Catherine Hardwicke On Red Riding Hood's Subliminal Sexuality and Post-Twilight Pressures
After departing the phenomenally successful Twilight franchise that launched star Kristen Stewart into the stratosphere along with then-unknowns Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, director Catherine Hardwicke set her sights on another supernatural teen romance: Red Riding Hood. Starring Amanda Seyfried as the titular heroine, Hardwicke's take on the age-old fairytale becomes a medieval murder-mystery with a current of seething sensuality bubbling beneath the surface -- just one of many subjects the director discussed in a frank conversation with Movieline about Red Riding Hood, post-Twilight pressure, her critics, and more.
Also up for discussion during Hardwicke's chat with Movieline: How producer Leonardo DiCaprio stayed involved every step of the way, the magical casting moment that will make its way onto Red Riding Hood's DVD release, and what she really thinks Red Riding Hood was up to when she met the wolf on her way to grandmother's house. (Click here for eight other films that put a twist on the fairytale.)
You've already tackled vampire lore and the Nativity; what was it about the Red Riding Hood mythology that spoke to you, and were you extra careful about choosing the project that would follow Twilight?
Well it's so interesting, because when you watch the Oscars and you hear everybody get up there and say, "I spent 10 years trying to make this movie" -- and it's Mark Wahlberg, a movie star, trying to make The Fighter or Lisa Cholodenko spending four years writing [The Kids Are All Right] and the money fell out. It's never exactly what we think that we're going to make next. I had about five different projects that I thought were going to go, or this one or that one, and this was the first one that got all the way to greenlight, we're shooting! So as a director you kind of have to have several things cooking; you hope one of them's going to go. This one actually made it.
What other projects were also up in the air for you?
I really wanted to do Hamlet. It's a very fun project; I hope I get to do that still, but you just never know. The powers that be have to shine a light on it and give you a big pile of money!
So the Red Riding Hood pile of money just came in first?
Yeah, and I loved this project. I mean, I read the script that David Leslie Johnson wrote and I was just very intrigued. Like, first of all: How do you take that tiny little story and make it something interesting that we'd want to watch? He went backwards in the story and created all these interesting, weird characters, relationships like with the father and the mother. I read an awesome book, you might have seen it -- The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. It was written in the '70s but it's very cool, about the meaning and importance of fairytales and why these stories stick with us. Why has that story, in some form or another, lasted for 700 years? Why do people keep telling it to their kids, and what do kids get out of it? So like with Red Riding Hood, you might have heard it when you were four or five years old and then liked it on one level -- "Oh, it's a little girl going into the woods and she didn't do what her mom said. Scary!" But maybe when you're a little bit older you start realizing, "Hey, there's another layer."
The erotic undertones!
There's the wolf. She told the wolf where she was going; "I'm going to my grandmother's, right over there." She invited him in, you know? She drew it in -- she was in touch with her sensual feelings. Stopping to pick flowers, not obeying mom. So maybe you're 12 years old thinking, "What am I feeling?" And the wolf starts to symbolize something different for you at that time than when it was just a monster when you were five. Fairytales keep taking the fact that they're not super literal, wagging their finger at you, don't do this -- they give you these symbols, the wolf in the bed, and you can read your own stuff into them. I think that's one reason why we love them.
I enjoyed the fact that Valerie is a young woman possessed of her own sexuality. Her red cloak is such a vibrant symbol of her sensual power.
Yeah, and that's this amazing symbol. Blood red, coming of age red -- on all those different levels. And that's kind of the fun of it, the cloak has become this amazing symbol. You see wild Japanese artists drawing Red Riding Hood with a bloody axe, and you'll see 18th-century engravings. That image has inspired people for a long time.
How much development with [screenwriter] David Leslie Johnson did you do on the script?
