife, the team cast
Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who came to the attention of global audiences
with her breakthrough performance in Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation. "Rebecca
is a lovely actress who is coming into her own," says Platt. "The camera loves
An adoring new mother to baby Evie, Anna has left her career in real estate
and devotes her energy to building the ideal home for her family. "I see Anna as
a woman who had the check list," describes Ferguson. "When I was younger, people
said, 'You're supposed to be married before this age, and you're supposed to
have this much money and children. Anna has checked the list, and is now just
trying maintain it. Her little baby is her everything, and she will do anything
to protect her."
Tom's ex-wife, however, is an unwanted presence in Anna's world. Much to
Anna's chagrin, Rachel still texts Tom, and Anna suspects the frequent hang-up
calls in the middle of the night are also from his former spouse. "Anna is
living a life that she dreams of, but not feeling that she can control it,"
Ferguson adds. "Rachel is a threat, but Anna will do anything to hide that and
live the life of the perfect suburban housewife."
Even though their characters begin the film as mortal enemies, there was
nothing but love from Blunt toward Ferguson. She lauds: "Rebecca has the most
beautiful, expressive face, and she's able to reveal so much with so little. I'm
thrilled she was cast as Anna because that could easily have been a derivative
part-the new blonde wife in a cashmere sweater who's the perfect mother. Rebecca
brought a lot of the struggle of that life of being a stay-at-home mom."
While the thriller begins with the girl on a train, the narrative soon takes
up the story of Megan Hipwell, the perfect woman with whom Rachel has become
obsessed and whose beauty masks a deep unhappiness. Megan can often be seen
jogging in the small town of Ardsley, where she lives a few doors down from Anna
and Tom, for whom she works as a nanny. A self-described creature of
reinvention, and someone Taylor describes as "a siren who was broken from day
one," Megan is an enigma even to her devoted-and insanely jealous-husband Scott.
"She's got such beauty and intelligence and just doesn't know where to place
it," explains Wilson. "So she's this lost bit of potential, like so many women
are, and she feels like she has never found the way to excel in her persona
other than to be sexy."
For the role of Megan, the filmmakers cast Haley Bennett, who is known for
her roles in Music and Lyrics and The Equalizer. "Among our three women, Megan
is the most lost," explains Platt. "They're all looking over their shoulder, but
Megan, in particular, carries a dark past that haunts her. There's something
about Haley's abilities as an actress, but also something in her DNA, that feels
restless and befits Megan so well. You're honestly not sure what the next
impulse or behavior will be."
The performer describes her character as living much less a perfect life than
Rachel imagines. "Megan is in a very unhappy marriage, and she's living in the
suburbs as a social outcast," Bennett says. "She's lonely and becomes restless
and reckless. I felt that there's a little part of each of Megan, Rachel and
Anna in all of us."
Bennett found quite the fan in the actress playing the character obsessed
with Megan. Raves Blunt: "I was so excited that Haley was in the film. I
remember seeing her in The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, who is arguably one
of the best actors we've ever seen, and yet you can't stop watching her. She
brought all kinds of vulnerability and complexity to the character of Megan."
To cast the two key male roles was just as crucial, according to Platt. "It's
interesting to be involved in a film that's so female-centric," he says.
"Usually, it's the guys who are more complicated and then there's the 'girl'
role, and our challenge here was to develop characters that wouldn't just be the
'boy' role in a film about the women. The story is also very much about the
To play the role of Tom, a father caught between his new wife and an ex who
is deteriorating into the madness of addiction, the filmmakers cast Justin
Theroux, who can currently be seen starring in the hit series The Leftovers. "In
Justin, we found an actor who could keep you off guard," notes Platt. "Maybe his
darker inclinations were right on the edge, but you're not sure. There's also
something so likeable about him."
For Theroux, The Girl on the Train is all about appearances. He describes:
"It's set in this suburban place, just upstate, just outside of the city. So
there is that picket-fence element to it, and wondering what's behind those
perfect little shutters and curtains." For a passenger peering into the homes
she passes by, however, the view becomes more intimate. "There's something about
looking into people's backyards that is almost more invasive. You are literally
seeing their dirty laundry hanging out in the back; you're not seeing what's
presented in the front."
