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Pieces of a Woman centers on a powerful and intimate 26-minute birth scene filmed in one continuous take. Indeed, the whole film depends on getting that birthing scene just so. Vanessa Kirby portrays the young woman Martha who goes into labor at home in a performance that went on to earn an Oscar nod. The 33-year-old actress shared how she was able to effectively capture the deeply vulnerable moment with such realism in the Canadian-American drama.

 

Getting it Just Right

 

In real life, The Crown star is not a mother, but she was determined to make the scene as authentic as possible for “everyone who’s been through [childbirth] and for people that haven’t, and not make it sanitized or a palatable version of it.” She said, “You know, I wanted it to be the full thing.”

 

The scene spanned 30 to 36 pages of the script and required three days of filming. The idea was to capture the compression of time; that is, give a sense of the lengthy personal journey but in a shortened period of time. So the goal was to shoot the piece in one continuous take. 

 

Rehearsal 

 

Vanessa was excited by the opportunity to perform the scene as it would occur in an actual home birth. After only one rehearsal to block the scene, the actors and crew would just have to see where the moment would take them, Shia LaBeouf playing Martha’s husband and Molly Parker portraying the fill-in midwife Eva. An official birth consultant, Elan McAllister, also helped create the “dance of the birth.” “But we didn’t over-rehearse it,” Kirby told Jake’s Takes, “because we had to leave a lot and just hope it would happen in front of the camera.” They did four takes the first day and two takes the next. After filming, the fourth take ended up making the cut.  

 

Preparation

 

In preparation for the scene, Kirby tried to watch any and all documentaries about giving birth. However, many of the films captured very little. Wanting to understand the process from beginning to end, Kirby shadowed a midwife and an obstetrician at Whittington Hospital in London. Then, as fortune would have it, a pregnant woman kindly permitted the English actress to observe her as she was giving birth to her son. “She allowed me to be there in the room with her, and that changed everything for me because I realized the miracle of it, and the terror as well. I could not have acted it without her being so generous,” Kirby insists. 

 

“It was really important for me to try to portray a real woman, not a movie version of this where the actress is made-up the very next day. I just wanted there to be no vanities through all of it in any way,” Kirby told Entertainment Weekly. “I wanted to feel the authenticity of that experience because to not do that would be betraying the experience that these women have had.”

 

Exploring Birth

 

The film drew Kirby’s attention for the challenges it presented. Additionally, she wanted to explore childbirth in a deep and realistic way not previously depicted in cinema. Thanks to her theater background, Kirby had experience acting in one, uninterrupted take. Kirby, who comes from a background in theater, is also used to acting in one, uninterrupted take, so to speak. “As a company, [the cast and crew] started with that [scene] as our first two days of filming … and it required all of us to kind of jump off a cliff, really, and freefall altogether, including the amazing [cinematographer] Benjamin Loeb—he was the MVP—he just held his camera the whole time. He literally followed us for half an hour capturing different moments of the process. It just honestly felt like we took a jet and we jumped off. It was deeply bonding. We felt like we’d been to war together.”