: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett Director
: Tanya WexlerGenre
: Comedy, RomanceRunning Time
: 99 minutesSynopsis
: Hysteria is a light-hearted romantic comedy based on the surprising truth of how Dr. Mortimer Granville came up with the world's first electro-mechanical vibrator. Academy Award® nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal lead an accomplished cast in this untold tale of Victorian discovery, as a young doctor's quest to work out the key to women's happiness leads him to his own.
The time is the 1880's, the very peak of Victorian prudishness but also the dawn of the electrical age. In London, the brilliant and devoted young doctor, Mortimer Granville has just lost his hospital position for his insistent belief in a new fangled idea called 'germ theory' and needs a new job. He finds it with Dr. Robert Dalrymple, London's "foremost specialist in women's medicine". An expert in 'hysteria', Dr. Dalrymple is besieged by an alarming epidemic of women suffering from a wide variety of symptoms that include "weeping, nymphomania, frigidity, melancholia, and anxiety". Luckily, Dalrymple's 'manual massage' cure is shockingly effective. The handsome young doctor soon has women queuing around the block and finds himself engaged to the boss's younger daughter, the perfect and beautiful Emily Dalrymple. All this success comes at a cost. Mortimer finds himself dealing with both extreme hand cramps and the fiery disapproval of Dalrymple's vexing elder daughter, Charlotte, a champion of poor women's rights, who accuses both her father and the young doctor of being "quacks".
Losing his physician's touch, Mortimer can no longer satisfy his patients. As a result, he yet again loses his job and with it, his fiancée. With nowhere else to go, he turns to his lifelong friend the forward-thinking Edmund St. John-Smythe. Edmund, obsessed with the 'new' science of electricity, unveils the plans for the new electric-powered feather duster, which gives the doctor a compelling idea
the result will revitalize his medical practice, thrill his patients and upend his heart, as Charlotte begins to teach him more about how women really work - and what they actually want - than he ever bargained for.
The result is a witty, winning comedy that not only reveals how the vibrator became one of the first electrical appliances in history to earn a patent - but also, sends sparks flying between a cautious man and a liberated woman brought together by the wonders of friction.
Shot in London and Luxembourg, Hysteria is directed by Tanya Wexler from a script by the writing team of Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer. A trio of women produced the film: Sarah Curtis, Judy Cairo, and Tracey Becker. Release Date
: July 12th, 2012
About the ProductionHysteria
: [hi-ster-ee-uh, -steer-] N. 1. Historically, a medical disorder marked by excitability, irritability, misbehavior and emotional extremes, occurring mainly in women;
2. A burst of hilarity
Tanya Wexler's new film Hysteria looks and feels like the classic, sumptuous Victorian period piece we've all come to know and love. But there is more here than first meets the eye. At the heart of the film is an irreverent, hilarious and surprisingly modern story.
Set in the 1880's, just as a flurry of newfangled gadgets and inventions was forging the world as we now know it, the film follows the historic creation of the singular best-selling, domestic appliance that dared not announce its true purpose: the electrical vibrator. Yet, what emerges is more than a playful comic romp. Hysteria is a feisty love story and a trip into hidden history, an exploration of women's passion and a celebration of the forward-thinking spirit that has always kept human progress buzzing.
With a cast led by Academy Award® nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) and leading man Hugh Dancy (My Idiot Brother), the film might take place in a comical, colourful past of Victorian morals, misunderstood women and shocking medical practices, but it poses questions about sexual attitudes, about men and women and about how to lead a truly satisfying life that still raises eyebrows today. Getting Hysterical: The Screenplay
The spark of Hysteria began with a little-known quirk of history: the fact that the battery-operated vibrator was patented in the late 1800's by one Joseph Mortimer Granville, a highly-regarded English physician who designed it quite seriously as a medical device. Granville promoted his machine, known as "Granville's Hammer," for the relief of muscular aches and pains. But it was soon commandeered into service for what was, at the time, seen by many physicians as the only reliable treatment for the widespread, and notoriously mystifying, women's disorder known as 'hysteria'. This treatment was, "medicinal massage" of the female organs "to the point of paroxysm," which was in the Victorian view, a perfectly clinical release of the nervous system, certainly not to be confused with an orgasm and not in any way considered sexual.
