The Truthful Story of The Good Nurse with Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Tobias Lindholm

This week, Dom Lenoir chatted with writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns & writer/ director Tobias Lindholm about their film The Good Nurse.

Telling The Story

10 years ago, Krysty pitched for this job. ‘I remember going I don’t really want to do another serial killer movie because my first script had been very murdery. And I’m not really interested in it. And I thought I’ll read the first chapter and say no with some authority. And then I stayed up all night reading the book because Charles Graeber’s book is so well written and so well constructed. 

You keep thinking you’ve reached the peak ‘this is the moment’ and it just goes and goes and goes. And then the last third of that book, I remember thinking, this is the film. 

A single mom, working-class nurse who shouldn’t have to be the one to stop a serial killer. That’s the story I want to tell.’

Finding the Film From The Story

‘I would love to tell you that I did it on my own and I’m a genius, but the truth is that I have fantastic collaborators.

For part of my research, I got to go and work two week’s night shifts at a burn unit – shadowing nurses. I got to meet the cops. I spent a lot of time with Charles Graeber and got full access to the archives and he introduced me to the real Amy and I spent a weekend with her.’

At the time, she was unsure how she was going to construct the screenplay and then Amy ‘told me that she actually had a heart condition during this time period, where she thought she was going to die, and one time she collapsed on shift and Charles (Cullen) nursed her.

I remember thinking, there’s the most important midpoint shift of the film – she’s dying. And that allowed me to understand the structure, how the story should be told.’

Sharing The Truth

‘You double down in truth. That’s the only way you can really tell this story. And I think many of us feel totally overwhelmed by the systems around us, not just in America, but here too. Even in politics at the moment, you feel totally inconsequential. How can you make a change?’

And then, someone like Amy, who thinks that the system’s wrong starts questioning how we can fit it. ‘That’s the real takeaway for me. In broken systems, you have the ability to put your hand up and say this can’t work this way, we have to make changes.’

The Writer/ Director Relationship

Tobias got sent the first draft of Krysty’s script and read it on a flight. ‘Afterwards, I read Charles Graeber’s book and realised that Krysty was on the path of something original. We had the opportunity of telling a serial killer story from the perspective of the woman who stopped him. An everyday hero. And I remember thinking I have the luxury that other directors have had when I was in the writer’s chair, of giving notes and leaning back, and then realised that wasn’t possible.

Krysty and I engaged on a journey together. She would do the writing and I could read what she had done and then focus on how to humanise or make the scenes even more truthful. I could read from a distance, keep it at arm’s length and have an objectivity that really helped me.’

Making the Dialogue Real

‘We used the whole book as a ‘bible’ on how to understand the system, but we wanted Amy’s story to be the focus. I always try to ask myself if this was a documentary, what would it look like? What scenes would present themselves? Is it coming down to the truth? Either it’s coming down to truth or it’s at least shutting out my own imagination.

I find the world around me fascinating, the truth of it and how we portray real-life events. 

As a screenwriter, Tobias has realised that ‘the best dialogue in films has always been in documentaries. I realised that in film school, and I was like how do we understand ‘real reality’? How do we transport that into the condensed version of fiction? Charles Graeber helped me a lot with that.’

Helping the Actors to Find the Reality

Tobias shares the process that he has with his actors – a deal that he ‘made with Eddie and Jessica from the beginning. We would never capture them how the film wanted.

We needed to follow human beings when making a story that celebrates humanity. If we don’t allow humanity to dictate the film, but wanted technique to dictate it, then suddenly we would be slaves to another system. The only logical way to do this was to allow them to be free.’

Having Time To Rehearse

He went on to say that he always finds it imperative to rehearse. 

‘I think the only way to be totally free is to rehearse and know the material and then make decisions and open it up as we get there.’

Because of the pandemic, we were not able to meet on stage and work without masks on, but we could meet at my home. We would meet in my apartment and work for weeks in a normal everyday life environment – having tea and lunch and just talking and doing scenes, and taking it to the floor, and then going back to the kitchen table and talking about what we could improve.’

A very organic and real-life way of making a film. For more from Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Tobias Lindholm, listen to the whole ep here.

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