Editor Joe Walker Reflects On “Widows,” Working With Director Steve McQueen
Joe Walker
Two-time Oscar nominee has cut all four of the director’s films in a collaborative relationship that dates back 10-plus years
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Years ago while in the throes of collaborating on the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen told editor Joe Walker, ACE, what he envisioned as his next project--a feature adaptation of the early 1980s’ British television series Widows created by Lynda La Plante.

“I remembered that original TV series well, having grown up in Ealing, a suburb of west London,” said Walker. “It was a landmark piece of must-see television. On reflection it made a big impact because the characters were much more real. It was unusual for women to have that prominent a role. It was avant garde for its time. It was so far from what we were doing on 12 Years a Slave but I had faith that Steve would do something magnificent. I was curious how he would tell that story.”

McQueen and Gillian Flynn (a Golden Globe nominee for the adapted screenplay of her novel “Gone Girl”) teamed to write Widows (Twentieth Century Fox) for the big screen, maintaining the theme of women being discouraged, under-valued and under-estimated while changing the locale from London to Chicago in order to tackle such areas as politics, religion, class, race and criminality in a more contemporary urban setting--and to project that out like the view through an inverted telescope onto the global stage, sharing the relevance of the story to what’s transpiring in other cities all over the map.

Widows introduces us to four women: Veronica (portrayed by Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) in a time of turmoil and tension. These lead characters have nothing in common except a seemingly insurmountable debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Veronica, Linda, Alice and Belle take their fate into their own hands, conspiring on a caper that, if successful, will help them shape their future for the better.

Walker, who has cut all four of McQueen’s feature films--starting with Hunger and then Shame--experienced an embarrassment of riches in Widows. “We had a surplus of great performances, meaning that there were many speaking parts and that we had to maintain a fair balance between the characters,” said Walker. “We needed to allow time and space to delve deeply into those characters and their stories, all within the genre of a heist movie. My challenge was to find the journey through all these characters and make sure they click into place at the right time. That’s one of the great joys of this film--sometimes you introduce a character and the audience doesn’t have any clue as to who they are and how they click into the story. You enable them to make these discoveries along the way.”

Widows draws viewers in right from the outset, with a roller coaster ride of a heist gone wrong right before our eyes--which makes widows out of the film’s protagonists. We also see all this juxtaposed with personal moments. In one fell swoop, the opening sets up the plot and characters in a compelling, nonlinear, visual manner. “Being bombastic,” related Walker, “was the intention of the opening, laying out the story in economical terms with all of the major players--intercutting intimacy with the violence of a crime. We summed up an awful lot about the people, half of whom will disappear from the story.”

Also gratifying for Walker is that Widows comes at a time which makes it particularly relevant in light of the #MeToo movement and the like. While McQueen’s plans for Widows pre-date these current events, the project takes on an added dimension in light of them. “He (McQueen) was ahead of the curve,” assessed Walker. “His take on a heist movie manages to be thrilling while also having considerable depth, putting spotlight on some of the issues that we are facing at the moment. That’s what I love about the film. It’s not preaching to its own audience. It’s more likely to unite viewers as they come to see how these characters develop.”

The development of these characters come in large part from McQueen’s trusted inner circle which includes Walker, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, BSC, and production designer Adam Stockhausen. Walker has collaborated with Bobbitt on all of McQueen’s films, and with Stockhausen on 12 Years a Slave and Widows. The editor said he values his experience working closely with all of them, noting that Bobbitt goes back even further than he does with McQueen. Bobbitt contributed to McQueen’s installation/exhibit work prior to his becoming a film director.

When SHOOT initially connected with Walker after the release of 12 Years a Slave, he recalled his first meeting with McQueen. The editor came in for an interview on the director’s pending project, Hunger. “We hit it off. The script of Hunger had made such an impression on me. It sounds cliche but I felt that if they make this film exactly as in the script, the result would be brilliant. Steve did that while adding so much more. I feel fortunate that we connected. We both lived in a suburb of London, a stone’s throw from Ealing Studios. We were just naturally on the same wavelength. At the same time, he opened my eyes about things. I grew up in a household with a right-wing bent, where the hunger strikers were viewed as terrorists, their acts considered suicide and as doing a great disservice to Catholics worldwide. I saw the other side of the story through Steve, to see that it wasn’t suicide, it wasn’t terrorism. It was a freedom fight. Steve’s film doesn’t condemn anybody. It promotes understanding and delves into the inner workings of the people involved.”

Walker is simpatico with and adept at these inner explorations as evidenced by his Best Editing Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave in 2014. Three years later, Walker landed his second career Oscar nod--this one for director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.

Walker feels blessed to have regularly collaborated in recent years on multiple films with McQueen and Villeneuve, two of the industry’s most revered auteur filmmakers. After Arrival, Walker went on to cut Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. The editor’s first teaming with Villeneuve was on Sicario. And now he’s embarking on Villeneuve’s Dune, a feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s renowned sci-fi novel.

Walker said it’s a privilege to work with directors McQueen and Villeneuve repeatedly. “You have a process where you just build and build. You don’t have to start over again. It’s been a great joy working with them.”

This is the fourth of a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on SHOOTonline.com, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 22, 2019. The 91st Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network.  The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.


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