The actor hits upon a theme that readers of Hawkins' work frequently note:
The main character's addiction adds a curious element to Rachel's
trustworthiness. "It's not a thriller in the traditional sense," says Theroux.
"It's seen through the lens of a human problem. No one believes the least
reliable witness: Rachel."
For the role of Scott, Megan's husband and the second object of Rachel's
obsession, the filmmakers cast Luke Evans, who is known for roles in The Hobbit
series, as well as the Fast & Furious franchise. "Luke is an everyday guy, and
yet there's an edge to him," says Platt, who felt the Welsh performer's
versatility on screen made him the perfect choice for the character. "Audiences
don't know if Scott is good, or if he has a bad temper and is impulsive. As an
audience member, I'm not sure who's telling me the truth, who's too far on the
edge, and who's capable of very heinous acts."
As were Platt and Blunt, Evans admits he became quite the fan of the complex
characters in Hawkins' novel, one he found to be a gripping page-turner. "When I
began the book, I didn't want to put it down," he gives. "I'm not surprised it's
done as well as it has. The whole story is about an inquisitive human being who
creates chaos because of her curiosity, and it's enthralling."
The Welsh performer found Rachel's obsessions fascinating, and he quickly
agreed to portray one of the key figures who populate her world. He describes
Scott as a man who's in a tempestuous relationship with Megan, and a jealous
husband who inevitably becomes a suspect when she disappears. "He's questioning
a lot about himself and about the women in his life, and how they've treated
him," the actor says. "So there's a lot of anger and mistrust."
Rachel's need to find out what happened to Megan leads her to visit the
missing woman's psychiatrist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, whom Rachel-and the cops-suspects
may have been involved in her disappearance. As the story unfolds, we learn that
the relationship between Abdic and Megan was much more than doctor and patient.
"There is this wonderful cat-and-mouse quality to what happens between Megan and
her doctor," says Bennett. "She is a lonely, broken woman who lures him in. He
takes the bait."
To play Dr. Abdic, the filmmakers cast Edgar RamIrez, known for his roles in
such films as Zero Dark Thirty, Joy and Hands of Stone. "Edgar is a compelling
actor," Platt says. "With his language, but also in the silences. He's perfect
as a psychiatrist who is very probing, but also is a man subject to emotion and
"Kamal Abdic is a man of few words," offers RamIrez. "He loves to listen to
these women because he is also fascinated, or a little turned on, by their
despair. He listens to all their stories, but he genuinely falls in love with
Megan. There's a special sense of innocence in her, and he knows that she uses
sex as a way to connect."
Initially posing as a patient to learn what she can about Abdic, Rachel opens
up to the doctor, revealing more than she ever intended. She describes her
heartbreak at not being able to have a child, subsequent divorce and
alcohol-induced blackouts. "Abdic is the only one who listens to the secrets,"
the Venezuelan actor adds. However, he pays the price for crossing the line with
his patients. "He knows everything about what's going on, and ironically, is the
first one who becomes a suspect." He pauses, "We cross lines because we feel
lonely, and we are longing for connection."
The film's supporting cast includes the iconic Lisa Kudrow, known for her
work on Friends and The Comeback, as well as her co-starring roles in such films
as P.S. I Love You and Neighbors. Kudrow plays Martha, a friend with whom Rachel
has a strained relationship because of her addiction. Years ago, at one of
Martha's parties-when she was married to Tom-Rachel embarrassed them both by
drinking to excess.
Orange Is the New Black's Laura Prepon was selected to portray Cathy, an old
friend who took Rachel into her home after her divorce, but who is nearing the
end of her rope as the drinking worsens. "You quickly see the history between
these two women, and you get that Cathy has wisdom to her," says Prepon. "I've
thought she has a sponsor role, because there's no other reason to justify why
she takes care of Rachel so much."
Already inebriated during her morning commute, Rachel's shame is multiplied
when others on the train-a young mother, a man in a suit-notice her imbibing.