While 'hysteria' would ultimately be exposed (albeit a century later) as a 4,000 year-old myth and a catch-all diagnosis for all sorts of ailments, the vibrator would go on to help usher in a whole new world where women gained the freedom to explore the power of their own sexuality.
When producer Tracey Becker, whose films include Marc Forster's Academy Award®-winning Finding Netherland (an imaginative retelling of J.M. Barrie's invention of Peter Pan), first heard the story of Granville from writer Howard Gensler, she was initially amused, but then she was inspired. The notion of an upright and proper Victorian doctor inventing what would become the world's most popular sex toy sounded like a terrific jumping off point for a modern movie.
"But it couldn't be another dusty biopic," Tracey Becker laughs. "It had to be a sparkling romantic comedy and a story that's about much more than the invention of the vibrator, that's about the spirit of change."
Tracey Becker brought the idea to director, Tanya Wexler, and the two of them, in turn, brought it to the writing team of Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, who could not resist the shocking simplicity of the idea - although it soon became more complex. "Tracey Becker and Tanya Wexler brought us one of those great comic concepts you can express in a single sentence: 'A Victorian doctor invents the vibrator.' And we just sort of said 'yes, we'll do it' right away, and only then did we start to wonder, what on earth have we gotten ourselves into," laughs Stephen Dyer. "It was a brilliant idea, but it needed characters, situations, a whole world and structure to be built around it."
Says Tracey Becker: "We knew that we'd have to find a unique tone, because while it might be a 19th Century story, it's a subject that still makes us blush in 2011. I think the Stephen Dyers really capitalised on the fun of creating a kind of lush, Merchant Ivory reality on the surface but with a hilarious, unbridled comedy running underneath it. Rather than go for the obvious jokes, they allowed the humor to arise from the absurd events surrounding these very charming and relatable characters."
The Dyers immersed into research, discovering a time period on the very cusp between dust-worn traditions and the shock of the new - a time when doctors were moving away from a belief in vapors and leeches to an understanding of Germ Theory and psychology; when a candle and gas-lit world was turning into an electrified spectacle of mechanical devices; and when bold women began fighting for the right to make their own choices.
In the midst of all this, they learned about the strange chapter in 19th Century medicine when nearly a quarter of London's female population was diagnosed with 'hysteria', a phrase applied to a vast array of women's disorders - including such apparent feminine mysteries as unhappiness, restlessness, disobedience, impertinence, either too little or too much interest in sex, and even the desire for voting rights. (While the diagnosis was finally dropped in the 1950s, even today we still say "don't get hysterical!" as a warning to women on the verge.)
Hysterical symptoms of one sort or another had a long and outrageous history, since the time of ancient Greek physicians, of being treated with "pelvic massage," "digital manipulation," and such creative therapies as horse-back riding and hydro-baths for the nether regions. But now, with Victorian doctors believing they had an epidemic of female madness on their hands, the practice spread through England as it never had anywhere before. With it, came the staunch philosophy that such treatments were in no way erotic in nature. On the contrary, they were purely neurological therapy. The physical reaction that resulted could not possibly be related to what should only happen between husband and wife but rather, a medical release allowing toxicity and strain to drain from the nervous system.
The more the Dyers read about hysteria and its treatment, the more they were amazed. "Once we started digging into the history, we realized this had been going on for thousands of years, with women being prescribed horseback riding and water treatments, yet always avoiding the suggestion that there was anything sexual about it," muses Jonah Lisa. "There was a real belief, up until very recently, that women couldn't possibly derive pleasure without penetration by a man, so that's how male doctors were able to divorce these treatments from anything sexual. But the women always knew what was going on!"
Indeed, the search for new ways to stimulate women led to early progenitors of the vibrator, and when Mortimer Granville invented his "Hammer", he was well aware that it might be used to treat women for 'hysteria'. This became a foundation of the film's comedy as the Dyers started writing. Though they looked into the real Granville's rather upright past, they decided to fictionalise his life and relationships, including his disastrous run-in with a very particular type of carpal tunnel syndrome, his romantic entanglements with his boss's two opposite daughters and, most importantly, his biggest inner conflict: whether to settle for conventional success or dare to follow his convictions . . . and his heart.
"Mortimer's journey is really about a man who believes in modern science, who wants to change medicine, but then he loses all that when he starts treating women for hysteria," explains Stephen Dyer. "He loses it, until he meets the amazing Charlotte Dalrymple, Maggie Gyllenhaal's character, and she forces him to confront what he can live with and what he can't in his own actions."
