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, Collider spoke to actress Emmy Rossum (who plays Dark Caster Ridley, a Siren who can get others to do anything she chooses), in both a 1-on-1 and a roundtable interview, about why she wanted to play this character, why she enjoys playing bad girls, the fantastic wardrobe, shooting the family dinner scene, getting to know her co-star Thomas Mann on a rather crazy faux date in New Orleans, how much fun it was to work with Emma Thompson, and that she hopes to get to do more films adapted from this book series because she loves where her character goes. She also talked about her new album of standards, how excited she is to go into production on Season 4 of Shameless in September, and that she just finished the drama You’re Not You with Hilary Swank. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
EMMY ROSSUM: I did, yes! It was something that my agent sent to me and that I really responded to immediately because I loved the character. It was so different than the usual villains you read, and I’d never played this kind of role or done this kind of movie. So, for me, it was challenge I want to go after.
What was your audition like?
ROSSUM: It was a 14-page audition, from the time that my character gets out of the car at the track field to the end of the autumn harvest dinner when I got sucked out of the room. It was this big, epic audition, and I’d practiced it so many times. I was saying it in my sleep, the night before the audition. So, I went in and, as I was doing it, I really felt like, “Oh, I’m nailing this! I’m totally nailing this! I’m doing really well! I’m totally getting this part!” And then, on the last page, I had this whole monologue and, right before it, I completely blanked. I was so into how well I was doing that I entirely forgot all the words and blanked, and was just staring at the casting director. She fed me the line, and then I got it and was back on it. So, I guess I did okay. After I got the part, (writer/director) Richard [LaGravenese] sent me this nice email that said, “Congrats, you’re our Ridley! We’re excited! And I just want you to see what you did to get you the part.” So, he sent me the audition tape and I got to see it, and it was really good until that last moment when I completely fell apart. I made some weird facial noises and I had this look of desperation and sweat was coming out of my forehead. But, I guess they knew I wanted it, so I got the part.
ROSSUM: All of the dialogue was there, but a lot of the antics and the way of walking and the way that I’m speaking is what I came up with, with Richard. I actually had a very strong take on her for my audition, so I thought, “Well, they’re either going to love this or they’re going to hate it, and shut me up after I say the first line.” But, I guess they liked it because I got it. The oral fixation and stuff was stuff that I got from reading the original book, and were ideas that I wanted to incorporate into the movie.
Do you enjoy playing bad girls?
ROSSUM: I guess you would think that from my recent choices, but yeah. It’s fun for me to add a humanity and an emotional understanding to these kinds of characters. I think it would be really easy to play them as one-note evil, or for my character on Shameless as just the bad girl from the bad neighborhood. But for me, it’s interesting to add backstory and to add a sensitivity that hopefully will get the audience to get on the bad side with me because it’s fun over there.
Did you think about how bad someone has to be to actually be cast out by the Casters? They’re all doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, but they don’t want to have your character around. Did you give any thought as to what kind of trouble she must have been causing?
ROSSUM: Yeah, I made up things about her making other girls cut their hair off in the sandbox, even from when she was a kid. I think that she and Lena had a lot of fun with magic when they were kids and, eventually, when she grew up and got more powerful and went to the Dark side, which you see the claiming scene in the flashback, her family didn’t try to protect her or save her from that, at all. So, now seeing what’s happening with Lena, and how they’re protecting her and taking care of her, I think there’s a lot of animosity about that.
Did you look at her like she was somebody that was fully evil?
ROSSUM: I definitely see some good aspects of her, but I think that she’s just predominately a very selfish person, even at the very end, when you see her throw Emma Thompson under the bus and be like, “This was not my idea!” I think that she’s very self-centered, very self-indulgent, and very “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” And you don’t often see characters that are so like that and so campy, the way she is. So, for me, it was a lot of fun.
But, she still also had this hurt child quality to her, a little bit, and it seemed a bit like she didn’t even really know what she actually wanted anymore and that she was a bit lost, which was an interesting contrast to the over-the-top, confident girl that you see, when we first meet her.
ROSSUM: Yeah, well, around our families, I think we all revert to who we were as children, even if we want to go home at Thanksgiving and pretend like, “Look how much we’ve made of ourselves.” When push comes to shove, we will turn into the three-year-old who throws a tantrum, if that’s who we were around our family. That’s the way I saw it.
