Red Riding Hood - Catherine Hardwicke interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
CATHERINE Hardwicke talks about turning the classic fairytale Red Riding Hood into a new movie, working with Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman and Julie Christie and her renowned casting process.
She also discusses the Twilight franchise and how she has moved on…
Q. How did you get involved in Red Riding Hood?
Catherine Hardwicke: Leonardo DiCaprio’s company had come up with the idea of going back before the Brothers Grimm to where there was a werewolf in the story, which added that extra layer of whodunit and the mystery and the darkness inside. So, they sent me the script and I thought this is quite intriguing and a challenge to see if I can keep that mystery the whole time, if I can build the paranoia and then I liked the idea of just creating a world. I have an architectural background and have always wanted to make my own fairytale world.
Q. Why do you have an architectural background?
Catherine Hardwicke: When I was 17 I went to architecture school … and I built 120 buildings when I was 21, which is pretty bizarre. And then people wanted me to make the same kind of buildings I’d already designed. It was like: “Oh you have this style, do another one, do another one.” So, then I thought how can I be more creative? And I thought they would encourage creativity in Hollywood… I was very naive [laughs].
Q. Are your buildings still there?
Catherine Hardwicke: They’re still there and I get letters from the people and photos from the newspapers because it was a whole complex of pools and tennis courts and bridges. I kind of made a little fairytale village. There are 120 families still live there.
Q. Now you’ve become a household name following the success of Twilight… Was that a surprise?
Catherine Hardwicke: From Thirteen, a $1.5m movie, which was very intense, to Twilight being such an international, crazy … no, that was a surprise. But at the time when we did it Paramount had rejected it and didn’t want to make it, Fox didn’t want to make it, no studio wanted to make the movie. And this was a new studio, Summit, and they got it in turnaround from Paramount, so at the time nobody knew it would be what it is. So, even as we were making the film it would be like: “Oh, we can’t spend any money, we have to make it cheap because we don’t know if it will make any money.” Nobody knew.
Finally, we did see the fans seemed interested a lot on the Internet but you still don’t know. Until the opening weekend we didn’t know. They thought it would make $30m or something opening weekend and it made $59m. And then they said: “That’s all it’s going to make.” It would make all its money first week. And it made $180m just in the US. So, it was a surprise but we saw there were people passionate about it. When we came to London, the premiere for the first Twilight was insane. It was just crazy.
Q. Were you worried about comparisons between Twilight and Red Riding Hood?
Catherine Hardwicke: I think other people love to talk about it. Twilight is a very polarising thing. Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people love to hate it. I get all the positive negativity baggage people feel about that movie. So what can you do?
Q. Were you glad to move on after the first Twilight? Or would you have liked to see them through?
Catherine Hardwicke: I don’t like to stay on one thing all that time as a director. I admire the people that can do a franchise over and over. But, for me, you put so much heart and soul and crazy hours and the last two months of this I worked hours and hours a week just to make the deadline with the studio. So, it’s really hard. So, you want something new to do and I had worked on several other projects but none of them got greenlit. You never know what a studio’s going to make. We are at the mercy of the gods.
Q. What do you think of the fact that the franchise is directed by someone different each time?
Catherine Hardwicke: Maybe that’s good, maybe it adds an energy and a new take. That’s great.
Q. Can you say something about your casting process and the kissing tests?
Catherine Hardwicke: It started with Thirteen because I thought it was important that the leading actresses – who were 13, 14 years old – would have chemistry because in a way it was a love story between these two girls and you have to feel their energy played off of each other. And that was a zero budget movie so, of course, I did everything. My house was the office. And so it just naturally started when I had the two girls, they met and there were some producers and parents in the living room. I said: “Let’s come back to my bedroom, let’s do one scene – just me and the girls.”
I had my video camera and I saw they had this spark, they had this light and it was the same thing on Twilight. Instead of being in this sterile casting office, I said: “Let’s go do the casting at my house, it’s just more tangible.” They can do the biology scene on the dining room table, this can be in my bedroom, this in the yard. My house is very funky, it’s in Venice beach, it’s relaxed, there’s nothing formal about it. It does not look like this beautiful hotel.
Q. Where did you first see Amanda Seyfried?
Catherine Hardwicke: I first saw Amanda, she did a benefit for autism, to cure autism benefit, and she was up there and all the other actors were reading little poems and she just got up there and immediately leaped off the podium for me. I got drawn in by what she said. It was very simple but she just had so much heart and soul… eyes and everything. I just loved her. Then I started watching her in other movies, She came to my house and I loved her as a person and just thought she looks like a fairytale character, and looks like she is from another world. [She]’s a beautiful soul and she’s brave and funny and she’ll do anything.
