Catherine Hardwicke is insane. This isn’t a dig. It’s a fact. Like the sky is blue and water is wet. The director of “Thirteen” and the first “Twilight” has a delightfully off-kilter aura that is positively infectious. After helping to create that blockbuster franchise (and, honestly, what would those movies be without her casting?), she directed a big studio movie for Warner Bros. (“Red Riding Hood“) before going back to what she does best: dramatize the lives of young people on the edge. The result? “Plush,” which after a brief theatrical run is out on DVD this week.
“Plush” is a psychosexual thriller with elements of both modern melodrama and, of all things, rock musicals, starring Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch“) and produced by Jason Blum (“Paranormal Activity“). It concerns a rock star named Hayley (Browning) whose co-lead-singer brother dies from a drug overdose and whose replacement, Enzo (Xavier Samuel), could be a bit more threatening than she originally thought.
Far from the blockbuster extravagance of “Red Riding Hood,” “Plush” is back to Hardwicke’s low-budget roots, produced inexpensively following the Blumhouse business model of small budgets and complete artistic control. And the results are a surprisingly satisfying little thriller (read our review here). We got a chance to talk to Hardwicke about how Beyonce partially inspired “Plush,” the music in the movie, and what she has coming up next.
Where did this idea come from?
It’s kind of funny because I had met Jason and he came and pitched me this cool TV show idea that just got green lit by MTV so we’re working on that too. [Read about that here.] So he pitched that and he said, “I’m also doing these features. I’m sure you’re aware that a lot of Hollywood directors like yourself get bogged down by the development process, it could take three years, so I want to speed that up and give artists more creative control.” I said, “Well that sounds cool.” And that weekend I had to go to New York with my friend to the Beyonce concert at Roseland. We got to meet Jay Z and Beyonce and Paul McCartney and we get on the plane for our trip back and they announce that we’re going to be stuck on the tarmac for 6 hours. And usually you get pissed and instead of getting pissed I said, “I’m going to start a screenplay and make this productive.” So Francis Fisher, who plays the nanny in the movie, was on the plane and she said, “Well if you’re going to write a screenplay, write a part for me.” Then I yelled out to everyone, “What’s a good guy’s name?” And another woman said, “I like Enzo.” And I went, “Okay.” So I launched into it and wrote 30 pages of an outline by the time we got back.
Was it directly inspired by the Beyonce concert?
I don’t think it was inspired by Beyonce but that did fuel me a little bit, just in terms of it being another artistic form. Just in terms of being a singer/songwriter and trying to be creative, trying to struggle through the craziness and the Internet now and instant responses and how do you survive as an artist. Things like how much do you believe in yourself and how much do you compromise to get something made, all of those artistic issues and then the way that Hayley starts in a vulnerable place that she’s more open to this super-fan, more so than she would ever normally be. She lets someone in that loves her work and loves her. And I love those stories of the fans when the lead guitarist of a band dies or something and all of their fans who have played their music a zillion times audition for their part. I thought, “What if this band who plays this death metal music, maybe they’re fans are actually psychopaths? Instead of just singing about it what if they actually did it?”
Was the thriller aspect always in place? Much of the movie plays like a regular musical melodrama.
I thought that Enzo was really trying to have that mask of normalcy and respectability and he was trying to play the part that he’s supposed to play. And then it’s revealed just how deeply troubled he is. I tried to give those little hints at the beginning and all the way through that he’s got issues and he was letting him in too deep into his lives too quickly. I was just working on an experiment, trying to do a genre-bending kind of thing.
Right, and in a lot of these movies, women are very much the victim …
And she cheated on her husband, when it’s usually the opposite. Yes, I think that’s a part of it, being able to see it from her point of view. There’s that quest for stability but you also want excitement and the ability to connect with somebody creatively. I went to architecture school and I remember I was 18 and I would just think, “If I loved somebody’s designs I could be in love with the person.” And this idea of collaborating and creating and it just seemed limitless. That idea is even more fluid in the music world when you can really do jam sessions. I was always trying to do architectural jam sessions. But it’s not quite as easy as singing or playing a guitar so I would always see wonderful live musicians and just envy them that I wasn’t in that medium.
I know that Evan Rachel Wood was cast in the lead but was replaced by Emily Browning. What did she bring to the role and how did it change?
Yes, it changes when you get the actress because the actress becomes that character. So Emily came to it and she had distinct ideas about how the character would look, how she would sing, what her hair would look like, what she would wear. Emily has a very strong take on things and a strong personality. And she’s petite but she’s tough and I think that’s great. Also with an actress who’s going to sing, you have to create a style and a vocal range that she will be comfortable with. We sent some tracks over to her in London when she was working on a movie and she went into a studio and just freestyled her vocals over it and I guess they came out really emotional and soulful. And that helped Nick Launay, who produces for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Nick Cave. He listened to the quality of her voice and tried to work with her essence and what she brings to it.
It’s kind of startling how much of a musical this movie is.
In fact, today you can get six of the songs, with the actual Plush songs and the album is coming out in the next few weeks. Our music producer has worked with some of the most amazing artists over the last 20 years and he brought in different artists like Kate Crash and she has four really cool songs and she wrote a novel [of the movie].
That takes place before the movie, right?
Yeah, it takes place nine years before the movie and goes through the movie, too. And since she is a radically inspired visionary and damaged rock goddess herself, I worked with her on the making of the movie and I loved her music and her lyrics and poetry and thought, “Maybe she could write the story?” So we could make it our little art piece.
How do you feel about this new style of releasing?
Well, it’s kind of interesting. You don’t pay the same price for a Ferrari as you do for a Honda Accord. But for some reason for movie tickets, you’re asked to pay the same price for “Avatar” as you are for some $2 million movie, which is kind of a weird thing when you think about it. Things have changed so much that it does make sense that people are still going to the theaters for these big budget extravaganzas that you do want to see on a screen in 3D IMAX and then it doesn’t bother me. I still like the idea of having an intimate experience with a movie, but I love watching stuff on my iPad. It’s close and I feel like I’m a part of it, so maybe that makes more sense in some cases. Because a lot of these wonderful indie movies comes out and it’s got great reviews and you’ll see ten people there, but it’s going to live forever in cyberspace.
Before I let you go I want to get updated on a few projects. “Age of Miracles.” How is that coming along?
Oh it’s a beautiful project based on a novel, with a wonderful company called River Road. We’ve got a wonderful script and I’ve worked on a rewrite with the writer and now it’s going to one step more to the head of the company. And hopefully he’ll like it and we’ll get to make it! We’ll start casting it soon.
What about “Bitch Posse“?
That’s a really fun project. Virginia Madsen‘s company is working on that and we’re doing a reading of it with some actors next week because the script has gotten into some pretty great shape. I love trying to get involved in the process and keep trying to workshop them and nurture it, water it, put the sunshine on it and get it to grow.
And “Diamond,” the ’60s gangster thing?
That one is super fun. I’m hearing a pitch from these writers who are going to do a rewrite on it and hopefully they came up with a great take.
Last but not least, “Counter Attack,” the boxing movie with Noomi Rapace?
Oh my god I love that project but I don’t think it’s moving forward with me. I love Noomi, she’s so awesome, and her ex-husband is fantastic, but I think it turned into a more European production, for tax reasons, so it looks like it’s going to work out better if it’s all in Swedish with a Swedish director. I’m sad.
“Plush” is now available on DVD, VOD and more.