The Good Nurse tells the true story of Charles Cullen, a seemingly perceptive New Jersey nurse who was later revealed to be a serial killer. But instead of a cheesy pot boiler, this 2013 adaptation of Charles Graeber’s true crime book is a fragile drama about the friendship between Charlie and one of his fellow coworkers, a lonely, ailing single mom named Amy Loughren who thought she found it in a support system and a confidante to this friendly stranger.
Amy befriends the new co-worker in part because she recognizes in Charlie the same warm, caring personality she exudes toward her patients. But like the viewer, Amy only sees one aspect of this soft-spoken sweet man: she is unaware that he is secretly injecting deadly drugs into saline bags, leading to a series of mysterious deaths in the hospital.
The film had been in development for several years, and throughout that time both of its stars were determined to stay with the project. No matter how somber the material was — and no matter how difficult it was to align their schedules — Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain didn’t let go of “The Good Nurse.”
“I don’t know that there’s a movie in Hollywood that’s been out for six years and all the main actors have stayed with it and nobody’s been replaced or left ship,” says Chastain proudly.
The two actors relax in a suite in London’s West Hollywood and reflect on the effort it took to make the film. From the start, they agreed they wouldn’t do it without the other – or A Hijacking director Tobias Lindholm, who knew he’d insist on absolute authenticity in this portrayal of working-class life and America’s dysfunctional healthcare system . (He even got his stars to attend nursing school.)
And just as Amy and Charlie grow closer as the film progresses, forming a kind of surrogate family with their children, a similarly close bond developed between the stars during filming, which took place at the end of the pandemic. “Jess and I both have young families,” says Redmayne, “and Jess and her husband were very kind in introducing us to people in New York and Connecticut. Although the topic was intense, it was also fun – we had wonderful weekends.”
Told from Amy’s perspective, the Netflix film follows her toiling the night shift at her local ICU. As part of her research, Chastain spent time with the real Loughren, curious to learn more about cardiomyopathy, a serious condition that forced Loughren to seek a heart transplant. But Chastain also hoped to gain insight into the woman’s psyche, which ultimately made the story personal to her.
“I asked her, ‘Why did you decide to be a night nurse?'” Chastain recalls. “I thought she might say, ‘Oh, the money is better.’ Instead of this, [it’s] because she’s a single mom: “I wanted my girls to think they had a housewife.” I was raised by a single mother, and [I responded to] this idea of this woman working all night taking care of others – she goes home, she sleeps a little when her kids are at school, buys groceries, washes, does chores and then takes care of them when they are from school. Then she’s back to work — there’s not a moment when she’s really taking care of herself. It’s crazy that this woman who needed a heart transplant has the biggest heart in the world.”
The Good Nurse is primally a thriller, but Lindholm fought against the stereotypes of the serial killer genre and deliberately left Charles Cullen’s motivations obscure – a decision Redmayne found intriguing. “The last third [of the book] is our story on film,” says Redmayne. “But the other two-thirds is his background.” It was there that he began to understand the extent of Cullen’s brutal upbringing — Cullen was abused by his sister’s partner, lost his mother in a car accident as a teenager, and survived at least one suicide attempt.
But finding the right balance between menacing and benign took Redmayne a while, not only for his own performance, but never letting audiences think that Amy is stupid for trusting Charlie. “All three of us talked about it,” says Chastain, who protects Loughren. “I said, ‘You guys have to help me out here because Amy’s not an idiot. When I see something strange [about Charlie]I don’t let this guy around my kids.’”
The trick for Redmayne was to reassure Charlie and just point out the agony underneath. “If you look closely, he calms himself down,” Redmayne says of studying Cullen’s recordings. “[He’s] touching the fabric of his clothes or feeling the back of his hair, his earlobes.” Redmayne illustrates all of this as he speaks. “The traumatized 7-year-old was something I tried to make sure was inside of me at all moments.”
Eventually, however, Charlie will explode and bring out the character’s ugliness in the film’s final sequences. To get there, Redmayne returned to a high-profile role from his youth.
“One of my very first jobs was on a film directed by Robert De Niro [‘The Good Shepherd’]”, he says. “He had this way of staging emotional scenes [where] He would keep the camera rolling – you would get to the end of the scene and he would ask you to go straight back to the scene [top]. It was a way of building up the textures, the layers. When a scene allows you to start in a broken place and get more and more broken, this is an interesting and useful technique. And so I asked Tobias if we could do that.”
Redmayne recalls that “we did a lot of takes” of the roughest scene on The Good Nurse, where Charlie is arrested and grilled by the authorities. Crucially, the Vulcan sequence was held to the end of production. “It’s been a long, long day,” he says. “These were 10, 15 minute recordings. But there was a release after months of playing such a repressed character.”
Chastain remains moved by an inherent contradiction in Loughren: “She put Charlie behind bars, but she loved him,” she says. The actress’s likeable chemistry with her co-star sells that contradiction. But for Redmayne, The Good Nurse is a far cry from the spectacle of the Fantastic Beasts movies, which have taken up much of his time lately. Was it difficult to switch to a quieter register?
“I love making these huge symphonic films,” he says of the Harry Potter prequel franchise. “I love this company of actors – it’s classic filmmaking on a grand scale. But by its very nature, it’s difficult to maintain intimacy.” In comparison, The Good Nurse’s up-close experience allowed him to “scan through scenes for whatever they’re worth, to try all the possible alternatives.”
He smiles. “It was wonderful. It tasted very good. It was my dream.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-11-07/jessic-chastain-eddie-redmayne-good-nurse Chastain, Redmayne go deep into serial killer saga ‘Good Nurse’