The new thriller The Girl on the Train (in theaters Friday) is a faithful adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s bestselling novel, with one major divergence: While the book is set in England, the film takes place in the United States. If any fans of the novel — which follows a woman who witnesses something disturbing on her daily commute — feel apprehensive about the location change, Hawkins would like to reassure them that nothing was lost in translation.
“The book doesn’t really take place in London. It takes place on the train, so the commute is the essential thing,” the British author tells Yahoo Movies. “I know that there are readers who are disappointed, but actually I think when they watch the film, you’ll see how cinematically that location works incredibly well, because it’s beautiful.”
In The Girl on the Train, protagonist Rachel (Emily Blunt) becomes obsessed with a perfect-looking couple she watches for a few seconds each day while traveling back and forth from New York City — until one day, she sees something she wasn’t supposed to see. Before long, Rachel becomes entangled in a missing-persons case with potentially deadly consequences. Though Hawkins “decided early on” that she wouldn’t be involved in the making of the film (the screenplay was written by Erin Cressida Wilson), it was important to her that the movie not gloss over the darker aspects of the book. Fortunately, director Tate Taylor (The Help) was on the same page.
“Tate liked the darkness of [the book], the claustrophobic atmosphere, and he was very keen to keep the nature of Rachel’s addiction as this really dreadful thing, to show it as grim as possible,” said Hawkins. “So I was confident that it wasn’t going to be sugar-coated.”
The main character’s alcoholism deepens the mystery, making Rachel an unreliable narrator who can’t even trust her own memories. Because alcoholic drinks can’t be sold or openly imbibed on New York’s Metro-North Railroad as they are on national trains in the U.K., Blunt’s character must hide miniature vodka bottles in her bag. That habit of concealing her drinking — a “hallmark of addiction,” as Hawkins noted — gives the film’s character a more jagged edge of desperation.
“I think you’re actually suspicious of Rachel, and what Rachel has done, for longer in the film than you are in the book,” Hawkins said, “which works really well for people who haven’t read the book and don’t know how it’s going to end. … I think it slightly changes the focus of who you’re suspecting at which moment.”
Warning: Spoilers follow for anyone who hasn’t read the book.
Though she wasn’t present for most of shooting, Hawkins did fly in to watch a few scenes, including the one in which Rachel appears to kidnap a baby. “It was just very powerful watching her do it,” Hawkins said. “Because although it’s creepy and frightening, it’s also quite tender and sad, this woman who desperately wants to have a child, just holding a little baby and not really knowing what she’s doing there.”
Much to her regret, the author was not present for the film’s climactic act of violence, in which Justin Theroux’s character (who’s Rachel’s ex-husband) gets his comeuppance — though she did obtain an excellent souvenir.
“My agent went over and she saw the corkscrew scene, so I was very jealous about that,” Hawkins said. “But they actually sent me a photograph of poor Justin with a corkscrew sticking out of his neck.”
Watch a video about Girl on the Train breakout star Haley Bennett: