Gregg Araki is no stranger to The Sundance Film Festival.
"100 times," he laughed when asked how many times he's come to Park City. "I was emailing with Rick Linklater before I came and he’s totally the all-time king. He’s gotta be in the teens. I think this is my eighth film in the festival?"
"White Bird in a Blizzard" -- which premiered at Sundance Monday night -- is actually Araki's ninth film at the festival following "Kaboom" (2011), "Smiley Face" (2007), "Mysterious Skin" (2005), "Splendor" (1999), "Nowhere" (1997), "The Doom Generation" (1995), "Totally F***ed Up" (1994), and "The Living End" (1992). And it falls comfortably into that list. Sexy and hilarious and brutal and haunting all at once, "White Bird" is based on Laura Kasischke's book of the same name. Set in the late 1980s, it follows teenage Kat (Shailene Woodley, continuing to never fail) as she comes of age amidst the disappearance of her disturbed train wreck of a mother (Eva Green, in glorious Mommy Dearest mode).
Woodley and Green lead an impressive cast that also includes Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe and Thomas Jane.
"Everyone in the cast is amazing," Araki said. "But this is really Shai’s movie. She’s like the total center of the movie. It’s really super exciting."
Araki admits they "were so lucky" to get Woodley when they did.
"We got her before she shot 'Divergent,'" he said. "We got
her just at this weird period. I know her manager. He
represented one of the kids from 'Mysterious Skin' and so we’ve been
friends for years. He said 'I
rep this girl, she’s really awesome, she’s very special, you have to
meet her,' so I met her and
was really enamored with her. She
was a really big 'Mysterious Skin' fan."
Araki ran into Woodley again at the 2012 Spirit Awards (where Woodley won for "The Descendants"). There, Woodley's rep told Araki that Woodley was "passing on everything, she hates everything and she really wants to work with you.”
"I said 'actually I’m working on this movie right now that she would be really good for,'" Araki said. "And he was like 'Oh my god send it to me.' I sent and she just loved it and was so excited. And luckily we just sort of hit it off and got together, you know, before all the Shai-mania hit. So it was great."
While it might be Woodley's movie, Eva Green sure does a good job trying to steal it.
"You’ve never see Eva Green like this before," Araki gushed. "It will blow your mind. The funny thing about Eva Green is—it’s weird—because she’s playing 40ish for this movie and Eva is only 32 when we made this movie. And Shiloh is like 27 and he plays Shai's teenage boyfriend. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a weird flirtation between the Shiloh and Eva in the movie. And in real life they are four years apart. But in the movie, so creepy. Because Eva is literally like so insanely amazing. I mean the thing about the movie is that you see the mother when she is young and beautiful and that is what Eva Green looks like and then you see her when she is a little older and living this miserable life and feeling super trapped. And Eva just became this other person and it was the craziest thing. To see it on set was insane."
The film came about when Araki's regular producing team gave him Kasischke's book.
"It reminded me a little of 'Mysterious Skin,'" Araki said. "A super beautiful, super poetic book that really strikes a universal chord in terms of American suburbia and growing up. To me, it’s like growing up in an 'Ice Storm.'"
Araki changed a couple things in the adaptation process. "The book is set in the early 80s in Ohio," he said. "Which is something I don’t know anything about. So I moved the location to a sort of suburban California -- because I grew up in Santa Barbara -- so I put it in the suburbs of San Bernardino county. I wanted it to be Southern California but not LA or not Beverly Hills. More the sort of backwoods area of California. I wanted it to be sort of more related to the way I grew up."
The switch also helped give the film yet another awesome Araki soundtrack.
"Shai and I talked discussed she’s sort of like this late "Heathers" or "Beetlejuice" era Winona Ryder so so she has dark hair and she’s sort of alienated. The pretty alienated girl. So I wanted the music to reflect that world. The movie has the craziest soundtrack of any of my movies ever. "
Araki doubted he'd have any time while he was in Sundance to see any movies, but there was one in particular he already regretted not being able to catch.
"I really wanted to see Rick’s movie," he said of Linklater's "Boyhood." "I was bummed I couldn’t see it. I’m just gonna see it in LA where it’s not crazy. That’s the thing -- it’s awesome, this festival -- but pushing and shoving to get into movies? It’s not so important to me to be the first to see it, like ‘I saw it before everyone else.’ Like I don’t care if I see it whenever… I live in LA and I can pretty much see everything, except for the super super obscure things that don’t get picked up, which is sad because sometimes those are the gems. But for the most part everything will eventually play in LA."
So what has he seen lately that he really loved?
"I was actually really into 'Her' and 'Inside Llewyn Davis.' 'Her,' 'Llewyn Davis,' and 'Before Midnight' were my three favorite movies of last year. And it was so weird 'Llewyn Davis' was so divisive. Some people hate that movie… It’s just one of those weird movies. It really struck a chord with me. I want to see it again. I loved how it was just so technically well-done. The production design, the cinematography, every shot and every edit was so perfectly done."