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Catherine Hardwicke On Her Kinky, Twisted Thriller 'Plush' and Why She Considers 'Twilight' an Indie

Indiewire By R. Kurt Osenlund | Indiewire October 10, 2013 at 8:52AM

Catherine Hardwicke often speaks with the giddy, impassioned verve of a teenager. She takes great breaths in her speech in order to emphasize ideas, and to help you feel the way she feels about them. Given Hardwicke's filmography, such a disposition seems only natural. It's easy to see the themes and characters that attract the director. Since her searing, achingly raw breakout, “Thirteen,” Hardwicke has gravitated toward the filmic translation of adolescence, rebellion, rock, and angst, preferably channeled through a young female protagonist. Hardwicke is also, of course, the helmer of the first “Twilight” movie, which she says she personally regards as an “indie film,” as well as “The Nativity Story,” which gave us Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as the original pregnant teen.
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Catherine Hardwicke often speaks with the giddy, impassioned verve of a teenager. She takes great breaths in her speech in order to emphasize ideas, and to help you feel the way she feels about them. Given Hardwicke's filmography, such a disposition seems only natural. It's easy to see the themes and characters that attract the director. Since her searing, achingly raw breakout, “Thirteen,” Hardwicke has gravitated toward the filmic translation of adolescence, rebellion, rock, and angst, preferably channeled through a young female protagonist. Hardwicke is also, of course, the helmer of the first “Twilight” movie, which she says she personally regards as an “indie film,” as well as “The Nativity Story,” which gave us Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as the original pregnant teen.

Bouncing back from the slump that was “Red Riding Hood,” Hardwicke returns this season with “Plush,” a twisty music-world thriller that's loaded with gonzo and kinky elements, all of which seem to spring from the filmmaker's age-defying id. Starring Emily Browing as Hayley, a popular rocker who suffers the loss of brother and bandmate Jack (Thomas Dekker), and tries to rebound with the help of new guitarist—and dangerous lover—Enzo (Xavier Samuel), “Plush”sees Hardwicke in both familiar and experimental territories. It boasts her canny knack for capturing the hormonal rushes of youth, while displaying a look and tone that are welcomingly wild, even to the point of killer camp.

Arriving on DVD and VOD October 15, and co-starring “Twilight” alum Cam Gigandet as Hayley's cuckolded hubbie, “Plush,” Hardwicke says, was a work that allowed her to stretch, and she concedes that it may reflect that she's a little twisted herself. Speaking further, she chats about how Browning and Samuel's onscreen heat translated into true romance, how kid leashes and coyote vomit made it into the final cut, and how “Plush” is a sinful pleasure that's off the rails in all the right ways.

So, in terms of Emily Browning movies, I think you may have even out-crazied “Sucker Punch” here, which isn't exactly an easy thing to do. Were you aiming to just go balls-out in terms of the film's frenetic, psychosexual tone?

[Laughs] Yeah, kind of. I was kind of doing the Method writing, Method directing kind of thing, where you just go into that character and kind of let yourself go. In a way, what the character [Hayley] is doing is she's pushing boundaries and trying to explore her own creativity, and her own artistic expression—trying to find her voice. And a lot of times as an artist, you'll try to go to extremes. Throughout history, people have turned to whatever—drugs, or drinking, or anything to get them into the creative zone. I was just interested in exploring that. So when I was writing and working on it, I didn't try to censor myself too much. I just thought, “Oh. I'm going to take a risk and try something different.” I went where the character took me.

And had you seen “Sucker Punch,” by any chance? Did that film factor into the casting of Emily in any way? It's a pretty divisive film in terms of how it portrays women.

Well, I had seen some clips, but I didn't see the whole movie until I found out Emily had read the script and was interested in my film. Then I sat down and watched it. So, of course, I already had the script written. I wouldn't say it had any influence in the script unless something was magically implanted in my brain. But then I saw how she looked in “Sucker Punch,” and she sings two songs on the soundtrack, and she's fantastic. That all made me think, “Wow she'd be great.” She's really fearless in “Sucker Punch,” and she's got a great, soulful voice. So I thought, “Oh yeah, she'll kill it.”

Regarding the females you've presented in your work, you've really run the gamut, from Tracy in “Thirteen” and Mary in “The Nativity Story” to Bella Swan in “Twilight” and Red in “Red Riding Hood.” How does Hayley fit into that mix for you?

Let me just say first that I love that you threw Mary in there too. Thank you! Well, Hayley, in my mind, is struggling to find out who she is as an artist. She had this awesome collaborator in her brother, and now she's vulnerable, and trying to recover from that and find herself again. And she's also got herself in this crazy situation with two kids and a husband, and she's probably too young for all of it, and it's maybe not her choice. So it's like, how does a woman right now try to have a creative life, or a career, and a family? How do you do it all, and how do you do it all well? She wants to push the edge with her art, and she really wants to try to do something different. How do you get into that zone? Who gets to do it?

Yeah, she's living two lives. How old is she supposed to be in the film?

Well, she had the kids when she was about 19, and now they're about four and a half. So she's, like, 24, which was exactly Emily's age when we filmed.

Okay. Because I appreciate how, as a middle-aged woman, you have this keen ability to convey visceral sensations of youth. And they can be fleeting, like during the all-nighter that Hayley shares with Enzo, where he's in drag and they're in the pool. Where does that come from? Do you think you just have a permanent adolescent spirit?

[Laughs] Probably. Yeah, that's my favorite sequence in the film. I love it. But, for example, I went to architecture school when I was 18, in Austin, and it just kind of blew my mind. Maybe I can just go right back, in sense memory, to those days. Because I was just so passionate about architecture, and drawing, and painting, and designing these cool buildings. And if another guy in my studio was up late at night drawing, we'd just have to fall madly in love with each other. And then we'd have an architectural jam session all night, and be building stuff. So I guess I've just always been attracted to that—abandon yourself to be creative.

Speaking of Enzo, you chose to make the character this sort of pansexual creature with a fluid orientation, who even asks at one point, “What is gay anyway?” It just added to the film's psychosexual murkiness.

That was just one of those things. I was sitting on an airplane, coming back from New York, and I was trapped on the tarmac for six hours. And instead of getting mad, and getting pissed off at the airlines, I thought, “I'm going to do something creative with this time,” and I just started writing. And then I yelled out, in the cabin, “Hey, what's a good guy's name?” And another passenger just called out to me, “Enzo!” And I thought, “Wow, I love that name.” And the second she said “Enzo,” I just saw that character, and who he was. I don't know why. But I do know a lot of people who are quite similar to him, especially in the music world.

And the sex scenes between Enzo and Hayley are pretty intense. I don't think I've ever seen a sex scene between—what we'll call—a bisexual man and a straight woman with a vibrator. I think that might be a first.

Yeah, it might be! [Laughs] Part of that comes from being on a limited budget, and a tight schedule, and you have to just go for it, and be spontaneous, in the moment. And you can't really over-think it. And you don't film things over three days. And you really just, again, need to be Method directing, and just be in that moment. And that was really the experiment, and the risk, of this film—just to try moments like that.

And how did the cast take to that kind of approach?

Well, you know, I think they loved it. It was less controlled, and many actors that I know really appreciate having some freedom and spontaneity to really find and feel their characters in the moment. So I think lots of actors do like that. And a side effect here was that Emily and Xavier fell in love, and they're still together.

I'm sure you get asked this question constantly, but can you just briefly touch on what the majority of your post-“Twilight” experience has been like? Personally, I've always felt that your film stands apart from the others in a very distinct way, but since the saga became so huge, and both sacred to its fans and an easy target for its critics, how do you feel about it now?

For me, I have to say that, in a way, I was lucky. Because on my “Twilight,” it didn't have the level of expectations that any of the other ones had. No one, even the night before the film opened, ever expected to hit $400 million. [Laughs] Or $69 million on opening weekend. That just kind of blew everybody away. So I wasn't under that kind of pressure and scrutiny. I got a chance to make my “Twilight,” more like an indie film, in a way. I could really just kind of feel the characters. And at that time, I believe Stephenie [Meyer] was busy writing two other books—the last of the “Twilight” books and “The Host”—and promoting the third “Twilight” book. So she wasn't even able to be there that much. And I think that later on, the pressure became more intense from every angle for the other directors, and they were probably less able to make [their films] as personal as mine was able to be. And I loved the first book the best anyway—just her fresh, impulsive, first idea. There's this dizzy, crazy, madly-in-love feeling, and that feeling is what attracted me. I just wanted to see if I could translate what people were feeling when they read the book—all that dizzy, crazy, madly-in-love stuff. For me it turned into its own outrageous thing.