I also like to see when I throw anything at an actor whether they go with it or [just] freeze up. When you’re filming something like this one – on a very tight budget and 42-day schedule – if it doesn’t go your way, if the sun doesn’t come out right or you have a lot of emergencies on the set, you have to be able to say to somebody: “We have to shoot over here now, we got flooded out or something.” We lost a couple of our locations … sometimes you have to have actor who can roll with the punches.
Q. So what kind of things do you throw out to people like Gary Oldman and Julie Christie?
Catherine Hardwicke: [Laughs] Oh gosh… Gary is an immense talent and everything he has ever done is amazing. He likes wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He doesn’t like to wear armour or a hot robe. He doesn’t really want to have props, he just wants to be. I always remember one thing – he says I’m better when I move. He wants to be able to just move and not have anything stopping him. So, you have to find a way to help him be free even though he’s wearing armour. Urrrrh – he did not like that [armour]!
But then Julie is amazing. The set that we had, Julie’s house, they put the wrong sort of lights there. I guess it was cheaper. But it was like 115 degrees on that set and it was supposed to be cold, snowing and you’re so hot and just sweating and the fire alarm went off. I said to Julie: “I’m so sorry, it’s so hot!” And she said to me: “Darling, I get to take rests but you have to be here all the time and it’s me who should be apologising to you!” This is an Academy Award-winning actress… so wonderful, gracious and positive and lovely and nothing bothering her. She has a very positive energy. But she’s also funny and wicked. You see that scene where she hits that apple out of a guard’s hand. She came up with that, I didn’t tell her to do it. She’s just fearless, she’ll tell you anything. She was really a joy to work with. But if I did have a suggestion, she would be: “Let me try it.” It was a huge privilege for me.
Q. Why is there a revival in fairy tale movies at the moment, do you think?
Catherine Hardwicke: You know the book The Uses of Enchantment. It’s beautiful, written 1975. He analyses why fairytales have stayed meaningful and why fairytales get re-told generation after generation… from a psychological standpoint and how it helps. As a child you relate to a fairytale on one level, as a coming-of-age story like Red Riding Hood. When you’re five-years-old, it’s scary – you don’t want to go in the woods when it’s dark, you don’t want to see the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe, when you get older, it means something else, there’s a sexual undertone.
You start returning to the fairytale for another reason, another layer and also to help you go through battles in your life, to face fears and desires instead of just sweeping them under the table. You shouldn’t be scared of the dark…. you get to fight the big bad wolf and win in the end. There is something about fairytales… people do return to them. They might seem extremely simple on the surface but you can find symbolic, complex layers underneath, so I think that’s one reason they’ve endured.
Q. Is Red Riding hood a favourite?
Catherine Hardwicke: I made my mom make the red cape for me and I wore it two Hallowe’ens in a row.
Q. The old message in Red Riding Hood was don’t talk to strangers, any new message in this one?
Catherine Hardwicke: That was one message, maybe it came in a more Victorian age. Charles Perreau wrote it down, the Grimm Brothers wrote it down, and a current day person changes the message to what they want it to be. They can re-edit it. In earlier versions, Red Riding Hood saved herself from the wolf. Then it was added that a man had to come and save her. That’s an interesting thing about fairytales, they get re-written by the morals of the time that they were written.
Q. What about creating the wolf?
Catherine Hardwicke: That’s interesting because there’s been wolves in movies forever. Every culture around the world has been fascinated by wolves because when you study wolves they are amazing creatures… their eyes and their ferocity as they eat. How do you make something different because everyone has drawn werewolves and everything for years? But in a way I was interested, because we set this in the past, in a pure form of the wolf in a way but more powerful. I guess a wolf on steroids… a very powerful wolf with maybe an extra life force. Then, of course, we had to create that because we couldn’t train a wolf to do that. We have one real wolf in the movie and they do not like to be in movies. They don’t care about film.
Q. Coming back to Twilight do you get any recognition from the studio that you created all that?
Catherine Hardwicke: Well, yeah. They are very nice to me. You have things in your contract so you get things. It’s very positive.
- Read our review
- Amanda Seyfried interview
- Catherine Hardwicke interview
- Shiloh Fernandez interview
- Max Irons interview
- Red Riding Hood Photo Gallery
- Watch the trailer