You’re very adept at going from emotion to emotion, between scary, vulnerable, warm, and funny. Your character really goes through every emotion, and sometimes multiple ones in the same scene. Is that something that you find easy to do, or is that something that you’ve had to work at?
ROSSUM: Thanks! I don’t know. Nobody’s ever asked me that before. I guess I think it’s fun. It’s like a roller coaster of exploring every different corner you can take, within whatever reality you’re playing, to try to find the different colors in a scene. Right now, I’m personally feeling flattered, but a couple minutes ago, I was feeling thoughtful. I think everyone does go through that, but trying to bring that to certain heights of whatever you’re trying to play is fun. I just try to play the reality, and I try not push anything. If it comes naturally to that place and that feeling, and I can navigate a way to that realistically, then I’ll let it go there.
You have the most fantastic wardrobe in this. Was it easy to work in that kind of stuff?
ROSSUM: Yeah, it’s incredibly fun! It also helped me, personally, to get into that mind-set of glamour, especially when I’ve been on Shameless, which is so the opposite of that. We had dyed my hair blonde for the movie because we thought, originally, that we might use my actual hair, and then it all ended up being wigs. But, just being blonde, people treated me differently. People were nicer and more friendly, and it was just a whole different attitude that I felt. It was definitely a different kind of a feeling. Thinking about that and how changing my appearance outside of work made me feel more connected to the character, is something I might do again, in the future.
You had so many different types of looks, hair colors, styles and outfits. Did that make you feel and carry yourself a little different, with each one?
ROSSUM: I just tried to channel however she wanted to affect the other person. That’s why her voice is so syrupy. She wants to be alluring and sugary. I’m also personally a very scent-oriented person, so I usually change my personal perfume for every character that I play. For this one, I found a kind of vanilla one that smelled like cookies, and when I put it on in the morning, it would make me feel immediately sugary and sweet and alluring, for what I imagine a 16-year-old boy would like
Did you have any idea what Ridley’s eyes would look like?
ROSSUM: They described it as fire, but I had no idea what that would look like. They just did it in CG, so I didn’t have to worry about that, which was great. But, I thought it was awesome! I thought it was also a way to show that she’s casting her powers, which you couldn’t tell otherwise because there are no verbal commands or anything. I liked that.
How was it to do that family dinner scene where everybody had to spin around the table?
ROSSUM: I didn’t think I was going to have a problem, but because everyone said I was going to have a problem, I took Dramamine, which should be called sleep medication. It’s apparently for sea sickness, but it’s like Ambien because I was falling asleep, at the same time I was trying to act in six-inch heels while strapped to a spinning room. So, it was definitely a different experience for me, but it was very fun. It added to the fact that 90% of the effects that you see were really happening, on the day. I feel like it added to the level of insanity that was actually happening emotionally, in the scene between those two characters.
Did it make you feel like any awkward holiday family dinner you’ll ever have to go through, could not ever be as bad as this experience?
ROSSUM: Yeah, but it’s just a heightened version of reality. Everyone has some kind of a family breakdown during Thanksgiving, so I felt like it was somewhat realistic, maybe without the hurricane. That was fun!
Was that one of the most challenging scenes you had to shoot?
ROSSUM: Yes, because of all of the elements. But, the most challenging scene to shoot, for me, was at the very end because I was in that massive dress with this tight, horrendous corset. I was basically in a turtleneck dress with all these petticoats in 120 degrees. And the dresses were so large that to transport me and Emma Thompson to the set from the trailers, they had to take all of the rows of seats out of a 15-passenger van and seat us on individual apple boxes, one per van. And it was 120 degrees, so we would get in the van in the air conditioning, and then get out and do the scene. I didn’t know my body had so much water in it. There was sweat just dripping down my body and my legs. It was just vile. And on top of that, I would take off the petticoats at the end of the day and, on one lovely occasion, a very large, hairy spider crawled out of my undercarriage. Glamour!
What was it like to shoot your more intimate scenes with Thomas Mann?