This apparently judgmental man in a suit, played by The Affair's DARREN
GOLDSTEIN, seems to be following her. Rachel sees him at the station, in the
train, in a bar, and perhaps in the underpass next to the Ardsley train station
on the day of Megan's disappearance. Still, she knows she can't trust her own
memories. On that very night, Rachel comes home covered in blood...and she has no
When Detective Riley from the Ardsley Police Department arrives at Cathy's
with questions for Rachel about Megan's disappearance, Rachel denies
involvement...but simultaneously harbors doubts about her own culpability. At the
same time, Detective Riley most definitely doesn't like the hard-drinking Rachel
and makes up her mind quite quickly about the young divorcEe.
To play the role of Detective Riley, Taylor selected Emmy Award winner
Allison Janney, whom he has cast in every one of his films. "Riley has a thing
about people who abuse alcohol," says Janney. "She doesn't like them and can't
tolerate them. She believes Rachel committed murder."
It's not a coincidence that the actress and director have worked together so
often. "Tate's an extraordinary storyteller," commends Janney. "I want more Tate
Taylors, and more directors who appreciate women and their power in film, and
who tell stories that are relatable to the people that will buy tickets. What I
was most excited about, reading Paula's book, was what a great story this was
about these women."
Taylor walks us through the production's logic in flipping the script of
Hawkins' novel (in which a male detective leads the case, and his female No. 2
doesn't trust Rachel). "This is such an interesting story about women, and the
idea of having a bully detective being a man felt like something we've seen
before. Much of this story is about how women treat each other and the cause and
effect of women's choices on one another. I thought, to crack the story of these
three women, it would be interesting to have the chief detective be one."
Platt believes that the thriller strikes a chord with audiences because of
the brokenness in these women's lives, and the dreams and aspirations that they
have. "Each of the story's three central female characters is striving for
something elusive," he suggests. "For Anna, it's the perfect life with the
perfect family; for Rachel an end to the pain from her divorce; and for Megan,
an escape from her secret past."
In/Out of Manhattan:
Design of the Film
The Girl on the Train began filming in the New York area, in November 2015,
and would continue through the end of the following January. Much of the film
was shot both on a real train and in a train car built on a stage in Westchester
County, just north of Manhattan. It wasn't difficult to look on edge for the
cast, as they would often find themselves in sub-20-degree Fahrenheit weather.
During pre-production, New York-based production designer Kevin Thompson,
whose credits include Michael Clayton and Birdman, had the task of finding the
perfect rail line that would fit Taylor's vision for the story. "The first six
weeks of the project was to go out with JOE GUEST, our location manager, ride
all the trains and reconceive it for New York City," Thompson shares. "It was
clear that we didn't want to try to believe we were in London. We wanted to make
our own story for New York."
The filmmakers had a multitude of lines to choose from, including the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority's three branches on the Metro-North Line
and eight on the Long Island Rail Road, transport more than half-a-million
commuters into Manhattan every day. In fact, this makes them two of the three
busiest commuter railroads in the United States.
"Slowly the aesthetic evolved of what world Tate felt connected with,"
Thompson continues. "We ended up going with the Hudson Metro-North Line. Almost
from the start, it's a beautiful ride, right on the river's edge; then on the
other side, there are nice little bedroom community towns. There was something
fantastic about shooting a thriller in an area that had a beautiful, bucolic
Working closely with the Metro-North commuter line, which brings commuters in
from the city's northern suburbs of Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties,
the production shot on several weekends, when trains run less frequently, on its
own Hudson Line train. "Any time the train is moving and we're seeing it from
the outside, we were at a train station shooting a real train," the production
designer explains. The moving train was filmed on two Sundays at the
Ardsley-on-Hudson station, where much of the story of The Girl on the Train
The production also filmed in Metro-North's magnificent Beaux-Arts entryway
into New York City: Grand Central Terminal. "Tate wanted Rachel to come into the
city, and Grand Central was a big piece of what her life was; it became the
local bar for her," Thompson shares. Fans of the book might recognize one
commuter in particular: Paula Hawkins appears in a cameo as a passenger on a
train that pulls into Grand Central.
Grand Central's iconic Oyster Bar & Restaurant-which opened its doors in 1913,
the same year as the landmark train station-also provided the setting for a key
scene in the story. Taylor has always had a romantic notion about the Oyster Bar
and found it very appealing. "Metro-North was so cooperative," adds Thompson.
"We had many, many meetings, and they were a dream to work with."