Continues Jonah Lisa: "We loved the idea of Mortimer as a young visionary who is ahead of his time and feels held back by society. This was such a rich period in human invention and progress - electrical appliances, modern medicine, women's rights were all in the midst of their genesis. There were lots of people pushing the boundaries and the risks of doing so were very interesting to us."
For Mortimer, the risks and the rewards of flying in the face of Victorian conventions are brought home in his choice between the two Dalrymple sisters, whose diametrically opposed takes on the Victorian feminine mystique bring life and verve to the story.
"Emily is of course the Victorian Ideal in the flesh -- dutiful, well-behaved and exquisitely turned out," notes Stephen Dyer. "Charlotte, on the other hand, is a pure firebrand fighting for women's rights and using her father's money to lift women out of poverty. It's a stark choice for Mortimer."
Charlotte soon becomes the prickly thorn in Mortimer's side -- with deliciously flirtatious results. "I loved creating Charlotte, because she's such a modern character," says Jonah Lisa. "She truly believes in things and she shakes up Mortimer and reminds him that he used to believe in things, too. She really gets under his skin and all their bickering and banter just fuels their flame. It's an exasperating, funny relationship, but it's also a true love story, because in the end, Mortimer finds he is actually willing to sacrifice his safe, perfect life for Charlotte."
As the screenplay unfolded, the comedy and romance came naturally so the Dyers made authenticity their priority. "Tanya Wexler, Tracey Becker, Jonah Lisa and I always envisioned a movie that would look like Howards' End in its attention to details but play more like Four Weddings and a Funeral in tone," explains Stephen Dyer. "And that's exactly what Tanya Wexler went on to achieve." Hysterical Women: The Filmmaking Team
It seemed only fitting that Hysteria be brought to fruition by women, and Producer, Tracey Becker and Director, Tanya Wexler would soon be joined by two other accomplished female filmmakers: British producer, Sarah Curtis and American producer Judy Cairo, who each brought their own expertise and passion to the project.
Tanya Wexler had directed several acclaimed short films while studying at Columbia University and made her debut with a pair of low-budget indie features (Finding North, Ball in the House), then she took a long break from filmmaking to start a family. In fact, Tanya Wexler met Tracey Becker when she appeared one day in the West Village toy store Tracey Becker ran with her husband.
"It was a very unconventional meeting," recalls Tracey Becker. "We just started talking without either of us knowing we were both filmmakers, only to discover that connection later."
But as the two became friends, Tracey Becker began to see that Tanya Wexler was the perfect match for Hysteria. Tracey Becker goes on: "I came to see Tanya Wexler as a force of nature. She is extremely intelligent, but also full of creativity and amazing intuitiveness. When I saw her first films, I realised that not only is she a genuine person but she is also a natural storyteller."
As soon as Tracey Becker mentioned an idea for a movie about the invention of the vibrator, Tanya Wexler jumped. "When she heard the idea, she lit up light a firecracker," Tracey Becker recalls. "She began doing so much research that she could probably now write her own book on Victorian sexual mores."
Tanya Wexler was so excited about Hysteria in part because she saw it as a hybrid of her two favourite film genres. "I'm a huge fan of British costume dramas but I also love sophisticated modern comedies," she explains. "So when I first heard about this story, I thought, I have to make this movie. It would be so fun to contrast this upper-class, buttoned-down Victorian world with this very sexual treatment for women that they insisted wasn't sexual at all."
She quickly developed her own vision of the film and then introduced Tracey Becker to Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, whom she had collaborated with on her other films. "I knew that the film had to play off the conventions of classic films of the past but turn them on their ear. We needed the wit of romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and with all that great back-and-forth banter and building sexual chemistry
. We needed the gorgeous design of elegant Merchant-Ivory style costume dramas, and the pace of a modern comedy," she explains.
"The core of the story to me was this young forward thinking doctor whose world gets turned upside down by a woman who prods and challenges him at every turn."
Tanya Wexler always felt Charlotte Dalrymple was the emotional heart of the story. "She's such an awake and alive character," she says. "She has a comic side to her, but I love that she is inspired by real women activists of the 1900s - those bold suffragettes and adventurers who fought for women's rights, and who followed their convictions, sometimes to the detriment of their personal lives."
