From writer/director Diablo Cody, the charmingly sweet dramedy Paradise tells the story of a sheltered young woman named Lamb (Julianne Hough), who loses her faith after a plane crash that leaves much of her body severely burned. Setting out on a journey to Las Vegas to experience the wild side of life, Lamb meets unlikely companions Loray (Octavia Spencer) and William (Russell Brand), and they form a bond that will help each of them find their own salvation.
During a press conference at the film’s press day, actress Julianne Hough talked about bring restricted by the prosthetics for her character, what she learned from talking to burn survivors, being too tired to have girls’ nights while they were shooting in Vegas, and how much she drew on her own life for this role, while Octavia Spencer talked about how Loray is different from her, why she likes working with writer/directors, how petrified she was to try zip lining, and how her life has changed since receiving so much acclaim for The Help. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Julianne, being a dancer is about movement, but Lamb is someone who’s very physically limited, and has the compression stockings and arm coverings, how did that impact you physically and help you get into the character and head space?
JULIANNE HOUGH: That was one of the most important things for me because, in general, I’m always very animated. The past three films before I did this film were all singing and dancing movies. What was cool about it was that all of that energy that I usually use, I had to completely contain. I still felt all of that energy inside, which is what I feel like Lamb has. She used to be a performer. She had her big moment with her talent show. But now, it’s all contained and she can’t move. When I went and did research with burn survivors, it literally feels like they have been barbecued and can’t move. Their skin will tear, or their joints are really sore. It was physically very contained, which I’m not used to, but it did help. It was interesting to be able to get super prostheticed up because I got to walk around without my whole Lamb get up, but just with the burns, and I saw how people reacted and responded, and people don’t want to make eye contact. People get uncomfortable. A lot of these burn survivors said, “I would rather somebody just be like, ‘Hey what happened?,’ rather than make me feel like I’m scary or I’m ugly.” This outward effect that has happened to them completely changes who they are on the inside, and nobody really knows that.
What did you learn from the burn survivors you spoke to? Did spending time with them change you, in some way?
HOUGH: Physically, and actually just in a safety sense, most of what happened to them were accidents from household things, like cooking and the tea falling and getting third degree burns, or going into the garage and getting something, or putting a turkey in the deep fryer and having it spill. I was like calling all of my sisters with my nieces and nephews and was like, “Make sure you put this away and this away. This is way more dangerous than you think.” It could happen to anybody, really. It’s such a hard thing because a lot of these kids said they used to go to dance or to PE class, and now they don’t want to because they’re afraid to change in front of people, or they look in the mirror and it’s like it’s not even them, even though it is. I think people are so obsessed with the outside that they don’t really understand what’s going on, on the inside. For Lamb, it was a test of everything she’s ever known.
Octavia, is Loray different from you?
OCTAVIA SPENCER: Absolutely! Every character I get to play has some element of who I am, but there’s no fun in playing yourself. At least, for me, there isn’t. I’d like to think that I am a nurturer like Loray, and that I’m as judgmental as Loray. I like the fact that Lamb thinks that she is not pretty, but what Loray sees is a cute blonde. It’s not until she actually starts having a conversation with her that she realizes that she’s different. That’s what we do. We make snap judgments about people’s appearances. What’s going on inside is usually very different.
SPENCER: My bread and butter has been writer/directors. They’re the ones who give me my shot. I love that. I welcome it. It’s wonderful for me because half of my research is just sitting down and having a conversation with them because they know what their intentions are. There’s not a mediator, as far as the director, that you have to go through. This is the writer, it’s their vision that you see, and my job, as an actor, is to do what’s written and get to what her intention for the character is. The beauty of getting to work with Diablo Cody is to say her words.
HOUGH: I wanted to do this movie, so I could work with Diablo and be able to have her words coming out of my mouth. I worked on another film where it was the complete opposite. It was like, “Say whatever you want to say.” So, to have this structure and really transform yourself into a character, rather than being yourself, it’s what acting is all about.
