Tara Miele’s Wander Darkly is making its East Coast premiere during the 28th annual Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF). Available as part of HIFF’s Virtual Cinema, festival “attendees” can enjoy the riveting film, which stars Sienna Miller and Diego Luna, in the comfort of their own home from Friday, October 9 through October 14.
We had the chance to chat with the award-winning screenwriter and director of The Lake Effect, The Lost Boy, Thinspiration, and Gone Missing, about her latest film, ties to the area, the project’s close to home inspiration, and more.
Wander Darkly is screening as part of Views from Long Island. Tell us about your connection to the area.
TM: I lived in Lindenhurst until I was about 11. I still have a ton of family out on the Island. My grandparents were there until they passed, recently. My cousins, aunts and uncles all are in Suffolk County, the South Shore.
My dad was a big maritimer, so we spent a lot of time boating in the Hamptons, out on Watch Hill and Montauk. I have a lot of fond memories of the summers on the Island.
What does it mean to you to have your film screen as part of that particular section at the Festival?
TM: I think there’s something really lovely about it. I have quite a fondness for Long Island, so it feels like getting to screen back home, it’s the best. I still call it home. I’ve lived in California for the majority of my life, but it’s still like, Oh, we’re going to go home for a little.
In addition to directing the film, you also wrote the screenplay. Could you speak to the project’s inspiration?
TM: About seven years ago, my husband and I survived a pretty bad car crash. I blacked out, we saw headlights, and then it was like darkness. When I came to, I couldn’t see, so I was screaming at him for help and I was mad at him. It didn’t even occur to me that something could have happened to him. We were fine, thank goodness, but I was concussed afterwards. And I actually did have this moment that Sienna has in the movie, where she’s on the couch calling for her baby. We had two little girls at the time, but she’s calming down her baby and the baby didn’t respond. In real life, the baby is just a baby, which is why she didn’t respond, but in my concussed state I did have a moment where I was like, Oh, my God, I died. I think being a parent and having a brush like that really put my mortality into focus. A few weeks later, I think we were at my parents house for Thanksgiving, and they were shouting at each other about the turkey, like good Italians, and my kids were screaming, and it was total chaos, and I just was really overwhelmed by this feeling of deep gratitude for the fact that we were lucky enough to still be living our lives. I just wanted to bottle that feeling up and share it. That was really the beginning of Wander Darkly.
Is that where the film’s title comes from as well?
TM: The title is actually pulled from a Lord Byron poem. There was a time during his life where the scientists predicted that the sun would extinguish. So, he sort of imagined this very dire future of what would happen on earth. There’s a line in it that says: “The stars did wander darkling,” which is just the most beautiful way to say they stopped twinkling. I really loved that there is such a beautiful poetry for just such a dire idea. Darkling felt a little too weird for a title, so I adjusted it, but that is where Wander Darkly comes from.
Strangely enough, my production designer Katie Byron is descended from Lord Byron, which we found out much after I hired her.
When writing the screenplay, did you have any actors in mind?
TM: I typically don’t write with actors in mind. I just get characters in my head. I think also because it was sort of based on me and my husband’s experience, there was some fictionalized versions of us taking wing and then it just gets further and further from that, that original idea grows and expands and gets its own life. I really couldn’t have been happier to get Sienna and Diego in these roles. I feel beyond lucky to have had their talent and they just brought so, so much to these roles.
Could you discuss the casting process? Why did you feel Sienna and Diego were right for the film’s lead?
TM: We actually cast Diego first. There was something about Diego… He made a joke at Sundance that I cast him just because he looks like my husband, which is not true. Although we did realize the striking resemblance once they were in the same room, I think we were all a little bit breathless about it. He has this boyish charm and a deep emotional intelligence that I really have always admired. I think he’s so talented and so human on screen and so vulnerable. He was in my original lookbook, I think there were too many pictures of him in that original book.
With Sienna, Diego and Sienna have the same agent. Sienna had actually called Lynette, our producer, she had read the script and was really moved by it. I always say I think Sienna is the most beautiful woman in the world and it was not my first instinct. But I really did this deep dive on her work and I feel like Sienna is this ingénue with a character, actor’s soul. She’s such a chameleon, she can truly do anything. I felt like this was something we hadn’t seen her do before and we just had these wonderful conversations. I was really excited for her to dive into it and to find it. She really did.
They were both incredibly brave and trusting in all this weird stuff that we wanted to do. They were really fantastic.
For most of the film Adrienne [Sienna’s character] lives in a state of limbo. Why was this something you wanted to explore?
TM: I was definitely interested in looking at how a concussion, that concussed state, is similar to the psychosis of grief and also parallel the end of life and the end of love – a reexamination of our lives at certain points, when we reach conclusions to things. Finding that balance was really important for Sienna and for me on set. How lucid is she, how much does she actually understand? I think when you’re in a concussed state, you can seem fine one minute, and then the next minute, you’re saying things that don’t actually make sense. I experienced that sort of recently and was fascinated by that state of mind.
Your website says you “aim to create more socially-conscious work in an effort to build bridges and conversations.” What do you hope people take away from your work and what led you to that mission?
TM: I hope that people take away from Wander Darkly a bit of perspective, a little bit of a sense of the triumph of the human spirit, and what we’re capable of handling. Also, maybe a little bit of love and looking at each other’s perspectives. This couple goes back to their lives and has to sort of renegotiate every memory, and try to understand each other’s perspective. I certainly think right now we could all benefit, the country, from looking at things from each other’s perspective, and trying to make sense of truth from fiction and maybe not getting so stuck in our own narratives about how things are.
What are you working on next?
TM: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it yet. I do have something really exciting that I’m working on, but I’m not really allowed to announce it yet – but lots of exciting things in the works. I’ll just say that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
TM: I’m so excited to be screening on Long Island. I wish I could be there in person.
The 28th annual Hamptons International Film Festival will take place Thursday, October 8 through Wednesday, October 14.
For more information, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.