Take2IndieReview sits down with Award Winning Writer and Actress, Alison Stover, to discuss her film – THE FOUR WALLS OF CHARLOTTE MORELAND
You wrote and star in THE FOUR WALLS OF CHARLOTTE MORELAND. What made you want to tell this powerful, and very personal story?
I wanted to tell this story because I think there’s a lot of misinformation around abuse and the healing process. I know that when I was going through it, there weren’t many people who understood, and a lot of people thought that because I had left him, I should start healing immediately. The truth is that healing takes time. And it takes understanding from people. I created this film so that other people who are survivors might feel less alone. So that friends and family members of survivors can have empathy for that person. I’m hoping to create more understanding and more empathy around this subject. It’s one thing to tell a story but it’s another to see it, and I think film is a perfect medium to convey this message.
You were in an episode of Law & Order Called ‘Sex Club’ and an episode of Louis CK’s show. What, if any, impact did these experiences have on The Four Walls of Charlotte Moreland?
In terms of past work there wasn’t much that affected this film. The Law & Order episode that I did was called ‘Sex Club’ but it was very PG and appropriate for primetime TV. The thing that I wanted to focus on with the film was intimate relationships between two people who can exist in any industry, in any country, in any demographic. This kind of abuse takes place all over the world and is about one person having complete control and completely diminishing another person. I wanted to focus on the effects of that and what the healing process looks like because it affects so many people.
You have many acting credits, but The Four Walls of Charlotte Moreland is your first for writing. Why have you gone down this new road and what gave you the confidence to do so?
I have been acting for so many years but I had never thought of myself as a filmmaker. There were a few things that propelled me to try writing. I had a meeting with a showrunner who told me if actresses want a long career they should learn how to write. I mulled this over for a few months and thought maybe I should create a short film. The next question was what can I write about, which was followed by this experience that I went through. I had never seen it told from this perspective or from the perspective that I had lived. But I knew so many people, both men and women, who were on the same healing journey that I had been on. It felt like Hollywood needed to put everything neatly in a box because I guess it’s not a hero’s journey to be so damaged. I wanted to highlight just how damaging these relationships can be and how hard the road to recovery can be. Once I started writing I knew I had to get this story out to the world so that people will know what survivors go through. I felt like I was on a mission to get as many people as possible to see the film and shine a light on the truth.
How did you arrive at the decision to leave Hudson off camera?
There was no draft that included Hudson. This was intentional for two reasons. The first is that it’s not really about the guy. It’s more about the damage that he has done and I wanted the focus to be on Charlotte’s journey. Even though he is completely relevant I wanted to make him irrelevant in the big picture. Who he is isn’t important but the damage he has done is what I wanted to focus on. The second, is that people who abuse have a certain personality type and it would be very hard to find someone who truly understands an abuser’s motives and just how adept they are at both charming and destroying another person all at the same time. Believe it or not abusers are very likable people, at least the outside world. It would be a very tricky thing to cast because it can easily fall into our ‘collective idea’ of what an abuser is rather than the reality of what they are.
Tell me about the process of drawing on your own experience to bring Charlotte to life, and how difficult was that?
It was so difficult to re-live everything when I was writing this. The telling of the story was very very scary. I had kept it hidden for many years mostly out of shame and fear of judgment. And, of course, there is still some fear of judgment. My need to bring this subject to light and tell the truth surpassed any shame that I have in the telling of this story. And I think it was the final thing that I needed to truly walk away from this. I’ve lived a normal life for many years but in keeping this in the dark it was like I was still carrying it with me. Things heal when you bring them into the light. That’s what telling this story did for me.
What is the message you are trying to get across to people in regards to how they can help victims?
The reason for doing this film is to help victims but I prefer the word Survivor 🙂 I’m hoping that people who see this film and are either in an abusive situation or have just left will know they are not alone, will understand they are being abused, and will not feel like they are weird for feeling so unbalanced. The point of abuse is to keep you unbalanced and to question your own sanity. I wanted a clear picture for survivors to see that what they are going through is part of the process and is normal after you are abused. For the first few years I found very little support and very little understanding even from professionals. So I wanted something that would clear the air both for survivors and for the people who love them and want to help them. I’m truly hoping to change the narrative because the collective narrative around abuse is skewed. Much of the work starts after you leave. Leaving the abuser doesn’t mean you are leaving the abuse behind you.
People who are not directly connected to someone who has suffered from abuse are probably not that familiar with the gaslighting that continues. How prevalent is this after abuse?
