Wonderland.

WILLA FITZGERALD

Willa Fitzgerald, star of The Goldfinch, spills on her love for literature and being serenaded by Dolly Parton.

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Chanel Pink Close Up

Top, pants & bag CHANEL, Shoes KENZO, Hat Ruslan Baginskiy

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Chanel Pink Close Up
Top, pants & bag CHANEL, Shoes KENZO, Hat Ruslan Baginskiy

The internet was ablaze when news of The Goldfinch’s filming broke last year, common practice with all book-to-big-screen productions as literature stans wonder if stories and subplots will be honoured, their preconceptions of characters upheld. To actress Willa Fitzgerald, the news broke months earlier, following a call for the breakout role of a lifetime.

The production’s heart-wrenching trailer (soundtracked by legendary artisté Perfume Genius no less) included an ensemble so star-studded it would send any film buff into a total frenzy. Fitzgerald’s cast members include that of Stranger Things star (and subject of September’s strangest memes) Finn Wolfhard, seasoned and formidable American Horror Story regulars Sarah Paulson and Dennis O’Hare, and last but certainly not least, THE Nicole Kidman – a figure who needs no introduction.

Adapted from Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer-prize winning novel of the same name, The Goldfinch is a road rawer than raw, signposted with loss, addiction, betrayal and twists of fate at every turn. The fictional journey hinges on the theft of an artwork by Carel Fabritius after a terrorist attack inside the walls of New York’s MoMA. The effects of this reverberate throughout the lengthy tale for years after the fact, taking protagonist Theo (Ansel Elgort) to the sandy suburbs of LA and the art dealing underworld of Amsterdam as he attempts to restart his life again and again.

Fitzgerald plays Kitsey Barbour, the complex Upper East Side dwelling fiancee of the adaptation’s star. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the union of the two is one of comfort over of compassion, with Barbour’s infidelity eventually leaving the relationship in tatters. The portrayal is a full-circle moment for Fitzgerald, who tutored the real-life old money folk of the city she plays in the film, before becoming one of their own, and the opportunity is certainly not lost on her. You’d think the added challenge of packing nearly 800 pages of punch into a two and a half hour blockbuster would be a deterrent, but it’s exactly this undertaking that Fitzgerald lives for, coming to define her oeuvre from the jump.

With features in Netflix’s upcoming Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings series and twisted psycho-thriller Dare Me rolling out in the next few months, we caught up with the booked-and-busy star below…..

Sweater JED, Hat LACK OF COLOR, Shoes GUCCI

Sweater JED, Hat LACK OF COLOR, Shoes GUCCI

What was the transition from Scream to The Goldfinch like?
They’re vastly different projects for sure, I’d done several small indie films while I was shooting the TV show, it was between seasons. You know, TV is very different from an indie film, which is different to a studio picture. It was an amazing jump into The Goldfinch, and that world that was created by John Crowley, the writers, Roger Deakins. I think also that it was a really exciting opportunity to get to work with actors like Nicole Kidman, who are so seasoned and so wonderful at what they do and are just by virtue of the skills they possess, capable of lifting everybody up. It’s so fun to get to be in a scene with someone like Nicole because everything just becomes even easier.

Where did your journey with The Goldfinch begin?
I mean I read The Goldfinch when it came out, I remember reading it on the subway and being fascinated by it, I had just moved to the city and there was a book that was set largely in New York City. There was an audition, and opportunity to go in for it, it certainly felt like one of those long shot auditions where you know you’re gonna be one of many possible people. I felt a strong connection to the book since I’d read it, it’s definitely one of those where you never really dare to think, “That is gonna be my part!” But you want it the whole time. So it was a wonderful surprise to be given the opportunity to bring that character to life.

Where do you think your love of books stems from?
I grew up an only child, and while there are a lot of things said of only children, I think it is very true that one becomes resourceful with one’s imagination. I didn’t grow up with a block full of kids my own age either so I did a lot of reading and then a lot of re-enacting of what I had read. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sought out books that shine a light on the human condition. Reading is endlessly associative for me. A day with a good book is an almost spiritual experience. I feel a deeper connection to myself, humanity and the stories that form the fabric of a life.

How did you prepare for the role of Kitsey, is that the character you went for originally?
Yeah, it was the role that was sent to me, and I actually did love Kitsey when I was reading the book. At the time I was tutoring for a bunch of families, when I first moved to the city, so I spent quite a bit of time on the upper east side, the upper west side, tribeca, and was surrounded by that kind of old-money-New-York-City-society, there was something that was both compelling and terrifying about that world. I think that Kitsey carries so much of herself under this veneer of perfection and playing a character like that is such an exciting opportunity as an actor, because you get to fill in all of this extra detail and bring all of that wealth of research or even imagination and play the scene. Its my favourite kind of character to play because I think that the reward is very rich when you’re able to imbue a character with as much complexity that isn’t instantly apparent in the first place.

