Though best known as the director behind the first Twilight film, Catherine Hardwicke began her career as a production designer, working in Hollywood for nearly two decades before her directorial debut on 2003’s Thirteen. The artistic eye that she honed on films like Tombstone and Three Kings are very much at the forefront of her latest, a stylized take on the legend of Red Riding Hood.
Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie, a virtuous young woman caught in a romantic triangle between two men in her village. Things take a turn for the worse when her sister is murdered by a monstrous werewolf, a creature with which the village has had a longtime truce. Now, Valerie must sort out her affections for one man or the other, aware that either could secretly be the monster that killed her sister.
Hardwicke spoke exclusively with ComingSoon.net about the film, some of its unusual influences, and the unusual approach to the film’s novelization (first revealed by CS sister site ShockTillYouDrop).
CS: I see you have the novel adaptation of the film sitting here and that’s one of the things I was going to ask you about. The novelization has sort of an unusual ending.
Catherine Hardwicke: Well, we couldn’t give the whole ending away. We had it end right before you find out [who the wolf is]. But then you can go online after the movie comes out and read the final chapter.
CS: Was that your idea?
Hardwicke: Yeah, because David Johnson wrote a much more detailed screenplay than we could actually fit in our movie. So I felt like “Oh my god! You’re not going to know the characters as much as I want you to know them!” and then I got my friend, Sarah [Blakley-Cartwright], a 22 year old, to write the book. She’s been in all my other movies and I thought it would be really fun. But I also thought, “We can’t give away the ending.” We don’t want to know who the wolf is. So we take it right up to that point.
CS: Was that a concern on-set? Was there any thought of shooting multiple endings?
Hardwicke: Well, we didn’t, no. But a lot of people never got the whole script. They just got up to page 85. A lot of people who worked on the movie didn’t know the ending. There’s nobody in that last scene except for, like, three people.
CS: You’re directing a cast where you need to get across the paranoia that any one of them could be the wolf. What sort of directing do you give to actors to get the point across without hinting too much one way or the other?
Hardwicke: There are a lot of suspects, yeah. How do we keep that air of mystery? Well, Shiloh [Fernandez], for instance, sort of knew that his character was meant to keep to himself. He was sort of the silent type where he doesn’t talk too much. He’s the Clint Eastwood type where he says two or three words and you don’t really know what the character is thinking. Then you’ve got Henry. But I didn’t want the movie to be a cheat where, when you look back on it, you think that, on purpose, we tricked you. Each character should have a real motivation from their heart for everything they’re doing. But if you went back and looked at it, you would say, “Oh, I see why he did that” or “I see why she did that.” But it’s very tricky to choreograph that none of the prime suspects can be there when the wolf appears. It was fascinating to work that.
CS: Tell me about the whole look of the film. Your background is in production design, so how quickly did it all come together for you on this?
Hardwicke: Yeah, that was one of my favorite things coming from production design and architecture and all that. I was so excited to get to create a world so, right when I first got the script, I literally got out my drawing paper and colored pencils and paints and looking at beautiful images from Heironymus Bosch, like “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Looking at all those paintings from Medieval times. I went to Burning Man and looked at all my photos. Those kind of festivals. Then I started researching the architecture. If you lived in this forested area, how heavy would the timbers and the wood be. I had this crazy little book when I was 17 of Northern Russian architecture that I fell in love with. I always kept that with me, believe it or not. It had all these neat buildings. So I just started pulling all these objects together.
CS: This is obviously set up as a romance, but the horror element kind of reminded of the old Hammer films.
Hardwicke: Yeah, it’s the same sort of closed-door mystery. The villagers are scared. One person might be the werewolf.
CS: And those same films would have someone like Christopher Lee or
Peter Cushing in a similar capacity to the way you use Gary Oldman.
Hardwicke: Yeah, exactly. I had a lot of actor friends who wanted to do it, but I found out that Gary wanted it. He had read the script somehow and I was like, “Oh my god! Gary Oldman!” You just look at the stuff that guy has done. He’s such a transformative actor. He’s just amazing. So I met with him and I just instantly fell in love with him and so comfortable. He’s not as intimidating as I thought. He was open to the process and everything. You never know. I was worried, “Is he going to let me direct him? Is he going to direct me?” I loved the movie he directed, too, “Nil by Mouth.” He’s a good director, too. But he seemed very into the process and the collaboration. That was just a dream. A real treat for me in getting to work with him.
CS: There’s a fascination in film right with fairy tales…
Hardwicke: Yeah, it’s really catching on. But ours is coming out first! But [I’ve read books] about why fairy tales endure and why we care about them. Why they’ve lasted for 700 years and why they keep transforming with each era and each new filmmaker or lipstick commercial that uses Red Riding Hood. What is that enduring, resonant thing? Why do we keep returning to them? So I think that those same kind of qualities — the meaning and the symbolism — and how you can use them to really grapple with a problem or an issue, putting a face of a wolf or a witch or a stepmother, you can grapple any fear you have. Or the darkness inside you or a sexual desire. Or sibling rivalry in “Cinderella.” It lets you deal with desires that you go through as a kid. When you have problems when you’re five years old, it’s just like “Red Riding Hood.” “I’m scared to go in the woods” or “I’m scared to go to sleep in a room by myself at night.” Later on, when you’re 12 or 13, you really notice the sexual implications. The wolf is in bed, inviting her into bed. You start reading it on a different level, once you hit that sexual awakening. I think that people are finally catching up on this being a very potent canvas.
CS: We’re at a stage where superhero films have been very successful for some time and it’s certainly a male-driven genre. Do you think that, in a way, fairy tale films are sort of a female response to that?
Hardwicke: It’s true that a lot of them are female-driven. Snow White, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood. A lot of them do have a female lead or female protagonist. This is one of the few that has a female that doesn’t get rescued by a prince and gets married at the end to live happily ever after. She stays kind of still. I think that superheroes are going to keep going. We’ll never get rid of superheroes. But it’s kind of fun to have people who are going into these imaginative realms. It’s going to be fun to see all the directors interpretations.
CS: Is it freeing to have a story where you can hit the beats of the original story with the “what big eyes you have” scene and whatnot and not be bogged down by fan details? I would imagine that, in the case of “Twilight,” you were probably up against people saying, “No way. On page 35, Bella never said that.”
Hardwicke: Exactly. Because this is such a tiny little, short fairy tale and there are easily ten versions of it. The Grimm brothers may have the best known version, but that was written in the 1800’s. It was around for 400 years before that. I think that it’s interesting that we did have that version and they couldn’t look it up on Amazon or even Google. You can’t say if she wore a blue shirt or not or what color she was supposed to be wearing that day. So we did have that liberating feeling, exactly.
CS: Can you talk about the animal masks we see in the film? Is that all period costuming?
Hardwicke: When we go into the festival? That was very inspired by paintings of Bruegel and Bosch, which are from the 1400’s and 1500’s. They’re just amazing. Bosch, of course, with the crazy “Garden of Earthly Delights.” I think that we love that. Also primitive masks and all the festivals. The Harvest Festival. All those different things that are tribal and connected. And I love Burning Man which, as I said, harkens back to medieval times and is tribal. You’ve got the big effigy and a wolf head. I thought that was something we could relate to. The current day raves and chanting. All kinds of stuff that started way back then. I thought I’d just make a fun, crazy thing. This village has been terrorized for a long time. They need to have a party.
CS: You mentioned Burning Man at the press conference, too. How long have you been going?
Hardwicke: It’s just so great. Everybody goes there and they’re just so creatively dressed and they invent all kinds of funny bicycles that glow in the dark and you think you see a kangaroo riding through the night and you realize it’s a guy on a bicycle. Only what glows is what you can see. All kinds of crazy musical instruments are made and everything. It’s very creative. I would recommend anybody should go. But I felt like, in a way, that’s what I was trying to get at at that festival. Just that sense of freedom, cutting loose and going wild. For a moment. Before the wolf attacks.
CS: It also reminded me a bit of the original “The Wicker Man.”
Hardwicke: Oh yeah. I did see that recently. That’s a great one. But have you seen the original one? Back in the ’60s with the clothes? That is a wild time capsule, that movie, isn’t it? Yeah, I guess there’s a little bit in there because I looked at it after people told me to. There’s a little bit of a connection. There’s an intersection in there somewhere.
CS: What’s next for you?
Hardwicke: I wish I had an accurate crystal ball. I have projects. One’s at Universal. One’s at Fox. They’re chugging along. There’s also “Hamlet,” which I wish I could make. You just never know where the green light will actually shine and say, “Okay, this movie’s going to go.” As a director you kind of need to keep working on each one, creating artwork and excitement and helping each one to try and get made. But I had four other projects that I had thought were going to go before this one. This is just the one that came through. Look at the Oscars. You hear Mark Wahlberg spent ten years trying to get “The Fighter” made. And he’s a movie star. Lisa Cholodenko spent four years writing [“The Kids are all Right”] and had so many problems getting it made. Every project that’s interesting has its struggle for somebody to say, “Yes. We’ll make it.” So you have to keep trying. Have this one in the works, but maybe we’ll make this one.
CS: What is the “Hamlet” that you want to do?
Hardwicke: “Hamlet” is one that Emile Hirsch and I started working on with Ron Nyswaner, who wrote “Philadelphia” and “The Painted Veil” and other interesting things. It’s about 90 minutes and kind of a horror-thriller. But we used Shakespeare’s words, just sparingly. We don’t do the whole text, of course. Within three days of Hamlet’s father dying, eight people are dead. It’s sort a really cool horror thriller. And we had it. We were scouting and we almost thought we were going to get to make it before that company fell through. It’s like a tough road to get things made. I hope I get to make that. I have my fingers crossed.
Red Riding Hood hits theaters this Friday, March 11th.