To play a blind woman for her latest film role, Blake Lively took no short cuts into the darkness.
The 30-year-old actress learned to use a walking cane, wore opaque contact lenses off-camera to better understand her character, and learned how to navigate the main set without her vision.
"I wanted to know the experience of filling in the blanks in my head, learning it and then opening my eyes and seeing that, no matter what I had in my head, it was so different than I imagined," she says.
Lively stars in All I See Is You, a dreamy, beautiful movie about a woman who lost her eyesight as an adolescent in a car accident but regains her vision through surgery in her 20s. She begins a period of self-discovery, which threatens to upend her life and marriage.
"That happens in all relationships, where you're in an established relationship and then you start to not see things," says Lively. "This movie speaks to relationships, I think, whether we have the literal blindness or it's just figurative."
It's the brainchild of director and co-writer Marc Forster, whose career includes varied films such as World War Z, Quantum of Solace, Monster's Ball and The Kite Runner. Inspiration for the new film came in one of the strangest places — the shower.
Forster, who has always admired fine art painters, was searching for a story that could lend itself to being painted onscreen. "I pushed it aside because I said, 'OK, you're a filmmaker. You're not a painter. You're not a true artist. You're just a visual storyteller,"' he says. But one day in the shower, with soap clouding his eyes, he realized he had a visual template.
All I See Is You is certainly arty, with scenes decorated with a blur of images, bleeding colors and abstract symbols, even giving physical sensations an intense visual representation.
Forster says he was trying to shake the Hollywood cookie-cutter approach and recapture the feel of films from the 1970s, when character studies and open-ended plots ruled. "Movies became more and more close-ended and they also had to tick every box emotionally for an audience," he says.
Indeed, Forster's film is hard to categorize — part mystery, part horror, part a woman's reawakening, part kaleidoscopic journey. He is very happy it cannot be pigeonholed.
"He's created something that I've never seen before with the visuals," says Lively. "So it was really just about taking a leap of faith with him and trusting him and being excited by that journey. But I think that if you even removed all of those visuals from this movie, it still works and that's what's important."
The film also gave Lively, last seen in a bikini in The Shallows, a meaty and complex role — though a challenging one, too, since it centers on a woman with a disability. She says she was sensitive to making sure it was correct.
"This isn't representative of any one person's story. I was trying to take different peoples' experiences and be as honest as possible," she says. One person she leaned on to get her performance right was Ryan Knighton, a blind author who taught Lively how the blind walk, move and even argue. (The filmmakers honored him by having Blakely wear his signature red-tinted glasses onscreen.)
Both Lively and Forster realize that the film — featuring a woman learning to be strong and independent — comes at a time when women across the country are talking about their role in male-centered businesses and society.
"I think what's happened in this past year, since the election, is that women have really stood up for themselves. I think we realized how much further we had to go than we thought we did," Lively says.
Foster, for his part, hopes the film will remind people to open their eyes, see what's actually happening and make better choices.
"We, as humanity, ultimately have to really wake up and become conscious and start seeing things," he says. "Otherwise, we're going to go down a path that will be unreturnable."