There was one challenge Marcia Gay Harden faced when filming “Barkskins,” a historical drama set in French-colonial Canada.
“Going to the bathroom,” the actress told Fox News. “That was the biggest challenge. You’re wearing corsets, things going over the corsets, petticoats, and your skirt is dragging through the mud — and there was a lot of mud. Usually, you’d be like, ‘Hey, can I have five minutes to run to the restroom?’ … In this case, you have to go, ‘Ugh, can I have 30 minutes please?'”
“A lot of the materials were really from the 1700s, 1600s,” the Oscar winner continued. “One of them, they went to an antique store and they said it was from this time. So they’ve got materials that are [from] the 1690s. I don’t know how they did it. They were just beautiful. But you learn [quickly] it’s a lot to deal with, you know, hauling around all that material — it’s a lot to deal with.”
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The Nat Geo limited series, which is adapted from a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx, follows a disparate group of outcasts in the late 1690s who must navigate brutal hardships and questionable loyalties in “New France.” Harden plays Mathilde Geffard, an innkeeper who takes in a little girl (Lola Reid), the sole survivor of a native attack. It was reported the character was originally envisioned to be someone younger.
Harden, who enjoyed going back in time and roughing it on set for the series, said she’s grateful for the role.
“There’s always work to be done to highlight all ages in society and in drama and theater,” she explained. “In this case, it was really [creator] Elwood Reid — he envisioned a woman who is fighting for power. And she’s an older woman, so she doesn’t have the advantage of being able to have babies.
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“If a woman could have a baby boy, she was powerful because they were all trying to populate New France. And that’s what women are sent over on boats for – to populate New France. But my character is older. She can’t have a baby. So what is that journey like? What is that journey like for an older woman in a community who can’t be valuable because she [can’t] have a baby? Where does her value lie?”
Harden shared she looked to fellow actress Jane Fonda, 82, as inspiration for a character as “powerful” as Geffard.
“Jane is brave,” she said. “She’s just a brave woman with vulnerability right underneath the surface of her bravery. And that was something I wanted for Mathilde — that she was brave, she was tough. She’ll knock you on your a– because she has to, but there is always a vulnerability underneath. … And also, I think Jane is real. Jane opens her mouth and speaks up for what she believes in. I love that about her.”
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Filming for “Barkskins” completed before the coronavirus pandemic, which has put Hollywood on pause as the entertainment industry figures out how performers and crews can return to sets safely. Harden said she’s optimistic filming will resume in September of this year.
“It’s not just filming,” she said. “My heart goes out to Broadway right now. It’s an experience where audiences have to be close together in order to see a live show. And it’s not the same Zooming life theater. It’s just not the same … If we can understand how to go shopping … and go to these other places, then I think we can put our heads together and how to keep it as safe as possible in the workplace. You know — masks, sanitizers, hand-washing, social distancing.
“I think there will be a new understanding of how to operate in the workplace. And I think actors will all have to be tested. I think there will be a way to do it. And I think people might even voluntarily isolate if you’re shooting something because people do want to get back to work. … We have to think outside the box.”
Harden shared that filming a period piece like “Barkskins,” only made her appreciate the luxuries of life today.
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“Mathilde — she’s an innkeeper,” said Harden. “So her job is what? A mother times 20. She cooks, she cleans, she does the laundry — and she’s dong that all day long. The woman barely sleeps. She’s gotta get up at the crack of dawn. And she probably doesn’t go to bed until well after midnight… She still has to get everything ready for the morning. And when she’s doing laundry, she’s wringing out the laundry. That’s how it’s dried. We should just count our blessings for our washing machines, dryers and dishwashers. Modern conveniences are probably just so taken for granted sometimes.”
“Barkskins” may be limited, but Harden believes there are still plenty of more stories to tell that viewers, especially women, will happily dive in.
“Here’s a woman who leaves France to start a new life,” she said. “And it turns out she’s a real ballsy, ambitious woman and she’s older. I don’t think she quite understood how ambitious she was. … I love that. And also, the men want her. She’s like the sexy older woman. So I was like, ‘Go ahead Elwood, keep writing. Just keep writing. I’ll be here.’”
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“Barkskins” is available for streaming on Hulu.