Hilary Swank and Cast talk Betty Anne Waters film Conviction at London Film Festival
We joined the cast of Hilary Swank’s latest Bio-Pic Conviction at the London Film Festival press conference today. Swank was joined by Minnie Driver, Sam Rockwell and even the real life Betty Anne Waters for this fascinating insight into the real events and people that made this such a special film.
Conviction is the real life story of the wrongful life without parole murder conviction of Kenny Waters, and his unbelievably devoted sister Betty Anne’s struggle to prove his innocence, spanning 20 years and even putting herself through Law School to help fight his almost doomed case.
The film is unbelievably engrossing from the word go and we couldn’t wait to hear what the cast and real life characters had to say….
How receptive were you initially to the idea of making a film about your life’s work and your brother Kenny?
(Betty Anne Waters) It was Kenny that wanted this movie more than anything, the day he was exonerated I thought he would be in the paper for a day, he was the 83rd person to be exonerated through DNA evidence, it was in the paper for a day and then gone, while Hollywood was calling my house and Kenny would answer the phone, and he said “Betty Anne there’s going to be a movie and I said stop answering the phone!” But he didn’t! so i became pro-active, and I got really lucky, I found Andy Cash the producer and Tony Goldwin the director, and they found the rest of this wonderful cast. I got really lucky and I’m so happy that its been done.
What made Conviction stand out for you as a project compared to other scripts?
(Hilary Swank) For me this was such a beautiful love story between a brother and a sister, and I can’t remember when I found a story this beautiful, about someone so selfless like Betty Anne, she’s my real life hero for having such a big heart for another human being. It was an honour, and I feel so grateful for being given the opportunity to be a part of telling this story.
(Minnie Driver) What we do, acting, while it’s relevant in it’s realm and its entertaining, it’s not curing anything, but to tell a story that has a social message, that might well educate people and get them to re-examine their lives, or their interaction in their community, it’s such an art form and such a beautiful film in that way. It’s a love story and it has the kind of message that carries on.
(Sam Rockwell) I think that’s what makes it unique from the usual bio pic, its the relationship between the two of them,which is whats special about it. I was certainly naive about the American Judicial system, and there are still a lot of people in prison who are innocent and the system is very flawed.
(Hilary Swank) Hopefully this will shine a bright light on those flaws. I know since DNA has come into effect and with the help of the Innocent Project 259 wrongfully accused people have been exonerated from prison.
(Betty Anne Waters) That’s only from DNA evidence, so there’s a lot more but they don’t happen to have DNA available to help them.
What was the main reason for being on set and what was it like watching Hilary play you Betty Anne and likewise what was it like Hilary having Betty Anne on set.
(Betty Anne Waters) First of all, I’d never been on a movie set before, and I wanted to see the process and I thought if Hilary had any questions about me or my brother’s feelings then maybe I could help.
(Hilary Swank) And she did very much so help. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with playing a real person. I would hate to be part of playing in a story where Betty Anne and her family saw it and thought, what is she doing. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened it would be a disaster. It wasn’t intimidating having Betty Anne on set, she’s just a very selfless person and wears her heart on her sleeve, she was very helpful, she was never there to point a finger, if we had any questions she would fill in the blanks. The hardest scenes to play for example were the prison scenes between Betty and Kenny. Betty had the idea of Kenny not playing the victim, but more that Betty was just really trying to help her brother and Kenny was trying to help her, so they were just trying to help each other and be there for each other. What a great objective, and a gift, to be given this information.
How did you prepare for the roles regarding real life situations and real people?
(Sam Rockwell) The main thing in these scenes is that we take care of each other which was very important and true to life, and we never played the victim, we just helped each other as Hilary said, but the scenes were truncated so we had to bring a lot of life into them so there had to be a lot of intense mental and emotional preparation for each scene, whatever stimulates your imagination works. I did some prison research and so did Hilary and Thank God we had good chemistry and got along.
(Hilary Swank) Which we did. I was lucky enough to meet Betty Anne, but i didn’t want to meet her right away because as actors we observe and imitate people, and i didn’t just want to imitate Betty Anne, I wanted to understand the heart of this person, what was it about Betty Anne that gave her this drive and determination and great tenacity to go against such great odds. I listened for 8 weeks to tapes of Betty Talking to Pamela Grey our writer, and I just listened to the emotion between the lines, everyday, about what moved her and angered her, Sam only had a crash course, because he came onto the project later on, and he wanted to meet Betty Anne, so I took it as a chance to bond with Betty and went with him, so we went to Betty’s house and spent the weekend with the family with Betty and her family and Abra. Of course then there was the accent.
(Betty Anne Waters) I felt bad that she had to learn that.
