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Todd Haynes talks about his film ‘May December’ as it opens the New York Film Festival

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François Duhamel / Courtesy of Netflix

The 61st New York Film Festival officially begins Friday with a screening of Todd Haynes’ latest film, May December.

Academy Award winners Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore star as Elizabeth and Gracie – the former a famous actress, the latter the controversial subject of an upcoming biopic. Elizabeth travels to Gracie’s hometown to study her before taking on the role, which leads to shifting power dynamics and realizations for Charles Melton’s Joe, Gracie’s much younger husband.

Haynes and screenwriter Samy Burch answered questions in a press conference earlier on Friday. Burch was a recent addition to the lineup, now able to promote the film following the WGA ending their strike on Wednesday.

“To have Samy with us, it helps us a little bit with the grief of not having the actors with us,” Haynes said.

Haynes also said he had been wanting to work with Portman for a while. When they came across Burch’s script, they knew May December was the project to finally make it happen.

“Natalie and I had discussed other projects in the past, so there was an interest on both our parts to try to find something that we could do together,” Haynes said. “This script was something else and left an impression on me that stayed with me.”

Burch said that while she wasn’t directly inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal, she did take inspiration from the tabloids for her script.

“I really wanted a fictional story that dealt with this tabloid culture of the ‘90s that has kind of seemingly led into this true crime biopic world we’re in right now,” Burch said. “I think that that was the real jumping off point for me.”

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