And you have your “Twilight” star Cam Gigandet back again for “Plush.” Kudos to you for not just hiring him to take his shirt off. He gets pigeonholed and typecast quite a bit, and that isn't the case here.

Yeah, and one thing that's cool about Cam is that since I worked with him on “Twilight,” he's had a kid. Actually he's had two kids. So he really has developed that father thing, too. He's a hunky father, and obviously amazing, but he's also become really soulful, and really connected with his children. So I thought he was kind of perfect for this as the grounded figure who's trying to be as supportive as he can. He holds on as long as he can until it stretches the boundaries of all credibility.

"Twilight"

Regarding the look of the film, it feels very much like you're immersed in a wild music video long before Hayley and Enzo actually shoot a music video. And I know you worked with D.P. Danny Moder, Julia Roberts's husband. What was the grand scheme of this hypnotic photography?

I think one thing that's great about Danny is he's very experiential, if that's a good word to use. He's very fluid with the camera, and he's a surfer, and an athlete. And I think his athleticism sort of flowed into holding the camera for every shot in the movie. He's really moving with the actors and the characters, and he's got his rocker days, and all kinds of stuff. But he really had a feel for this movie. He just had a feel for what he wanted to do with it. And I think he achieved it in a kind of beautiful way, and I also love the kind of hallucinatory things he did with flares and lenses and lighting. He's done some very interesting things that are experiential kind of films. And he just brought his aesthetic in and we worked great together, I think.

I'm probably not as hip to the wide-ranging world of music as I should be, but the type of music you're portraying here, this sort of goth-tinged rock, seems like it's not around as much anymore. Were you aiming to evoke another time, or another period, or is this just representative of a pocket of music I'm not sufficiently aware of?

Well, there is a world with quite a few bands that still have connections to this kind of vibe, but I did defer to Nick Launay, who's our music producer, and who's produced for some bands. I really, really love what he's done for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Nick Cave, and Band of Skulls, and Arcade Fire. So, in a way, that producing was his baby. He reached out to all his musician friends and up-and-coming songwriters, and they got inspired to write songs, and he produced all the music and scored it. So he's really the expert, for me, and he wanted to create a very distinctive sound for this. And we did kind of want to go with that dark, goth thing because it is about an obsessive fan, who's obsessed with this dark world for his own reasons.

Given the way the film starts, with a murder, there's this ominous nature that kind of hangs over it, and coupled with some of the extremes on display, we get this darkly comic, and at times campy, mix. For example, let's talk about the kids on leashes. Did that just happen on the fly?

[Laughs] No. You know, I think I had seen kids in airports on leashes, and one day it just popped into my head that it would just be a very kind of twisted thing that [Hayley's] nanny did.

And then there's the scene when the family runs to the hilltop and they're all looking at coyote vomit.

Oh, yeah. Okay. Well, you know, I'm from South Texas, and that's actually pretty common activity on our farm. So I didn't notice that the rest of the world couldn't relate to that...no, I'm just kidding. But it really is from my childhood—we used to run around the farm looking for coyote vomit.

There's a line in the film about artists and geniuses being a little twisted. Is “Plush” to be the definitive film that tells us Catherine Hardwicke is a little twisted?

[Laughs] Oh my god. Well, yeah, you never know. I think I just wanted to really try to explore some of these things that you explore in your brain, and try and figure out how to get in the zone, get in touch with your own ideas, take risks, break barriers, and jump out of your comfort zone. How do you stretch? How do you get creative? I just wanted to let go and explore all of that.

This article is related to: Plush, Catherine Hardwicke, Interviews, Twilight Saga, Twilight, Emily Browning, Xavier Samuel





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