As festivals around the world continue to come to terms with the rise of serial television and new viewing platforms, TIFF hosted a special premiere this year of the first two episodes of Sorry For Your Loss, a 10-episode, half-hour drama from Facebook Watch. Directed by James Ponsoldt, it stars Elizabeth Olsen as Leigh Shaw, a young widow struggling to get her life back on track in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death. Accompanied by series creator Kit Steinkellner and co-star Mamoudou Athie, who plays Leigh’s husband Matt, Ponsoldt and Olsen came to the Deadline studio to discuss the show and the issues it raises.
Steinkellner revealed that the inspiration for the show came from a troubling moment in her own life. “There’s a flashback scene in the pilot,” she said, “in which Lizzie’s character wakes up in the middle of the night. Her husband is nowhere to be found, and she thinks the worst thing possible has happened. And that is very much based on a night in my life, a few months into my marriage. Everything turned out to be OK—it was just a miscommunication—but it really haunted me and I couldn’t shake it. I just started thinking about who that woman was that could survive this impossible thing. And the more I start to think about her, the more I fell in love with her, and the more I started to think about the people in her life, the more I fell in love with them too. It just sort of burnt a hole in my gut and I knew I had to write it.”
For Olsen, when she read the script she saw it as a chance to do something genuinely meaningful. “I was going through a life change at that time,” she said, “not [because of a] death, but a big transition. [But] it felt like a loss, and it felt like I could relate to this woman in a totally different level. And the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like there was a little hole to be filled, [when it comes to] talking authentically about what loss is—it’s something that’s inevitable, that we all have to experience, and we don’t really have a comfortable conversation around it.”
The next on board was James Ponsoldt, director of indie hits Smashed and The Spectacular Now. “Kit and Lizzie [Olsen] and Robin Schwartz, our producer, sent me this amazing script,” he recalled, “which at the time was called Widow, and I was just really deeply moved by it. I sat down with them, and we talked for hours and laughed a lot and cried a lot and talked about people that we loved that weren’t with us anymore—and we were off to the races from there.”