Yet Charlotte Dalrymple's nearly non-existent social life takes an unexpected twist when she meets Mortimer. "They have a classic romantic comedy collision," Tanya Wexler notes. "Mortimer has embraced conformity, which is not, however, who he really is, and Charlotte Dalrymple has put her priorities on things other than romance - but when they meet, all their plans get upended."
Once Tanya Wexler, Tracey Becker, and the Dyers had a finished developing the screenplay, they took a chance on sending it to one of England's most accomplished independent film producers, with credits that include Mrs. Brown, Mansfield Park and The Governess: Sarah Curtis.
"I was amazed at how well the writers had captured the English idiom," Sarah Curtis muses. "To be honest, I approached it quite cautiously because it seemed unlikely they could carry it off, but I found the accuracy extraordinary. The subject matter was handled so cleverly and deftly, and it brought in so many interesting themes. It might have been a one-joke story, but it was the opposite."
Tanya Wexler recalls, "Tracey Becker and I were so excited to have a producer with Sarah Curtis's experience join the team. I was a huge fan of her films. I watched quite a few of them as reference for Hysteria before I ever met her."
Soon after Sarah Curtis fell in love with the script the three of them, Tracey Becker, Tanya Wexler, and Sarah Curtis set about getting the film financed. The two things they needed; cast and money.
"The first thing we knew we needed was a strong cast of versatile actors who had impeccable comedic instincts", says producer Sarah Curtis. The team worked closely with casting director, Gaby Kester (Flashbacks of a Fool, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding), to bring aboard Jonathan Pryce and Rupert Everett. "I couldn't believe it when Sarah Curtis and Tracey Wexler told me they were in. It was a dream come true", said Tracey Wexler. Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce came on board early and stayed with the film through the ups and downs of raising the finance. Sarah Curtis explained "Given the economy and the state of film finance we knew we were going to need partners who believed as deeply in the project as we did. We were very lucky to have the early support and enthusiasm of our French co-producer Anouk Nora (By Alternative Pictures). Anouk Nora introduced the project to Michel Rheillac the head of Arte France Cinema who at a very early stage became a key partner on the film. With Michel Rheillac and Anouk Nora's support the film was awarded the 'Grand Accord' (one of over 1500 submissions). Only 6 films a year are awarded this prestigious brand mark uniting Arte France and Arte Germany/WDR .
Laurent Hassid from Canal + France also became a supporter - and the Canal Plus commitment to the film enabled the producers to build support for the film. In France, Anouk Nora also attached the prestigious French distribution company Haut et Court Anouk Nora explains "This film was a natural for Tanya Wexler - she is witty, intelligent and sensitive, I always believed that she would make a great film, so my enthusiasm was 100% genuine - and therefore easy to share." Anouk Nora also brought in the French international sales company Elle Driver. Elle Driver headed by Adeline Fontan Tessaur and Eva Diederix - also fell in love with the script and showed the same energy and enthusiasm right from the start making them the perfect match.
Luxembourg partners Jimmy de Brabant and Bob Bellion from Delux Productions read the project soon after and were quick to committ to the idea of a shoot in the studios in Luxembourg. Producer Sarah Curtis explains 'the project was a very good fit with Delux Productions. We knew we had a significant amount of the film to shoot in studio and Luxembourg has excellent studio facilities as well as talented crew in all departments. Delux Productions played a significant part in pulling together the finance for the film." With the attachment of the energetic French sales company Elle Driver, headed up by Eva Diederix and Adeline Fontan Tessaur, the film started to attract the attention of key distributors in other territories , even in the tough economic climate of last year.
Then at a crucial stage in this process, Judy Cairo, fresh off producing the Oscar® winning Crazy Heart, fell head over heels for the script and completed the team.
"I get maybe 100 scripts a week, and this one went straight to my spam folder, but when I saw it, something made me want to open the e-mail. From the first page I knew instantly I had to be involved," says Judy Cairo. "It's a brilliant story that gets you laughing on page one and you're still laughing 100 pages later, but at the same time, it also moves you, sweeps you up in romance and reveals things to you. I felt that it would really speak to contemporary audiences."
