I don't think I've ever seen a Q&A where both audience members and casts started unabashedly crying - Sherrybaby is the first. Director Laurie Collyer told the audience tearfully the film was inspired by a friend of hers who was lost to addiction, and how she had tried to understand why her life went one direction and her friend's life in another, not-so-good direction. Then it got started with the first question: a woman in the front row stood and talked for quite a while about the film and how deeply it affected her. She started sobbing through her words, the cast started crying, then the audience got all teary - it was a regular waterworks there in the Racquet Club Theater. It speaks, though, to how moved people were by the film.
Collyer was asked a question about Ryan Simpkins, the young actress who plays Alexis, Sherry's daughter. She discussed how Maggie Gyllenhaal (who played Sherry) became very protective of Ryan, in the same way that Sherry is protective of Alexis. She recalled how that created friction between herself as the director and Gyllenhaal as an actress, but in a very positive way that helped the film, and helped the tension between Sherry and Lynette feel very real and tangible.Then someone asked how everyone got involved with the film, and the cast did a round of pass-the-mic. Ryan said that she read the script "about 50 times", and that her favorite scenes were "the one in the car, and the birthday party". Ryan also offered her opinion that Laurie is a "very good director".
Brad Henke, who plays Bob, Sherry's tormented and loving brother, took the mic and expressed that he had felt strongly about the script because he lost a sister to addiction. He got choked up, which made the rest of the cast cry again, which made the audience cry again. He also said that Collyer told him that Bob "eats whenever he gets stressed, and laughingly noted that he can relate to that. Bridget Barkan, who plays Lynette, Bob's wife, told us she did a short with Laurie when she was 15, and when Sherrybaby came up she took it because she wanted to work with Laurie again, and because she admires Maggie as an actress and had always wanted to work with her.
Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Sherry's tough-but-dedicated parole officer, wins the prize for most articulate and poetic Q&A response for this gem: "I liked the organic nature with which the script was written and intended. The defining moment was meeting with Laurie and understanding she was making this film from the heart. It was hard after meeting Maggie and learning about the character, and wondering whether I could play mean against her. Because Officer Hernandez is tough on Sherry, but it's about tough love, and sometimes that's what it takes."
Sam Bottoms, who plays Sherry's father in the film, said he was "so honored" to be asked to be in the film, and then talked about abuse, victims and perpetrators, and how he tried to bring a perspective of the perpetrator to the film as well, because people who abuse were usually once victims of abuse themselves, and then the cycle perpetuates. So he tried to view the part with compassion for the perpetrator as well as the victim. Next someone asked about how much research Gyllenhaal did for the role. Interestingly, she said that she usually never researches for roles. "I normally would never work that way, but Laurie forced me too," she said. She talked about how Laurie made her go on field trips "Did you know there's a prison right there on the West Side Highway?" she asked. "I never even knew that before, but there is". Gyllenhaal said she went on a tour of the prison, and of halfway houses in New Jersey. About the friction between herself and Collyer around Ryan, she said, "Laurie took on the role for me of the person who was trying to take away my daughter."
Then Laurie talked about the shoot itself. They shot the film in 24 days, so they would start working at 5AM, work until 5PM, go home, and then start over the next day. The pace of the shoot, Collyer said, also made a friction that was "somehow necessary to the film". Collyer added, "The material is very emotionally and psychologically difficult, and that made it hard". What came across most from the Q&A was how strongly the entire cast felt about the film and the script - how deeply they were all affected by bringing Sherry to life. The best in film draws the viewer in emotionally because the cast is invested emotionally enough in the film to really breathe life into their characters; make them real, make the viewer care about their fate. Sherrybaby achieves that in abundance, and after seeing the casts' emotional reaction to their film, I understand why.