When Samantha Morton got the email about acting in Maria Schrader’s “She Said,” she was “insanely busy”: among the projects she was working on included recording an album, directing a feature film and acting in a TV show.
But despite that very full calendar, Morton knew she wanted to make time for the part of Zelda Perkins, who worked for convicted mogul Harvey Weinstein and whose career he ruined after she tried to speak out against him for raping a young colleague of hers.
“I think it’s massively important that this conversation doesn’t end and this story is extraordinary and needed to be in a film,” she says.
Schrader says when casting director Francine Maisler suggested Morton, she said yes immediately. “Sometimes you have a physical reaction and I felt she has to be the one, I got so excited,” Schrader says, praising Morton for being both “a thinker but also so seamless in character.”
Morton was not, however, motivated by the overall importance of a film about the journalistic efforts to bring Weinstein to justice. The role of Perkins, who spoke to and provided crucial information to the New York Times journalists whose investigations are the heart of “She Said,” carried personal importance.
“It wasn’t just about the overall project. I’d met Zelda in the past — we have close mutual friends and she’s someone I really, really admire. So for me it was about Zelda.”
Morton says she and Perkins are very different as people but share a passionate commitment to justice in their activism; her respect and admiration made her “very protective” of Perkins.
“It was not about what I wanted or needed from the movie, it was all about Zelda,” she says. So while Morton is a “huge fan” of screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz and typically loves working closely with screenwriters, she knew that the filmmakers couldn’t have all the say on this project.
“Once I was offered the role it was a necessity for me to make sure that Zelda was happy with the script and how the producers were making it and with my dialogue,” Morton says. “I told her I’d only do it if she was happy.”
Indeed, Perkins did have some concerns with the focus of the scene; aided by support from Morton, pushed back and the filmmakers did make changes to emphasize the issues of the most concern to Perkins, who is the co-founder of Can’t Buy My Silence, which campaigns against the use of non-disclosure agreements.
The movie, of course, is not a documentary, and so once Perkins was happy with the script, Morton shifted her attention to portraying a character. “When I’m playing real people, I need freedom to make the person on the page a character and bring them to life.” She’s not interested in surface-level mimicry. “I was trying to capture her essence. You want to own the character and make it your own.”
Morton is in the film for just one scene (shot all in one day), but it runs almost 10 minutes and is the movie’s dramatic turning point. Morton brings a righteous fury to the scene, yet her vision of Perkins is always contained, always the forward-thinking professional.
“I loved the sharpness she brought,” Schrader says, explaining that Morton’s commanding presence makes the opening of the scene feel “like a bit of a battle with some tension that heightens the stakes.”
Perkins embodies a compelling mix of preparedness with passion.
“With Zelda, when she’s discussing the problems she has already thought out the solutions, which is incredible to me,” Morton says. Capturing that was a challenge, especially because Perkins has no private moments on screen. “I’m more of a bull in a china shop and I’ve had to learn to think before I speak and take a more measured approach when I see an injustice.”
The injustices that the film examine still resonate deeply within Morton, so much so that she has not yet watched it in
“I want to see it but I know it will be quite emotional and triggering for me and I need to see it in a private space alone,” she says.