Because shooting on a real train didn't allow for the amount of freedom the
filming required, the production also built a full-size Metro-North car, with
the distinctive blue stripe of the Hudson Line, on a stage in Yonkers, New York.
Using a salvaged train car from Ohio as a shell, Thompson and his team built
a replica of an 85-foot-long Metro-North car, incorporating key improvements to
facilitate filming. Sections of the mostly wooden train were constructed to be
easily removable for camera placement, while the windows were made of a clearer
glass than used by Metro-North. As well, the car's central aisle was designed to
be four inches wider in order to accommodate a dolly and other film equipment.
Special effects coordinator JEFF BRINK oversaw the design and construction of
a special platform at the stage on which the train sat, which could simulate the
train's movement. Brink and his team put together two trusses separated by
air-filled cushions that were connected to a hydraulic system. By changing the
pressure in the cushions, the train could be moved, both up and down and side to
side, replicating the motion of a train inside the car. At the same time, the
production employed a human element. "We just took a lever, like a two by four,
and the grips could stick it under there between the trusses and get us man-made
action, too," says Thompson. "That is always useful because you can cue it, and
The entire rig also sat on rails that were slightly longer than the platform.
"When we wanted to make it feel like the train was stopping or starting, we had
three feet of movement," Thompson explains. "That is quite a bit when you're
starting or stopping. You can get that feeling inside the train."
The train was then surrounded by a large green screen, which, in
postproduction, visual effects supervisor MITCH FERM and his team would go on to
replace with images of Rachel's view from an actual train.
Based on those filmed views, a complex, multi-layered lighting sequence was
designed that brought the identical light into the train-from a long row of LEDs
that were perched above the set. "The system of LED lights that goes all the way
around was computer generated, to match the lighting of the plate shots used,"
Thompson explains. "So when we were inside the train car, the lighting that is
coming into it will be similar to what plate shots were used, and it will slow
down as the train is slowing down, and speed up when the train is going fast."
When it came time to design the locales for Rachel's views outside, Taylor
had a distinct vision for the backs of the houses. "Tate felt it was important
to have mature, wild nature coming out of the river and the train leading into
the backyards of these somewhat suburban American houses," Thompson says. So,
the production designer, on the advice of the visual effects supervisor, went on
a hunt for houses that matched the style from Taylor's idea, but also provided a
level terrain...as well as enough depth to place a rig that would shoot the
train's point of view. Choosing houses that backed up onto an active rail line
was not an option, both for safety and because of attendant noise.
Once again, a departure from Hawkins' book, but one that was met with
enthusiasm by the author. "Of course, this is a very different geographical
configuration from how the homes are in Paula's novel," reveals Taylor, "but she
said this rural element of these women being isolated and out in the middle of
nowhere was pretty cool. That was great to hear."
Ultimately, the filmmakers found a suburban street in the Gedney Farms area
of White Plains, New York, that provided the houses that Rachel spies from her
window: the home where Rachel sees her "perfect couple," and the house where
Rachel once lived with her husband. With backyards looking out onto the level
terrain of a defunct golf course, the White Plains houses were also of the style
that the filmmakers desired. According to Thompson: "They are both typical
American classic center hall, middle-class houses. We married that location to
the real train line by adding both practical and visual effects trees and
marshes and reeds to blend the two together."
Although Rachel doesn't know their real names for some time, she spies Megan
and Scott in the backyard of their cozy white cottage, which is two doors down
from Rachel's former home, a gabled blue colonial. There, Tom's new wife,
stay-at-home mother Anna, watches the trains pass behind the home, just beyond a
white picket fence.
It was Taylor's desire that, although Rachel is our primary voice, The Girl
on the Train be told from all three women's points of view. These were
incorporated into the camerawork of director of photography Charlotte Bruus
Christensen, a young Danish cinematographer whose earlier films include The Hunt
and Far From the Madding Crowd.
As she created shots of Rachel, Christensen operated a handheld camera, often
filming only about a foot away from Blunt. "The major part of this film is all
about her mind," explains Christensen. "She has the closeness, so she's right
there in your face."
When it came to shots of Ferguson's Anna, a character who lives a domestic
life in her suburban home, Christensen employed a static camera, often viewing
Anna from behind glass, creating a distance between her and the viewer.
