Sarah Polley Finds Inspiration in Leonard Cohen for 'Take This Waltz'

'Every pivotal visual was inspired by a song I was listening to'

Sarah Polley
Jim Spellman/WireImage
Sarah Polley attends the "Take This Waltz" premiere at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema in New York City.
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Take This Waltz, the riveting indie relationship drama that opened in New York last Friday and follows this weekend in California, Chicago and Washington, D.C., shares its name with a Leonard Cohen song for a reason. "I'm a pretty hardcore fan, and I was listening to this song almost nonstop when I was conceiving of and originally writing the film," actress-turned-writer and director Sarah Polley tells Rolling Stone. "It really informed the tone and spirit ... when I was writing I almost imagined it as a musical – in my head, it kind of was."

The film stars Seth Rogen (Lou) and Michelle Williams (Margot) as a married couple whose relationship is tested by a third-party attraction (Daniel, played by newcomer Luke Kirby). Polley, who earned an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay with her first feature-length script, for 2006's Away From Her, says she wanted to ensure that the film was not a clear-cut morality tale. "It was really important for me that there be no heroes and villains in this film," Polley explains. "I just tried to write three very flawed human beings fumbling their way through, and I didn't really feel passionately that anybody was right or wrong."

Polley says Rogen and Williams brought their characters to life in unexpected ways. "The weirdest thing of writing a script is, you're living alone with these imaginary people who are so real to you and take up so much of your brain space, but they don’t exist to anybody else ... With Michelle, I really needed an actor to help me understand who that character was. I was a little bit critical of Margot when I was writing the screenplay, and Michelle made her someone that I really liked and could advocate for."

As for Rogen, Polley says, "He brought some edges to the character, which it desperately needed ... [the scene] where Seth is reacting to her breaking up with him, and it's a series of jump cuts of him sitting at the table in close-up – we just rolled the camera on that for about two and a half hours and let Seth and Michelle talk and break up in front of the camera. That was basically all improvised by Seth, with a few exceptions. He really surprised me, just how he was able to capture all of the ups and downs and levels that you go through when something emotionally traumatic happens."

While its title comes from a Cohen tune, Polley says she found inspiration in several artists while making the film, including fellow Canadian Feist, Mazzy Star and Jason Collett, among others. "I had a really long playlist while I was writing," explains Polley. "Every sort of pivotal visual was inspired by a song I was listening to at the time."

Next up, Polley is set to helm an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. And she says that if the opportunity ever came up to pair up with a single musician to collaborate on a film and soundtrack, she'd find it "incredibly tempting." Says Polley, "I can think of like five [artists I'd want to work with.] Feist, Corrina Rose, Jason Collett, Howie Beck, and ... I'm gonna leave it at that for now."