Interview: Tammy Blanchard On Playing a “Bad Mom” in Tallulah
I recently got the chance to interview actress Tammy Blanchard and director Sian Heder about their work on the movie Tallulah, which just came out on Netflix. The film centers around Ellen Page’s Tallulah stealing the baby of a neglectful mother named Carolyn, who’s played by Blanchard. However, Tallulah lives out of a van and seeks out the help of Allison Janney’s Margo, the mother of her ex-boyfriend.
You can watch the trailer here, where you can get a look at Blanchard’s first scene as Carolyn. Blanchard and I spoke how she approached playing an unlikable character, how her own experience as a mother helped her, and what happens when hurt women fight back.
TMS (Charline): So what attracted you to the role of Carolyn?
Tammy Blanchard: I was attracted to Carolyn’s vulnerability and her messiness. I like playing characters that should be hated or ashamed, but by the end of the film there was such redemption for her and I felt like this was a role that I could bring some real compassion for and it would be really amazing if I could turn an audience member into loving a character that they were hating.
TMS: There’s something about the Carolyn role that could have very easily been a parody, but you bring a lot of tenderness to her character and I feel like a big part of that was the supporting performances with Uzo Aduba’s character and Carolyn’s husband. How was that dynamic?
Blanchard: Uzo was amazing, she’s such a sweet wonderful person and I could naturally just connect with her. Even if I wanted to play Carolyn at that point as a non-connected human being who doesn’t care what she says, Uzo’s presence is so demanding that at the end of that there was no way I couldn’t connect with her and hear what she was saying.
That’s really all in the casting. I mean, you have to get strong actors to come together and everything just sort of works out. And my “husband,” was also another really great actor and Allison Janney and Ellen Page—just great actors. You trust in them and natural, real things happen.
TMS: So the movie never really names this, but I couldn’t help thinking—does Carolyn suffer from postpartum depression?
Blanchard: It could be, I think she’s been suffering for a long time and that could certainly add to it. I think Carolyn is this beautiful girl who grew up in this family—in the scene with Margo she says “my family just said I should marry him because I wouldn’t do any better” and I feel like she hasn’t had any real support, so she’s learned to rely on her looks and what men will give her, ’cause no one’s told her that she’s smart and brave and courageous, so she’s built this life for herself.
He stopped paying attention to her, and she thought maybe having a baby would make him give her the attention that she once had from him. That didn’t work and then she’s stuck with a baby and a husband who doesn’t care and she’s turning to alcohol, and seeking attention from other men—which a lot of beautiful women end up doing. That’s all they know.
TMS: I think that makes her really compelling. You’re horrified with her at first, but she’s saying some true things. Like, the idea that no one tell you what motherhood is like when it’s all happy diaper commercials.
Blanchard: I mean, we can all relate to that feeling of loneliness or that you’re not good enough. Especially for the character, I feel like she doesn’t have anyone. She can’t call her mother and say “Mom, how do you change a diaper?” I feel like she has a mother who probably doesn’t answer the phone! She’s just so alone and that’s where the love for her, for me, came in. You have to love a character to really play that kind of compassion for her and get it out of the people watching.
TMS: What was filming that first scene with Ellen Page like?
Blanchard: It was great. It was so funny, because I never knew that was funny. I didn’t know I was going out for a dramedy—I thought it was all very serious, very tragic to me what’s happening, but people were laughing. Ellen is so professional and beautiful inside and out that scene with her was just easy. She’s so easy to work with. She was carrying that baby 12-16 hours a day. Working as a nanny and actress the whole time.
TMS: A big takeaway I think from this film is that no one really sets out to be a bad mother. It’s just this really honest, kind of brutal representation of women in different parts of their life and I feel like that’s something lacking in media. Do you think Tallulah sort of fills that?
Blanchard: Yeah, in a big way. I was just driving, and I saw a kid fall on the street, and I instantly looked at the mother and thought, “how could you let him fall!” I was instantly mad at her, and I think that’s what we all do. We expect mothers to be these angels after they have children, and if they’re not we judge them and ridicule them—but why do we feel like the people who gave us life owe us? When are we all just going to realize we owe our mothers mercy and forgiveness for their mistakes? Just because they had us doesn’t make them perfect. They still have a whole history they’re dealing with, and no one is ever going to be perfect.