She continues: "There was one line that particularly touched me: when Charlotte says about her work with impoverished women 'I get more from them than I give.' The vibrator might be the hook of the film, but to me, this is the theme. It's a story that makes you giggle but it's about more than the funny side of desire; it's also about the desire in all of us to lead a useful life."
Judy Cairo hopes that the film will get people talking in addition to laughing - maybe about things they don't usually talk about. "It's still almost a revolutionary thing to talk openly about women having sex," she observes. "Hopefully, this film will make a dent in that."
Judy Cairo and her Informant Media team found they were able to quickly attract major support to complete the financing get the production off the ground. "High quality scripts like this one are always hard to come by and people fell in love with it," she summarises. "It drew an incredibly dedicated cast and crew." Victorians vs. Moderns: The Cast and Characters
The filmmakers were thrilled with the ensemble they were able to cast. "Early on, we wrote a wish list of the names we wanted, and somehow they are all in the movie," muses Tanya Wexler. "In large part it was the way the story was told in the script - when people would first hear the concept of Hysteria, they expected this very broad comedy but, instead, what they got was something funny, poignant, and with real heart. That surprised and pleased the as actors and, I think, ultimately attracted them to the project."
This was true across the board, as the cast took on characters that were uptight, conventional Victorians or by contrast fiery, forward thinking moderns clashing with the tenor of the times. They include: Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville
To play Mortimer Granville, the filmmakers of Hysteria went in search of the quintessential British leading man - someone who could pull off a smart, sophisticated 19th Century doctor who is slowly unravelled by a vexingly attractive woman who scoffs at his work "massaging" upscale female patients. They also needed an actor who would keep a stiff upper lip even while inventing the vibrator.
They found all that and more in rising British star Hugh Dancy. Hugh Dancy came to international attention with a diverse string of roles including D'Artagnan in Young Blades, medic Kurt Schmid in Black Hawn Down, Buddy in Evening (where he met his wife Claire Danes), Galahad in King Arthur and the autistic title character in Adam - establishing a rare ability to move between drama, comedy, action and period roles.
Tanya Wexler had been searching a long time for her Mortimer when she ran across Hugh Dancy starring on Broadway in the British classic R.C. Sherriff's "Journey's End." "He was in a very serious role, nothing like Mortimer Granville, but as soon as I saw him, I said 'that's him,'" she remembers. "I just knew it."
The producers concurred. Says Judy Cairo: "Hugh Dancy, like Mortimer, is very intelligent and a very good soul, but he's also got a mischievous side and can be quite funny. I think he is one of todays most underutilised, brilliant young actors and he made the perfect sparring partner for Maggie Gyllenhaal with that 1940s kind of spark. I couldn't imagine finding a better Mortimer."
Hugh Dancy recalls being surprised almost immediately upon cracking open the screenplay. "I knew very little about it, and my immediate response was, of course, laughter," he confesses. "But as I read on, I loved the mix of tones: there are farcical scenes, there's a real romance running through it and there are some wonderful and serious ideas at work. At the same time, there's always something quite lively, contemporary and fun about it."
For Hugh Dancy, the role was rife not only with comedy but also with intriguing shifts in Mortimer's perspective. After all, he begins the film as a bit of an upstart, bucking a medical establishment that still insists infection is caused by such vague notions as "bad air" and "noxious miasmas." (Germ Theory was still a dangerous belief in Victorian times. The 19th Century physician, Ignaz Phillip Semmelweiss, was so mocked for his contention that doctors should wash their hands, he had a nervous breakdown and was carted away to a mental asylum.) But when he is offered a life of upper-class luxury, while making his patients blissfully happy... Well, who could resist? Not Mortimer - at least, not at first.
Hugh Dancy was amazed to learn that respectable Victorian doctors actually treated women with regular bouts of intimate massage, but he came to see it was simply a different mindset. "I think they truly believed they were practicing medicine," he comments. "They weren't stupid, and it's not simply that they didn't have the knowledge that we have today about psychology. It was a whole moral standpoint that made it make sense to them. But, of course, from a comedy point of view, you couldn't make up anything funnier than what was actually going on at the time!"
As for what Mortimer thinks of his female patients, Hugh Dancy laughs: "They exhaust him. But it's his inability to perform his daily, uh, ministrations, that leads him to this remarkable invention."
