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Talia Ryder / The Power and Ceaseless Rhythm of Selflessness

October 09, 2020   |   Written by Constanza Falco Raez

In a time when clubs, discos, tango rooms, arenas, venues, and concert halls have all hung up the dancing shoes until (one hopes) 2021, many people all over the world have embraced their inner wiggle—indoors and to an audience of hallway mirrors or TikTok feeds. For some, they’ve always been dancing and there’s no excuse to stop, no matter how unprecedented the circumstances. See, before actor Talia Ryder started filming the Eliza Hittman-directed film, Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always—which won The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the 2020 Berlinale—she was on Broadway playing Hortensia in Matilda the Musical, doing what she loves the most, and when, according to the 18 year-old, she feels the most invincible. No surprise, then, that she has been cast for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story.

Although her role as Skylar in Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always only features one dancing scene—a turn with Dance Dance Revolution in an arcade in the middle of the night, while waiting for her cousin Autumn’s second day of abortion procedures, it reinforces Skylar’s innocence met with adulthood, and the fragility therein. Ryder explains this complexity is threaded throughout the film, which “humanizes the subject of abortion and gives audiences an opportunity to empathize in a way they may have not been able to before.”

Having had only 48 hours to prepare before starting to film, there was a lot of improvising, with a pronounced focus on the relationship and chemistry of the two cousins, the opposite of whom is played by Sidney Flannigan. “Although initially daunting,” Ryder remarks when asked about the alarmingly short preparation period, “having so little time to prepare forced me to really focus and didn’t give me any time to overthink things. Eliza honed on me and Sidney’s personal relationship before even working with the script. The day of my final fitting, Eliza gave me a journal and wrote three prompts that she wanted me to answer for homework. The next day, our first day of rehearsing, Eliza had Sidney and I meet earlier to go through our answers to those personal prompts that she gave us the day before. We were both willing to be vulnerable with each other, which was really important to understanding each other’s characters.”

As a newly-turned 18 year-old, Ryder has her sight straight and knows “it’s our generation’s job to fix what other generations couldn’t and continue fighting for justice in our government.” Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always speaks to this sentiment, with its challenging of the strong prejudice and stigma that has been placed around women’s reproductive rights. In a story steeped in realism, Skylar accompanies Autumn on a trip from their hometown in Pennsylvania to New York City, where Autumn plans to get an abortion. The film captures the uncomfortable medical scenes, the tough interviews at Planned Parenthood, and the hardships, struggles and painful emotions that go into this difficult decision and process. “People’s reproductive rights have always been under attack,” Ryder says, “causing a serious stigma around the subject matter. Films like NRSA that bring light to topics that haven’t been properly addressed are so important for the current generation.”

Entertainment Weekly praised Ryder and Flanigan in their big-screen debuts, and Ryder attributes most of this success to Hittman and her focus on the cousins’ off-camera chemistry. “I found Skylar to be extremely relatable,” Ryder says about unearthing the character through Hittman’s process. “I have a younger sister, so I understand the responsibility she feels to protect her cousin at all costs. I admire her selflessness in completely putting Autumn’s comfort before her own. I believe that I would have gone to the same lengths to protect the women I love if I was ever in the same situation. Skylar is also incredibly savvy, which I really respect. She unfortunately learned the power she holds over men who objectify her at a young age and eventually uses that power to help her cousin in the story.”

When asked about this magazine’s themes of chaos and calm, Ryder explains there is balance in everything, and as such, she strives to find the perfect balance between her passion for dancing and her recently commenced acting career, which will next see her as Jet in West Side Story, which of course tells of a modern day Romeo and Juliet amidst NYC gangs. “Getting to observe Steven and [NYC ballet choreographer] Justin Peck work and collaborate was fascinating,” Ryder enthuses, “Seeing Justin choreograph and Steven bring his brilliant choreography to the screen was insane. I learned so much from both of them. Although extremely difficult, I had such an amazing time learning how to approach a different style of dance than I’m used to.”

We conclude our interview discussing the importance of women acting as one another’s teammates, and how there is still a long ways to go to equality. Still, we must look to each other, and inside ourselves. “I’d probably tell her to worry less about what people think,” Ryder reflects when asked about advice for her younger, 15 year-old self. “I really kept to myself when I was younger and found that I didn’t speak up for myself in certain situations. I guess I could still work on that, but it’s gotten better.”