John Patrick Shanley’s detailed portrayal of the Sisters of Charity in “Doubt” owes much to his technical adviser, Sr. Margaret McEntee, S.C., formerly known as Sister James.
It’s no coincidence she shares that name with the character Amy Adams is nommed for playing. The character was actually named after McEntee, Shanley’s first-grade teacher.
After the play that the film was based on opened, Shanley and McEntee reconnected. “I said, ‘I bet you thought I was long dead,'” she recalls. “And he said, ‘Yes I did.'”
When he set out to do the movie, he asked for her help.
“He said, ‘I have no idea what went on in a convent or even in a school. Would you be my technical adviser?'” McEntee says. “I figured I could do that.”
He credits her with giving him two scenes: Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius advising Sister James to put something reflective by the chalkboard so she can see behind her, and the scene of the nuns eating their dinner in grim silence.
She also objected to a new ending he was pondering, with Sister Aloysius in her room, opening a window and seeing the boy at the center of the play’s controversy.
“I said, ‘I don’t get that at all. It’s not true to religious life, and it’s not as powerful as your ending to the play.'”
After consulting with Streep and others, Shanley returned to his original ending. And overall, when it came to the nuns and their lives, “He was really on target,” McEntee says.