But in this film, really, each character has been defined in some way by their own motherhood and their mother in Tallulah’s instance. But at some point, we all have to take responsibility for the damage done and we all have to start fighting back.
TMS: It’s a movie that doesn’t really let mothers off the hook, but is still very empathetic to mothers who don’t get it right.
Blanchard: At Sundance, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and was like, “I will never judge another mother again, after seeing what you did,” ’cause I was the worst! I was the worst you could possibly be, and people were walking out like, “Oh my god, I have compassion for her.”
TMS: That’s a great takeaway, and I think a big thing in this movie is that we see all these mothers really trying, but we don’t see much from the fathers. It occurred to me halfway through the movie that I was being really tough on the women: but where are all the dads?
Blanchard: That’s a really good point, because for each of these women they also had men that had hurt them. And when you don’t have that good support, that stability—for a woman especially—so many women end up single mothers, broken hearted. Their prince turns into a frog and they’re alone with their kids. That’s happening all over the world, you have to have mercy for those women.
Blanchard: That’s her life. That’s why it’s such a great script. Sian [Heder, writer of Tallulah] is–I can’t believe there’s so many points in it. Like, I know I can be as disgusting as I can be in the beginning of the film because she puts in moments of truth and reality that bring out that compassion. I could let it out, because that vulnerability and truth will come out and whoever has a heart will have mercy.
TMS: Was it hard to channel those difficult parts of her personality?
Blanchard: It was so much fun, especially that first scene. I’m obsessed with classic actresses–Marilyn Monroe and Eva Fardner–and I felt she had that crazy actress-y vulnerable kind of character to her, and I love that. And as far as the emotional stuff—I’m a mother. I can just think of a day where I did something that I thought hurt my daughter and the guilt and the shame.
TMS: So being a mother was a big part of relation to this movie.
Blanchard: Yeah, and being a woman who ended up becoming a single mother. Like, the guilt and the shame you carry because you feel like you’re ripping your child from a happy home, but it’s not a happy home.
TMS: I was raised mainly by my mother, and I definitely left the film feeling more empathy for my mom. There’s something about all the characters, I think, that women can relate to.
Blanchard: I think each character is what happens to women when someone hurts them—whether it’s a a mother or a boyfriend or something. Margo goes into her hole and becomes passive-aggressive. Carolyn gets drunk and tries to date men for attention. Tallulah just gets angry that she starts fighting back and what happens when one women starts fighting back is it starts a whole revolution in a lot of people’s lives.
TMS: It’s definitely an empowering film, in that it lets these women be messes. I think that it’s so rare that women get to be messy mothers and have the movie not condemn them.
Blanchard: It’s a rare gem for women. The cinematographer was a woman, the crew was mostly women. A lot of hormones on set and no problems.
TMS: Someone call Hollywood!
Blanchard: Do it! Look, it’s beautiful! But I think it’s going to affect a lot of women. If you left with more mercy for your mother after that, then the job is done.
TMS: What should people take away from the film?
Blanchard: I think people should walk away with a big sense of fighting back and holding onto their lives. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and trust that things are going to be better—all that good stuff.
TMS: In terms of romance, the movie kind of pushes those aside.
Blanchard: Yeah, it’s always about finding Prince Charming, but you’re right. It is true, you might strive to be with someone but you really can’t let it damage or be your main focus, especially if you have a child. As lonely as you are and as heartbroken as you are, Margo has to start putting those high heels on. You have to get out of the house and do whatever it is you’re not doing for yourself.
I was worried about the beginning of the film, that first scene—how out there she is. She’s loaded, she’s drunk, she’s been living in this crazy fantasy desperate for a while. I don’t know if you’ve been in that place, where you’re just out of your mind just so desperate.
TMS: But that decadence in a lot of ways is Carolyn.
Blanchard: There’s a lot of women out there, you see them! I was worried about keeping a character there and making her change but having the audience still know it was the same person.
TMS: Do you feel like you connect with her the most?
Blanchard: I was never the type of person to lock myself in my room if I was hurt or upset. I’d call my friends and hang out and laugh. Or, I was never the type of person to give up on society, I’m more of her in the way that I continue to fight—sometimes in the wrong ways. That’s what I love about her, even though she’s not fighting in the right ways she’s still doing something. She hasn’t given up. I do always keep moving and keep fighting.
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