Never Rarely Sometimes Always is the intimate portrait of Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a teenager who travels to New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to get an abortion. The feature, which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, is a bracing and immersive look at how two young women persevere through an extremely challenging experience. During our phone interview, Ryder talked about how director Eliza Hittman’s attention to storytelling detail actually impacted her own life.
When she was 12, Talia Ryder played Hortensia in Broadway’s Matilda, working on the production for two years with her younger sister MiMi Ryder. Along with Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Ryder will also star in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. With Never Rarely Sometimes Always receiving a ton of acclaim, Ryder is definitely getting her share of attention (she signed with UTA in February).
During our chat Ryder talked about her love for films (she cited Little Miss Sunshine and Witness for the Prosecution as favorites) and why dance continues to be an important part of her life.
This is a movie that really gets up close and personal with its character and storyline. Were you intimidated at all going into the project?
Before going into rehearsals and meeting Sidney I was definitely a little nervous because I had never done a film before. After meeting Sidney and Eliza, my nerves were eased because Eliza was so nice and made sure Sidney and I both felt really comfortable with everything before going into filming. Eliza made sure we were completely prepped and that all of our questions were answered so going into filming I wasn’t really nervous.
This movie also deals with the male gaze and how both Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and Skylar (Talia Ryder) have to persevere through this toxic behavior.
I think a lot of women watching this will see these moments in the supermarket and on the bus and all these little interactions throughout the day in relation to that and – you don’t see the male gaze portrayed so honestly really ever in film. And I think a lot of people will watch the film and be shocked (and think) ‘Oh my gosh, that happened to me too. I didn’t realize that people are finally recognizing and acknowledging it.’
I think a lot of people will find sanctuary in the story and be able to relate.
It must be a great feeling to hear the reactions you’ve received from Never Rarely Sometimes Always as well as getting the chance to talk to people have seen the movie.
Totally. On Sunday, a lot of peers from West Side Story – we did a screening for them. And after I went out with them, I had one of the craziest discussions. They were all so curious and intrigued. They brought up so many things that I hadn’t even thought of before, and that’s the best response you can get from something that you do. You’re making other people think and question their beliefs and talk about it. That’s really, really cool.
With the tons of press you have been doing for this film and its acclaim, along with West Side Story, have you been able to sit back and enjoy what you have been accomplished? Or has it been too hectic to really sit down and take a breath?
It’s been kind of both. I try to take a lot of photos and write things down to remember everything. I feel like I’m able to understand and appreciate how lucky I am that this is all happening this way. I try to step back and look at it and appreciate it, but also at the same time it does kind of feel nonstop.
Off the top of your head, can you name one of your favorite films?
There are so many that I love. I think my favorite movie ever would be Witness for the Prosecution but Little Miss Sunshine is a film I feel the most connected to because each of the characters in that film are different from one another and they’re so far from being stereotypical characters you see in movies which I find is similar to Never Rarely Sometimes Always. None of the characters are quite the stereotypes that you would expect them to be. I love (Little Miss Sunshine) so much and I’ve seen it many, many times.
Did the unexpected twist of Witness for the Prosecution draw you to that film?
Yeah. That and I think it’s similar to Fight Club where you watch it the whole time and you’re thinking it’s one thing and everything switches up on you in a way you wouldn’t expect. I think it’s really cool.
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What drives you as an actor and do you maybe one day become a writer and filmmaker?
What got me into acting was being in the show Matilda for the first time and experiencing every medium of storytelling. As a dancer, you’re also a storyteller but in a very different way. After Matilda, I started to watch a lot of different films and I was able to appreciate that. Film is one of the most honest ways to tell a story and that’s kind of what drives me to continue to want to do it.
In the future I do hope that I can write and direct things of my own and tell some of my own stories as well.
What does dancing give you as an artist and on a personal level?
Dance is one of the most vulnerable things you can do because you’re literally moving your body for other people to watch and appreciate. Being able to dance gives me a lot of confidence in other areas of my life. It also provides a sense of structure that I think is really important. I was lucky to have been doing that since a very young age. I love dance and I love watching dance as well. I would love to try and continue to incorporate dance into films I do in the future.
What makes Never Sometimes Rarely Always a special film?
Apart from Eliza’s complete honesty and the grittiness of the film, what makes the story such a standout is Eliza’s attention to the little moments that we may not be able to appreciate. Just the shots of Theo’s (co-star Théodore Pellerin) hand touching my arm on the bus, interrupting that bubble to the pinky promise to the moment in the bakery. All the things that we brush off in our everyday life are a much bigger representation to who we are and the world that we live in. I think after seeing that film and seeing Eliza’s attention to that detail, it definitely affected how I look at things in my own life.
I’m able to appreciate things differently after reading the script and watching the movie.
Before I let you go, will Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story top the 1961 feature?
(laughs) It’ll be very different but I think people will really like it.
Thanks so much for your time I really appreciate it.
****Never Rarely Sometimes Always, co-starring Ryan Eggold and Sharon Van Etten, opens March 13.
My review of Never Rarely Sometimes Always is featured on the latest episode of CinemAddicts (discussion starts 41:12). You can subscribe to the podcast (which I co-host with Anderson Cowan) on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify. You can listen to the episode below on Soundcloud: