“You’ve never seen Catherine Hardwicke like this before” might as well be emblazoned on any and all marketing materials for the director’s diverse projects. From “Thirteen” to “Twilight,” “Red Riding Hood” to “The Nativity Story,” Hardwicke is constantly shifting gears, changing tones, mixing it up.
Since the breakout success of both Sundance award-winner “Thirteen” and the first “Twilight” film (a massive smash by any metric), Hardwicke has continued to evolve, even in an industry not always welcoming to women with big dreams. As she readies to debut her latest, the Toni Collette-starring fish-out-of-water comedy “Mafia Mamma,” Hardwicke is still pushing forward, even when it’s not easy. That’s just who she is.
“We still need that light to get shined a little brighter and put a little bit more attention on women’s films,” Hardwicke said during a recent Zoom interview with IndieWire. “We’re still fighting. The numbers went down last year, in the latest report, backwards, so even if we gain a little bit in films, then it goes back. We’re still trying.”
But she’s pretty excited about “Mafia Mamma” and the support its distributor has already heaped on it. She notices those things. “Bleecker Street is really actually putting this in 2,000 theaters, and they’re making some advertising noise,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of fun trailers and they’ve got the social campaign going.”
She turned around to grab a bottle of “Mafia Mamma” branded rosé from a snazzy gift basket perched behind her. “Oh, and I got my wine,” she said. “We got the mafia bottle of wine! You got your rosé with a severed hand! Love it!” (Of note: This is a very good and funny piece of movie merch that will delight the film’s audience.)
The film, which follows Collette as a seemingly regular suburban mom who inherits her estranged grandfather’s mafia empire, offered Hardwicke the chance to try something new, complete with a lighter tone than we’re used to seeing from the director.
“I do like to do funny stuff,” she said. “This sounds weird, but I went to a 15-year reunion for ‘Thirteen,’ and I personally was laughing quite a bit, because I think there’s a lot of humor that Nikki [Reed] and Evan [Rachel Wood] put into it, how they dress, and all this stuff. ‘Lords of Dogtown,’ for me, had so many funny things that the guys did. I’ve always loved humor and hoped that I could work on it more.”
She pointed to her earlier career in art and production design, during which she did plenty of “crazy comedies,” from “Tapeheads” to “Freaked,” and even 13 episodes of the ill-fated sitcom “New Monkees.” “I just went wild making the sets as funny as I could,” she said.
Collette originally sent Hardwicke the script, hoping the pair could recapture all the fun they had making “Miss You Already” back in 2015 (while the dramedy does see Collette’s character stricken with cancer, it is also a charming look at the long-running friendship between Collette’s Milly and Drew Barrymore’s Jess). Hardwicke said she laughed the entire time she read the script, easily picturing Collette in the role.
“Honestly, I don’t want to see her murdered or thrown down a staircase anymore. I’ve seen it. I don’t want to see autopsies of her. I don’t want her serious,” Hardwicke said. “She’s so funny. She can do anything. I was so excited about the joyful idea of doing this movie where she got to be her crazy, cool self and having a little transformation from the people-pleaser mommy that’s kind of shit on by everybody to, OK, starting to give orders.”
The film riffs on other classic “Hey, I went to Italy to find myself” films — there’s even an extended joke about how Collette’s Kristin will use her trip to Italy, ostensibly just to attend her grandfather’s funeral, to “eat, pray, fuck” her way through the country — so Hardwicke boned up on stuff like “Under the Tuscan Sun” and, yes, “Eat Pray Love.” But she also needed the mob stuff too, so there’s plenty of “Godfather” nods. “It’s the mashup,” Hardwicke said. “She wants it to be a rom-com, she just wants to have this romantic adventure, but she’s in the mafia.”
That mashup also allowed Hardwicke to tap into her action chops. “I like action myself personally,” she said. “This Sunday, I did a mountain bike ride, four hours bombing down the hill. I like that kind of thing. I go on crazy bike rides or surf or boogie board or whatever. I like the physical-ness of a film.”
She even did it with “Twilight,” which originally featured a key biting scene that we never “saw” in the book. Hardwicke swapped that for something more active. “I’m like, ‘No, we’re going to see it.’ We’re going to get visual. We’re going to make physical the things that are mental in the books, like the treetop scene,” she said. “Every chance for an action sequence where you can express character through action, I love that. Let’s make it physical if we can.”
