HFPA in Conversation: Sam Taylor-Johnson, Beyond the Glass Ceiling

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros January 22, 2020
Director Sam taylor Johnson

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British filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson was looking for a new movie for a while after the box office hit Fifty Shades of Grey.

“It was crazy. There were scripts that I heard that were in the world and I wanted to put my hand up and say can I come in for the meeting, can I come in and meet on this,” she told HFPA journalist Elisabeth Sereda.

But Taylor-Johnson couldn’t get in the meetings.

“I kept thinking, why is that? Why am I not in the room in all these interesting projects? I’d angled a very difficult book to bring to screen, successfully brought it to screen that then made good at the box office. It was frustrating to realize that actually I’m back at ground zero and having to regenerate everything from the ground up again.”

When she realized she needed to break through the glass ceiling again she became more determined.

“I thought, so I have to go to ground zero and get a book and work at it and put it out and do it and maybe it’s a smaller version and maybe it’s just about being creative and not always trying to get the big jobs but maybe let’s just show that I can create the billion-dollar successful movie as well as I can do something in 20 days.”

That book was James Frey’s story about addiction, A Million Little Pieces.

“I read the book when it first came out and I remember just thinking what a brilliantly told story about something so desperately difficult and the journey of James throughout it. It felt like he tackled it in a way where whenever he hits the bottom and darkness he would try and bring in humor and light as much as possible.”

The lead role is played by her husband, Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They met 10 years ago when they worked together on Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon’s childhood. Aaron played Lennon.

“With A Million Little Pieces we had no time, so it meant that I had a shorthand. I could say we only have one take, you’ve got to nail this. I could be like that with him at the same time understand how to sort of take him to very difficult places sometimes.”

Listen to the podcast and hear what it was like living with Aaron while he was filming Nocturnal Animals; how she balances home and work life; how her background as a photographer helps her direct movies; what it was like working with Billy Bob Thornton; why was she hanging from a crane by her ankles; what kind of director she is; how has it been working with Elton John; how surviving cancer twice changed her attitude towards life; what it's like raising four daughters; how she got her first feature film, Nowhere Boy; what kind of experience she had with Fifty Shades of Grey; whether she has a solution to support female filmmakers; how she ended up singing with the Pet Shop Boys; how was her artistic upbringing in London; why she moved to Los Angeles with her family; why a book about Fellini is important to her; and what Price Charles said to her in Buckingham Palace, when she was recognized for her contributions to the arts.