Hugh Dancy approached Mortimer as a man who wants to be a force for change, but gives in momentarily to what looks like the good life. "I think Mortimer deep down inside considers himself a forward-thinking scientist, but when he's offered a steady job, it becomes a bit too easy to give up on his ambitions and his dreams - until Charlotte forces him to remember them," he says.
Perhaps most fun for Hugh Dancy was moving back and forth between the two divergent Dalrymple sisters. "He's quite in over his head," he laughs. "On the one hand, Emily is everything he's signed up for - she's pretty, demure, does everything her father asks, even if she plays the piano badly and is a phrenologist. Charlotte, on the other hand, horrifies him straight away. She's a threat to everything he thinks he wants, and a constant annoyance, but of course, he can't get her off his mind." Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple
To play Hysteria's defiantly non-hysterical heroine, Charlotte, the filmmakers chose an actress who seemed to have enough verve and intelligence to match the very feisty character: Maggie Gyllenhaal, long a favourite of indie filmgoers and a recent Academy Award® nominee for her portrait of a single mom falling for a washed-up country star in Crazy Heart, opposite Jeff Bridges.
"For Charlotte, we thought who do women love to see on the screen? Maggie Gyllenhaal was at the top of that list," notes Tanya Wexler. "Luckily, Judy Cairo had just worked with her and was able to get the script to her and she loved it. Once she took the role, it was as if it had been written just for her."
Despite the fact that this was a very different role for Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Cairo knew she was more than up to the challenge. "Maggie Gyllenhaal is Charlotte. She's feisty, energetic, intelligent, has great heart and vitality - and she also happens to be an amazing actress. I knew that Maggie Gyllenhaal, being such a strong woman herself, could step right into Charlotte's Victorian boots and she did so brilliantly."
The script turned Maggie Gyllenhaal's head on first read. "It was air-tight and really smart," she says. "It's a romantic comedy full of love and lightness, but it's also about a lot of important things like women's sexuality and doing good for others. Most romantic comedies don't have these other qualities, which is what drew me so strongly. I also love that the fire of the movie comes from the woman. Charlotte is such a great character, a true grown-up who is helping women to see all the power they have, and who believes women deserve to lead lives of pleasure and significance."
To Maggie Gyllenhaal, Charlotte embodied the kind of female hero not often seen at the movies. "She's fighting for a lot of things that I think we almost take too much for granted today," she says. "I find it exciting to see how the rights we enjoy now were fought for and won. It tells us something about who we are and where we've come from. Someone like Charlotte never believed in the idea of hysteria as a disease, because she was aware that women had so many real and legitimate reasons for being upset and unhappy, and in her eyes, that's what needed to be addressed."
If Charlotte inspired her, the sexual undercurrent of Hysteria made her blush - but Maggie Gyllenhaal says that's part of the point. "I get a little flushed and funny every time I talk about the movie," she confesses. "It just goes to show that we still don't really know how to speak openly about women's sexuality. I think this movie will get people talking a bit more, though, because it takes such a fun and humorous approach."
Maggie Gyllenhaal devoted herself to playing Charlotte as authentically as a modern American woman could. "I worked with a really good dialect coach on my accent and spent a lot of time in accent while we were in production," she notes. "Most of all, it was important to me that Charlotte feel like a living, breathing person with blood flowing through her veins, as if she were here in 2011."
Helping her to do that was Tanya Wexler. "Tanya Wexler was terrific throughout," Maggie Gyllenhaal says, concluding: "And she definitely found ways to handle me playing this very wild, opinionated woman!" Jonathan Pryce as Dr. Dalrymple
Charlotte's wildness and opinions might be an inspiration to some, but they are the bane of her father's existence - and a strain on his burgeoning business as one of London's leading doctors for hysterical women. Playing the conservative, conventional man who is nevertheless a leading massager of women's private parts is one of England's most prolific stars of stage and screen: two time Tony Award Winning, Jonathan Pryce, whose recent film roles range from Terrence Malick's The New World to the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean series.
"Jonathan Pryce is a genius performer," says Tanya Wexler. "What I loved about him for this role is that he has impeccable comic timing but he has also has authenticity and truth at his core." Jonathan Pryce was initially skeptical about the screenplay, but when he read it, his mind was changed. "Once I got past the shock of the idea, I found it quite a well-written story that's really about the sexual politics of men and women - a subject that couldn't be any more universal, really," he laughs.
