For the love of Maude

Maudie, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, has a proud cheerleader in the film’s producer Mary Sexton. Sexton shares how her mother helped bring the project to life.

By Pam Pardy Ghent

Maudie, staring Oscar nominees Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, is many things. Unlikely love story between artist Maud Lewis and her husband Everett, is certainly one of those things, but it’s also at times both a comedy and a drama as the touching, visually captivating  tale unfolds through the decades.

Maudie is outselling

It’s also a huge hit, becoming the second-highest grossing film in the Atlantic Canada region (number 10 in Canada overall). To put things in perspective for theatre goers, Maudie is outselling The Fate of the Furious, per screen.

At her movie’s premiere in St. John’s,  Mary Sexton was all smiles, though her eyes filled and her voice “got caught” on a few occasions as well. “Hearing we are number one here in the box office is something else,” Sexton begins, taking time-out to greet enthusiastic well-wishers as they showed for the screening; MHA and Minister Christopher Mitchelmore, fellow producer Barbara Doran, Community Sector Council CEO Penelope Rowe and her son Dorian Rowe, head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, to name a few. But then, the lady of the hour arrives and focus shifts to the woman who literally made this all possible; Sexton’s mom, the lovely Sara Sexton.

“I well up. Mom is 94, and of all her children I gave her the most grief. I gave her her first grandchild – out of wedlock – and as mom would say, she worked hard to get it! But still, she’s always been in my corner, unconditionally. I would be nothing without my mom. I consider her the best human being on this earth. I used to say to Mary Walsh, ‘if mom dies on me …’  and Mary would say, ‘Mary, your mother will die one day,’ and I’d say, ‘hopefully not in my lifetime!’ All I would like to say is, thank you. Thank you for believing in me and being there for me, in the good and the bad times.”

owes her mother

Sexton knows she owes her mother much in the way of gratitude when it comes to the success of Maudie.

“This film could have gone down the tubes because we didn’t have our financing in place and we were pushing to get it done, and if mom hadn’t cleared out a couple of bank accounts, I wouldn’t have been able to make payroll. And as soon as you can’t pay, they smell it, and then the next thing you know everyone is gone off the project.”

 Irish director Aisling Walsh is someone else Sexton praises, among others.  “Newfoundlander Sherry White was the original screenwriter, and the story was incredible, but it was a little dark, and then Aisling came along and turned it into more of a love story.” Any commercially successful film needs great actors, and Aisling had contacts. “We had been working on this for 11 years  and we were not getting anywhere because we were not getting the cast to finance it. Aisling gets involved and all of a sudden we have Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins.”

Became the characters

Hawkins didn’t mind getting her hands dirty, Sexton shares. “She did what Daniel Day-Lewis did for My Left Foot – she stayed in character. Sally became Maud Lewis. She did the speech therapy and movement therapy. She used prosthetics. She was completely prepared for the role. And then we had Ethan. His wife read the script first … and when he got home, his wife said, you have to do this movie, this is too good to pass up. And they came to Newfoundland, and we are far from Hollywood here, we don’t have limousines driving everyone around, and they loved it.” The film, which cost just over $3 million to make, turned this province into home-base. “Ethan had a little humble house on Gower Street and he loved it, though he flew home with the kids when he had time off. “Sally come and stayed almost nine weeks and she loved it here. She could go out and no one recognized her, and even if they did they were not star struck. She went to the Merrymeeting Road Sobeys and got her groceries. She loved it.”

Maudie was shot mainly in Goulds, where the crew created, and then recreated, the little 10×10 painted house Maud and Everett called home.

The film, which originally opened  in select “small art house theatres” has since been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. “They are launching an Oscar campaign for both Ethan and Sally and the film will open in the States in June.”

two odd socks

When asked if she’s over the moon, Sexton laughs. “You are only as good as your last project, and this is a tough business. I started to feel deflated. This film, a love story about two odd socks, didn’t go anywhere for years. And this is an ensemble producing team, and success has many parents. This screening is for me to show my mother, to show my friends, to show government, that we are alive and well in the film industry here in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. So, am I proud? Yes! I’m proud of everyone who works in this industry.”

With all eyes on the success of Maudie, does she have any words of wisdom to offer. “If you persevere and stick with something you will get the end result. Don’t think it will happen overnight. Believe in it and work with your talent and you are only as strong as your weakest link.

be honest with yourself

“Put together a team of people that you love and trust because, you know what, you may be working with those same people for 10 or 11 years. And believe in what you do, not just half heartedly, and be honest with yourself.”

Any projects on the horizon? There’s one on the Ocean Ranger that she would love to see told, one she’s been working on with screenwriter and friend Rosemary House for a while. The two have another project in the works as well, one Sexton says will “resonate with so many.” She’s also working with her son Nik Sexton (How to be Deadly) on a touching “raw” script. As the saying goes, she has many irons in the fire. But then that’s the nature of the beast she has grown to adore.

 “I am so blessed to be able to work in the industry that I work in. I go to work and do the things I love with people I love.  And mom gets to see the end result, and tells me how proud she is. It’s just the best.”

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