The bestselling thriller The Girl on the Train arrives in cinemas today, but fans of the novel will notice a big difference: the action has moved from London to New York.
Brit Emily Blunt plays the dysfunctional heroine, but this time she’s a commuter on the Hudson line into Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal.
Why the move? “We thought in New York we could find the same kind of environment because New York is also a commuter city that’s parallel to London,” explains producer Marc Platt. “Setting it in New York also allowed us to have a stronger relatability for our domestic audience, but it doesn’t change the dynamics of the story.”
Author Paula Hawkins didn’t mind in the slightest because the themes of voyeurism, loneliness, addiction and passion are universal. The Girl on the Train could happen in any city with a mass transit system. “We’ve moved out to Westchester, and I actually love the look of it,” she says. “It’s perfect.”
Plus, the Hudson line has film pedigree. In the 1984 film Falling in Love, Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro played two married strangers who meet by accident while commuting on this line and embark on an affair. The Hudson also had a starring role alongside Richard Gere in 2002’s Unfaithful, which is about a chance meeting and an affair.
Of course, choosing a line was the easy part. The tricky bit was shooting the train scenes without getting in the way of the thousands of passengers who travel on it. Here’s how they did it…
The Metro-North Hudson line
It was the job of production manager Kevin Thompson to find the perfect rail line. This entailed weeks of shuttling in and out of Manhattan with the city’s half a million daily commuters.
In the end, he chose the Hudson Metro-North line, which is the most western of the routes that originate at Grand Central Station in Manhattan. It passes through Harlem and the Bronx, before hugging the Hudson River. Its commuter trains travel through industrial river towns, forested parkland and the leafy suburbs of Westchester.
Almost from the start, it’s a beautiful ride, right on the river’s edge,” says Thompson. “Then on the other side, there are nice little bedroom community towns. There was something fantastic about shooting a thriller in an area that had a beautiful, bucolic setting.”
The film was shot on weekends, when trains run less frequently, on a real Hudson Line train. “Any time the train is moving and we’re seeing it from the outside, we were at a train station shooting a real train,” explains Thompson. The moving train was filmed on two Sundays at the Ardsley-on-Hudson station, where much of the story of The Girl on the Train takes place.
He also had to build a full-size Metro-North car, with the distinctive blue stripe of the Hudson Line, in a studio in Yonkers, New York. Using a salvaged train car from Ohio as a shell, Thompson and his team built a replica of an 85-foot-long car. Sections of the mostly wooden train were constructed to be easily removable for camera placement, while the windows were made of a clearer glass than used by Metro-North. The car’s central aisle was also designed to be four inches wider in order to accommodate film equipment. It sat on special platform that simulated the train’s movement.
Grand Central Terminal
The production also filmed in Metro-North’s magnificent Beaux-Arts entryway into New York City: Grand Central Terminal. Fans of the book might recognise one commuter in particular: Paula Hawkins appears in a cameo as a passenger on a train that pulls into Grand Central.
Grand Central’s iconic Oyster Bar & Restaurant — which opened its doors in 1913, the same year as the station — also provided the setting for a key scene in the story.
Look out for the Untermyer Fountain and its sculpture of three dancing maidens, which can be found in the Conservatory Garden near 105th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Early in the story, unemployed and drunken Rachel goes to the fountain to kill time. Later in the film, she returns there sober, with a new appreciation of the fountain’s three joyful females holding hands as they encircle the fountain.
The Girl on the Train is in cinemas on 5 October. Watch the trailer:
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