On this week’s limited theatrical release
Earlier this week, director Paul Solet and actress Jordan Ladd sat down with the press in a quaint house just off of Melrose in Los Angeles to discuss Grace (opening in limited release August 14). Although the two confessed to sharing some friction with one another early on in production, all of that has since dissipated and, as you’ll see, when it comes to talking about the film they’re palpably in sync. In Solet’s feature debut, Ladd plays a mother who carries the dead baby in her womb to term only to be faced with an unnatural, blood-thirsty and unsettling dilemma.
Question: Can you talk about expanding the short film into a feature and the origins of the themes?
Paul Solet: On a personal level, the whole thing started when I was 19 years old and my mom told me I had a twin that didn’t make it. So the material became compelling on a cellular level for me. The actual creative genesis of the story came four years later when I was having a conversation with someone where it came up that it’s actual medical science that if you are pregnant and you lose your child and labor isn’t induced, you can carry your baby to term – and that’s actually a decision that women make more frequently than is discussed around the dinner table. As a genre fan, first and foremost, I’m always looking to get shaken up and it’s tough. Not a lot of subjects, not a lot of films actually get under my skin, and even as a man, this really did get to me. So it was just a very clear jumping-off point for the film.
As far as the short goes, basically the short came after the feature. It came after the feature script. I wrote the feature coming across the country when I moved from Boston about five years ago. I wrote the first draft and people liked it. It was well-received. It’s grown a lot â I rewrote it for a long, long time, but people liked it and I got offers to option it, but it’s a much more difficult task to get them to give you a million bucks to make a movie. I don’t have pride of authorship issues; like, I took meetings with these directors, and I heard what they had to say and I listened to their ideas, but they just didn’t get it. They were not genre guys and they didn’t understand the potential; non-genre guys don’t understand what the potential is if you take an otherwise mundane idea and blow it open. These guys think like, oh, it’s a checklist â do
I have my tits, do I have my blood, do I have my jump scares, you know what I mean? It’s like, you just don’t get it. I would get guys that would wink at me [and say] âwhat do you think about this â what if we added a Satan-worshipper subplot, like the car goes off of the road and goes down into a ditch and then
there’s a ceremony happening?’ I really needed the money, believe me â I was wrapping cable and throwing apple boxes around; but I really do believe in story, and if you have a story you believe in, it’s your number one allegiance is to see that it’s brought to fruition to its maximum potential. And that was how the short happened: I was like â I mean, you ought to prove to a financier that you have the chops to do something. I had done a bunch of shorts, but I had never done anything on 35mm. so we put a good cast together, we put a good crew together, we raised enough money together to shoot on 35mm, I distilled the key beats of the first act of the feature into a five-minute pitch and that’s how the short happened.
Question: When you got the script, was there any apprehensions about diving back into the horror genre or the subject matter at hand?
Jordan Ladd: When I first got the script, it was pitched to me as sort of a Rosemary’s Baby kind of thing, and I thought I’m trying to get out of genre [material]. My manager said, no, this is really special, before you pass, take a look â and from page one, I found the character of Madeleine Mathison riveting and I kind of got it, but as I proceeded to read, there were beats that were more horror-like. So I wondered what kind of filmmaker Paul was going to be, and my decision really hinged on was he telling a story of selflessness and of motherhood going wrong, and that kind of being the present theme, or was he using this as an opportunity to sell beats. I have no opinion either way, it’s just a matter of do I want to tell this story or should it be another actress, because I’ve done this before? So we sat down with our two dogs and we were only going to meet for a few minutes, and we talked and talked for four hours and we just kept going and going. After that meeting I just sort of looked at him and said, âfuck it, let’s do it â I’m so excited,’ and it was clear to me that he was really using genre as a way to tell a really profound story about women and childbirth and sacrifices and love. So it became really clear to me that was the movie he was making and not a genre movie. It was manna from heaven getting this role, and thus far I’ve really gotten to fulfill all of my genre needs, but I’ve never gotten to go really inside myself in a profound way. I was terrified of doing that, but comfortable in the context of Paul’s direction and his script and vision, taking myself to a really uncomfortable place. He was willing to go there with himself, too, so I didn’t feel entirely alone, and thank God I had something in my past that I really needed to get out. So this for me was a lovely outlet to really express these things, and as an actress I have not been given that opportunity, so I just ran with it. Of course I was hesitant about continuing in genre stuff, even though I like it; it’s just that I’m trying to work in other areas. For me the story was a dramatic piece that happened to have these beats.
We didn’t have any rehearsal time together [because] he had to get on a plane and do preproduction, so our rehearsals were over the phone, or via email or pages â pages that we may or may not shoot or ideas or whatever. So it was constantly percolating in my mind at all times and we were both calling each other [saying] âdude, I’m sleeping with a pen and paper next to my bed, and I’ve never done this. I’m dreaming about it, getting up and scribbling back story here.’ And he was like âI’m doing the same thing’. And we only had a limited amount of days so that was a real blessing because I had done all of the character work with him prior to it in this really engaging way, and no writer has ever allowed me into the process. So much of my preparation was that.
Solet: When you have a thinking actor at your disposal like Jordan and you don’t let them into the process. It’s just cheating the whole process. To me, it’s like not listening to your director of photography’s advise on shots. It’s the character, she is the character. How would you not involve her in the process? So we had a good thing going. There was no rehearsal. We shot 192 scenes with a cat, a baby and a car crash in 17, 9 Â½ hour days in Regina. There was a lot of preparation that went into this thing [for her]. A lot of personal, emotional preparation. But beyond on that, we were trading all kinds of [information]. We knew every relationship, why it was thematically relevant, there were no accidents. By the time we got there, we knew it shorthand.
Question: Can you talk about your approach to horror?
Solet: I think it’s a dance. A lot of it is intuition and if you have this shit in your blood, you have it in your blood. For me, I come at this as a fan first, I know what kind of movies I want to see. I’m disappointed when a movie sucks and it makes me infuriated. It just makes me want to step it up. It’s a matter of playing on your audiences expectations. Genre audiences are so savvy, even if they can’t articulate it. They’re expecting certain beats, they’re expecting certain structure. And it’s a matter of delivering on their expectations while exploiting that space in between their expectations and what you’re deliver. Flipping shit on its head. Shock? Or suspense? Well, shock and suspense, obviously. Shock when you’re expecting suspense and suspense when you’re expecting shock. That’s how you do it, it’s a dance. Grace is all about keeping people off balance. It’s about kicking the knees out from under the audience and cutting open their guts and reaching in and f**king with their soul. That’s how we roll. If you like this stuff you have to have a slightly sadistic streak. I’ve seen this movie with 80 different audiences and I’m not watching them anymore, I’m watching the audiences.
Question: Can you talk about the things you needed to tweak to the script to make it more believable, and empathetic, to create an ideal portrait of this woman?
Solet: One of the first things that we talked about that really clinched it for me was that she had an empathetic quality that this character really needed. This character is making some decisions that you cannot dismiss this character as a kook or being weird and you need someone like Jordan to deliver that sort of empathy. So one of the things that she said from the start was I love this script so much, I don’t want to screw it up because I’m not a mom. That really clinched it for me, that really was clear that she believed in the thing as much as I did and she wanted to see it done right. I said I totally get it â I’m not a mom either, and I totally get needing to connect with the material personally. We talked about this idea even beneath the uncanny power of the bond between mother and child is this sort of deeper core of wanting something that you cannot have. That defies gender; that transcends everything, and that was something that Jordan and I both as much as we would probably not like to have to identify with that shit, that’s a basic human thing, and that was sort of how we both plugged right into it. that was also a jumping-off point for a discussion of we need to make this authentic â a man coming at a woman’s world, and someone who isn’t a mother playing a mother, it was very important to us to get this right so we really went to great lengths to go through the process of learning everything that a new mother would be learning together. We really did study about natural birthing; we learned about these worlds with the same sort of dedication and enthusiasm as a mother would.
Ladd: We started with this notion of codependency, and codependency is generally not a positive term. But the ultimate codependent relationship is mother and child, and that’s codependency gone right; you’re supposed to be codependent in that relationship. But the way Paul told the story, he created a situation where this codependency was making this woman sick: this baby had a need, and she had a need to keep this baby, and it was constantly a struggle back and forth between these two people, but the fact that the fundamentals and the foundation of their relationship is love. I’ve experienced where I’ve overgiven of myself to the point of ruining my own life and relationships and so forth, so for me it was making the transference into this situation with the kid and believing that helped a lot. Because I had been there, just not with a baby; I’ve been there in these other scenarios, so that was a great jumping off point for us.
For more with Solet, read our Sundance interview with him here.
Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor