For 25 years, Stephen King‘s 1992 novel Gerald’s Game was considered unfilmable by nearly every filmmaker. Well, every filmmaker except Mike Flanagan. Flanagan read Gerald’s Game when he was 19 years old, and ever since he has been dying to give it a proper film adaptation. Cut to 2017 and we finally have that adaptation (my review) courtesy of Flanagan and Netflix. I was able to interview Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy before the film’s world premiere at Fantastic Fest (the former of which you can read here), but I also had the opportunity to speak with the lovely Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Spy Kids, San Andreas) and the extremely personable Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Double Jeopardy, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) about the making of the film.
The main that King’s novel was considered unfilmable is because the bulk of it takes place inside the lead character’s head while she is handcuffed to a bed. In portraying the role of Jessie, Gugino delivers a career-defining performance in what could not have been an easy filming experience. After all, things are bound to get uncomfortable when you’re handcuffed to a bed for three weeks. On the subject of those handcuffs, Gugino had this to say:
“They were very attentive to taking me out of them whenever we could but no matter what I was in them a lot and it was really uncomfortable and I would get bruised. It was definitely a very strange challenge because I’m a very physical person and [with this role] there’s a combination of being kind of sedentary physically while uncomfortable but emotionally extremely active so it was a really odd….But it allowed in terms of that sense of needing to escape oneself and the chatter in our minds and those voices that we can’t get away from and being forced to deal with them. The physical restriction is very helpful for that.”
Gugino commented on how great of a collaborator Flanagan is as a director, as he went above and beyond to make sure she was comfortable throughout the entire filming process. When speaking with Flanagan shortly after speaking with Gugino and when I brought up the handcuffs he had his own input on the subject:
“I’m not going to ask one of my actors to do something that I’m not willing to do so I said ‘Here I’ll do it!’ and in less than five minutes I was like ‘Goddammit this hurts!’ They pinch every nerve in your wrists. Just the weight of your own arm is the thing that gets you. There is nothing to rest your elbow on and just holding yourself up, because you start to shift your weight to try to compensate your wrist for the pain cause by your arm just dangling. Five minutes was all I could take and Carla was in them for three weeks.”
Having Gugino hancuffed to a bed leaves plenty of opportunities for her body to be objectified. In fact, the character is topless in King’s novel. In most films it is usually the woman who is (over-)sexualized. Just look at all of the gratuitous close-ups of the female posterior in any Fast and the Furious film or compare the instances of female nudity to the instances of male nudity (especially when it comes to full-frontal nudity). Some people may have expected Flanagan to be faithful to the novel in that regard, but instead he reverses the stereotypical gender roles, leaving Gugino in a slip and Greenwood in his underwear for the majority of the film’s runtime. So here we have a physically exposed male and a mentally exposed female. It’s a clever move on Flanagan’s part, but Greenwood was not without his reservations, saying:
“I wanted to get clothed earlier because I thought it might feel gratuitous, so I came up with a couple of ideas as to why I might be wearing clothes since it’s her projection of me. I mean you could dress him up like a clown if you wanted to. But I realized that my aim there was just to cover myself up and wasn’t a good enough reason. And Mike just said ‘Look, I hear you man but….you know…you’re not being very persuasive.’ And he was right so we chose the one moment that dovetails with the father to soften the transition. And it’s shocking as a consequence because you just don’t expect it.”
Gugino also added to Greenwood’s statement, chiming in:
“We couldn’t quite justify why she would [imagine him clothed] in a way that was good enough,” said Gugino, “and also that it would almost make it seem more gratuitous. By trying to hide it you’re actually calling [his bare skin] out more.”
Gugino may not have been physically exposed for the film like Greenwood was, but she did have to endure one of the most grueling scenes in the film (rivaled only by the bedroom conversation between young Jessie and her father, played by Chiara Aurelia and E.T.‘s Henry Thomas, respectively). Concluding the interview, I moved on to that scene: the de-gloving scene. In the film, Jessie realizes that the only way to escape the handcuffs is to slice her wrist open and pull her hand out of the cuff. Doing so lifts the skin off of her hand, as if pulling off a glove. On the difficulty of filming the scene and working with the fake hand, Gugino said:
It was technically challenging because when we wanted shots of my hand and face together, and there were quite a few of those, we had to have the cuff tight enough so that it didn’t look like it was easy to pull out of it. So we basically did it as tight as I could handle it which meant that it was really painful but could actually get through so it was a brutal sequence to perform. They did such an amazing job with that prosthetic. It was all completely worth it. I’m not interested in hurting myself or, you know, looking for abuse that I don’t need to go through, but also with something like this you can’t really be too soft on yourself. It was just about getting in there and really going for it and seeing what we could get away with and how much I could handle. There was a lot of sweat and blood in that whole section, but I think our hand stuff took maybe a day or two. I think I put it on twice.”
Gerald’s Game is currently available for streaming on Netflix.