So then what would you say the hardest part about playing Kitsey was?
I think there’s always a lot of pressure when you’re doing a book adaptation to do the book service and to really capture everything that the author initially was trying to get across, obviously an adaptation is an adaptation, not a direct harvard copy of the book, but I’m a huge reader and I love literature and I really did want to honour the version of Kitsey that I followed on the page. A huge part of my preparation was re-reading the book, getting super analytical about the actual characters on the page, and then letting that go because this a 3 hour movie, not a whole miniseries – and it is a gigantic book. So all of these characters you get to know in the movie, you get to know them in such shorter chunks of time. The big challenge with that kind of movie and that type of character, Kitsey, is that I wanted to take her entire arc that’s in the book and collapse that into her scenes in the movie, so that you get the sense of everything happens in her and Theo’s relationship and to her in those few scenes that she really has in the film, and that’s a difficult thing to do.

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Blue Jacket Arms
Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Blue Jacket Pose

Jacket & Pants LANVIN, Shoes PARIS TEXAS

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Blue Jacket Arms
Jacket & Pants LANVIN, Shoes PARIS TEXAS
Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Blue Jacket Pose

When did you start to pursue acting?
I really saw it as a valid career I think quite late, I had been acting for a very long time since I was a kid but I was very adamant that I wanted to go to a liberal arts college, I wanted a full education I didn’t want to go to conservatory and I also wanted to go somewhere where I could be doing really wonderful theatre and continuing to act in a way that was exciting. I think that it really was only in college that I started to get an inkling that that was what I wanted to try and do and that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I was giving that a solid effort and then I got my agent before I graduated from college and it gave me a really valid possibility that i could make a career being an actor, and then I just went for it full throttle.

What would your dream cinematic role be and why?
A dream character I would like to play is an incredibly strong, complicated, not necessarily “good” woman, and I think that those roles are being written more and more, thank god, in this current world that we live in. I think the best roles that I will get to play are yet to be written, and that’s actually a really exciting place to be. I’m really excited to be an actor, who is a woman, in this current iteration of Hollywood and the creation of art – there are more stories that are given voices and being told and it’s a really exciting time to be a part of that cultural shift. Obviously there are literary characters that I love but I also think that there is something really special about something that is entirely new and there’s so many exciting new stories being told, maybe that was a cop out answer.

Have you ever thought about going behind the camera as a director or a screenwriter?
Definitely! When I was in college I did quite a bit of playwriting, which is obviously very different from writing for film or writing for TV. But since being in the world working as an actor I definitely have a few things I’m working on writing, I’ve also directed theatre and I would love to direct now. I think it’s an entirely different craft to learn, right now I love being at work and being on set, so I usually leave my phone in my trailer because I think that the best thing I can do with my extra time when I am at work is to watch and learn, and be as aware and attuned to how all the individual parts come together. Because not only does it help me do my job as an actor, and helps me tell the story that I wanna tell for the character I’m playing, but it also is the best way of learning how to do anything. I certainly didn’t go to school to learn how to be a film or TV actor, so, therefore, transitioning from theatre I really had to learn on the job, and it’s the most trial by fire to learn anything, but also the most direct way to learn anything.

What would you be if you weren’t an actor?
I really love school, and I really think I would just be in grad-school for some extra curricular topic, just living the life or the mind. Or, i think i would want to be involved in environmental advocacy.

What’s next for you? Are you going to continue making films in the same genre or take things somewhere else?
Actually the next project that I have coming out is the Netflix anthology series Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, it’s coming out in November so that’s actually next. In the new year, I’m actually part of a television show called Dare Me, for the USA, which is also based on a novel by Megan Abbott. I think that both of the upcoming projects are in some ways adaptations because in the Dolly Parton show, every episode is based on a different woman’s song and her songs are highly narrative so basically they took the narrative of the songs they chose and spun it into a larger story. It was like a totally different experience to make a character with that as your reference point.

Dare Me is a dark-noir-psychological-thriller about three women in this small Ohio town, it’s another project that feels like such great research, you get to have source material, you get to have a book to work from. The character I play on the show is a pretty big mystery I would say, in terms of what she is actually after, what her history is. On that show is also the writer of the novel that was also additionally helpful, to get to have the creator of the character always on set, and have her guidance through the experience.

They both sound amazing, which Dolly Parton song spoke to you most on the show?
It’s not on the show but I love 9 to 5. That was one of my favourite movies growing up and while we were shooting some of us had dinner with Dolly one night and she serenaded us with “9 to 5” across the dinner table. An experience to truly never forget.

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Grey Coat

Full look PROENZA SCHOULER

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Grey Coat
Full look PROENZA SCHOULER
Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Grey Coat Box

Full look PROENZA SCHOULER

Willa Fitzgerald The Goldfinch Grey Coat Box
Full look PROENZA SCHOULER
Photographer
Victoria Stevens
Stylist
Erin Walsh
Words
Bailey Slater
WILLA FITZGERALD

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