Now on DVD: Sex, lies and passenger trains in ‘The Girl on the Train’

Justin Theroux and Emily Blunt star in 'The Girl on the Train.'

Justin Theroux and Emily Blunt star in ‘The Girl on the Train.’

Emily Blunt leads the all-star cast of The Girl on the Train, from director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up) and producer Marc Platt (Bridge of Spies, Into the Woods). Based on author Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel, the thriller that riveted millions in hard copy and on the big screen now makes its way to the big screen.

Reeling from a recent divorce and searching to preoccupy her days, Rachel Watson (Blunt) spends her weekday commute to and from Manhattan quietly gazing out the train windows. Every morning and evening, she relives memories from just outside the home she once shared with her now ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux of The Leftovers), who now lives there with his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson of Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) and their baby.

To distract herself from a life that’s grown so aimless, Rachel develops an obsession with the occupants of another house on the route, 15 Beckett Road—a few doors down from where she used to reside. There, blissfully unaware that a stranger is longingly watching, the seemingly perfect couple Megan (Haley Bennett of The Magnificent Seven) and Scott (Luke Evans of the Hobbit series) go about the business of suburban life.

For months, in between furtive sips of the liquor that’s become a constant companion, Rachel has stolen glimpses of the stunning Megan and handsome Scott as they drink morning coffee by their windows or laugh on their porch at nighttime—and imagined how idyllic their world must be. The seemingly carefree young woman is the portrait of everything that Rachel tried to be during her years with Tom, in a marriage from which she refuses to let go.

One day, on her way into the city, Rachel witnesses something so shocking in Megan and Scott’s backyard that it rocks her to the core. Soon after, when Megan goes missing and is feared dead, Rachel tells the police what she believes she has seen. But can Rachel trust what she thinks she witnessed, or is she entangled in the crime itself? When one voyeur crosses the dangerous line between concerned and obsessed, she will either find the real killer…or discover that there is innocent blood on her own hands.

Joining the cast of The Girl on the Train are Allison Janney as Detective Riley, the investigating officer who suspects Rachel is involved in Megan’s disappearance; Édgar Ramírez (Zero Dark Thirty) as Dr. Kamal Abdic, the therapist to whom Rachel reaches out for help; Laura Prepon (Orange Is the New Black, That ’70s Show) as Cathy, her weary roommate who has reached a breaking point of her own; and Lisa Kudrow as Martha, an estranged friend of Rachel’s who has seen the depths of her secret addiction.

Once the production announced it was casting The Girl on the Train, the role of Rachel Watson became a much-sought-after part. As there are not scores of enviable female-leading roles in Hollywood that represent fully developed and complex characters like Rachel, the calls for consideration were coming in all over. When the dust settled, only one name rose to the top: Emily Blunt.

Blunt first became aware of the phenomenon that was “The Girl on the Train” through her sister, Felicity, who is a literary agent. “She told me, ‘This book is selling like quick fire.’ I’d go into any airport or bookstore and saw that it was the #1 bestseller. I could see people reading it on the subway and on airplanes. So I was aware of the tsunami of interest before I was approached by the producers. When they asked if I was interested in coming in, that’s when I read the book. And I read it in two days.”

The performer admits that she was struck by just how visceral she found the thriller to be and grew further impressed with Wilson’s work on the script about this “delusional Nancy Drew character,” as she puts it. “I loved seeing the screenplay capture Rachel’s intensity, and the fact that it is told in a sort of blurry sense…because the lead character is an alcoholic and the most unreliable witness to a crime.

“I was fascinated by how they were filmically going to capture that sense of addiction and voyeurism,” Blunt continues, “what we think we see and don’t, what we think we remember and don’t…and the blurry lines between all of those aspects.” In fact, that commitment to unexpected narrative sold her on the story and the film. “What I loved about the book and the script is that they articulately managed to depict broken, damaged women. You don’t see that in cinema very often, as women are often held in a male ideal. Both the book and the film strive away from that.”

Blunt is the first to admit that, no matter the genre or motivation, she’ll only approach characters that have an unexpected depth. “All you want is to try and understand the people you play. As the onion unravels with Rachel, you quickly realize she has a drinking problem and is incredibly untethered and unstable,” she shares. “Rachel’s riddled with guilt, loneliness and desperation, as well as the need for love and connection, and she finds a great deal of comfort and solace in the people she obsesses over. They seem like a match made in heaven, and they know a love she no longer has in her life. I have huge empathy for her.”

To play the part of Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, the team cast Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson. “Rebecca is a lovely actress who is coming into her own,” says Platt. “The camera loves her.”

An adoring new mother to baby Evie, Anna has left her career in real estate and devotes her energy to building the ideal home for her family. “I see Anna as a woman who had the check list,” describes Ferguson. “When I was younger, people said, ‘You’re supposed to be married before this age, and you’re supposed to have this much money and children. Anna has checked the list, and is now just trying maintain it. Her little baby is her everything, and she will do anything to protect her.”

Tom’s ex-wife, however, is an unwanted presence in Anna’s world. Much to Anna’s chagrin, Rachel still texts Tom, and Anna suspects the frequent hang-up calls in the middle of the night are also from his former spouse. “Anna is living a life that she dreams of, but not feeling that she can control it,” Ferguson adds. “Rachel is a threat, but Anna will do anything to hide that and live the life of the perfect suburban housewife.”

Even though their characters begin the film as mortal enemies, there was nothing but love from Blunt toward Ferguson. She lauds: “Rebecca has the most beautiful, expressive face, and she’s able to reveal so much with so little. I’m thrilled she was cast as Anna because that could easily have been a derivative part—the new blonde wife in a cashmere sweater who’s the perfect mother. Rebecca brought a lot of the struggle of that life of being a stay-at-home mom.”

