INTERVIEW WITH

Warren Ellis

When you watch a movie at a film festival as prestigious as the Melbourne International Film Festival the one thing that you don’t expect to get is an audible reaction to a film during the actual screening. These are serious, seasoned film lovers watching the movies and while you may get a round of applause or a standing ovation at the end of the film, during the film, it is dead silence – no crinkling of chip packets (which is bliss) and very little reaction – something that can be a little daunting when nobody is laughing during a comedy. You could imagine the surprise then when the Australian thriller Bad Girl, directed by Fin Edquist (Little Deaths), had the audience gasping when it delivered a twist that nobody saw coming.

Starring Samara Weaving (Mystery Road) and Sara West (The Daughter), this great Western Australian thriller keeps its audience on edge all throughout the film and helping raise that suspense is the score from legendary Australian composer, Warren Ellis, who in the past has worked with Nick Cave to create the film score for films such as Lawless, The Proposition and The Road.

For Ellis, the fact that for Bad Girl and his last film, Mustang, has been made without the help of Nick Cave he says has given him a new sense of ‘freedom’. “When the producer sent me the script, I sat down and read it and I found that it was a different kind of film and the kind of film that I haven’t worked on before,” he explains.

Bad Girl – Warren Ellis: “In the past, a lot of the films I’ve worked on with Nick (Cave) have been about men lost in wildernesses or trying to figure something out. So we have always been wanting to get different things to come in and sometimes that hasn’t always been available. But with this one there was just something about it – it was great to read and it had a great energy about it – and it came after I had just done another film called Mustang, and it was something I could tackle on my own. Up until that point, I had always done my scores with Nick and Mustang showed me that I could work in a certain way, that I could work on a small budget film… and I like the economy of that; I like what that provokes in you because it forces you outside of your comfort zone. Doing Mustang for me was a huge learning curve, it was a very different film and I found myself working very, very quickly, actually, and it showed me that I could take the training wheels off in a way. Similarly, Bad Girl was a very lean affair and I really like the energy of smaller budget films, there just isn’t that flabbiness that can be contained in the big studio films and there’s a different energy in the way that the directors and the producers are working. I had a few rules with this one: I couldn’t go into a studio because I was on tour with Dirty Three, so I wanted to just do it on my laptop because it was all I could really do with it and they were really into that idea. So I just started throwing ideas together based on a really lengthy discussion with the director about approaches and how the music would be used and my reference, I guess, was a kind of Mad Max very-impacting score that comes and goes out of nowhere, which was kind of wild for the editing of the film. So I guess I had a couple of ideas and then just started making it and I got addicted to the process. I didn’t sleep much in January, I just sat in my hotel room rehearsing by day and making this score by night with a couple of synthesisers and old pieces I had laying around. It was pretty liberating, actually.”

While the theme of characters being ‘lost’ has always been a big thing in the films that Ellis has worked on he says it is different this time around. “I think there is a real strength and independence with the female characters in both Mustang and Bad Girl,” he emphasises. “I’m not sure the girls are really lost, but more victims of their environment. But someone like Lale in Mustang is definitely not lost—she’s anything but lost—she’s trying to make sense of everything and trying to empower herself and her sisters… she doesn’t want to be a victim of her own environment and that was a very different scenario to me. There’s something very empowering about these two films. I love the energy of Bad Girl. When I eventually saw it, I loved the staging of it and the editing of it.”

As talk turns to how a composer goes about putting music together for a film, Ellis says there really are not any set rules. “For me, I’m not sure how my approach is different or the same to other people (it depends on the film), but generally there is a discussion and if I’m working with Nick we might have a discussion about the sound and what will be necessary… certainly what the sound palate will be,” he explains. Then you might talk to the director but it is very different with each film, like with The Road, for example, we had a discussion with John (director John Hillcoat) about the sound and what would be generated. Then we tried to make sounds that we thought would exist after an apocalypse, so things like wind going through wire, bottles, water boiling and stuff. I sat around the house making sounds. All the backing sounds were generated using things that I thought might exist after the apocalypse – what sounds might be coming out. It’s a little general idea but it gives you something to aim towards and then you can go from there. I guess with every film you just try to get a sound palate going on and then you sit down and start working. Normally, it’s with Nick, and we just start making music and let some accidents happen. This, to me, is not a job. It’s something I love doing and I still feel like an outsider in this world. I’ve made some films but it’s not my job. With Bad Girls, I wanted an energy and I wanted it to be impactful. I wanted it to be economical and I wanted it to be something that was minimal, but something that would help with the energy of the film and I wanted it to be loud… I wanted it to be overwhelming.”

Bad Girl is out in cinemas now and has been reviewed at www.heavymag.com.au

Written by Dave Griffiths

INTERVIEW WITH LILY COLLINS

Howard Hughes has to be one of the most intriguing characters in American history. While a majority of his life was explored in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator—in which Leonardo DiCaprio played the eccentric billionaire—now, Hollywood legend Warren Beatty takes a look at the latter stages of Hughes’ life with Rules Don’t Apply.

The film sees Beatty return to directing for the first time in more than a decade. Here, he also portrays Hughes as a man who wants to shun public life but has just hired a new driver, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), who dreams of becoming a businessman himself, along with a young actress who has stars in her eyes named Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins).

Rules Don’t Apply is a change in direction for Collins (the daughter of music legend, Phil Collins), who, up until now, has appeared in big films such as Mirror Mirror and the ill-fated The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones. Collins says it was almost fate that she landed this role, seeing she knew about this film when it was still in concept stage.

“I first became aware of this film five years ago when a friend of mine was telling me about these magical meetings that he was having with Warren Beatty at his house and spending time with his family. He was telling me all these amazing stories and I just sat there in awe thinking, ‘Oh, my God, that is the dream; that’s crazy. That is something I’ll never get to do, but just, wow. Good for you.’ Then, cut to five years later and I got a phone call while I was prepping for a premiere of a film that I was about to premiere and they said Warren Beatty wants to talk to you about his film, and I just would never have thought that five years later I would have come full circle.”

It is obvious as Collins talks that she really admires Beatty and is proud of the fact that she has now had the opportunity to work with him and she says that she became aware of Beatty’s work at a very early age. “I was very aware of Warren Beatty’s work before the film,” she explains. “One of my Dad’s favourite movies is Heaven Can Wait so I’ve been hearing about Mr Beatty since I was a little kid. After I was cast, my mum and I rewatched all of them to just update me again and I loved seeing them a second or third or fourth time… they never get old.”

Collins wasn’t awestruck though and admits that she saw the chance to work with a screen legend like Warren Beatty as something she could gain valuable lessons from. “I can’t count on one hand the amount of stories that Warren told us, and every single day as I heard them, I soaked them in and thought: ‘I’m going to want to remember these when I’m older so I might write that one down.’ I actually kept a journal while we were recording of these interesting tidbits of information that he told us, the wisdom that he imparted on us—stories—as well as creative critiques that he gave me throughout the shoot that I wanted to remember because I would be doing myself a disservice not to remember those, because he was really like a mentor, as well. I was constantly getting the note from Warren to ‘let go more.’”

It was something I had never been told before so I was hyper-aware of it when he said it and I didn’t realise how useful and magical things can get when you just let go, especially when you are doing take-after-take-after-take. You have to start just relinquishing all self-control in a way and really stop thinking about what you planned to do. Even as an actor, I know it is all about spontaneous moments, but you do have to have a bit of a guideline to where you are going. But once you get to that fifth, sixth or even seventh take, you have to start playing around with ways that you weren’t even expecting and it is in those moments when some of the most brilliant things happen that would never have happened on take one. So I think I will always take that with me.”

She also says that Beatty really did put his own stamp on the story and the film. “What is so brilliant about what Warren created in this tonally is that it is what one would call a very dramatic story, but he has such a lightness to the tone. He adds a sense of humour when you are least expecting it. Part of what you are not expecting is this romantic relationship between Mr Hughes and Marla and that is what makes the film so comedic. Our scenes together, especially the drunken scene, are epically long – I think it was a twelve or thirteen-page scene that is just so funny and I love that you can mix a drama with comedy in such a beautiful way and have it become something that people not only enjoy but are constantly surprised by.”

The film’s title raised some eyebrows when it was first talked about in the States, but as Collins talks about her character, she says the title fits perfectly. “Marla Mabrey is a young, very religious girl that comes from Virginia. She is contracted under the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes to become a Hollywood star and she comes under the assumption that there are a certain set of rules that a young woman must abide by in the entertainment industry to be successful and it’s throughout her journey in Los Angeles and throughout the important lessons that she must learn. It’s also through her relationship with Frank, who is also a contracted driver under the Hughes Corporation, that she, throughout her experiences, realises that the rules really don’t apply to everyone and it is about their interactions with the craziness of Mr Hughes. I think it’s really interesting because at the start of the story, Mara comes to Los Angeles with her mother and she is very naive, she is very religious, and she kind of thinks she knows it all; which I think anyone coming to L.A. at that age would have thought the same thing. But throughout the story and throughout the lessons that she learns and through her relationship with Frank and her interactions with Howard Hughes, she really becomes a strong and independent woman. And it’s throughout those experiences that it really defines her character as strong. She has to become independent because she is no longer there with her mum and it’s through those roadblocks that she is thrown that she realises that she is in a sink-or-swim situation and she develops an individuality from that.“

