We’re just a few months away from the release of Warner Bros.’ Beautiful Creatures, the latest in an ever-lengthening line of teen-centric supernatural romances. While some film geeks would surely offer nothing but disdain for this genre—particularly in the wake of the astounding success of the Twilight franchise—there’s still a huge segment of the population that eats these things up, and Beautiful Creatures (based on a series of novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl) has a built-in fanbase that should make the film quite the event when it opens early next year.
Earlier this year, I traveled to the film’s set (outside Baton Rouge, LA) to speak with the film’s main cast members, including relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Ethan Wate, the film’s main lead and romantic interest. What’d he have to say about working with Jeremy Irons, taking on a supernatural-romance, and interpreting a character known to millions of readers? Find out after the jump, folks.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the set of Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures earlier this year, but—admittedly—I knew very little about the series of novels the film is based on prior to making the trip. A supernatural teen-romance in the vein of Twilight (though it was evident that all involved in the production were wary of that comparison), Beautiful Creatures tells the story of Ethan Wate, a teen who gets drawn into a world of witchcraft and other gothic-tinged shenanigans after falling for “the new girl” in town, Lena Dunchannes (played here by newcomer Alice Englert). We had a chance to speak with almost all of the film’s big stars, but our chat with Ehrenreich was easily the most thoughtful and entertaining. We’ll get to that interview in a just a moment, but first—here are some highlights from that chat.
- Asked if the supernatural elements of the story serve as metaphors for teen sexuality—as some claim elements in the Twilight saga do—Ehrenreich says, “It’s all sort of symbolic for those feelings–those first experiences and I guess puberty in this way and also like emotional puberty…when you see the movie and have an eye towards that, there’s a lot of material that is sort of double entendres things and sexuality, menstruation and all sorts of stuff.”
- Ehrenreich had precious little time to read the books prior to filming: “I read the script first. I got the part a week before we started shooting. I got the part in the morning and then was on a flight that night to New Orleans to start rehearsals and was rehearsing until we started.”
- The film’s “aspect of kind of living in your imagination and creating a more romantic vision of the world than the reality that you’re given” is something Ehrenreich feels he can relate to.
- Asked how he felt about working with such Hollywood heavyweights as Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, Ehrenreich says it was “…great, really great. It’s great to work with him and Emma [Thompson], Viola [Davis] are fine actors in that way. They are very experienced and just great actors. It’s great to be around people who are working on that level and trying to learn from them.”
Let’s get on with the show. Here’s how things went when we spoke with Ehrenreich on the Beautiful Creatures set earlier this year:
Press: Tell us about who you play.
Alden Ehrenreich: I play Ethan Wate. He is a 17-year-old guy in a small town and my main goal in life is to get out of this small town and go somewhere and have more of an adventurous life. I meet this girl Lena and fall in love. We find out she kind of has a supernatural family and background. We have to fight against a curse to stay together.
But you don’t have a supernatural background?
Ehrenreich: Yeah! Yes. It’s kind of a slow build. There’s a bunch of different things. Once we start meeting, a bunch of mysterious things start to happen. I’m seeing them and trying to figure out what they are. Also in the throws of starting to feel these feelings for her that are very powerful for her, while these powerful things are happening. So it builds to a perfect point where me finding out the truth about her and her family is the same scene where we kind of come together as a couple.
The scene being shot right now is Lena’s big claiming party. Is your character going to be at the party?
Is your character not invited to the party or does he not want to have anything to do with it?
Ehrenreich: There’s a lot of complicated magical reasons why I’m not at the party that are too long and semantic to go into.
Is the caster’s presence well known around town?
Ehrenreich: There’s sort of a myth. The uncle that Lena comes to live with played by Jeremy Irons (Macon) is like a shut in. No one ever sees him and he kind of has a mythic presence in the town where everyone [thinks] he’s the haunted old man on the hill. Once things start happening in the town and she the magical things start happening, then the town really responds.
So no one knows their true side until now essentially?
Ehrenreich: Yeah, the town doesn’t really know exactly what this is, but they call her a witch. Once she comes to town they start calling her a witch and then things keep building escalating.
Not to draw a parallel to this film and “Twilight,” but the dynamic of the relationship in “Twilight” can be seen as a metaphor for adolescent feelings like sexuality. Is there that sort of dynamic in this?
Ehrenreich: Yeah. We talk a lot about the parallels between what is going on. It’s all sort of symbolic for those feelings–those first experiences and I guess puberty in this way and also like emotional puberty. That’s a gross phrase actually. But to me, it’s all wrapped up in these very ancient myths. I’ve never seen a “Twilight” movie so I don’t know how alike they are, but it’s definitley that in a lot of ways. I think the claiming–when you see the movie and have an eye towards that, there’s a lot of material that is sort of double entendres things and sexuality, menstruation and all sorts of stuff.