While the thriller begins with the girl on a train, the narrative soon takes up the story of Megan Hipwell, the perfect woman with whom Rachel has become obsessed and whose beauty masks a deep unhappiness. Megan can often be seen jogging in the small town of Ardsley, where she lives a few doors down from Anna and Tom, for whom she works as a nanny. A self-described creature of reinvention, and someone Taylor describes as “a siren who was broken from day one,” Megan is an enigma even to her devoted—and insanely jealous—husband Scott.

“She’s got such beauty and intelligence and just doesn’t know where to place it,” explains Wilson. “So she’s this lost bit of potential, like so many women are, and she feels like she has never found the way to excel in her persona other than to be sexy.”

For the role of Megan, the filmmakers cast Haley Bennett. “Among our three women, Megan is the most lost,” explains Platt. “They’re all looking over their shoulder, but Megan, in particular, carries a dark past that haunts her. There’s something about Haley’s abilities as an actress, but also something in her DNA, that feels restless and befits Megan so well. You’re honestly not sure what the next impulse or behavior will be.”

The performer describes her character as living much less a perfect life than Rachel imagines. “Megan is in a very unhappy marriage, and she’s living in the suburbs as a social outcast,” Bennett says. “She’s lonely and becomes restless and reckless. I felt that there’s a little part of each of Megan, Rachel and Anna in all of us.”

Bennett found quite the fan in the actress playing the character obsessed with Megan. Blunt raved “I was so excited that Haley was in the film. I remember seeing her in The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, who is arguably one of the best actors we’ve ever seen, and yet you can’t stop watching her. She brought all kinds of vulnerability and complexity to the character of Megan.”

To cast the two key male roles was just as crucial, according to Platt. “It’s interesting to be involved in a film that’s so female-centric,” he says. “Usually, it’s the guys who are more complicated and then there’s the ‘girl’ role, and our challenge here was to develop characters that wouldn’t just be the ‘boy’ role in a film about the women. The story is also very much about the men.”

To play the role of Tom, a father caught between his new wife and an ex who is deteriorating into the madness of addiction, the filmmakers cast Justin Theroux, who can currently be seen starring in the hit series The Leftovers. “In Justin, we found an actor who could keep you off guard,” notes Platt. “Maybe his darker inclinations were right on the edge, but you’re not sure. There’s also something so likeable about him.”

For Theroux, The Girl on the Train is all about appearances. “It’s set in this suburban place, just upstate, just outside of the city. So there is that picket-fence element to it, and wondering what’s behind those perfect little shutters and curtains.” For a passenger peering into the homes she passes by, however, the view becomes more intimate. “There’s something about looking into people’s backyards that is almost more invasive. You are literally seeing their dirty laundry hanging out in the back; you’re not seeing what’s presented in the front.”

The actor hits upon a theme that readers of Hawkins’ work frequently note: The main character’s addiction adds a curious element to Rachel’s trustworthiness. “It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense,” says Theroux. “It’s seen through the lens of a human problem. No one believes the least reliable witness: Rachel.”

For the role of Scott, Megan’s husband and the second object of Rachel’s obsession, the filmmakers cast Luke Evans, who is also known for roles in the Fast & Furious franchise. “Luke is an everyday guy, and yet there’s an edge to him,” says Platt, who felt the Welsh performer’s versatility on screen made him the perfect choice for the character. “Audiences don’t know if Scott is good, or if he has a bad temper and is impulsive. As an audience member, I’m not sure who’s telling me the truth, who’s too far on the edge, and who’s capable of very heinous acts.”

As were Platt and Blunt, Evans admits he became quite the fan of the complex characters in Hawkins’ novel, one he found to be a gripping page-turner. “When I began the book, I didn’t want to put it down,” he gives. “I’m not surprised it’s done as well as it has. The whole story is about an inquisitive human being who creates chaos because of her curiosity, and it’s enthralling.”

Evans found Rachel’s obsessions fascinating and he quickly agreed to portray one of the key figures who populate her world. He describes Scott as a man who’s in a tempestuous relationship with Megan, and a jealous husband who inevitably becomes a suspect when she disappears. “He’s questioning a lot about himself and about the women in his life, and how they’ve treated him,” the actor says. “So there’s a lot of anger and mistrust.”

Rachel’s need to find out what happened to Megan leads her to visit the missing woman’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, whom Rachel—and the cops—suspects may have been involved in her disappearance. As the story unfolds, we learn that the relationship between Abdic and Megan was much more than doctor and patient. “There is this wonderful cat-and-mouse quality to what happens between Megan and her doctor,” says Bennett. “She is a lonely, broken woman who lures him in. He takes the bait.”

To play Dr. Abdic, the filmmakers cast Édgar Ramírez because “Édgar is a compelling actor,” Platt explains, “with his language, but also in the silences. He’s perfect as a psychiatrist who is very probing, but also is a man subject to emotion and need.”

“Kamal Abdic is a man of few words,” offers Ramírez. “He loves to listen to these women because he is also fascinated, or a little turned on, by their despair. He listens to all their stories, but he genuinely falls in love with Megan. There’s a special sense of innocence in her, and he knows that she uses sex as a way to connect.”
Initially posing as a patient to learn what she can about Abdic, Rachel opens up to the doctor, revealing more than she ever intended.

She describes her heartbreak at not being able to have a child, subsequent divorce and alcohol-induced blackouts. “Abdic is the only one who listens to the secrets,” Ramírez adds. However, he pays the price for crossing the line with his patients. “He knows everything about what’s going on, and ironically, is the first one who becomes a suspect.” He pauses, “we cross lines because we feel lonely and we are longing for connection.”

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