When we think about rehearsals, our first inclination is to imagine honing the beats of a scene, perhaps with script in-hand. But Derek Cianfrance wasn’t really doing that. He was more interested in character and relationship than a scene itself. So on “Blue Valentine,” their rehearsals would be entirely improvised. Speaking with Vanity Fair, Michelle Williams recalled their rehearsal process of how they could grow into those characters:
“Derek would set up these rehearsals for us where he would say, okay, now I want you to make a family budget, and now I want you to get into a fight, and now I want you to try and fix the kitchen sink. And now I want you to take your daughter to the playground, and now I want you to try taking her to the playground after you’ve had a fight.”
For me, that method makes far more sense if your goal as a filmmaker is spontaneity. Cianfrance also knew that he wanted to be able to capture that energy on film, leading to him construct one particular night of shooting that was to be entirely improvised like these rehearsals. Williams continues:
“We had like a 12-hour dusk-till-dawn that we shot on these streets of upstate New York that was all improvised. And he sort of told Ryan and I to just, kind of, like stuff our pockets with things we might wanna come up with, but we had no plan. And then all of a sudden, we wound up doing each other’s makeup and tap dancing.”
This sequence is really the first time these characters get to know each other. Having that be spontaneous makes their courtship incredibly lovely (and amps up the tragedy later). Rehearsals can still produce something fresh. It’s just a shame Hollywood movies can’t make more time for them.