Gaslighting is the first part of abuse and is prevalent in every abusive relationship. Why would anyone stay if someone was hitting them, punching them or throwing them around? Or if they knew their life was in danger? Nobody would stay for that. As humans our first instinct is to run from danger. It’s the brainwashing that makes you stay. The mental abuse starts first and it is how an abuser is able to get someone under his or her thumb. The mental abuse escalates to the point where a victim can question their own sense of reality and can question events that they experienced or that they saw happen with their own two eyes. There are many people who don’t understand how gaslighting can continue even after you’ve left. You are left with the effects of gaslighting until someone can really get through to you and talk some sense into you. Sometimes this can take years, and there were many people who I met, who I was sure would never be the same. People who have lost their entire future and life as they knew it. They seemingly were going to be broken forever. At first I was afraid it would be me as well. That is why it is so important for other people to understand what has gone on. Many professionals are in the dark about this. The reason I did this film was in part so that friends and loved ones of survivors are better able to help those who are recovering from the gaslighting.
That said, Charlotte remains a hostage to the abuse, and in a sense, she is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. (She has to be convinced that Hudson didn’t actually rape her). How important was it to show the psychological abuse and the extent of the damage it causes?
The reason I did this film was to show the psychological effects of abuse. It is Stockholm syndrome but worse. There’s not just an affinity for the person who has held you captive but you feel that your abuser comes before you in the world. Keep in mind this person has intentionally ravaged another human being just because it makes him or her feel powerful. They re-define who you are to yourself and you are left with this new definition of yourself that you can’t unsee. You learn to trust their word more than your own and therefore question your own sanity. The problem is that this condition doesn’t leave when you physically leave the person. You’re left with it and it takes a lot of work to untangle the ball of yarn. Many people don’t know this and so I felt compelled to do this film and highlight how long and arduous the healing process can be. There are many people though who see their abusers for who they are and therefore have the courage to leave. I’ve always called this their Ah Ha moment. It could be something as simple as a shaming and degrading moment in front of other people which has happened many times before but this time something in you just snaps. This happens often and the healing process is much easier for these people. My family and friends did an intervention so I never had that moment and therefore my healing process took much longer.
The role of a psychologist is crucial. So what were your goals in terms of portraying a doctor who could really reach a victim, and what influences did you draw upon?
The role of the psychologist was crucial because Charlotte would not have healed without it. There had to be something to break all of the lies that were bumping around in her head. I drew upon real life experience and had my Ah Ha moment with a wonderful therapist. It took many years and many ineffective therapists to find someone who understood exactly what had happened and to frame it for me in a way that I could understand. Empathy is key. We were very lucky in that Jane Dashow agreed to come on to the project because she’s a phenomenal actor and understood exactly what was needed. It was a wonderful performance. We would not have had a film had Jane not understood the degree of empathy that was needed in this role as a therapist. Rissa Davis as well, who plays Detective Grace Demps propels Charlotte forward with her empathy and advice. It was such a moving performance and shows the strength of a woman who has been there and has overcome so much. We needed to show there are people out there who can help, it’s just a matter of finding them. Maggie Wagner and Bettina Bilger were also so great. Everyone fulfilled their role as an angel that helped Charlotte recover.
With Charlotte’s boss in mind, why was it important to show that men aren’t the only people who are toxic?
The last thing we wanted was to portray all men as being bad guys. Most men are so kind and we toyed with having a super nice guy come on board but in the end decided it was best if it was all women. Charlotte’s boss could’ve been anyone. It really stood for all of the people who don’t understand and tell you to just get over it.
You can’t heal a victim in a 20 minute film. So how daunting a challenge was it to achieve that in the film, and how did the idea evolve into a believable reality?
It was so daunting to shorten five years of life into 20 minutes!! I wasn’t sure that it was even possible. Somehow, and with many rewrites, we were able to accomplish this long and arduous healing journey into a relatively short film. The mission of the film was to show that healing takes time and I think we accomplished that.
The film is co-written and co-directed with Joe Benedetto. Can you tell me how having a male creative partner influenced the work and what did you learn from each other in terms of how men and women view domestic abuse?
It was a very collaborative process working with Joe. He didn’t know much about abuse but, was very willing to listen to my input and learn what goes on in these kinds of relationships. I think like for most people it took a bit of digesting but he really understood in the end and I appreciated his willingness to give up our collective preconceived ideas over what abusive relationships look like. It was great to work with someone who cared about the message of the film and also wanted to help people with it.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’m developing another short right now and starting work on a feature that deals with environmental issues. I am attached to the feature film Climbing Life with Rachel Nichols, Tahmoh Penikett, Chase Masterson and John Wesley Shipp. I’m set to star in a feature film Identity Crisis based on The New York Times best seller as well as Inside the World of Roy Lichtenstein where I will be playing his wife in the first half of the film and will later morph into his muse in the second half of the film.