The romantic drama Beautiful Creatures tells the story of 17-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), whose world is shaken up with the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the reclusive owner of gothic Ravenwood Manor. Immediately drawn to each other, it becomes apparent that Lena is a Caster with powers beyond her control, and the two are faced with a curse that will claim her for either the Light or the Dark on her 16th birthday.
At the film’s press day, actor Alden Ehrenreich spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why it was important to make sure these characters were not stereotypical and that the relationship between Ethan and Lena was real, that he doesn’t want to read any more of the books until he reads any possible sequel scripts first, shooting the crazy family dinner scene, which effects scenes he had the most fun doing, and working with Viola Davis. He also talked about what he looks for when trying to find his next project, and the experience of working on the Woody Allen movie Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ALDEN EHRENREICH: I think a lot of that is Richard’s permission to do more interesting things with the performances. What he wanted was us to bring a certain level of idiosyncrasy and an off-beat, quirky quality to it that he allowed for, and then left in takes that had that quality the most. Originally, I was reluctant to do the film, when I just heard the pitch for it. And then, from the first couple of pages, I knew that the characters were so great and I connected to my character so much. It was clear to me that Richard was doing something really interesting and unusual with this, and that carried on throughout the whole process. It’s a genre that we know, but he infused it with a story and people who are specific. They’re like real people. That’s the only reason I did the movie. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise. The magic in the film is an extension of what the characters are going through. It’s an expression of character and their emotional experiences, and it furthers the overall story, but keeps it a character-driven story. It’s a completely character-driven story, in every way. There’s no point in the film where you’re just watching spectacle for spectacle’s sake. It always corresponds with something the characters are going through.
Was it also important to you that this relationship between Ethan and Lena (Alice Englert) be real, and not all rainbows and butterflies?
EHRENREICH: Yeah, very much so! There’s actually a part of the movie where I talk to her about my mom taking me to a library, and that was something that just came from me and Richard and Alice sitting around and talking about what other sides of the relationship we hadn’t shown. Richard is so good at writing scripts that have romance in them, but that are not sappy, like The Bridges of Madison County. He’s able to just create these stories that are love stories, without being schlocky or over the top. So, we all sat around and said, “What else do we need to see?” And we realized that there wasn’t really a moment where he was able to drop his guard and take care of him a little bit and be vulnerable in front of her. That’s where that moment came from. That, to me, is what distinguishes this film, in this genre. There’s a real relationship going on. It’s not an idealized relationship, it’s a relationship that’s real. So, we fight with each other when there’s a lot of pressure on us, and we struggle. I feel like that’s a much better thing to show especially young people, instead of setting them up for disappointment by saying, “Love is easy and perfect.” And then, they’ll grow up and just feel like they’re doing something wrong. We’re saying, “This is what it’s really like.” And she rains on me and can do all those spells. That adds this other expressionistic aspect. The relationship is full of conflict and turmoil.
EHRENREICH: I was just trying to get through the first book. I got cast a week before we started shooting, so it was very little time to get ready. I started reading the first book once we were already filming for awhile, and I didn’t want to read the second book. If there’s a second movie, I want to read the script as the first document. That way, I won’t go into reading the movie with expectation and I won’t be disgruntled about them not putting something in it.
What was it like to do that crazy family dinner scene, as the observer in the room?
EHRENREICH: It was like being on a ride. I felt like I was at one of those murder mystery dinner parties. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have any lines. I just sat in the chair and enjoyed this Knott’s Berry Farm ride, and watched all these great actors do their thing.
Were any of the effects scenes most fun for you?
EHRENREICH: The rain scenes were great. It was all real rain. Above the frame was literally a guy with a big hose. And when you’re acting and getting rained on, at the same time, it makes the acting really easy. All you’re doing is trying to be heard over the sound of the rain. And those were both pretty big scenes with great writing in them, so I felt pressure to do well in those scenes. And then, when you get there, all your ideas go out the window because you’re just trying to be heard over the rain.
The relationship between Ethan and Amma is really beautiful. What was it like to work with Viola Davis?
EHRENREICH: She has an amazing amount of power. She can keep it simple and still emanate this presence that you can feel when she walks into a room. It just really grabs you. Working with her was amazing. When you work with someone on that level, it really brings your performance to a new place You feel like you’re learning from somebody while you’re working with them. However, the first day that we worked together and did our first two big scenes, I had eaten very bad fish the night before and had horrible food poisoning. So, my first experience of working with her was just hoping that I wouldn’t vomit on her. It’s not good to vomit on people.
Is it easier to watch yourself in a movie like this, with all of the effects and things that aren’t there, that you can really get to see, like an audience member, when the film is finished?
EHRENREICH: I’m always weirded out by watching myself, and I’m in a lot of it, so I was pretty consistently weirded out. But, it’s cool to be in a movie that really can create this other experience for people. I’ve never been in a film that had effects or was a big movie like this, and certainly not one with a pre-existing fan base. All of that is very new and, so far, very fun.
What do you look for, when you’re trying to find your next project?
EHRENREICH: I would say that it’s mainly about the director. It’s a hard quality to find, but I always know whether I want to do something or not. The character is important to me, as is getting to work with people that I feel like I can learn from and make a great movie with. I’m an actor because I love movies, and always have loved movies. I’m a film buff. So, getting to work with those kinds of directors and getting to tell those stories is what I want to do. With this film, I got to tell a story that I feel is almost in the vein of some of the classic stories. Richard was influenced by a lot of classic American film. Getting to be a part of writing that harkens back to that was really cool. A lot of the dialogue scenes feel like Hepburn and Tracy screwball comedy stuff. It had that whole feeling to it.
What was it like to work with Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine?
EHRENREICH: It’s very surreal. I watched this documentary that was made about him, that’s incredible, and that really prepared me for a lot of it. Mostly, you just can’t believe that he’s a real person. You know that character so well. You’ve seen that guy in so many movies. When he said my name, I was like, “No way! You don’t know my name. That’s impossible!” It was like he walked out of the movie. But, being able to play even a little part in this legacy of his was really incredible. And working with Cate Blanchett was amazing. She really blew me away! She was just unbelievable in our scenes.
There aren’t too many directors that are as much of a personality as Woody Allen.
EHRENREICH: No! I don’t even think there are actors who are that iconic, except for maybe Jack Nicholson. I can’t think of another actor whose character is as etched into our cultural consciousness like that.
Beautiful Creatures opens in theaters on February 14th.