When Delia Owens published Where the Crawdads Sing nearly four years ago, it found a level of success that a first-time novelist could only dream of achieving: It was chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her Hello Sunshine book club one month after publishing; later that year, it was announced that the book would be adapted for the big screen by Witherspoon’s production company. And by the time Olivia Newman was tapped to direct the film — with, incredibly, a women-led cast and crew — in July 2020, the book had sold over 6 million copies, and has since spent 198 non-consecutive weeks atop The New York Times bestsellers list.
We get it: The novel — Owens' first, which took her a decade to write — is one of those, gripping can't-put-down thrillers that combines beautiful prose with a coming-of-age narrative and a suspenseful dual timeline. In Owens' words, it's "a mystery and a love story" that follows Kya, who was abandoned as a child and left to fend for herself in the harsh swamps of North Carolina. Kya’s journey is tragic, isolating, yet recognizable — it's a story about the resilience of women, a tale about survival.
And it's these reasons that Daisy Edgar-Jones (who plays Kya) and Newman were drawn to the project. "When I read [Crawdads], it was during the pandemic, so there was a large amount of isolation and loneliness that I related to," Edgar-Jones tells Refinery29. "[Kya is] an incredibly resilient person...very curious and kind, and I just found her very, very inspiring."
Now, Newman's highly anticipated adaptation of the thrilling drama, which fuses Owens' inspiring tale with Edgar-Jones' tender, yet bold performance, will hit movie theatres exclusively on July 21. We sat down with the trio and discussed equity both on and off-camera, the depiction of the beauty and brutality of nature, and of course, Taylor Swift.
What was it like bringing this film to life with a women-led crew?
Olivia Newman: "Making this movie has been one of the greatest creative gifts I've ever been given. The book moved me deeply, and I really wanted to do justice to Delia's gorgeous novel. And the wonderful thing about working with all these amazing female department heads was that they all came in equally passionate about the novel, and they all felt very connected to Kya and her story. So we shared that drive to do justice to Delia's book, recreate Kya's world as best we could, and really bring it to life on the big screen in a way that really captured the sort of heart and soul of the novel."
Daisy Edgar-Jones: "I think Kya is, as a character, very underestimated. It's a feeling that I have felt before, and I think one that is perhaps a shared human experience at times. So, I think that was something I found very powerful and really moved me. And to see all these women at the helm was so inspiring for me as a young actress to think, Maybe one day I could do that, too."
Why is equality on and offscreen so important? How did you actually make that a reality on Crawdads?
Newman: "The film industry, like so many, is really challenging for women to break into in all different roles. Our priority when we were hiring was to make sure that the people we were interviewing were always as diverse as possible, and then hiring the best fit for the job. By diversifying our lists and making sure we're giving opportunities to people who may not have the same amount of experience as their male counterparts but bring something else to the table — passion or talent that in other contexts would have been overlooked — was very important to us. We ended up being able to assemble the absolute best people for the job, regardless of gender."
Does the film breathe new — or different — life into the book in ways that some of you hadn't imagined it would?
Delia Owens: "Where The Crawdads Sing is very much a mystery and a love story. And I just love the movie. I think it's one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I've seen. Even though the movie has the same elements as the book, the beauty of the scenery, the love story...it unfolds before your eyes. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I didn't really expect that because I knew the story so well."
Newman: "When you read the book, you can imagine the characters in all different ways. And then to see them brought to life through performances from Daisy, Taylor [John Smith, who plays Tate Walker], Harris [Dickinson, who plays Chase Andrews], Sterling [Macer Jr. who plays Jumpin'], and Michael [Hyatt, who plays Mabel] was incredible. It's always a bit unexpected when you see an actor take on a role that you've imagined from reading the script or book. I can only imagine what that was like for you, Delia, to see [the actors] embody them and add new layers — even if it's a look or the way they walk — you suddenly have a totally different sense of those characters."
Owens: "That was very powerful for me because I had known these characters for so much longer than anyone else — it took 10 years for me to write the book. Kya especially was very close to me, and I felt like I knew her very well. I didn't think they would ever find someone to play Kya. But when I saw Daisy's audition, I was stunned. I was moved, because I never thought I would meet Kya, and I felt like I had. Kya is very tender but tough, very shy and yet able to stand up for herself — I feel like Daisy has many of those characteristics. But I don't want to leave out anybody else — I thought the cast was brilliant."
What do you think makes Kya’s character so relatable?
Edgar-Jones: "There are many aspects of Kya's character that are very relatable. When I read the story, it was during the pandemic, and there was a large amount of isolation and loneliness that I related to. But she's an incredibly resilient person. She's also very curious and kind, and I just found her very, very inspiring."