Did you read the book first or the script?
Ehrenreich: I read the script first. I got the part a week before we started shooting. I got the part in the morning and then was on a flight that night to New Orleans to start rehearsals and was rehearsing until we started so I was really working with the script as my main–because that’s really what we’re working from. I did start reading the books, but I didn’t have that much time to read the books. I’ve started reading them. It’s in my backpack.
What are you reading now?
Ehrenreich: He’s sort of a last beat poet like from the 60’s. He’s great, great, great!
Lena is really into poetry, too, so does your character relate to her in that way?
Ehrenreich: Yeah, there’s that literary slant. Yeah definitely. The aspect of kind of living in your imagination and creating a more romantic vision of the world than the reality that you’re given–that’s definitely something I can sort of relate to.
Do you feel like this is an affirmation of that small towns are more interesting than people think? You talk about your character wanting to get out and experience life, but clearly there are exciting things going on.
Ehrenreich: Yeah, that’s interesting. My mother–who is dead in the film–when the movie starts she has died recently, was sort of a historian about the Civil War. She was studying the plantations and there’s a portion of the movie that has a vision for the small town having more to offer and there being these historical undercurrents that are very interesting. Definitely my perspective on the town shifts as the film goes on. What I think what it’s really about is it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are with. That’s something that I think emerges in the film. Having something that is some idea of home or understanding of someone you can relate to–that I think proves to be more important than your town.
What did you like about the script when you read it?
Ehrenreich: My character. I think that within the first five pages I wanted to do the movie and it was because of my character. It was really because of the opening monologue. There’s like narration and Richard [LaGravenese] has a really great understanding and knowledge of film in general and I felt a lot of the older films that I’ve grown up with, I felt that Ethan was a character out of some of those older films. I liked this kind of Jimmy Stewart like get out of here and fight for it. That’s the kind of element to it and that’s definitely why I wanted to do it. I just had that thing where you feel good and you just get it–you get who the guy is.
Talk about the advantage or disadvantage of coming onto the film a week before shooting started.
Ehrenreich: The disadvantage is (unintelligible) and just kind of dizziness. The advantages and especially because I felt very alike to this part, there wasn’t time to over think things. You just go with your instincts and have to because you don’t have this kind of rumination period of a month before you start shooting. So that was good to kind of just jump in.
How well do you know Richard LaGravenese’s films and do you see any aesthetic or even narrative similarities? It seems like there’s a magic realism that might be like “The Fisher King” of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Ehrenreich: I haven’t seen many of his films. I’ve seen some, but I don’t know them well enough to draw parallels because I don’t know his work all that much. That’s another thing, had I gotten the part a month before I probably would have watched all his movies. Like when you do a play, you try to understand the author’s whole body of work, but I didn’t have time to do that.
Ehrenreich: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to become an actor was for film. When I was a little kid, my parents would show me Marx Brothers’ films and westerns and stuff like that. That’s where all my desire to be an actor comes from and probably most of my understanding of acting comes from for sure. I love movies.
What eras particularly inspire you?
Ehrenreich: There’s a lot. An era that I specifically like is sort of late 50’s, early 60’s. I guess mid 50’s too. I like these types of films that deal with post WWII America and this more complex leading man that kind of emerges from that. A lot of [Elia] Kazan movies, and Wyler movies are about that and that tone and feeling of this kind of more complex guy who has a lot of responsibilities who, but trying make something more of his life, that’s why I felt the connection to this character. There are guys like Ethan in this town that has responsibilities to his family to his social group to this sort of social contract in general and yet longs silently for something more that Lena kind of comes in and provides. That’s what I felt in those films like “Hud” or a lot of Paul Newman movies–this kind of guy who has to live a certain way, but also wants something else.
When your character first meets Lena you don’t know she’s a caster, but does she know? Is she hiding it from you?
Ehrenreich: Yes, she knows she’s a caster. It’s what they are and how they’re brought up. She knows about her claiming which is when she’s 16. She’s either going to be claimed for the dark or the light depending on her nature. She’s about to kind of confront all of these things, which is when we meet.
Do they bring in the plot from the book where you guys can talk internally?
Ehrenreich: The jury is still out on that.
I was just wondering how that was going to work?
Ehrenreich: Yeah, it’s still in discussion about it.
Lena has to be a caster, but…
Ehrenreich: I’ve tried to convince her that she has free will and that these dogmas of she’s going to be one way or another and that’s it’s all predetermined–I’m basically coming in and saying nothing is written and we can do whatever we want. I believe in this very first love way that nothing that we’re experiencing could possibly turn dark. So I’m kind of the hopeful and idealistic in a sense.
Ehrenreich: She wants to believe that, but she’s being told by her family that she has to stay away from me. She’s being told that she has to be very reverent of this claiming and live in this sort of fearful way and cut herself off from things which might push her to one side or the other. They see me as a threat to that so she’s being told by her parents these things and her family, but also her boyfriend is telling her another thing.
Does your character have any big confrontation scenes with her family?
Can you talk about that?
What’s it like to work with Jeremy Irons?
Ehrenreich: Great, really great. It’s great to work with him and Emma [Thompson], Viola [Davis] are fine actors in that way. They are very experienced and just great actors. It’s great to be around people who are working on that level and trying to learn from them.
Is it a little intimidating? You’re this young up and coming actor who has these big scenes with such incredible talent.
Ehrenreich: Yeah, kind of. They make me feel really comfortable about it. No, not too intimidating.
The costumes we’ve seen on set so far have been amazing. Do you get to wear anything cool like that?
Ehrenreich: Do I get to wear any cool costumes? No, not like that. Cool, but in a different way–sort of American like western shirts and jeans and sneaker, iconic looking American outfits. I do wear a Civil War uniform at a reenactment. There’s a Civil War reenactment. I wear a Confederate Civil War uniform.
It feels like movies like this are a lot of what’s being offered to actors your age. How careful do you have to be to choose things that seem to have as much perplexity according to what you’re saying or can you at this point afford to be that careful?
Ehrenreich: I did my first film with Francis Ford Copploa which spoiled the hell out of me. I spent the last three years not doing any movies because I went to NYU, but it was very hard for me to be like well I want to do this movie I didn’t like [because I loved the first film so much that I did]. Typically genre films like this didn’t appeal to me because they just weren’t written with the same intelligence and sophisticated as this one is. Yet at the same time, I want to make movies that people see. I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied by that 10 people who liked it. I really think that movies are the most popular form of story telling ever and have such a huge impact on culture when they do. So I really want to be a part of those movies that say something good to a lot of people. So that’s what I feel so grateful for with this. It’s a movie that is popular in that way, but still has the same thematic material and dramatic material that I can really sink my teeth into as an actor. That’s why I was so excited by the character because that’s what is usually deficient in movies like this is that there is template characters who are just very wish-washy. This was such a great character that if this character was in a $1 million independent, I’d still be excited to play it so that’s where this perfect balance has come in for me.
As a young actor, do you have to be careful to make sure the roles that you’re taking present a certain level of maturity so that you’re not locked into playing someone in high school over and over again?
Ehrenreich: I don’t know. I haven’t worked enough to worry about getting typecast, but I do as a film lover didn’t want to be working with the bad guys. I didn’t want to be making a movie I thought was contributing to a lower base of movies that I just didn’t think were helping people really. Some movies I think present ideas of the world that just don’t help people with their lives. They just present things that are fleeting or stupid. So that’s what I’m careful about–making sure I’m part of something that is saying something that I think is valuable in the world of people not necessarily in the world of art.
Are you worried if this movie is a huge hit that you will be offered these roles that don’t have anything of value to say?
Ehrenreich: Yeah, but that’s easy to deal with I guess. You don’t have to do anything. I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with that before so there’s a lot of stuff on the back end of this getting released that is–you know things can be angled in a certain way and go into a certain world that I necessarily wouldn’t fit into. Right now I’m just really trying to focus on treating this movie like it’s its own thing that doesn’t have a built-in fan community that is just the story. That is why I’m doing the movie in the first place. So I’ve really tried not to go online at all.
For a young guy just breaking into the business, Ehrenreich seemed remarkably wise and well-spoken, and was clearly interested in digging deeper into the role than I’d imagine some young actors might be. Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures opens on February 13th—the day before Valentine’s Day, don’tcha know—next year.
For more on our Beautiful Creatures set visit:
- 15 Things to Know About Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures from Our Set Visit
- Alice Englert Talks Witch Bar Mitzvahs and Civil War Re-Enactments on the Set of Beautiful Creatures
- Emmy Rossum Talks Playing the Evil Witch, Her Character’s Many Looks, and Oral Fixation on the Set of Beautiful Creatures
- Margot Martindale Talks Painful Costumes, Getting Acclimated with the World’s Mythology, and More on the Set of Beautiful Creatures