For all its fun and friskiness, “Mafia Mamma” does tackle some deeper questions, too. As Collette’s character grows into her role as a leader (of the mob, no less), she also has to juggle a burgeoning romance, her crumbling marriage, her college-aged son, and her best friend. “Can you have it all?” Hardwicke said. “Yeah. Can you open up your mind and jump out of the box and get out of your comfort zone into maybe a more comfortable zone? And have even more fun than you’ve ever had?”
Part of Collette’s character’s growth also hinges on her busting out of the expectations that have held her back, both personally and professionally. That spoke to Hardwicke, too.
“Definitely as a female filmmaker, [I was] trying to get certain jobs that I was not allowed to even interview for because, ‘We think a guy should direct this,'” Hardwicke said. “We have all those dumb things that people think: ‘A woman can’t direct action. A woman doesn’t understand visual effects.’ All these annoying things, no matter how many times you say, ‘OK, well, look at Kathryn Bigelow or look at this or look at this.’ My first jobs were in visual effects when I came to L.A., so I do understand them very well. It’s kind of annoying. You get told, ‘This isn’t really the kind of movie for you.’ Even after I had ‘Twilight,’ I was told that same kind of thing.”
But the always-ebullient Hardwicke isn’t allowing herself to get hung up on that stuff. She noted she’s feeling positive these days, eager to take on the next thing. “I’m excited that I did this movie and all the skill sets that I learned,” she said. “This wasn’t a big budget, but we try to make it look really big and fun and awesome. Hopefully, each step where you have another woman directing something that people like, that just helps the next time, the next time, the next time.”
Hardwicke is already gunning for her next time. She was headed back to Vancouver to finish directing some scenes for Hulu’s upcoming true crime drama series “Under the Bridge,” starring Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone and a bunch of other young rising stars she’s jazzed about. And Hardwicke, who was once attached to the project as a feature film years ago, is pleased with the freedom a series offers the story, which fellow filmmaker Quinn Shephard adapted from the Rebecca Godfrey book of the same name.
“I’m glad we’re doing it a longer form because they’re really diving into each of these characters that have come from crazy dysfunctional homes, you really see these nuances,” Hardwicke said. “That wouldn’t have worked, I don’t think, as well in one and a half hours, two hours, I think it’s really great. What’s the right way to tell a story? And I love both.”
Hardwicke seems intent on finding the best way to do just about anything, even watching movies and TV shows, which she said she often does while working out. “I get a two-for-one special!” she said. “This morning, I finished watching ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ again because I’m doing a really cool music film, somewhat music film, based on Diane Warren’s early childhood. She’s had a very tough childhood, bullied and not supported at all by her family and everything, went to juvie hall twice, ran away from home, all this crazy stuff, but kept writing her songs. So I was watching ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ again, and that was really fun.”
She saw and enjoyed Ben Affleck’s “Air” and had just spent the previous evening at a special screening of Keough’s own “War Pony,” which impressed the hell out of her. She’s also caught up on all the TV she should be, including “Succession,” “Ted Lasso,” and “Yellowjackets.” (Should we all start watching our content while working out? Is this the key to being as productive as Hardwicke?)
Maybe the key is staying open to everything. When asked about how she’d feel about a “Twilight” reboot or remake, the sort of thing our current IP-crazed Hollywood seems to be mere moments away from trying to launch, and Hardwicke was (what else?) totally down for it.
“That would be fun! I think it’s fun,” Hardwicke said. “There’ve been a million things like, ‘Can we do a TV series?’ There’s been a million funny parodies. Seeing a whole new crowd of people playing those parts, that could be quite interesting. Why not? But I don’t know if Stephenie [Meyer] will go for it, that’s the only thing.”
Soon, Hardwicke is riffing on the concept. “Do a twist on it! Let’s do ‘Twilight’ in outer space, that would be fun,” she said. “Or set it in the past. Let’s do it back in the Wild West! We could do that Oregon Trail or something like that.”
At the cheeky suggestion from this writer that, “The Oregon Trail wasn’t hard enough! You’re dying of dysentery, or you could be bit by a vampire,” Hardwicke laughed again, pitching herself into yet another project only she could make happen.
“Love it! OK, that’s great. You and I, let’s work on that one together,” she said.
A Bleecker Street release, “Mafia Mamma” will be in theaters on Friday, April 14.