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INTERVIEW: Raffey Cassidy Talks Family in Noah Baumbach’s ‘White Noise’

Family in White Noise by Noam Baumbach

Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s White Noise is, for lack of a better way of explaining it, an outrageous look at survival. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo and stars Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, and Don Cheadle. The point is simply that a town is trapped in fear of an airborne illness coming for them, but the absurd rules their thinking. At its core is a blended family, with Babette’s (Gerwig) children and Jack’s (Driver), and each kid has their own way of thinking, and the movie works because of how the family dynamic is explored.

That was, according to star Raffey Cassidy, part of Baumbach’s rehearsal goal. I spoke with Cassidy, who played Denise in the film—Babette’s daughter who is worried about her mother and checks in with her stepdad Jack about her often, and she praised the experience of working on White Noise. One of the most important aspects of the film is the believability that this family works.

Bringing to life the American family

The Gladney family is chaotic in the way a large family is. They’re passing each other in the kitchen all at the same time without running into each other because it is how well they know one another. It is, frankly, how big families work in reality. So, bringing that to life onscreen was important in the process, and work went in to make them believable.

For Cassidy, that was helped by getting to rehearse as a “family” beforehand and doing American family activities to get the cast all in the right mindset. “Her mother has always been her rock and she’s always had her to go to whatever may be happening in their world, and now she has her blended family too. Noah just created such an incredible environment for authentically creating those familiar relationships, especially with Greta as my mother,” Cassidy said. “We were lucky enough to do two weeks rehearsals before starting to film, and then extra rehearsal time actually on our set. On top of that, whilst shooting Noah would take us all to baseball games and days out as a whole family and do really American family stuff, we all loved it. At the time it was just fun weekends out, but now I look back and I realise what Noah was up to. We all really developed real relationships, so I could then put myself in Denise’s position of being seriously worried for her mother. Also, those scenes with Adam, I had such a great time doing those. We would have fun with the scenes, switching up and changing it each time. No take was necessarily the same, you know, different inflections or changing the pace, different things like that. So that was really a fun time.”

White Noise and COVID

The movie is a story about people essentially ignoring an airborne problem until it is too late. So, applying that to a 21st century audience is … interesting. “It was so strange. When I read the script, Covid was still very much occupying everyone’s thoughts, and I couldn’t quite believe how close to home the script was, it was so relevant to everyone’s own personal experience with Covid, the fear of the unknown,” she said, “and I think in relation to my performance, it came at the perfect time, if you can say that, because there was still the feeling of fear and imminent threat for me, so I could easily access that and bring it to the surface in my portrayal of Denise. If I’d have done this before Covid, I don’t know if I would have been able to empathize and understand what it’s like for something out of your control to be such a threat to our very existence; it would have felt like an unthinkable and unimaginable scenario.”

Luckily for Cassidy, the movie came out in a post-pandemic world, giving her that lived experience that helped bring Denise to life: “But having gone through something of a similar nature and even greater magnitude, I was able to manifest that sense of foreboding and really use it to immerse myself in Denise’s fears. You know, whilst it is a bit of an action film, allowing escapism, it now felt very real and authentic, and that was quite scary. The scene where Steffie wears the mask? Well, obviously we were all still wearing masks on set and tested every other day following covid protocols. And when she came to set with that mask on, it was like, oh my God, this is crazy. Because I would’ve never thought that that would be a part of my everyday reality. But it was. I’ve watched it a few times now. The first time I watched it I found it hilarious, I was remembering back to when we filmed each scene and really appreciating the writing as genius and witty, just so it is funny. Then the second time I watched it I still found it funny, but with more of a comprehension of the gravitas of the material, dealing with the existential crisis of death that we all face but that we all avoid. I love films that really make me think and ask questions of myself, which of course it did, and does.”

White Noise is available on Netflix now.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.