CS Interview: Catherine Hardwicke talks Miss Bala
Miss Bala stars Gina Rodriguez as Gloria Meyer, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist who finds herself a pawn in a dangerous game being played by the CIA, the DEA, and a charismatic young crime boss named Lino (Ismael Cruz Cordova). Unlike the 2011 film of the same name, the remake is set on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.
It’s an environment that director Catherine Hardwicke is familiar with, having grown up in the border town of McAllen, Texas.
“It was quite a violent place to grow up,” Hardwick says. While she acknowledges the situation has since “escalated a zillion times,” she saw her fair share of drug violence growing up. “The principal was stabbed three times in a year. The other principal was shot down like transporting [drugs] in an airplane back from Mexico. So, it was kind of a wild place to grow up.”
Still, Hardwicke became fond of Mexican culture and wanted that to be reflected in her take on Miss Bala. “I went to art school in Mexico, and I just love everything that architecture and I wanted to show that. Som like in the original, you have kind of more like the dusty, ghetto version of Mexico. In ours, we wanted to show a more vibrant culture, [like] Tijuana, where you have cutting edge, modern architecture, beautiful landscapes, and cool murals.”
“I liked the new elements that the new writer [Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer] had added,” Hardwicke continues. “He had the whole identity thing. The original was all set in Mexico, a pure Mexican story. But in this one, you have a Gringa coming from the US, she’s lived on both sides of the border and Lino has also lived on both sides of the border, so you’ve got that identity. Am I too Mexican to be Gringa or am I too Gringa to be Mexican?”
The other major difference in the remake is the character of Gloria, who finds a power she never knew she had when she is drawn into the dangerous world of cross-border crime. “In the original, [Gloria] is very passive,” says Hardwicke. “She is a victim, and she was symbolizing Mexico being a victim of the violence and the drug trade. In this one, we really tried to make Gloria not accept being a victim and going beyond being a survivor, but to thrive, and figure out how to solve the problems that start piling up.”
In order to portray a character who’s at one in over her head and proves herself capable of handling herself in a life-or-death situation, she looked to Rodriguez. While the actress had proven her likability over several seasons of Jane the Virgin, her recent role in last year’s Annihilation showed she can be formidable as well. It’s something Hardwicke calls “the force of Gina.”
“Gina could actually portray this character that on one level has to have a poker face, because she’s being played by both sides. She’s almost a double agent. She can’t give anything away, but you still have to feel for her. You still have to, as an audience, empathize with her. Gina was able to carry the whole movie. And then, of course, I’m thinking, ‘How do I photograph her so that I really feel what she’s feeling?’ And you know, with the Anamorphic widescreen Lens, she can be close in the frame, but you can also see a lot of the environment — what the hell she’s in the middle of.”
While Gloria’s character undergoes a massive transformation during the film’s runtime, Hardwicke knew it was important that Rodriguez’ performance fit every scene, even though they were filmed out of order. For this approach, Hardwicke held an extensive rehearsal process with her lead actors to make sure the nuances of what Gloria was going through were evident. “We just worked and rehearsed it in order all the way through, several hours a day.”
In making Miss Bala, Hardwicke says she wasn’t interested in taking inspiration from other films, but rather stay “inside the story.” Though she did take inspiration from an unlikely source: the writings of Ambrose Bierce.
“I was reading some interesting things that he wrote, that men wanted to be tested to find out if they were yellow or not,” recalls Hardwicke. “They wanted to know if they could go [somewhere], hold a gun, and not chicken out and run away. In a way, most of us haven’t been tested. We haven’t been put in a situation like this where you’ve had to stay strong. I actually have, more than one time, but one time I have had a gun to my head, so I have been tested and I just recalled those in that instance. Okay, what do you do? How do you stay focused? I was trying to like stay with that through film.”
Ultimately, Gloria’s motivation comes from a line heard in the trailer, when she’s told early on that “No one is coming to save you.” While the line was an awakening for Gloria’s character, Hardwick explains that it was something of a mantra for the film itself. “That was very important line for all of us. Even as a director, that was an essential line because there were certain hardships. Making a movie, budgets get cut, you lose a day out of your schedule. [So you think], ‘No one’s coming to save you.’ You’ve got to solve this problem right now.”
Miss Bala opens in theaters everywhere today.