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Margaret Qualley Gets A Taste Of The Literary World In 'My Salinger Year'

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Joanna Rakoff is a young, aspiring writer who falls in love with New York and lands a coveted job working for the literary agency of...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY SALINGER YEAR")

MARGARET QUALLEY: (As Joanna) Jerry Salinger.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Margaret) Well, of course, Jerry Salinger. And above all, you never, ever call him.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna, laughter) Why not call Jerry Salinger?

WEAVER: (As Margaret) Jerry doesn't want to hear about how much you love "The Catcher In The Rye," and he doesn't want to read your stories.

QUALLEY: (As Joanna) I don't have stories.

WEAVER: (As Margaret) Good. Writers make the worst assistants. Get to work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Joanna's boss, Margaret, played there by Sigourney Weaver, has other plans for her. The new movie "My Salinger Year," is based on the memoir of the acclaimed poet and writer Joanna Rakoff, whom Margaret Qualley plays in this film adaptation. And she joins me now. Welcome.

QUALLEY: I just got really excited because I listen to NPR every single morning, and I grew up listening to NPR.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's so nice. So did you ever read "Catcher In The Rye?" Are you a fan of J.D. Salinger?

QUALLEY: Yes, I love Salinger. I love "Catcher In The Rye." I love "Franny And Zooey" and "Nine Stories" and - yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about your character in the film. I mean, she becomes very attached to sort of the fan mail for Salinger, who does not want to receive any of it. And she starts reading these letters and, in fact, even sort of gets more heavily involved in them. Tell me about her relationship to the author.

QUALLEY: Sure. Yeah. You know, Joanna is working in a publishing office, which is great because it's a job, and she's living in New York, which she loves. And there's so many aspects of her life that seem like they're right on track. But she's not fulfilled because she's not doing what she wants to do. She wants to be a writer. So I think that she gets really inspired by the fan mail because it's this one creative outlet within her work, even though she's breaking the rules by responding to these fans. But she connects to them. And she is willing to cross a line in order to do what she thinks is right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You played both Ann Reinking and now this character. What is it like to play a real person that you have to kind of tap into in some way?

QUALLEY: Well, with Ann Reinking, it was a different thing. Gosh, like - and rest in peace. She passed away a few months ago, and it was such a surreal, crazy feeling. I had the immense pleasure of getting to know her pretty intimately during the shooting process of "Fosse/Verdon." And she was so generous and kind with me. I love her. So with - in that experience, I was really trying to do justice by someone that I grew up looking up to because I'm a dancer. And there's an interview of Ann and Bob's daughter, Nicole. And I would just listen to this interview over and over and over again, trying to understand how to do her voice a little bit. And yeah, it was just a - it was a big thing. And then this - it was nice because I felt like I had a lot more freedom because the intention was never to match Joanna exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you could reinvent her in a sense. You could make her your own.

QUALLEY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So at the end, we see your character leave this very comfortable job where she has this future to become a poet, to become a published author, to really, like, move into her own space and find her own voice. I mean, do you think that this is a story that appeals to young people today who are really sort of looking at, you know, where they fit in, especially at a time like this pandemic?

QUALLEY: Absolutely. You know, anything that I speak to in terms of what's happening right now in regards to the pandemic is from a place of immense privilege. I'm very aware of that, you know? But I know that people are being forced to really, seriously reconsider their lives. And I think that there is some beauty to it. You know, I think that people have had an opportunity to spend time with their family and maybe giving people the opportunity to look at their lives and do things that that they want to do. But I also realize that that comes at a really, really great cost.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Margaret Qualley plays Joanna Rakoff in the new movie "My Salinger Year." Thank you very much.

QUALLEY: Thank you. It was very cool to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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