From director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen), the indie thriller Plush (now available on DVD) tells the story of Hayley (Emily Browning), a singer in the rock band Plush, who just lost her bandmate and brother (Thomas Dekker) to a drug overdose. Finding new hope and friendship in Enzo (Xavier Samuel), the band’s replacement guitarist, she is inspired to reach new creative heights, but that soon crosses the line, putting her marriage and family in jeopardy and sending her down a path darker than she ever could have imagined.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke talked about all of the different ideas and themes she was looking to explore with this film, why she became fascinated with the backstage life of rock stars, the challenge of finding a leading lady to pull off such a complex role, how she got the original songs for the film, and how surprised she was that audiences were shocked by the extent of the sexuality in the story. She also talked about the new MTV pilot that she is directing and executive producing with Blumhouse Productions, called Eye Candy, which is inspired by the R.L. Stine novel and starring Victoria Justice. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
CATHERINE HARDWICKE: It’s unique. I was just trying different stuff with this one. It was really fun to explore all of the different aspects of it. Can you have it all, as a woman? Can you be a creative artist, and have stability and a home life? How much can you stretch yourself, as an artist? Where does that confidence come from? How do you get it back? How vulnerable is a person, at some points? I was trying to explore a lot of different things.
Were there a lot of changes made to the script, along the way, or is the finished product what your initial vision was, for the story?
HARDWICKE: Well, there are always changes. Some things are influenced by your financial backers, which is always the case. You navigate things. It was an interesting journey. It always is, getting a movie finished. From the moment you start thinking about it until the moment it’s finished, there are lots of twists and turns, along the way.
How did the rock star element come about?
HARDWICKE: I was interested in exploring an artist’s point of view, and how you create and how you navigate the world nowadays, with instant feedback. I was with a friend at a concert for Beyonce, a year and a half ago in New York. I went backstage and met Beyonce and saw the whole backstage life. My character wasn’t meant to be as big as Beyonce, of course, and isn’t even the same genre, but just being backstage in that world, I was absorbing it. And then, I got on a plane and the plane was stuck on the tarmac for six hours. So, I said to myself, “I’m not going to get frustrated at this delay. I’m going to try to do something productive with it. I’m just going to write a screenplay.” I started writing a screenplay and I was just inspired by that immediate experience. Frances Fisher was also on the plane. She plays the nanny in the movie. I had just met her and she said, “If you’re writing a screenplay, write me a part!” I said, “Well, what’s a good guy’s name?” And somebody in the cabin yelled out, “Enzo!” That just inspired me, so I started writing the story on the tarmac, and then on the plane back. It flowed, and I started shaping it. And then, as you look at all the other factors that come in, like budget, schedule, financiers and actors, you keep shaping it, as it goes.
HARDWICKE: Yes. I wanted you to know that there was going to be an element of darkness coming in. These musicians are playing the darkness in their music and, in a way, they’re inviting that in. I’ve always thought it was so interesting, as artists, musicians, writers, screenwriters, directors and actors explore these extremely dark worlds, how far do you go into it? How much of it could be your own truth or not? So, I wanted to find a way to weave all of that in. I wanted this element hanging over your head to be a teaser that things are going to get darker. That darkness can enter and take over your life.
There’s a really interesting duality to Hayley because there’s this young woman who’s a wife and mother, but also this wild rock star. Was it challenging to find a believable balance between the two, and then find an actress who could pull that off?
HARDWICKE: Yes, I think so. It appealed to Emily [Browning] because it was a challenging role. Hayley is someone who’s obsessive about what she’s doing. She’s chain smoking in some of her scenes, taking her pills and trying to really find her artistic essence, yet she’s gotten herself into a family situation. I’ve always loved Emily. She’s just very solid and grounded, and yet she’s super fearless. She’ll try anything and do anything. Her choices in movies has been so interesting. When she connected with this material, I thought, “This is going to be an interesting ride.” These low-budget movies happen so fast. Time is so short. You’re just in it, and you’re just going, almost like a freight train. It’s exhilarating and terrifying, at the same time. And Emily doesn’t hold back. She’s amazing. I can’t wait to see her future films, and I hope I get to work with her again, too. I think she’s really capable of doing a wide range of projects that are going to amaze us, as time goes on. She also sings all those songs, too. That’s her voice, which is very haunting and beautiful.
How did you handle the music for the film, and what you wanted to achieve with the songs?
HARDWICKE: In the script, I had put little fragments of lyrics to give the songwriters an idea of the direction. And then, Nick Launay was our composer and the producer of all of our music. He’s worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Cave, Arcade Fire, Eric Clapton, and all kinds of people. He has this treasure trove of musical juice. So, he put the word out to a lot of his friends and upcoming songwriters to have them write songs and create original music for this, and songwriters from around the world sent in songs. We picked the songs for the movie – and I was involved a little bit, but he’s the musical expert – and then he produced them. And then, we found out that Emily had this great voice. She was in London on another movie, up until a few days before we shot, but she went into the studio and sang over a track, and we were just delighted with her voice. It’s so soulful and layered and textured, and has so much emotion in it. Xavier [Samuel] also sang on a track, and Thomas Dekker, who played Jack, sang too. He can do any style. He’s classically trained, and he’s amazing. That was really fun.
How did you view the relationship between Hayley (Emily Browning) and Enzo (Xavier Samuel)? Did you feel that either of them were actually in love with each other, or was it more lust on her part and obsession on his?
HARDWICKE: I think that they were in love, in a way. When you’re in a creative flow with somebody – and I had this back in architecture school – you’re just so passionate about what you’re doing, and if that other person is just as passionate, you’ll be madly in love with them. It’s just that thrill of creating. It is hard for so many artists to separate their artistic drive and their sexual passion.
Were you surprised that people seemed to be so shocked by the extent of the sexuality in the film? How much did you decide to scale that back?
HARDWICKE: I’ve always done things where, when we film, we just let the actors feel what they feel, in the moment, and do what they feel naturally. I want them to be as free as they can be. The cameramen don’t really know what’s going to happen, so I have two cameramen who are trying to position themselves and find the action the best they can with those spontaneous moments. And then, I figure it out in the editing room. But yes, I was surprised that the first time we showed it to a group of people, they were kind of shocked. Some people tried to articulate it and they said that they were used to seeing sexuality on a small screen, not on a big screen. Also, we might read books like 50 Shades of Grey, but maybe we’re not used to seeing it, right there. But now, it will be seen on the small screen, so I think it will be easier to digest. It came out of the characters. They were involved in a very passionate affair. They were in this creative moment. And coincidentally, the two actors did fall in love and are still together. When you do such an intimate, personal film like that, and your actors are being so intimate with each other, in the sex scenes and in the fight scene at the end, it’s pretty up close and personal.
How did you come to be doing an MTV pilot, based on an R.L. Stine novel?
HARDWICKE: That’s called Eye Candy, and it’s inspired by the novel, but of course, it had to be adapted to be turned into a series. It’s about a young woman who’s had a tragic thing happen to her and her sister, so she’s become a little bit of a vigilante to track down other criminals that prey on girls and women, sometimes through the internet. It’s a fun story, and it’s got a lot of humor in it, too. She’s a very serious and obsessed person that is trying to stop cyber crimes. It’s set in New York.
Plush is now available on DVD.