Haley Bennett hopes for a second hit with ‘The Girl on the Train’

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Actress Haley Bennett at the London premiere of “The Girl on the Train.” | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

NEW YORK — Based on Paula Hawkins’ mega-bestseller, “The Girl on the Train” (opening Friday) features Haley Bennett as the character of Megan — a young, married suburban housewife who is the object of fascination by a woman who only knows her from watching her house as she passes by on a commuter train.

This has been a very high-profile season for the young actress. Already she’s on screens as the widow who hires the team of tough guys in the hit “The Magnificent Seven,” delivering a performance that generated rave reviews for her.

Now she’s part of the trio of women who propel the “Girl on the Train” story, along with Emily Blunt as Rachel, Megan’s obsessed admirer, and Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, who married Rachel’s ex.

“There could have been separate films made about all of these characters, as each of the three main women in the novel have fascinating — if interconnected — stories to tell,” Bennett said during an interview in a New York hotel room the other day.

For the actress, it made complete sense for screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson to follow the book as closely as she did. “I think it was something of a daunting task to adapt this book, because you are in the heads of three separate characters. You’re seeing this stream of consciousness from three different perspectives. It’s fascinating to see what ‘s going on in the minds of Rachel, Megan and Anna.

“That said, in order to produce a cinematic story out of their perspectives, I think it was wise to follow the blueprint Paula Hawkins laid out so brilliantly.”

The main change from the original novel was the setting — switching the story from London and its environs to New York and its suburban scene.

As readers of the novel know, Megan’s seemingly idyllic life is covering up a tragic past. “The characters I’ve chosen recently have all been grappling with loss,” Bennett said. “I don’t know what it is about loss that I was attracted to — and I wasn’t even conscious of it until recently. Then I noticed that with all the characters I’ve played have all lost something important.”

Justin Theroux in “The Girl on the Train.” | Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Justin Theroux in “The Girl on the Train.” | Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

In the case of Justin Theroux, who plays Rachel’s ex-husband Tom, the actor admitted he had to think long and hard to figure out how to play him.

“I don’t have a paradigm for Tom — thankfully — in my personal life. So, I had to think about how he could allow himself to be the person that he is and have so little conscious about being the serial philanderer and cheater, who appears to have no remorse about those things.

“He’s not a psychopath in the traditional sense. So I thought of him as a narcissist in the traditional sense of the word. You know the type. If something bad happens to him, it’s the other person’s fault. He’s the kind of guy who would think that if I’ve done something that affects you — it’s you who made me do that thing.”

Of course, the main character in “The Girl on the Train” is Rachel, who also narrates the film. As Blunt talked with the Sun-Times about playing a very troubled alcoholic, the actress said the role was quite an undertaking for her. “It required a lot of research because it’s a mindset I had never explored, or had to come to understand. It was something I had never experienced quite like this, or in a character I’ve played.

“Yes, I’ve worked with people, and been around people, who have a drinking problem, but to approach this I watched a lot of documentaries about alcoholism. I did that rather than watching other actors doing performances of them playing a drunk. I preferred to watch documentaries to see it in all its true ugliness.”

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