A tiny house in a small town holds a beautiful and powerful Canadian story, one that has been waiting to be told on the big screen for years now. It’s that of Maud Lewis, a Nova Scotian who, while suffering from the effects of arthritis, led a life of self-determination, artistry, and joy. A script for a film of her life and death had been circulating for some years, but it took time to find the right director and to cast two most important leads.
“It’s such a great story to tell,” explained Maudie director Aisling Walsh during an interview ahead of the film’s Toronto release on April 14. “I didn’t know about her at the time, but I read something that’s just so fabulous.” Walsh had seen the paintings of Maud, like presumably many people, but didn’t know the life behind the works of art.
Newfoundland substitutes for Nova Scotia in the film, though much of the action takes place in and around the small house of Everett Lewis. Posting a note in town seeking a housekeeper, Maud enlists, seeking to break free from the care of her overprotective family. She and Everett would form an unlikely bond and later marry, living in and indeed reinvigorating with art Everett’s 12 foot by 12 foot, one bedroom home.
“Ours is slightly larger, just enough space to get a camera in. It was quite crowded,” said Walsh of remaking the now iconic house. “The most difficult thing to work out was the planning of what the first marks on the wall were. Nobody knows that, of how that paintings progressed over the years, what images those were.”
Maud began painting on the walls rather quickly, adding colour and beauty to what seems a dark and dusty abode. While the art is key, it’s the performances of the Sally Jenkins and Ethan Hawke that propel the film.
“I thought it might be something she might like to do,” said Walsh, who had worked with Jenkins previously. “She has to be able to paint, and there is a physicality: it’s a huge role to take on, aging in over 30 years. It takes a huge amount of work and detail.”
The character of Everett seemed equally difficult to portray, but in different ways. He was gruff, isolated, and even scary at times. He hits Maud in one scene, displeased with her attitude. Slowly, of course, he transforms.
“He has managed on his own most of his life; he grew up on orphanage, had a tough life. It was hard for him to live with someone, he was cut quite off,” said Walsh. “Relationships and lives were quite different then in the late 1930s; it’s different life a altogether. Tough, remote.”
“So we come to love him as she does, that’s her challenge. She stays, she is pretty feisty, she can be tough, and she wants that freedom and life of her own, and it’s better with him. She changes him, brings love and colour and beauty into his life that he never had without her.”
“It’s a wonderful story about these two people, outsiders, making their way in the world.”