(Sam Rockwell) We had a great voice coach, who helped us all, we didn’t have a lot of time, but we worked really hard, and Hilary and Minnie have great ears and I liked to think I do too.
(Hilary Swank) Kudos to you Minnie because you always have to do a different accent unless you’re playing a Brit. I’m not very good at keeping an accent, and this Boston accent was so difficult.
(Minnie Driver) It was unbelievably hard to do the accent, but the fact that you were so good at it helped me keep it, if you’re accent had been rubbish, mine would have been too! (Laughs)
(Betty Anne Waters) She did it so well, people thought it was Me talking if they heard Hilary doing my accent.
However authentic a story like this is, can you give us some information on how much is fabricated for the film?
(Betty Anne Waters) Actually the movie is spot on. Its sequence has changed a bit, all the feelings and the things that happened but maybe not at the exact same time. As far as the actors go, Nancy Taylor is even worse, we found out after the film that from day one she withheld evidence and knew Kenny was innocent from bloody finger prints that she had and said didn’t exist. So I wish she was portrayed a little worse.
(Minnie Driver) The statute of limitations have run out so she can never be prosecuted for any of the extraordinary injustice and perjury.
(Juliette Lewis) plays Roseanna Perry and I just cannot wait for her to see the movie. Sam was literally my brother on that screen, he really got the different dimensions of Kenny and the feelings really came through.
Has the film changed your views of the death penalty?
(Betty Anne Waters) I do try to help the innocence project in New York with policy changes and that and that is one of them because I do believe he would be executed. As we speak, Barry Scheck is working in Texas on a documents case of a man being executed when he was in fact innocent and the worst part of that case is that he was in prison for killing his three children through arson and they say now that it was junk science.
(Hilary Swank) I know that we have a very flawed judicial system in the United States and knowing what Betty Ann just shared, that an innocent man was executed, I don’t believe in the death penalty. I believe that there are other people as we speak in prison, wrongfully accused that could have served such a fate and that is injustice at its greatest.
(Minnie Driver) It’s interesting being a parent and now if I think of something happening to my son, it’s too devastating. However the idea regardless of someones innocence or guilt of us sanctioning killing someone ever and that being a measure that’s going to teach people to behave differently, I don’t think that is the answer. I’m very glad that hasn’t existed for many years in the UK.
How hard was it watching this film knowing that Kenny wasn’t here to see it happen and what do you think he would have made of Sam playing him?
(Betty Anne Waters) It’s very difficult to watch. Ive seen the film three times now and it doesn’t get any easier. Kenny would have loved this movie, he was the kind of person who would talk to everyone and say hey how are you doing. If he saw this movie he would be king of the mountain, everyone did a fabulous job, he would have been very happy with it.
Hilary, what part of this script really caught your eye?
(Hilary Swank) It was the extraordinary love. The act of selflessness Betty Anne carries in her heart for the people that she loves – that loyalty – is something that is I think, a great reminder to be there for your loved ones. When people are losing their jobs, their homes, you realise the only thing you have to rely on is your family. So to get the opportunity and challenge to play someone like this leaves me a better person. I will carry Betty Anne and her brother Kenny in my heart forever and I am very grateful for that.
Did the art direction, the costuming and the makeup help you to take your characters through 30 years of character development.
(Sam Rockwell) Absolutely, Vivian Baker (Grey Gardens) did some great make up and the wardrobe definitely helped.
(Hilary Swank) In less than two hours we span 18-19 years of time and as an actor its a great challenge, we as actors ask ourselves, how does your character change from year to year? Tony Goldwyn was wonderful to collaborate with. Of course the wardrobe, all of that goes into making something believable and that’s what is fun about making movies, the collaboration.
(Sam Rockwell) Hilary really had to carry this movie and it takes a special woman to do that, shes a fierce actress and there are not a lot of people that could do that.
(Minnie Driver) I remember there is a scene where you’re sitting in the car and there is snot dripping down your nose and I’m just like wanting to wipe it off, but you’re just in it, there is no vanity. When you’re in it that deep you just have to forget costume and makeup and it cant be something that you’re having to maintain. The team knew how Hilary worked and you never think oh goodness me, there’s the sad makeup.
(Hilary Swank) Well, ultimately you’re only as good as the people around you and these guys raised the bar.
Mandy Marsh’s scene at the end really touched me. I was wondering if this movie will help her healing and have you any thoughts on how this film will help women across the world?
Mandy went to Toronto Film Festival and saw the move for the first time, we talked about it all night. She has already started to heal over the past 9 years but I think the film will help her even more, I think it was therapeutic, she loved the movie and she is a wonderful girl. I hope it helps women everywhere, I hope it helps everyone open there eyes to the fact their are innocent people in prison and maybe we can get more out.
CONVICTION IS PART OF THE 2010 BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL