Vanessa Kirby on That Heartbreaking ‘Pieces of a Woman’ Scene, and Her Slumber Party with Ellen Burstyn

Also in this episode: 'Sound of Metal' breakout Paul Raci, and the Awards Circuit roundtable.

Vanessa Kirby photographed by Neil Krug on April 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA
Neil Krug

Pieces of a Woman” has garnered a lot of awards buzz for Vanessa Kirby’s fearless performance as Martha, a woman grieving the loss of her baby in childbirth. Since premiering at the Venice Film Festival in September, talk has also centered on a scene that depicts the birth — which was filmed in one 24-minute, unbroken take as her character moves throughout the apartment, including in and out of the bathtub.

And while it was intimidating to shoot, Kirby told Variety’s Award Circuit podcast that it was actually a relief to be done in one take. “Some people are kind of surprised when I describe it like that, because they think that it would be scarier but honestly, truthfully, it’s not,” she said. “I was definitely more afraid of the idea of breaking for lunch [and then] coming back, having to go into the bath and try and get myself to a level that she might be at. My biggest fear was that it would at any point feel phony.”

Kirby spoke to Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast about her work in both “Pieces of a Woman,” now on Netflix, and in “The World to Come,” which also premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is playing the Sundance Film Festival this month prior to a Feb. 12 release. Kirby talked about her journey as an actor, having a pajama party with co-star Ellen Burstyn and her upcoming projects, including more “Mission Impossible” films. Listen below:

The British thespian is best known to audiences for her work on the first two seasons of “The Crown” and films like “Hobbes and Shaw” and “Mission Impossible – Fallout.” But Kirby began her career on stage. “I realized what those three years at university gave me was total permission to fail,” she said. “And oh, my God, I did. I was terrible.”

She said of her first on-camera job, “I was totally terrified, every minute of it.  I was a rabbit and headlights, really.”

Kirby was eventually cast as Princess Margaret opposite Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in the first two seasons of “The Crown.” But Netflix was still a relatively new streamer, and she wasn’t prepared for what an international hit the show would become.

“There was an innocence about it,” she said, noting they Season 2 was already in production when the first season aired. “I really thought my mum would like it and my granny might fall asleep. And I’d be happy with that, you know,” she joked. “So that when it came out, and suddenly it was getting such warm, lovely response, I think we were all really blown away. And then when Claire, she brought her Golden Globe to the set, it was just so surreal.”

When Kirby was offered the role in “Pieces of a Woman,” she said that “I felt ready to do a lead. I suddenly thought, I think it’s my time now. I think I feel ready to do it, knowing what that responsibility was, and not under estimating it.”

The film is directed by Kornél Mundruczó, from a screenplay by Kata Wéber. The two are partners and knowing the story was intensely personal to them, Kirby admits she felt an extra responsibility to get it right. She spoke to many women who had lost their children at different stages of pregnancy, and said she “literally could not have done it without them.”

The intimate drama also stars Ellen Burstyn as Martha’s mother, and Kirby said that she was starstruck to first meet the actor. Burstyn, however, quickly put her at ease.

“She did this amazing thing where she said, ‘Honey, do you want to come for a sleepover? Let’s have a pajama party!’ And so I did,” Kirby said. “We had a pajama party and we stayed up till 3 a.m., we talked all night. She cooked me dinner. It was very sweet. And so that helps take the edge off a little bit.”

Also in this episode of the podcast, Paul Raci discusses his role in Oscar contender “Sound of Metal,” and the Awards Circuit roundtable breaks down the good and the not-so-good latest editions to an ever growing field of film awards contenders.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.