The Fan Carpet's Stefan Pape talks to Tanya Wexler about the invention of vibrators | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

The Fan Carpet’s Stefan Pape talks to Tanya Wexler about the invention of vibrators

21 September 2012

As Hysteria hits screens across the UK today, The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape was fortunate to meet the director Tanya Wexler to discuss her latest feature.

Hysteria is set in Victoria London, about a doctor (Hugh Dancy) who invents the worlds first ever vibrator, in the name of medical science – to help assist women “suffering” from hysteria. However, he has his heart set on the beautiful Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) – a suffragette with a more pragmatic take on the situation.

The picture is Wexler’s first for ten years and she discussed her reasons for finally getting back into film – and let us in on some information about her upcoming projects. She also tells us of her delight at working with Gyllenhaal, and the issues she had getting through airport security, with some “gadgets” from the set…



What were your first impressions when you received the script for a Victoria, period piece about the invention of the vibrator…

There was no script, there was a two page treatment and basically it was my friend just going “I know what your next movie is” and then me going, “what is it? I’ve been having all these babies and I haven’t made a movie in a while” but I was looking for one, and my reaction to hearing about a film about the invention of the vibrator was to laugh very loudly, and I said “I have to do that”. I would kill to see that movie and no-one has made it, so I had to make it, just so I could see it!


Were there any hesitancies in taking on what is a quite taboo subject for a mainstream film?

That’s the beauty of having impulse control problems. I just didn’t hesitate even a bit. There were definitely times later when I thought, wait a second… what the hell am I doing? Including when your on the set and the lovely Georgie Glen has her feet up on the table and Jonathan Pryce is on the other side and you’re going… really?

Am I going to hell? But in the end of course not, the film is just a lot of fun and some people are taking it the wrong way and too seriously, as if I’m trying to solve all the problems of gender and equality through the ages. One of my characters is – and I believe in what she says – but I’m just trying to make a romantic comedy that has a little bit more. So I didn’t have any issues with the taboo thing, but I have ended up having to face  my own line of embarrassment and discomfort which I didn’t really know existed. You would not believe to know me that there is one, but that line was definitely shown to me at airport security with 20 vibrators in my hand luggage, which I was giving away.

I had to listen to “Erm.. Ma’am do you have 20 small electrical devices in your bag?” The first time I was like, “I’m a film maker. No, not that kind of film…” and then a couple more times through I’ve made this vibrator movie, it’s supposed to be silly and fun and it’s supposed to be about what’s the big deal really? After 130 years can’t we get over it? So now when I walk through airport security, now they aren’t give-aways in my hand luggage… It gets more personal when it belongs to you – but I just pop my suitcase down and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a vibrator, you’re gonna want to re-run it. I’m sorry”. Sometimes they don’t even check any more. I’ve had one security woman say, “Oh honey,  sometimes I would kill my boyfriend if I didn’t have one – gives me some time to myself”.


If you don’t mind me asking, why did you have 20 vibrators in your bag through customs?

The first time I was at Cannes, and we were raising funds so I was giving them to buyers and stuff. They say you’ve got to get a gimmick, well you gotta get a gadget I guess!


It’s been ten years since your last film, so what made you finally decide to get back into film making?

I have four small children – so the first couple of years where purposefully kept free. My wife and I alternated and were able to have them in a very dense amount of time, which is great in that you have young kids when you’re young, but it isn’t great doing anything else, because we had all of them 6 and under at one point and we thought we were going to murder ourselves, if not them. So for the first couple of years we just lay low, developed some stuff and tried to survive. But it wasn’t ten years since my last film really, because it took six or seven years to get this made.


We’re not going to have to wait 10 years for the next one though are we?

Please God – it’s already been too long! My youngest is school age now so it’s so insane.



Any projects lined up?

You don’t have enough time for what I have ideas for. I have got something that I’m not really allowed to say to the press – but it’s a biopic about a British singer. Which is great because I absolutely loved being here – I loved my team and actors. I mean I have always been an Anglophile when it came to cinema, I think Monty Python is the gateway drug for young teenagers, even in America, it’s some funny shit. So everyone is running around Hollywood while I’m desperately trying to figure out how to become a British film maker.


I was actually surprised when I found out you were American – the film has a quintessential British atmosphere to it, and I really thought it was just a British film…

Well we had a UK producer in Sarah Curtis and she would never have let anything go by that wasn’t spot-on in that way, but we worked together developing it for years and she has made a few costume dramas, and we knew we had to feel authentic for it to be funny. I always had her right there Brit-checking me.


It must have been great fun on the set of a costume drama – what with all those silly hats and voices?

Ah – it was just magical! You know, you think of some of the best part to film making as being world building and world creating and you often think of that in terms of Sci-Fi or whatever, but even though you need to have your team you have to know what it was really like in the 1880’s and we did things like we felt the rules didn’t apply to the character of Charlotte in a way which is why I felt she could be an American actress – just as long as she could do the accent.


Her British accent is better than mine…

Isn’t it great! She did Nanny McPhee so she had already practised it. People ask it was working with Maggie but I didn’t know American Maggie very well because from day one she said the only way she could do this was to speak in an accent all the time – on-set, off-set, up until she went home at home. In fact, on day three she was speaking in English and to not freak her daughter out she spoke to her in her regular voice and one of the crew members had no idea she was American, he was like, “Oh my God, I thought she was British”.


You must have been thrilled when she came on board?

She really was the thing that helped us close the suitcase, and we wrote it for who we felt was the new Catherine Hepburn, and it’s her. It’s a dream cast.



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