You might not know it by the intense quality of their performances, but actors Sidney Flannigan and Talia Ryder are both making their feature film debuts in writer/director Eliza Hittman’s personal drama Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always. Respectively playing the roles of Autumn and Skylar, a pair of cousins on an important voyage to New York City, their chemistry together is incredibly believable, and it's all thanks to a cool and unique way that these co-stars bonded during the production.
I was recently spoke with Sidney Flannigan as part of the press campaign for the release of Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, as the film that made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was recently released on VOD. In that conversation, she laid out a pretty intensive process that allowed the two women to get comfortable with each other in a short amount of time, saying:
We only had a two day rehearsal period, so Eliza kinda set up little exercises we did, like activities. She had Talia and I do each other’s makeup and paint each other’s nails while kind of running some of the lines. Then she gave us these notebooks with writing prompts in them, and they had three kind of personal questions. Talia and I took them home, filled out our answers, and the next day we shared them together with each other, privately. We kind of had this secret history together with each other.
With a two-day rehearsal, there’s not a lot of time to get acquainted in the typical way that you’d expect people to, much less cousins. But thanks to Hittman’s intensive process of bonding exercises, both Sidney Flannigan and Talia Ryder were able to create a collective presence that effectively tells the story of Autumn’s attempt to abort an unwanted pregnancy, with her cousin Skylar providing moral support.
With both women coming from artistic backgrounds of their own, Sidney Flannigan landed one of the key roles in Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always after meeting writer/director Eliza Hittman’s partner at a barbecue. Eventually, while Flannigan hadn’t planned to go into acting, she was approached by her future director to audition for the part of Autumn. Though she didn’t expect to land it, Sidney would eventually become half of the acting team that makes Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always a believably human drama.
As the shooting went on, the connection between Sidney Flannigan and Talia Ryder only grew stronger, making this story of cousins navigating the world of adulthood all the more believable and harrowing. Flannigan said as much herself, as she continued to discuss how Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always came together:
Over time on set, we spent a lot of time together, and it clicked naturally for some reason. We got closer and closer over time, and it just felt real.
Throughout the events of Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, we see both Autumn and Skylar dealing with everything from learning how to navigate public transit to dealing with/fending off the advances of various men who would seek to gain their favor. In the early moments of the film, we see both of them encounter bullies making lewd gestures, and workplace harassment in the form of a co-worker kissing the girls’ hands when they make their money drops for the night.
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always culminates in one of the most stand out moments of the film, as Talia Ryder’s character, Skylar, makes out with a boy names Jasper (Théodore Pellerin) who she’s met on the trip with her cousin. She only does it so she and her cousin can get bus fare to get back to their sleepy Pennsylvania town, and it comes after Jasper has worn Ryder’s character down through taking her out for karaoke and bowling, with copious amounts of beer thrown into the mix.
With their chemistry in full form, and the film making its way to this particularly tense juncture, Sidney Flannigan’s Autumn finds her cousin making out with Jasper in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, on their last night in the city. She doesn’t interrupt the moment, but instead shows a simple gesture of support that she describes is one of her favorite moments from Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always:
The moment that always personally gets me is when Autumn finds Skylar making out with the guy behind the pillar and they lock pinkies. That one gets me every time. I think it’s very symbolic and I think it’s very kind of like female solidarity. It’s just extremely heartbreaking to me every time. I really loved that moment.
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is the sort of movie that inspires performances which could make an actor’s career. With Talia Ryder already expecting her next film to be released this fall, as she’s part of the cast in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, the future is open for Sidney Flanigan to return to acting, should she decide to.
Thanks to her heartbreaking, and at times uplifting, portrayal of Autumn through her journey of personal peril, the reaction to Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always has been extremely positive. With Eliza Hittman’s previous experience on such projects as the feature film Beach Rats and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, her grasp on more realistic teen drama is well honed.
Should she return to this genre to make another tale of timely issues in the world of youth, there’s always a chance that Eliza Hittman and Sidney Flanigan could become the next Scorsese/DiCaprio style pairing in the world of indie film. For now, it’s safe to say that Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always has made such an impression on audiences and critics alike simply because the chemistry of Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder is so effective, it enhances a story already rich in drama to a level more personal than any other story of its kind.
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is currently available on VOD for rental.