Over the course of her 16-year feature filmmaking career, award-winning writer/director Mary Harron ("American Psycho") has only made four films. Her latest, "The Moth Diaries" (opening this Friday via IFC Films, and currently available On Demand) is her first feature to hit screens since her saucy black-and-white biopic "The Notorious Bettie Page" opened back in 2005. One thing's for certain: this is one filmmaker who's selective about her projects.
Since "Bettie Page" wrapped, Harron's been keeping busy writing and directing for TV (including for HBO's "Big Love"), and developing a punk film with her husband, writer/director John C. Walsh ("Pipe Dream") that will hopefully see the light of day soon.
"The Moth Diaries" finds Harron dabbling in the horror genre for the first time, adapting the metaphorical vampire coming-of-age bestseller of the same name by Rachel Klein. Sarah Bolger ("The Tudors") stars as Rebecca, a young student at an exclusive female boarding school, who is haunted by her father's suicide. Her close friendship with Lucy, her roomate, means everything in the world to Rebecca. So when a new student, Ernessa (model-turned-actress Lily Cole) swoops in and attracts the attention of Lucy, Rebecca gets jealous. Turns out she has a right to be concerned; Ernessa might very well be a vampire.
Indiewire sat down with Harron in New York to discuss "The Moth Diaries," and what unites her body of eclectic work.
You sure like to keep your fans waiting!
It's not by choice. Whenever this happens -- when there's a long gap -- you usually find a couple projects that didn't happen. I was involved for a long time with a New York punk film. It's a story I'd still like to do at some point, but it was a long development process, and then we lost the rights to the source material. In between that, there were rights issues to be sorted out with "Moth Diaries." So I went and did TV. My husband and I wrote several TV pilots, which were also really interesting because I love TV. This is a great age of television. The pilots paid the rent, and they were very interesting to do, although they didn't turn into series.
So I've been busy, but what I've done hasn't hit the screen.
Now you yourself have a background in punk, having worked helped launch Punk, the first punk magazine.
I was part of the New York underground I guess, which was a wonderful world.
This is the first film of yours to tackle teenage adolescent angst. I guess in some ways, it's your most punk film.
Funny enough, the original book was set in the 60s and my original idea was to set it in the 70s and use Siouxsie and the Banshees and all this kind of angst music. But then I couldn't get the rights. I was persuaded out of it, party because it's more expensive, but also because then it'd be another period film. In a way what really appealed to me had nothing to do with period, and I'd done three period films before. It doesn't really matter what era the world of the school is. It's kind of timeless.
You yourself have two daughters. How much did that play into your interest in adapting the book?
I guess because I live very much in this world…when you have children it throws you back in your memory to your own childhood a lot. I had been thinking a lot (my daughter had just turned ten when I read the book) about these very intense friendships I had, that were more intense than anything else in my life... until I got married. You're just united as one and you throw everything into these friendships.
Then I read this book -- there's this female romantic, but it's platonic love. That's never represented. Teenage girls' emotions is always seen in terms of boys, or perhaps a rivalry with another girl. I wanted the primary emotional focus of love and devotion to be on another girl. But it's not just a lesbian film, because that's also misleading. Not that that isn't part of many adolescents, but it doesn't have to be. The unspoken, uncovered world is those romantic relationships. That was my primary interest. The supernatural element is more a vehicle for telling that story.
You must have known going into this, that critics would harp on the fact that this is yet another vampire film.
Actually when I started, in 2005, I had never heard of "Twilight." Unfortunately it first went to Paramount and then Paramount -- after I had developed the script with them -- felt it was not sufficiently genre horror for them, which I understood. It's not really a studio movie. But I had already spent two to three years on that. By that point the "Twilight" films had already start to come out. So in a way I wish that I had been able to get it done very quickly, and just get it out there. And now I just have to live with the fact that it came out post-"Twilight." What can you do?