‘The Girl on the Train’ Team Breaks Down the Biggest Changes From Page to Screen
by John Boone
The Girl on the Train has been compared to Gone Girl so many times that the biggest twist in the former’s narrative would be if it was written about without a single mention of the latter. That said, forgive us for doing it one last time: when Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel was turned into a movie, many wondered how the twists and turns could possibly translate to the big screen. The similarly titled and similarly sensational Train, by Paula Hawkins, also posed a similar challenge.
“I think the biggest challenge was that I was juggling three points of view, memory, flashback, false memory and sometimes memory within memory,” screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson explained to ET of the puzzle she had to piece together.
Spoilers ahead for The Girl on the Train.
In the end, Wilson and director Tate Taylor (The Help) did what Flynn and David Finch did before them: they stuck to the source material. For the most part, The Girl on the Train film unfolds exactly as the novel did, down to the film’s introductions of the three women — Rachel (Emily Blunt), Megan (Haley Bennett) and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) — via title cards.
“The book keeps switching around from point of view to point of view depending on the chapter. I had to drop that, however I felt that opening with it would establish the three POVs,” Wilson noted. “Then staying within Rachel’s kept us moving steadily along. I opened with Rachel’s voiceover and I tricked the other voiceovers, because they’re actually not. We think they’re voiceovers and then we realize they’re actually pre-lap monologue. They’re talking to someone…I gave it a try only through Rachel’s [POV] and it just felt like it lost the soul of the book. It’s really important to have this triad.”
Wilson stuck to this approach throughout, making minor changes here and there but changes that were always rooted in the text. AN example: there’s a passage in the book where Rachel fantasizes about grabbing Anna’s hair and smashing her head into the ground, which was reappropriated for Megan in the film. (“I was like, Oh! I have to use that!” she exclaimed.)
As for the other changes made, we broke them down with Wilson and Taylor:
Moving the Story to America
The biggest change in the movie is relocating the story from London across the pond, to New York City. (Blunt maintains her English, though.) In the end, Wilson says was an inconsequential change. “I always felt that the location of this film was on the train and in her imagination. So, I didn’t see it as an English book, I didn’t see it as an American film,” she noted. “I saw it as a film about a woman on a train.”
“Paula’s book was not full of a ton of English slang. Of course, it has it. It has references. But it’s not an overwhelmingly English book,” she continued. “So, changing it to an American voice and setting was very simple. And putting it up on the Hudson River, it’s so beautiful and those backyards are such a dream. You go by them and you think, Wow, they have a perfect life.”
Giving Rachel a New Hobby
Book Rachel spends most of her time on the train thinking, obsessing over Tom (played by Justin Theroux onscreen) and Megan and her general lot in life. Movie Rachel externalizes some of these thoughts by way of a sketchpad. “It was the way I started the script. The script opens with her, we see someone blowing a mist on the window and then drawing into the mist and, through the mist, seeing the view out the window of the backyard over the perfect lives,” Wilson said.
“So, she draws. That’s her way of it’s a form of her voyeurism,” she continued. “It’s another way to pull her away from participating in reality and in life and it’s another way to control what she sees and turn it into her own fantasies. In my script, originally she ends up writing almost a graphic novel of the entire story by the end. There was more drawing and then eventually, I pulled it back. I think that writing can be difficult, I preferred to see the visuals of her obsessions. And also it tells us that she’s a sensitive soul!”
Making Emily Blunt an Alcoholic You Can Root For
Book Rachel is constantly chugging gin and tonic in a can, while Wilson said she wanted Rachel in the movie to only drink — vodka, from a water bottle — if it added to the story. “I cut out a lot of the drinking,” she said. “I wanted to use the drinking as a device for stagnace, but also a device for the blacking out, the memory loss, and the gaslight of it all. I really made an attempt to not bring drink to lip too many times, because that can become repetitive. I also added the Alcoholics Anonymous stuff, because I wanted to just have a clear delineation: Now she’s not drinking and she’s making a choice to recover. I wanted that hope. And then, like a true drunk, she slips and there’s no big fanfare around it. It just happens.”
Tate Taylor says that casting Blunt also changed the perception of Rachel’s drinking for audiences. “They like Emily! They like Rachel!” he told ET. “They’re like, “You know what? F**k it! You deserve that beer. Go for it. Start tomorrow!” That’s what Emily brought to the role.”
The Martha of it All
In Hawkins’ novel, Tom has been taking advantage of Rachel’s blackouts to instill false memories in her (i.e. gaslighting her), including mention of an incident with Clara, a wife of one of his colleagues. Clara becomes Martha in the movie and plays a much bigger role, telling Rachel that Tom is “such a bad guy.”
As portrayed by Lisa Kudrow, Martha also happens to be the third blonde in the movie, after Megan and Anna. But Taylor says this is purely coincidental. “I really just wanted to cast someone who you could [do a] reversal of expectation [with], who you could meet and think she’s a stuck up b*tch, so Upper East Side, to go along with Tom’s story,” he explained. “And then when they speak, someone who couldn’t be more lovely and sweet and that girl next store. That is totally Lisa Kudrow. So, hair had nothing to do with it. Unless you think it’s really smart, then you can act like I did it on purpose.”
Scott and Rachel’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans), and Rachel’s relationship is far more volatile on page, with a one-night stand thrown in the mix. In the movie, Detective Riley (Allison Janney) only implies that, as she puts it, they may have “f**ked.”
“I wanted to keep Rachel kind of pure. I wanted her obsession to remain on Tom and I found that when I gave her sex scenes — which I did, with Scott and with some other guy on the train — it almost ruined the story, frankly. It really took away from her purity and her obsession. I think that she’s not about actually having sex with the objects of her desire or fantasy. She’s about playing around with them. And if she were to have sex with Scott, she’d be a healthier person probably,” Wilson said with a laugh.
There is a more practical explanation for another change: at one point in the book, Scott physically drags Rachel into a room in his home and locks her inside. In the movie, Scott confronts her at her apartment and never lays a hand on her.
“It became too big of a set piece, frankly. It became a little genre-esque, with her being locked in the room and then escaping,” she said. “It felt tonally incorrect for this film. I felt that this threat and the possibility were ultimately stronger than him turning into a lunatic. Frankly, we had to keep that for someone else.”
Anna, Tom’s new wife and mother of his child, is one of the three POVs in the book, so you hear the events of the book from her perspective as well. She is less of a presence for much of the film. “The best way to keep her dangerous was to keep her mysterious,” Wilson said. “Less is more.”
Anna does ultimately make her presence known in a big way in the climax of the film when Rachel stabs Tom in the neck with a corkscrew and Anna twists it in further to finish the job. “I think that they made it even scarier because the murder is more brutal than in the script,” Wilson revealed. “I feel like I know a lot about female rage, but Tate seems to know a lot about male rage. And when he came in and directed the male rage, he really got it.”
“I just said, ‘Let’s go for it!’” Taylor said with a laugh. “I had two beats I had to service: [Rachel] stabbing Tom and then Anna’s reaction, which is why I made Rachel’s murder of Tom come quick and fast and not lackluster, but a little more about the emotion of her killing Tom, not the process. And then once that was serviced, I had a lot of fun with Anna.”
Originally published at www.etonline.com.