His mission as Dr. Dalrymple was to perform as if there was absolutely nothing humorous or even ever so slightly absurd about his treatment of women. "We didn't play it for comedy, we played it straight, because the situations themselves are laugh-out-loud funny," Jonathan Pryce explains. "In Dr. Dalrymple's mind this is simply a clinical procedure that is so successful that he can't keep up with business."
Still, while his character might come off as straight-laced and straight-faced, Jonathan Pryce admits that he had quite a bit of fun in the role. "A lot of wonderful actresses come in for the doctor's treatment, and the fun for me was in seeing how they all reacted differently," he muses. Felicity Jones as Emily Dalrymple
Dr. Dalrymple's success in his profession is also a boon to his favourite daughter, Emily, the antithesis of the spirited, uncontrollable Charlotte, and the pinnacle of demure mildness. Taking on the role is Felicity Jones, the British actress whose film Like Crazy was the surprise hit of the Sundance Film Festival this year. Also known for Chalet Girl and such period dramas as Northanger Abbey and Cheri, Felicity Jones is one of the young rising stars of her generation. Felicity Jones says Hysteria isn't quite like those other films. "The beauty of this script is that it comes on like a traditional costume drama but then you realise something completely different is going on," she laughs.
Still, at heart, Emily is a traditional Victorian woman who does her duty agreeing to marry her father's choice of husband, rather than thinking for herself, and that's how Felicity Jones plays her. "Her sister is so courageous and confident, I think it pushes Emily to become even more tight and conservative in an effort to please her father the most," observes Felicity Jones. "She has created herself to be the most perfectly feminine creature she can imagine, and Mortimer, at first, is quite taken in by that mirage."
Naturally, the façade begins to crack as Mortimer begins to see he is really meant to be with Charlotte. "For me, it was so much fun to be part of this triangle," says Felicity Jones. "Part of the comedy in the film comes out of how each of these two women appeals to a different side of his personality."
To prepare for the role, Felicity Jones read up on 19th Century mores and especially on Emily's hobby of phrenology - the once popular pseudoscience that involved "reading" a person's personality from the shape of their skull. But nothing could prepare Felicity Jones for Emily's own lavish hairstyle, worn to impress on the occasion of a party to celebrate her engagement to Mortimer. "We called it 'The Incredible Tower,'" laughs Felicity Jones. "It's a remarkable and very different hairstyle, but it doesn't end well for Emily!" Rupert Everett as Edmund
Also taking a key role in Hysteria is another actor renowned for a wide variety of wry, sophisticated period roles: Rupert Everett. Rupert Edmund (Everett) is Mortimer's aristocratic best friend whose plans to build an electric feather duster are taken in a most unexpected direction. Like others, Rupert Everett couldn't resist the concept behind Hysteria. "Anyone you tell about this film cracks a smile almost immediately. It has the flavour of an Ealing Comedy of the 30's or 40s," he notes, referring to the quintessentially British style of post-war comedies known for blending an anarchic sense of fun with scathing satire.
On top of that, Rupert Everett was taken in by the time period. "The setting - at a time when women were just emerging as individuals and the British Empire was coming to a close - gives the humour a greater depth."
As for his character, Rupert Everett describes him as "a typical gentleman inventor who has led a privileged life and is free to be quite forward-thinking." He goes on, "In many ways, he and Mortimer are like brothers, and through it all, they remain great friends."
Ashley Jensen as Fanny and introducing Sheridan Smith as 'Molly the Lolly' Rounding out the main cast of characters are two women from London's working class: Fanny, the settlement house resident and Charlottes confidante, played by Ashley Jensen (Ugly Betty and HBO's Extras); and the former prostitute, 'Molly the Lolly', played by Olivier Award winning British comedy star, Sheridan Smith, who makes her feature film debut on the heels of her recent highly successful stage run in "Legally Blonde, The Musical."
Ashley Jensen describes Fanny as "a woman who basically has nothing, except an alcoholic husband who beats her up! She's the very opposite of all the women who show up at Mortimer's practice." Indeed, Fanny helps Charlotte bring home her point to Mortimer that, whereas affluent women are getting massages for mysterious maladies, working women are in dire need of real medical care.
Ashley Jensen was also caught up in the story's reminders of history. "What I think is so clever about the movie is that it's about some serious subjects, in addition to vibrators, which can be a serious subject in themselve