The Unique Way Vanessa Kirby And Ellen Burstyn Bonded For Pieces Of A Woman

One of an actor's toughest jobs is to fill in the years, and sometimes decades, of backstory that each character has with the people around him or her. You have to convince the camera that this near-stranger is your best friend or your sibling. You play it as if you and someone else have been happily, or unhappily, married for 25 years. You have to find a way to pretend this person you've perhaps only just met, and are working with for the first time, is someone you have known for your entire life.

So if you're Vanessa Kirby, what do you do to get to the point where you can look at your co-star Ellen Burstyn, and just think "Mom," while filming the drama Pieces of a Woman? Burstyn is a screen legend, winner of an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy, a star of The Exorcist, The Last Picture Show, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. How do you make someone with such an impressive resume feel like someone you've known your whole life? How do you build an intimate history with someone who ought to be an idol?

According to Burstyn, you let her cook you breakfast, "like a good mother."

How a sleepover brought Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn together

As Burstyn herself told Screen Rant"I invited Vanessa to come spend the night; she did, and we had a nice pajama party and talked on a deep level. I cooked her dinner and, like a good mother, I cooked her breakfast."

As Burstyn explains it, the sleepover occurred around the time the cast was meeting to read the script, to go over scenes, and to discuss how they were each going to do their own part to bring it all to life. But Burstyn thinks that by bringing she and Kirby's relationship into a cozier, more familiar setting, they grew to relate to one another on a different, more intimate level, which then helped them to reach the places which the film later asked of them. "We got to know each other and really love each other," she said. "It was very easy, actually, for me to feel maternal toward her. Which I still do."

How the behind the scenes process mirrored Pieces of a Woman's themes

This was important — even though in the film, that maternal love often comes across pretty tough, with Burstyn's Elizabeth having a particularly difficult time understanding her daughter's grieving process, or how fully Kirby's Martha brings those feelings into herself and keeps them there. "Martha's an introvert, and holds things inside of her," Kirby said to Screen Rant. "I just don't understand that. I mean, she's got somebody to blame. Why doesn't she blame her? Instead of carrying all the blame herself and blaming herself for what happened and feeling shame and all the things that I think she's feeling."

It might have helped that a similar process played out behind the scenes. As Burstyn told Kirby during a joint interview the pair did with The Independent, "I remember the first scene I did with you," she said, "I was a little surprised how unavailable you were. You were so distant, and I thought, 'What is she doing? I don't see the grief! What is going on with her?' And then after a while, I went, 'Oh my God, that's what she's doing. She's not feeling it in a way that I recognize. Hello Ellen, that's what the story's about.'"

The frustration their characters feel with one another, in the film, is built upon their love — and how, despite that, they still can't access one another. And it turns out that the love that the actors imbue their characters with is built upon the simplest of things: pajama parties and breakfasts. 

Pieces of a Woman is now streaming on Netflix.