Margaret Qualley on Building Bond With ‘Maid’ Actor Rylea Nevaeh Whittet

Because Helper star Margaret Qualley, her job is to build a relationship with child actor Rylea Nevaeh Whittet and make her feel safe on the set of the Netflix series that delves into domestic abuse and dealing with trauma love being a mother.

“What struck me most from both the script and Stephanie Land’s memoir – the inspiration for the series, of course – was how much she loved her daughter and that relationship. how important it is to her,” says Qualley, 27, CHEAP. “Her daughter is her life. Given the fact that I’m not a mother, that seems to be the biggest obstacle, to being the mother of a 4-year-old stranger convincingly. That was my starting point: getting as close to Rylea as I could to make her feel as comfortable in my arms as I could feel, to make her feel safe and to make her feel out of place. work and [could] having a wonderful fourth year of her life. And then I got down to the ride. “

In the critically acclaimed limited series created by Molly Smith Metzler, Qualley plays Alex, a woman who decides to let go of an abusive relationship with her daughter. To make ends meet, she starts cleaning the house while trying to be the best mother she can be to Maddy. To prepare for the role, Qualley and Whittet would spend the day on set together, eating lunch together and sleeping together — and every Sunday Whittet’s parents would take her away so Qualley could run errands. with Whittet to build that sense of familiarity. .

“We’re really attached to each other,” Qualley said. “I love her, and it has been a gift to work with her. When you’re acting with someone, you’re both pretending, but when you hold your sleeping 4-year-old in your arms, she’s just sleeping – you have a heartbeat. And that just makes you feel different.”

Andie MacDowell, who not only plays Alex’s mother, Paula, on the show but also Qualley’s mother in real life, saw how determined Qualley must be to build a strong relationship with Whittet.

“She turned that kid into an actor – you can’t get that kind of performance from a kid,” MacDowell said. CHEAP. “It takes a lot of patience, and she created it with this kid. This child adores her and is very comfortable with her spending every weekend with her. Every moment on set, she was with Margaret as if it were her mother. They had this real bond – it wasn’t fake. It really made a huge difference and it was a huge job. “

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In fact, the two became so close that Whittet felt she needed to protect Qualley during scenes where she was scolded by Nick Robinson, who played Alex’s estranged boyfriend and Maddy’s father on the show. .

“She will be very upset and very scared by anyone [who] Qualley explained. “For example, the first scene we did with my mother – she was so scared of my mother. And then I had to leave her at my mom’s house and drive away. But in reality, I was lying on the floor, keeping her ankles below the screen because she wouldn’t be in the same frame as my mom. She won’t let me leave because she’s scared [since] my mom just yelled at us. My mother had to come on Sunday to regain her trust. She is a very empathetic child. She couldn’t handle it when someone was yelling at me. “

Adds MacDowell, whose character has an undiagnosed mental health disorder: “My first scene with Rylea was a wackadoodle. [I’m] picture, and they appeared [as] I was in one of those high-manic episodes where my speech patterns weren’t working out – and she was terribly scared of me. I had a really hard time dealing with that, but then we were able to explain to her that I was acting. And she’s starting to understand what acting is and she’s seeing the real me, and I’m going to hang out with her a little bit at home and show her the real me. And then after that, she liked me.”

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“We really bonded,” Qualley said of her young co-star Rylea Nevaeh Whittet, who plays her daughter, Maddy. Andie MacDowell said, “She turned that kid into an actor.”

Empathy is also why Qualley was drawn to the project in the first place. When she first received the script and read Land’s memoir, she knew she wanted the role and immediately auditioned. And while Qualley did not serve as a producer on the show, she did play a major role in casting one of the series’ most important roles: Alex’s free-spirited artist mother. , Paula.

“It was probably the most selfish decision I’ve made in my entire life,” Qualley said of offering her mother the role. “I’m in quarantine in Canada, and they haven’t cast my mother yet. It dawned on me that one day, there wouldn’t be anyone better to play this role than my real-life mother. I want to work with her someday and want to wait until we have something really hot. And then I realized, ‘Oh, wait, this really delicious… ‘I suggested the idea and people were really excited about it. And then I said, ‘Oh my God, I really hope she makes it.’ But fortunately she wanted to do it, she took action immediately and then it was God’s will. I got to work with someone I’ve grown up admiring since I started working – my first idol. “

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MacDowell said: “It’s been such a wonderful feeling as a mother to have this experience with her baby and let it be so well received and touch so many people. “When it first came out, I was from London and everyone at the airport would recognize me and tell me how touched they were – and I would say, ‘The lead is my daughter! ‘ It’s so much fun to see their faces, to see them realize it’s my daughter and how much they love her.”

The duo will hang out every Sunday – Qualley’s only day off, according to MacDowell – to eat soup and recuperate after days of domestic violence. Qualley said that there was one scene in particular that moved her.

“There was a moment where Sean [Robinson] Qualley said. grabbed Alex by the shoulder and pushed her against the wall. “Before filming this scene, we mulled over, the idea of ​​Sean grabbing her and pushing her. And it was the first time that happened on the show. Before that, it was mostly about emotional abuse, but we [raised] stake a little and [to see] what that feels like. And on the first shot… he grabbed my shoulder and pushed me against the wall. I just remember having the biggest reaction to it. I’ve never been in that situation – I’m really lucky – but if it had any effect on me in a pretend world, I can only imagine what it would do to you in real life. “

Fortunately, Qualley and Robinson already knew each other Helper and comfortable enough to film those tough moments.

However, there are two scenes that help balance out the strongly emotional ones, one where Alex flips through men on a dating app with stereotypical profiles. “Luckily, I skipped the camera for that, because I definitely giggled,” Qualley recalls. “It was a cheerful, refreshing kindness compared to the rest. It was just a happy departure for me.”

The other is a scene in which Alex walks through the food in Regina (Anika Noni Rose’s) fridge, Qualley explains, which wasn’t originally in the script. She said: “In the script, Alex wasn’t allowed to eat anything, and that was crazy for everyone while we were filming. “I remember having a conversation with Brett [Hedblom, a producer] like, ‘If you were hungry, wouldn’t you eat it?’ They really stick to the script – and yes, Molly is a genius and it’s a really beautiful script – but we were all like, ‘Come on, she has to eat it.’ But they didn’t shoot that one. And then when they put together the episode, they said, ‘Um, actually, she has to eat it.’ And so we did the scene where Alex stuffs her face and eats it all. Luckily, I was hungry! “

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Qualley, who spoke to CHEAP from Panama, where she is filming another project, says she will absorb what she learns from the series. Helper to the next one.

“Your point of view counts,” says Qualley, “that basically sounds like it. “In Alex’s world, she is living in an emotionally abusive dynamic. And when you’re in that relationship, you lose touch with your own reality because you realize you have to agree and conform to get through and someone else is setting the rules, and that is not okay. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion and you don’t have to accept someone else’s point of view to get through it all… While my situation is very different from Alex’s, I think a lot of times, people taking power encourages you losers to touch your own reality to their acceptance, to make things easier for them. “

She added, “I appreciate more than ever how different people’s perspectives are. And while we all live in the same world, we all have completely different experiences. I want to try to be as true to myself as possible while giving everyone else their space. That’s a big thing that I took away from the show.”

This story first appeared in the December issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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