For the third woman of the story, Megan, the DP's lens was often moving,
tracking a character who feels happiest when she's jogging. "She's a girl who's
running away," Christensen says. "Whenever she's on the move, we put her on a
Steadicam. There's a floating feel, so she doesn't have her feet on the ground."
As character's perception of the reality, affected the events in their lives,
Platt enjoyed exploring that subjectivity. "You're getting a story told from
different points of view," he explains. "It was very important to find a
language that was both distinctive among the three women, but a visual language
that was also unifying. From the first time that I sat down with Charlotte she
articulated that visual language, and that's what she brought to the table."
Taylor and Christensen also decided to shoot the movie on film, which is an
increasingly rare choice in this digital age. The cinematographer describes the
deep shadows that film can create as being important for the thriller aspect of
the story: "I wanted that real darkness. There's a lot of shadows, darkness,
pure blacks and characters coming out of-and disappearing into-blackness."
The cinematographer had her biggest champion in the woman with whom she spent
the majority of the production. "In any thriller, you have to make sure you
don't come across as too moustache-twirling or Machiavellian," shares Blunt. "We
all very much wanted it to feel modern, real, complicated and surprising. You're
also dealing with flashbacks, and you've got to find a very non-cheesy way to
make those transitions work. That's where Charlotte was just so thrilling to be
around. She's visually just a genius, and we needed her so very much because
this is such a visual film. The camera was close the whole shoot, and it's as if
we danced together. Charlotte understood how to do that so elegantly."
Costumes and Additional Sets
Other key members of the production team included Oscar-winning costume
designer Ann Roth and Roth's frequent collaborator, Michelle Matland, who shared
duties on The Girl on the Train. The designers created a gritty wardrobe for
Rachel; Blunt's character is usually seen in a grey overcoat, disappearing among
the crowd of commuters on the train.
As Anna, the blonde Rebecca Ferguson sports oversize shirts and comfortable
pants, as befitting a new mother, while Haley Bennett's Megan is similarly
comfortably dressed, except when visits her psychiatrist, Dr. Abdic, where she
wears closely fitting skirts and low-cut tops.
The therapist's office, furthermore, was filmed in the historic Alder Manor
in Yonkers, New York, while a Pleasantville house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
stood in for the doctor's home. Other New York filming locations for The Girl on
the Train included Hastings-on-Hudson, which provided the exterior of Rachel's
home, and also Irvington, where the Village Hall served as the Ardsley Police
Station. Finally, the production filmed at an underpass on Irvington's Station
Road and in the largest forested area in Southern Westchester County: Irvington
Central Park provided the visual image that Taylor chose to frame the story:
a sculpture of three dancing maidens at the Untermeyer Fountain, which graces
the Conservatory Garden near 105th Street and Fifth Avenue. Early in the story,
unemployed and drunken Rachel goes to the fountain to kill time. Later in the
film, she returns there sober, with a new appreciation of the artwork's three
joyful females holding hands as they encircle the fountain. "Tate connected with
this idea of the three women in the sculpture and the three women in our story,"
says Thompson. "That was the poetry that he saw in that fountain."
By the end of The Girl on the Train, the harsh judgments that the three women
made about each other, and about themselves, begin to disintegrate. "We see
their perceptions starting to shift," says Hawkins. "They break down original
judgments that they made."
Rachel, afflicted with self-doubt and shame, undergoes the most significant
transformation. "She is the character who truly emerges to a different place,"
Platt says. "There's something ultimately very hopeful about a woman who doubts
herself, who's an unreliable narrator to begin with, but who finds the best
version of herself through this thriller."
Blunt advises that the character of Rachel has pushed her in quite unexpected
directions. "She's stretched me in ways that I haven't been stretched before,"
the performer concludes. "I had to flex muscles I've never accessed. Trying to
understand this addictive personality, that sense of being unable to put one
foot in front of the other without relying on a drink, has been just an
Our director wraps the narrative by advising that whenever he chooses
projects, he wants audiences to leave the theater with an insight they've never
had before. Ends Taylor: "I really want you to walk away with a thought about
the human condition, take away something that you can relate to that one or more
of the characters have come to realize themselves. You may not be in Rachel,
Megan or Anna's situation, but you have more in common with them than you
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