Newman: "The complexity of Kya's character is what we all relate to, because that's what humans are like. And too often in books and movies, you get a superficial take on a character, an archetype. What was amazing and relatable to me about Kya — and why I fell so hard for the book — was that she embodies all of those aspects in all of us. You can be shy and strong at the same time. You can be vulnerable and tender, and still be resilient and have great strength. She's relatable because she is fully human."
Owens: "I feel very strongly that Kya is in all of us. She teaches us that no matter how bad things get, you can get up one more time after being knocked down. You can get up again and keep going. And you can do it by yourself if you have to."
Delia, take us back, what inspired the story?
Owens: "I’ve lived my life in nature. I've been very grateful to be able to spend most of my life in the wild and study wildlife. I watched a Kalahari lion in the 120 degree heat with cubs, no water, and very little prey — and she just kept going. We think of nature as nurturing, and the movie shows the beauty of nature. But nature's also very tough. And every creature has to fight for survival at one stage or another, and that's very true for humans as well. Life is not easy; we all have to struggle. I learned that from nature and that inspired the story."
And what drew both of you to the story, Daisy and Olivia?
Edgar-Jones: "This resilience that we innately have was something I was inspired by. And also how much we can affect each other, particularly with the kindness that Jumpin' and Mabel gift Kya, and similarly with Tate. We can really change a life for the better. That small act of kindness by teaching her to read ultimately meant that she was able to become self-sufficient and learn more about the marsh. I've always been interested in relationships in that way — how much we can really gift one another if we want to."
Newman: "I was so moved by Kya's resilience despite her childhood trauma. To see somebody who has experienced one of the worsts — being abandoned by her mother, as a mother, I was in tears on page two, imagining what that child must have gone through. And then to see her pull herself back up, take lessons from her mother and from nature, find her own path, and find the strength within her to really claim her self-worth was just deeply moving to me."
Why does this film need to be seen in theaters specifically?
Edgar-Jones: "The scope of the film, the beautiful cinematography, and the lyricism of it lends itself to a big-screen experience. I feel like it's a really wonderful film to see with a group of friends or with your family because I think there's something for everybody. It's also my first film that will be in cinemas, so it’s magical."
Newman: "It’s my first as well — you can't read Delia's book and imagine that landscape on an iPhone. You want to go and just immerse yourself in the marsh and experience it, because that's what the book makes you want to do. When we shot it, the intention was always to immerse the viewer in that landscape, to really experience it the way Kya did. In order to get that same feeling that Kya has when she's out on her beach, when she's looking out on the ocean, and when she's boating through the swamps — you have to see it in that wide vista."
You're all storytellers — what kinds of stories are each of you drawn to?
Owens: "I'm a nature girl, so I love stories that are based in nature. But I'm also very interested in stories that deal with deep human feelings. Beloved by Toni Morrison is one example — stories that deal with how we understand ourselves and where we came from, our histories, and how much our families and our situation change us and affect us."
Edgar-Jones: "I'm very drawn to character-driven stories — what drives choices and why characters act the way they do. I'm interested in stories that not only focus on the individual, but also relationships and how much they can change us."
Newman: "I'm always interested in character, first and foremost. So, if a story has an amazing, complicated, interesting character at the center, that pulls me in right away. And questions about the human condition — lessons or a deeper understanding about what it is that makes us human, what are the flaws and the strengths that leave us with a better understanding of humanity. I want to walk away from a movie or from a book and feel like I'm thinking about the world and the human condition a little differently because of the experience I've just had.'
What's your favorite piece of advice you've received or given?
Edgar-Jones: "I love the saying, 'Take it seriously, but wear it lightly,' which is really nice because it's like throwing everything into a role, but ultimately wearing it lightly and enjoying it."
Newman: "My plumber just gave me the best piece of advice I've heard in a long time: “You get a leak, you fix it. One leak at a time.” For every problem you have, you don't let your mind spiral into, This is going to turn into the biggest catastrophe. That's what got us through production — you fix one problem at a time."
Owens: "I grew up in south Georgia and I was lucky to have a mother who was an outside girl, and she wanted me to experience nature. She'd say to me, 'Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.' And so, of course, that's where the expression came from. Another thing that my mother taught me, which is an expression that I feel like has meant a lot to me over my life, is: “Don't be scared, but don't be stupid.” She's talking about the woods — when you're walking in the woods, don't be afraid of snakes, but don't do something stupid so that you might step on one. And it's the same with life. Go out there, experience life, and don't be scared, but don't do something stupid."
The movie features a new Taylor Swift song, “Carolina.” Who’s the biggest Swiftie here?
Edgar-Jones: "I fell to a heap on the floor when I found out that Taylor had done a song."
Owens: "Anyone who knows me would say that I'm very seldom speechless. But I was actually speechless when they told me. I thought, Taylor Swift knows about my book? I think the song is beautiful. I could not have imagined a better song. To me, it combines the haunting music of nature with the human heart."