Interview: Vanessa Kirby recalls learning real childbirth for film "Pieces of a Woman"


  • World
  • Monday, 14 Sep 2020

By Grandesso Federico

VENICE, Italy, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Vanessa Kirby, 32-year-old British actress, did not really know what real childbirth is like. But she won best lead actress at the Venice film festival for drama film "Pieces of a Woman", which opens with Kirby in a sensational 25-minute childbirth scene.

"The minute that I knew that I had to do a real birth on screen, I just thought I don't want to pretend. I want it to feel as authentic as possible," Kirby said in a group interview.

Kirby won the Best Actress Award in Venice on Saturday for her performance in "Pieces of a Woman" by Hungarian film director Kornel Mundruczo. Kirby was also in Venice with another movie "The World to Come" by Norwegian film director Mona Fastvold.

"Pieces of a Woman" tells about Martha and Sean Carson, a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably during a home birth at the hands of a flustered midwife, who faces charges of criminal negligence. The impressive birth scene, together with the death of their baby, immerses the viewer in an intense moment of joy and sadness.

Thus begins a year-long odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother, along with the publicly vilified midwife whom she must face in court.

When Kirby knew she had to present the delivery of the baby in one take, she was excited because "the idea of doing something uninterrupted was really exciting," she said.

But she did not really know what real childbirth was like. She started to watch lots of documentaries and none of them showed anything in its entirety, Kirby recalled.

Kirby then contacted obstetricians, asking if she could shadow them and spend time in a labor ward meeting women and trying to experience real births. She was admitted to a hospital in North London and spent many days in a labor ward with midwives, who taught her all about their job.

She also had the possibility of seeing a real difficult birth at the hospital. "This was a game-changer for me because I thought I have now seen birth and I was surprised about the things I saw," Kirby said.

Her goal was to represent a moment on screen in a way that women and men who have experienced it together would recognize.

Kirby, who portrayed Princess Margaret in Peter Morgan's Netflix series The Crown, recalled the difficult emotional moments she had on set, like the one when the baby goes blue after the birth and it is taken away -- apparently, it took her a long time to reset.

"I was sobbing for about ten minutes. I tried to stop myself and for a second I felt I thought I really have lost a baby. Kornel (the director) hugged me really tight for ten minutes as I sobbed. This was such a bonding, incredible thing," she said.

"It was such a gift to act that, to just get out of my mind and just let the body take over."

The honored actress explained that she felt so nervous about sharing the film with people because she felt it was like sharing a really vulnerable part of herself, more than she has done in other movies.

Asked about her acting preferences, Kirby said she likes to play characters who have contradictions. "I like something that pushes me way beyond the limit of what I would think to do. I like something that frightens me," she said.

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