Filmmaker Kimberley Peirce has never been afraid of a challenge. From her directorial debut “Boys Don’t Cry,” telling the tragic story of Brandon Teena, to the Iraq war drama “Stop-Loss,” Peirce has tackled difficult subject matter head on. But last year’s remake of “Carrie” provided the director a different set challenges, foremost of which was re-telling a story that had already been made famous thanks to Brian De Palma‘s iconic horror film. But bringing her own perspective and insight as a woman, Peirce spun her own version, one she likened to a “superhero origin story.”
And with the film headed to home video today—complete with deleted scenes and an alternate ending—we got a chance last week to chat with Peirce over the phone about the movie. And in our brief chat she shared with us her thoughts on a sequel, the status of her Judd Apatow produced queer comedy “Butch Academy” and the possibility of her long-developing Hollywood murder mystery “Silent Star” finally getting made.
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I want to start with the end of “Carrie,” with that closing shot. For me, it suggested that the story could continue somehow. Were there any conversations about making a sequel?
That was something that came up, the idea of Carrie two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight. I was very much against it. I think franchises and sequels are great, I don’t see “Carrie 8.” So no, my intention [with the closing shot] was not to say here’s a sequel coming. My intention was simply to get out of the scene in a way that didn’t leave you falling off a cliff. And in fact, if you get the DVD/Blu-ray there’s an alternate ending which, I think is a better ending, it’s a different ending. It’s a little more tidy, a little more shocking and a little more dangerous. Certainly the ending in the theatrical release, it wasn’t intended for a sequel.
You have to be very careful sometimes ending movies when your protagonist has died. Because you can leave the audience hanging. In fact, when we made “Boys Don’t Cry,” we screened it about eight times and recut radically by listening to the audience. I mean, it was very nuanced. But there was a time when we ended, rather abruptly, Brandon died and the movie was over. People rebelled. They literally got angry at us and let us know … it was such a change from what had happened before and they were like, “How dare you, I’m really mad. Why did you kill Brandon?” We were like he had to die, so I ended up writing that voiceover at the end. So these are the things I’m aware of, just being very sensitive to audiences.
Do you feel that’s your responsibility as a filmmaker to acknowledge the audience’s perception of the story?
Well yeah, I make a movie to satisfy an audience. It’s very interesting, I love the Stephen King novel, I can read it on my own and find great pleasure. If I’m going to bother to make the movie, then my whole goal is to basically bring you inside my experience of this thing that I love. I loved the Brandon Teena character, I can love him on my own. What will it mean to make a movie where I can get you to love him and to go through the journey the way I did? So, in many ways, I don’t think it’s pandering to an audience, I think it’s loving an audience. It’s saying, I want to tell you this story and I want you to experience it the way that I experience it. So therefore, I have to screen it for you and you tell me what you think, if at the end of it you feel angry and pissed off that I didn’t let you spend enough time with Carrie or with Brandon, when I’m extending the time with them, I’m not pandering to the audience, I’m just saying oh, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out.
One of the interesting things you talked about in the lead up to Carrie being released was you had this idea of it being a super hero origin story. What kind of ideas were you playing with in that approach?
Well, when I looked at the book I actually saw that it was a super hero origin story. I saw that she was a misfit and as a misfit she didn’t really have access to adjustment and social happiness. She was made fun of by the kids at school, she had a hard time at home, so life was not good. All of a sudden she discovers these super powers and it’s like, “Holy shit, I’ve got these powers. Maybe life will be endurable for me.” That was very much like Superman or Spiderman or any of the great superhero origin stories. These guys get access to something and they’re like “Fine, I used to be a nerd, now I’ve got this thing.” So for me that was really a great discovery.
I wanted to see the moment that she discovered it, I wanted to see that it was an antidote to her being a social outcast, and I wanted to see her play with it. It was very important to me that she wasn’t good at it. She had to make mistakes. That’s why the books had to go haywire. Part of the narrative journey is that you have to not know what you’re doing in order to know what you’re doing. One of the most important things was when she goes to prom, particularly in a modern story, right? Given what’s happened in our country, you didn’t want to believe that she was going in to total control of her powers, because that would mean that she was totally responsible when she used those powers. You wanted some responsibility but you didn’t want, “Oh, it doesn’t matter if they make fun of her because she knows she can do whatever the hell she wants to them.”
I think this was a big change in my film, when she gets humiliated, the powers start leaking out and she immediately starts to run. She doesn’t want to release those powers, she doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Tommy gets hurt, she stops. She takes care of Tommy. That’s her fallen king, she loves him. Then she’s pissed. When she says “Noooo” at those people that’s just an overwhelming sense of grief and pain that’s coming out and then it’s like, “Okay, now it’s on.” But it wasn’t like a calculated, long term thing that she planned. Nor was it completely disconnected from her. It’s somewhere in the middle. That was really important to me as a superhero origin story. Then when she goes outside if you notice with Chris and Billy, she’s chasing them down, she doesn’t murder them, she sends a fissure into the earth that stops them and makes them come back so she can face Chris. She wants to have that mono y mono relationship with her. She wants to have a showdown. Then Chris tries to kill her again, so she says fine, you can go into the gas pumps.
I’m curious about “Butch Academy” and where it’s at.
I love “Butch Academy.” Is it closer to being a movie? It’s something I have to get the script right on. But I do believe, for me, it’s time. It’s an area that I really want to dwell in because it’s not just queer, it’s queer and straight, it’s got these really funny, sexy, great, butches who love their femme women, and who are friends with straight guys. It’s kind of a look into something that I know well and I find a great deal of love and humor in. It’s time has come, I have to get the script working.
It seems like the logical extension of Judd Apatow’s brand of comedy. Is it in that sort of vein of films?
Yeah. It’s definitely in that vein. What I love about his characters is they’re fun, they’re loveable, they’re real. That’s something in any conversation I’ve ever had about him, when he talks about working, it’s so refreshing because in fact his humor comes from reality.That’s also why I love Woody Allen. All of his humor comes from something real.
One project of yours that came close to happening was “Silent Star”…
I’m still trying to get “Silent Star” made, I just gave it to a studio. In fact, when it couldn’t be made, you know it had Evan Rachel Wood, Ben Kingsley … it was right at that moment when it was hard to get movies that were kind of serious and of a certain budget made. Everybody said that [those kinds of movies couldn’t be made] around ’04, ’05 and now we’re coming back to where adult entertainment makes money. I love the idea, that yeah, you can make a small movie that will make money. You can make movies for adults that will make money. I love that we’re back to aspiring to make good movies about adults. But that’s a very fun story. It’s a true, unsolved murder mystery that we solved.
I really hope it comes to fruition.
Talk about it, maybe they’ll make it. I think it’s going to be either a great smaller movie or it could be great television, we’re looking at both.
“Carrie” is on DVD and Blu-ray today.