Did you guys have a girl’s night or two, while you were in Vegas?
SPENCER: Maybe eight.
HOUGH: By girl’s night, if you mean taking a bath and going to bed, then definitely. We were shooting nights, so we would get in when the sun came up and everybody else was going to bed. Because we were in the environment of Vegas, it was almost like we had our own little party while we were shooting.
Was it fun to do the zip lining?
HOUGH: Yeah, zip lining was great.
SPENCER: I was petrified. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of crossing street because a car might hit me. I’m not even kidding. I’m neurotic. I was totally freaking out. I was like, “How safe is it?” They were like, “It’s totally safe!” And then, they came up with this little thing that said, “If you die, we’re not responsible.” I was like, “I’m going to die?! What’s happening?!” Then, I thought, “You know what? This movie is about living on the edge. I need to live on the edge.” But, I was really happy when I landed on that platform.
HOUGH: By the way, that day was freezing. There were 40 mile an hour winds, and it was so cold.
SPENCER: It was freezing.
HOUGH: I feel like I’m going through that, right now. I’m like, “Wait, I’m not 18 and fresh, and this young thing anymore!” I was so motivated and driven, and now I’m lazy. I just want to stay on my couch today. I feel like I’m in this place of, “Do I want to still live in Hollywood, or do I want to venture out and go to the west side and be away from the industry?” I’m in transition right now. I’m like, “Yeah, I’m 25. What is happening?! I’m supposed to be 18 forever!” I’m in that stage, right now. I’m sure I’ll have it again when I’m 30.
SPENCER: At 21, you can live life with reckless abandon, as reckless as your abandon is. Then, at 30, there’s something there are the supposed to be’s. You’re like, “I’m supposed to be doing this. I’m supposed to be doing that.” You start measuring your life by what you think you’re supposed to be doing. Having recently turned 40, it’s like, “What the hell?! Why am I worried about what I’m supposed to be doing? What do I want to do?” You become fine with wherever the road takes you. There are moments where you stop living, if you stop changing, and if you stop seeking growth of some sort. It doesn’t mean that you throw the baby out with the bath water. My mom did pretty okay with me. You don’t throw everything out. You keep some of that.
HOUGH: I grew up Mormon in Utah. If you go anywhere, it’s 99.9% LDS. When I first left and I went to London, it was like, ‘What is going on?! I didn’t even know you could do this!” That was the same thing as Lamb with the napkin. She was like, “You can do this stuff?! That’s crazy!” The thing that’s stuck with me is that, because I was raised that way, I have the same morals and standards. As much as I want to sin, and I drink now and do certain things, I can’t go that far because I just can’t do it. There’s just something in me that won’t allow me to go that far. I feel like I have a really good balance of where I came from and where hell is, which is L.A. I somehow have a good balance, and that definitely comes from how I was raised.
Octavia, how has your life changed since getting all of the awards for The Help?
SPENCER: I love those awards. I do. But my life is, thank god, very much the same. It has to be small because I can’t have it too big. But with my career, I get to work with the best of the best. I get to have an opinion about the things that I get to do. Let me just tell you, that is great to have, and to have your voice heard, and to have an opinion and have choices. I wouldn’t trade any of it, and I won’t give them back.
Do you feel a little bit responsible?
SPENCER: I’m responsible for the material that I put out there for minors. I just wrote a children’s book. But in the sense of society as a whole, I think what we do is an art. It’s great, if you enter into a project knowing that it will either enlighten, educate, or just be a form of escapism. I now am more attracted to parts like this, that will enlighten and be a form of escapism. I don’t feel responsible for shaping the consciousness of society. I think that’s what our job, as functioning human beings, is.
What’s the name of your children’s book?
SPENCER: Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective. It came out on October 15th.
Paradise is available now On Demand and at iTunes, and is in theaters on October 18th.