Rules Don’t Apply is in cinemas right now and has been reviewed at www.heavymag.com.au

Written by Dave Griffiths

INTERVIEW WITH 

Jessica Chastain

Bad movie! That is a term that it is become more clear that Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain just does not know the meaning of. Her body of work over the last few years reads like a best of list in itself – Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar, The Martian and Miss Sloane just to name a few. Now Chastain returns in The Zookeeper’s Wife a film that has already got some people tipping that their more awards in the offering.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Diane Ackerman and has been brought to the screen by director Niki Caro who has wowed audiences over the years with films like Whale Rider and the brilliant North Country. The Zookeeper’s Wife sees Chastain play Antonina Zabinski who alongside her zookeeper husband tries to protect a number of people at their Warsaw Zoo during the Nazi invasion.

“You know whenever I play any part it is important to do as much research as possible,” Chastain explains when asked about The Zookeeper’s Wife as a novel. “I read the book… The Zookeeper’s Wife… and it was very informative, especially when thinking about what she was going through because it is in her own words… that is what the book is based on. – her journals. It helped fill out the interior of the character. I started by reading the book to try and get into character and I went to Auschwitz in order to … I had never been to a concentration camp and I wanted to feel the energy of that place and to understand the sadness. I don’t think you could ever fully comprehend that or what happened there or what that is but it was important for me to go. I went to Warsaw and went to the zoo and I met with Teresa, Antonina’s daughter, and I saw the house that they lived in and I looked at pictures. It was definitely an immersion.”

Of course the old mantra in Hollywood is to never work with animals or children and it only takes one quick glance at the poster for The Zookeeper’s Wife to see that Chastain had to work with a number of animals on the set including a lion – so how much of a challenge was that for her. “I love working with animals and children,” she says smiling. “When you are an actor it’s a great challenge because they are so in the moment, you never know what they are going to do and they can always surprise you and it’s wonderful to act to that. Plus I LOVE animals and children. I worked very closely with the animal wranglers so what I would do was before those scenes with Lily (the elephant featured in the film) I would feed her a bunch of apples and then right before they said action I would show her an apple and I would walk away and hide the apple so she would know that I was the one to go to for the treat. It’s a trick with a trunk but that way she would play with me while looking for food.”

When asked to describe her character in her own words Chastain says “Antonina Zabinski is married to Jan (played in the movie by Johan Heldenbergh) who is the zookeeper at Warsaw Zoo… the two of them run the zoo. During World War II when her zoo is bombed and the Jews are being forced into the Ghetto her and her husband decide to risk their lives, and the lives of their children, to smuggle people out of the Ghetto and hide them in the zoo.”

Chastain also says that director Niki Caro also brought a lot to the film. “I loved working with Niki,” says Chastain. “She is so incredibly intelligent and fierce. She has a very strong point-of-view and that is important for me when I’m finding a director to work with. She was so good at kind of wrangling in this huge group of people and animals and of course this whole period drama. You never felt like the set was getting away from her and I felt that she was a great collaborator that I could come forward and try whatever I wanted to. I could take risks and she was always there to support me.”

The other major player in this film is Daniel Bruhl who for the lack of a better term plays the bad guy in this film but Chastain says he was a major help with morale on the set. “I’d been a huge fan of Daniel Bruhl. I loved him in Rush and all the incredible films that he has done. One thing that really shocked me about working with him was how funny he was. He brought this great sense of levity which I think was really important for the story because every scene was so important and rich and heartbreaking and you feel just really depressed but then in between takes Daniel is there to lighten the mood and think that was really important for the morale on set, but also important for the character that he is playing because he is playing a pretty dark person and he’s able to give it a sense of humanity that you may not be able to get with someone that just came in with only darkness.”

Chastain was also impressed that The Zookeeper’s Wife shows a different side to being a hero as well. “I think with heroism there is a stereotype that it comes with violence – that you are defending someone or that you are fighting to protect your country. That is our definition of what a hero is but there are many other ways that somebody can be brave and strong and I think that Antonina shows that. She shows that compassion and is an incredible form of strength. I think it is important for people to see this film because it tells the story from another perspective and another point-of-view. Going to school in the United States I didn’t really read that much about women and history. I read a lot about men in history but not so much about the incredible women and the sacrifices that they had made in history. I was so moved and inspired by Antonina and the empathy that she has for other people. At the end of the day it is a movie about hope, love and family. I think it shows that no matter how dark life can be and how dark it gets love will always be there and you can find it and there is something beyond this moment.”

The Zookeeper’s Wife is in cinemas now and has been reviewed at www.heavymag.com.au

Written by Dave Griffiths