Venice Notes: The Festival of Vanessa Kirby

by Elisabeth Sereda September 10, 2020
Vanessa Kirby

Getty Images

Vanessa Kirby has a one-two-punch in Venice. She is the only actress who, in a toned-down year, has two films here. In Pieces of a Woman, she acts under the direction of Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó. And The World to Come was made by one of the eight female directors in competition, Mona Fastvold, the Norwegian who gained attention with her debut The Sleepwalker in Sundance. Her film is set in 1856, in rural America, even though we might not call upstate New York that now.

Kirby stars as the vastly superior wife of a farmer (Christopher Abbott). She befriends and falls in love with another farmer’s (Casey Affleck) wife played by Katherine Waterston. There are not that many same-sex stories from this historical period or the location, and it is not surprising that both actresses were drawn to the story: “It was such a gift to play someone that was, in her very nature, pushing against the restrictions that she had placed upon her. I always imagined her in a different era, the things that she would have achieved,” says Kirby: “And she talks a lot about that. It wasn't that long ago where these women didn't have a choice in what they did in those times, let alone who they might love. And so, it was a really beautiful thing to live through these two women that kind of represent those women at the times. That just for a brief moment in their lifetimes, they actually got intimacy and connection, which is something we all deserve. It made me very grateful for the choices I have in my life because of it.”

Venessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston in “The World to Come” (2020)

Venessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston in The World to Come (2020)


While her character in The World to Come cannot bear children, in Pieces of a Woman Kirby is an expectant mother who experiences a terrible tragedy. As intense as both roles sound, the actress was happy about them happening back-to-back: “It was actually such a gift for me, those, six months of shooting the two films because we literally did them concurrently, back-to-back and we shared an editor and a hair and makeup design in common and me and Kornél and Mona are great friends. And it was kind of strange because it was so wonderful to support a story where one woman was experiencing the grief of the loss of a child and then go and play one.”

Not that Pieces was not very difficult for her: “I am not a mother, so I had to research those very complex feelings of the loss of a child. Plus, this was my first lead in a movie, so that was challenging… and the fact that I am quite an emotional person in real life, so to push it all down was very challenging. Especially since Shia (LaBeouf who plays her husband) and Ellen (Burstyn who plays her mother) are so giving as actors and it was hard not to meet them with their power in those scenes but restrain it all.”

Kirby said she had always greatly admired her co-star Ellen Burstyn and other actors from her generation: “My great inspirations are Gena Rowlands and Jessica Lange, and those women from that era and they gave such incredible different, complicated, often dark performances.” If her two films in Venice are any indication, Vanessa Kirby is well on her way with her own career trajectory.