Woman Walks Ahead (2018): Starring Jessica Chastain

Based on true events, Woman Walks Ahead tells the story of Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a widowed artist from New York who, in the 1880s, traveled alone to North Dakota to paint a portrait of Chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes).

Her arrival at Standing Rock is met with open hostility by a US Army officer (Sam Rockwell), who has stationed troops around the Lakota reservation to undermine Native American claims to the land. As Catherine and Sitting Bull grow closer, and as their friendship—and his life—are threatened by government forces, Catherine must stand up and fight for what is most important to her.
About the production

Woman Walks Ahead took its first step toward the big screen 18 years ago when British writer Steven Knight pitched his idea for dramatizing a little-known chapter of American history to Bedford Falls Company co-founders Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. Famed for their TV collaboration “thirtysomething” and Oscar-winner feature Traffic, Zwick, Herskovitz and producer Rick Solomon met with Knight in Los Angeles after being bowled over by his screenplay Dirty Pretty Things.

“We loved Dirty Pretty Things so much that we sat down with Steven and asked him ‘Is there something you’d like to do next?’” recalls Solomon. “And Steve told us that he had fallen in love with Native American culture when he was in school because he had an pen pal who lived on an Indian reservation.”
Knight then shared his story of Brooklynite Catherine Weldon, who traveled in the late 1800s to the Dakota Territory to paint Sitting Bull’s portrait at a pivotal time in the history of the Lakota Sioux. “There was something captivating to have this well-spoken Englishman come into our office and tell us this beautiful story about the American West that we had never remotely heard of,” Herskovitz says. “It was so layered and extraordinary that we just said, in the room, ‘We have to do this.’”

Although it only took a few minutes to close the deal, and a few months for Knight to complete his screenplay for Woman Walks Ahead, it would require another 14 years before director, cast and financing came together. “We went on this crazy odyssey,” Solomon says. “Who can be Sitting Bull? Who would be Catherine? Then one day in 2015 CAA agent Hylda Queally called me up and said, ‘I think this is a great script, I want Jessica Chastain to do it and we just signed a great director in London named Susanna White. I want to put this all together.’”

Woman Walks Ahead’s uniquely American story represented a change of pace for the British-born White, who had made her mark as the director of acclaimed miniseries including the BAFTA-winning “Bleak House,” “Jane Eyre,” and the Iraq War drama “Generation Kill.” “I was looking for an epic love story, something like The English Patient and my agent suggested I look at Steve Knight’s script,” the two-time Emmy nominee recalls. “Woman Walks Ahead turned out to be actually more a story of connection between two people than an epic love story, but I loved the script and realized this was the film I had to make next.”

White and her team sounded out two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain about playing the title role. “We sent the script to Jessica Chastain and she fell in love with it too,” White says. “Everything came together really quickly once we got Jessica, because then the money came into place and we were off to the races.”