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Katherine Waterston on 'basically' falling in love with ‘State Like Sleep’s’ director

Meredith Danluck also helped the actress realize, “Female directors give female characters permission to do wilder things than men do.”
Katherine Waterston in State Like Sleep
[Image: Code Red Productions]

There were numerous near misses on Katherine Waterston’s path to State Like Sleep.

She almost immediately disregarded the script for the most frivolous of reasons and only after her performances in “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” and “Alien: Covenant“ did producers really become interested in casting her.

But Waterston was clearly meant to portray the grieving Katherine, who returns to Brussels a year after her husband’s death to retrace his last days and find out why he killed himself.

During production Waterston and "State Like Sleep’s" writer and director Meredith Danluck developed a lasting friendship, so much so that the actress told me, “I am basically in love with her.”

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Waterston recent talked me through working on “State Like Sleep,” during which time we also touched upon her struggles with “one note characters” and her newfound insistence that “female directors give female characters permission to do wilder things than men do.”

How did you come across the script?
Meredith and I have a friend in common, who isn’t in show business. He emailed me one day saying, ‘My friend wrote this really great script and I think you’d be great in it.’ When I opened it I saw that the name was Katherine. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s sweet. Johnny maybe doesn’t know a lot about the business and only thought of me because I have the same name.’ And then suddenly I was on the last page. So clearly our mutual friend was much smarter than that.

What was the process of getting cat?
I met with some producers early on. And I got the feeling that they wouldn’t have been able to get the funding if I was in it. Then the film changed producers, I got some other roles that made it capable for them to hire me. Which is one of the many reasons why I feel so much gratitude to the good people at Warner Bros who put me in "Fantastic Beasts" and to Ridley Scott for hiring me in "Alien," because not only are they wonderful jobs, and really satisfying in many ways but the sugar on top is that helps when you are trying to finance independent films.

Do you like to help out first time filmmakers?
That makes it sound like community service. I get so much out of it. All I care about is working with brilliant directors and playing interesting characters. Anything I can do to help to increase the odds of that happening you just do. But most of it is is crap shoot. It is not like I am carefully navigating this stuff.

Was it hard to get into the mind of the character?
Sometimes people think that these kind of roles are an actor’s worst nightmare. Or would be unpleasant to explore. But the more that the script has you do, the more liberating the work is. One note characters don’t seem like anybody I have ever met. The toughest stuff I have ever done is when I had to walk into a room as a one line assistant. So with that in mind it is always the script. I feel like a good director can convince me to do anything. So it was Meredith’s writing, which was so deep and complex, and, even in the script, that made me confident that she would know how to put it together. There is really a lot to her. She is truly one of the best directors I have ever worked with. Her gifts are kind of immeasurable.

Talk about working with Meredith.
I felt like I had known her forever when I met her. It was just like when you meet a person for the first time. You are always thinking, ‘What gets me that second date as a friend?’ She just made me feel so comfortable. She was so articulate and smart. And she had such ambition to get this film off the ground. I just immediately had confidence in her. I am basically in love with her. We also had weird things where we would say things at the same time. Call each other at the same time. Weird kind of things. Meredith and I share a bond and we are very similar in many ways. And that was what I saw in the film. 

Was there a conscious effort from you to work with a female writer and director?
It wasn’t just that she was a woman. Our world views were very similar. That’s why it felt so much like it was speaking to me. But obviously men and women do experience the world differently. Hopefully we will get to experience the world more similarly in time. Maybe we will get paid the same amount some day. But the exploration and celebration of those differences is really good for everything, there are so many amazing male writers that I have worked with that I think have written really amazing female characters. So I don’t want to say that I don’t think a man could do that. But I did feel that there was insight there that I really connected to on a really deep level. And I really think that female directors give female characters permission to do wilder things than men do.

"State Like Sleep" is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.