Oh, a lot. As soon as I got the script, I had a ton of notes. David had an old granny teaching the girls how to sew and the lessons and the -- and I'm like, no. Grannies aren't old nowadays anymore and the grannies weren't old then. This is a lady who lived out in the woods by herself, knew how to get her food, how to defend herself... you know, she had to be pretty badass! So I said, "Let's make her kind of hip and bohemian and radical," and Julie Christie is not gonna be some old granny. So we had that, that was one thing we changed. And there were just a lot of interesting things -- what would the village look like? I kind of added that level of the walls around it and the lookout tower and the stilts and the spikes, and the wolf temple sacrifice kind of thing, the rituals. The dance -- how sexy could that be, this crazy medieval rave? I had a lot of fun with it and worked a lot with the screenwriter.
Because of the similarities in story -- the female teen protagonist with two suitors, the supernatural element -- how much pressure was there to recreate Twilight-level magic?
Well, you know. Obviously Twilight had its own alchemy that was amazing, just phenomenal. Nobody thought it was going to make any money. Paramount wouldn't make the movie, Fox wouldn't make it. Nobody wanted to do it. Summit was like, "You can only have this much and it's probably not going to make anything," but everything changed as Stephenie [Meyer] wrote two more books while we were in the process of making it. The fan base grew and as soon as we put the picture of Rob [Pattinson] on the Internet, the excitement built. This isn't the same case, so I never think it could be like that. That was maybe a once in a lifetime thing, or once in a generation.
But I hope people will like this for what it is. It's got its own interesting little twist and cool things. My big challenge in Twilight was to make you believe vampires could live in your [neighborhood] -- could show up in your high school and you wouldn't even notice that they were vampires. So I had to make the world real and very grounded. In this case, my challenge was to make a fairytale world that you believed had its own reality, and I could use my imagination to really create a whole universe, a whole world.
Do you read reviews, takes critiques from past films, and reassess the way you tell stories or the way you work?
I think that if you can bear to read the cruelty on the Internet or whatever, that you probably could learn a lot from it. And I think it's interesting to see, how could I improve it? I think that I'm my own worst critic in a way, because I have my own ideas of how I want a film to be; as a filmmaker, you start with this ideal film and the reality hits -- okay, you've only got this much time, or money, or budget, or whatever. So you just fight to do the best that you can do on every movie. Sometimes you might read something on the internet and you might say, "Oh... I know, I had that in the storyboards and I didn't have time to shoot it!" But we all try. Every filmmaker's just going to keep trying to make it the best you can make it, make it as potent and interesting and entertaining and exciting and tough and sexy as you can. But yeah -- I hope that I learn, and that I learn to make things better from time to time.
Leonardo DiCaprio was also involved in Red Riding Hood as a producer. What sort of discussions did you have with him throughout the project, and what kind of input did he have?
Well you know, it was he and his friends and his company who came up with the original idea, and then they commissioned David Leslie Johnson to write it. So he was involved in the casting; we'd send the casting tapes to
him wherever he was in the world and he'd look at them. He liked Shiloh [Fernandez] because he didn't have a perfect face. He goes, "I like him -- he looks unique and different." And he liked Max [Irons], he met with Amanda and loved her. Felt a lot of positivity about that. And he came to the set a couple of times, up in Vancouver. That was fun, a thrill. He was very interested in the wolf. He wanted the wolf to be badass. Gangsta! He'd be like, "I want to see how the wolf is looking!" So he was pretty cool, and he has a wonderful producer, Jennifer Killoran, who works with him and was with us every minute of the day.
Did you make Amanda kiss a ton of would-be cast-mates like you did with Kristen Stewart while casting for the perfect Edward Cullen?
I think she did. I think Amanda had to kiss twice as many as Kristen. Kristen only had to kiss four, and I think Amanda had to kiss about eight.
You were quoted as saying that when you first told Amanda that you wanted Shiloh to play her love interest, she made a face...
Yeah, because she'd met him before and she was like, "Eh." She'd met him at some dinner or something like that. I was like, "Try to have an open mind."
What happened when they met face to face, when he ultimately won her over?
Well, we really didn't make a meeting; we just went for it and just did the scene in the trees. We just did an audition. Let's just see how it works in the moment. And I think she was pretty excited because he was really in that character and bringing a lot of heat to the moment. I could see it in the room, and I have it on tape -- I think we're going to put it on the DVD extras. You can see she's kind of like, "Whoa... maybe I underestimated this guy!"
Red Riding Hood opens nationwide Friday.