ROSSUM: We had a lot of fun. In fact, we decided to go on a couple faux dates. One of the first nights that we were in New Orleans, we decided to explore the city together, one late night after rehearsal. We were just walking around Bourbon Street and that area, and we walked out to the Mississippi. It started lightly misting, and it was very romantic. We were like, “Oh, this is good! We’re totally building chemistry, right now!” We decided to be a little rebellious and jump over the barricade and dangle our legs over the Mississippi. We were sitting on these wood beams, over this other area, and it was misty with lightning. I was snapping all these pictures on my iPhone, of how romantic it was. And there was this thing, out of the corner of my eye, that started to scurry away. I was like, “Oh, that’s so cute! Look at that little bunny rabbit!” And he was like, “That’s a rat!” And then, we looked down and realized that about two feet below us, there were tons and tons of rats. They were filthy, disgusting, moist, rained-up rats with large teeth and fangs, that were probably giving us the ebola virus. So, I quickly got the hell out of there, and he walked me home, which was lovely. That was definitely not a romantic experience, after all.
How was it to work with Emma Thompson?
ROSSUM: It was incredibly fun to work with her, just in terms of creating the backstories. And we worked with a dialect coach together to create a similar way of speaking, that was this honey-soaked witch thing. That was really fun. She seems to always find the humor in scenes, as an actress, and I think that that’s a really interesting aspect that I could still.
ROSSUM: I’ve read all the other books, so I hope they adhere to them because she’s in them. But, you never know. I like where my character goes, in the second book. Spoiler alert: She loses all of her powers, so she’s really pissed. She’s not that cute anymore, and she’s not powerful anymore. She’s just a normal chick, and she really doesn’t like being normal. She’s fun!
Do you normally cringe at having to watch yourself, or can you enjoy your work objectively?
ROSSUM: I guess I never really feel like it’s really me because I never feel like the way I talk, or walk, or look in things is usually like I do in real life. Maybe it’s just me, distancing myself from it, but I like it. I like watching and analyzing. I’m usually over-hypercritical and think, “Oh, I could have done that better. That could have been better. I could have done that better. Why didn’t they use that take, where I did that other thing?” So, I definitely watch it from a work perspective. It takes me a couple years to get away from it, to re-watch it and go, “Oh, that’s kind of okay.”
Why did you decide to make a record of old standards?
ROSSUM: It’s the kind of music I grew up with and grew up hearing. My mom was a single mom, and she would leave to travel for work. She was a photographer and she would go off to take pictures, and she would leave all these records for me to play, of the music that she grew up with. When she was home, she would sing Andrews Sisters songs as lullabies to me. Oldies were a big part of my youth.
And you never rebelled against that?
Were there any specific songs that you felt most scared about taking on, or there ones that you were most excited about doing?
ROSSUM: The one that I was most excited about, that I decided to do first, was “Apple Blossom Time” because that was a song that my mom used to sing to me, as a bed time lullaby. And the song I was probably most scared to do was “These Foolish Things” because it’s such a well-known song and people love the Ella [Fitzgerald], Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra versions of that.
Are you happy with how it all turned out?
ROSSUM: Yeah, it was fun!
Are you as critical of yourself as a singer, as you are of yourself as an actress?
ROSSUM: I’m critical of myself as a cook. I’m critical of myself as a singer. I’m critical of myself as someone who breathes.
You work a lot, and you go back and forth between exploring characters on film for shorter periods of time, and continuing to explore your character on Shameless. Do you like having all of that to go back and forth between, and also having a character that you get to keep revisiting?
ROSSUM: Yeah. It’s comforting, in a way, not only to see the same familiar faces in cast and crew, but to revisit a character who feels like my sister, by this point. She feels like somebody I know. She feels like somebody I can inhabit more easily than I could, initially. She feels like somebody who’s in a little suitcase in my brain, and I can unzip her and take her out when I need her.
Are you excited that Shameless got picked up for Season 4 already?
ROSSUM: Yeah! We don’t go back into production until September, but I’m really excited. I think we’re going to have a winter season again. We did our first season in winter, and then the second and third in summer seasons, so I think this will be fun. I like seeing the Gallagher family in the winter. I think it adds a level of grey harshness to the lifestyle of Chicago, that’s a character, in and of itself. And I love coming back to a character that is challenging and fun. I’m starting to appreciate the idea that maybe the show is going to be on for a little while now. I’m starting to embrace that idea. I’m very skiddish about being like, “It’s a hit!” But, I’m finally thinking that maybe we’ll get a few seasons, so I’m really excited.
Are you filming something right now?
ROSSUM: I just finished a movie with Hilary Swank, called You’re Not You. It’s about a woman who has ALS, and I play her caretaker.
Do you know what you’re going to do next, or are you taking a break?
ROSSUM: Who knows. I’m reading, so we’ll see.
Beautiful Creatures opens in theaters on February 14th.