The creepy thriller “The Truth About Emanuel” deals with “loss and heartbreak and madness and mortality,” the writer and director Francesca Gregorini said recently. “Every artist is haunted by specific themes, and those, for better or for worse, seem to be mine.”
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Ms. Gregorini, 45, was born in Rome and is the daughter of Barbara Bach — a former Bond girl, model who appeared in a Playboy pictorial, and who later married Ringo Starr — and Augusto Gregorini. As a filmmaker, she is deeply interested in the various ways humans wound and redeem each other. Her second feature, “The Truth About Emanuel,” which opens in theaters on Jan. 10 and is available now on video on demand, follows 18-year-old Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) as she becomes troublingly devoted to Linda (Jessica Biel), a new neighbor who bears an eerie resemblance to Emanuel’s mother, who died in childbirth. Linda hires Emanuel to babysit for her infant daughter, and together the two women cultivate a charged partnership.
Ms. Gregorini originally wrote Emanuel for Rooney Mara, who aged out of the part while the filmmakers were securing funding. Ms. Scodelario is best known for her work on the British television series “Skins.” The movie indulges certain horror conventions, and its most unsettling narrative concerns the disorienting power of love: what it blinds us to, how we manage its loss. “When you’re hungry to be loved and hungry to belong, you kind of go there — unquestioningly,” Ms. Gregorini said. “That’s a beautiful thing, but also a dangerous and detrimental thing. I wanted to explore that, devoid of judgment.” Ms. Gregorini spoke with Amanda Petrusich on the phone from Los Angeles. These are excerpts from their conversation.
Q. Fantastical elements aside, how personal was this story for you?
A. Emanuel encompasses a lot of my struggles as a youth. I had a mother who was absent — although not dead, thank God — in different ways throughout my childhood. That’s a big theme in my life. I was able to explore that through Emanuel, while the character of Linda encompassed some of my struggles as an adult. Obviously, I’m not as out-there as Linda — or not yet, anyway. But both of those characters are pieces of me, and I decided to put them in the same movie and have them work it out. It was a very expensive form of therapy.
Sometimes, when you’re invested in a story psychically, the work changes.
Very early on in the filmmaking process, a movie takes on a life of its own. It has demands and needs. You switch seats — from being the almighty creator of this thing to being in service of it, and in some ways, that represents motherhood. You make this baby, and then before you know it, you’re subject to it: You have to have a really clear vision of what it is that you’re doing, but at the same time have the let-go to see what it wants to become.
Have you shown the film to your mother?
I have, and she’s so supportive. Because she’s an artist in her own right, she’s very respectful and appreciative of my process. Now she’s the stage mother I never had. She’s so proud. As a kid, and even as an old kid, that’s all you want — for your parents to think you’re the bee’s knees.
Your previous film, “Tanner Hall,” also concerned a coming-of-age.
Coming-of-age as a theme speaks to me. One could argue that I’m still stuck there myself. But all the different moments where we come of age, those transitions are so rich because they’re painful. You have to take a big leap forward. I’m drawn to that because it’s full of drama. You can’t go somewhere without losing something. You have to leave things behind. Again, it’s about loss and heartbreak. All those things that don’t kill us, they make us stronger. I love that.
Francesca Gregorini believes an audiences’ emotion suspension of disbelief with her new female-centric drama.
Everything’s a little off in the opening scenes of The Truth About Emanuel. Teenage Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is in a state of grief, but capable of surviving her daily life. Her new next-door neighbor, Linda (Jessica Biel), is secretive, but warm enough embrace a budding friendship that emerges between the two. Sure, the fact that she looks like Emanuel’s deceased mother is a little strange, but comforting. And then… twist.
Early on in her second film, which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Francesca Gregorini throws a killer curveball, flipping the action on its head and watching carefully as her characters pick themselves up. It’s a huge spoiler — to reveal would take away from The Truth About Emanuel’s impact. But it’s a doozy, and plays perfectly into Gregorini’s themes of femininity, maternity, and ghosts of the past few of us are powerful enough to shake. Here, we talk to Gregorini about developing a script from her personal memories, clinging tight to an unconventional reveal, and the early days of developing The Truth About Emanuel, when her Tanner Hall star Rooney Mara was set to star:
THR: Emanuel and Linda may not be sides of a coin, but they feel like extensions of a similar personality. Do you feel a stronger connection to one of them? If so, how did you conceive the other one?
Francesca Gregorini: In many ways, Emanuel, with lots of poetic license, is a representation of me in my youth, and Linda is me in my adulthood. I’m not quite as crazy as Linda, or not yet [laughs], but in terms of the things they are facing and struggling with, they very much parallel my own life. I think in many ways I find that to be true. You write something and read it back and it’s a conversation between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind. I began to realize that Emanuel represented my struggles as a kid. My mother issues. Thank God my mother isn’t dead, but i had an absent mother for various reasons throughout my childhood. I think I carried her secrets in ways Emanuel does for Linda. Out of love. That brings you to some interesting places. It’s a psychological drama/thriller and I think the psychological part was a major component in the interplay between the women.
THR: Without spoiling, I imagine Linda’s demons were a very difficult to ground in reality. What was required to keep that idea from flying off the rails?
Gregorini: When I write, I do zero research. I’m not that kind of person. It’s film — it gives you the latitude to do whatever you want. I take that to heart. But after writing it, I did some research and there are cases where someone is fully functional in their life but they have a singular delusion. Which is unbelievable but is really, really true. I think in the true emotions of things, I think the audience is willing to go anywhere if the performances are believable. Jessica Biel did a fabulous job. She’s very nuanced and true. That’s to her credit.
THR: Did Jessica come to the table with a specific choice on how to play this role?
Gregorini: She was very passionate about this film and getting this part. She was willing to audition for it — I wasn’t sure if she was the right choice. I hadn’t seen her do this kind of work before. She blew me away. We had lengthy discussions about who this woman was. It’s hard to talk around the issue… but in the hardest scenes, the scenes where you’re holding your breath because you’re hoping they pull it off, because it’s the kind of movie where if one scene doesn’t work the whole movie falls apart, she just hit it out of the park. She has a brave spirit. I think the job as a director is to connect and gain the trust of an actor and so they go into uncharted water.
THR: Were you ever worried about having a “twist” so early on in the film?
Gregorini: I think it’s much more impactful for people to see the movie when they don’t know what the twist is. I think a more standard film about this would have revealed the twist at the end. Like an ‘a-ha!’ That wasn’t interesting to me. I was interested in what happens after the cat’s out of the bag. What that relationship looks like after. The length were able to go after carrying each other’s secrets. Emanuel is stuck in this place and can’t get herself out, but to help Linda, she has to overcome what she needs to. But the overriding message is of hope and that we need each other.
THR: What were things like post-Tanner Hall, your first film? That came out in 2009. I know you originally developed this script with Rooney Mara in mind.
Gregorini: I wrote it for her and it just took forever to find financing. As you can imagine, it’s a hard movie to pitch. It’s a female-driven, psychological drama with some elements of thriller. It’s a little absurd, it goes into magical realism — people aren’t lining up to give you the money. I think that was the biggest challenge of making this movie, getting the financing. I made the movie for one-fifth what I was told I needed to make the movie. I ultimately think you just have to do it. I have too many friends with great scripts waiting for permission and enough money to do it. There’s no excuse for that. It’s cheaper to make films. What I learned from Tanner Hall was… that script was 75% there and we had to struggle in the edit to compensate for that. I feel the script for Emanuel was all there.
THR: As a working filmmaker, do you have to juggle multiple projects at once? I know you were involved with an Emma Watson project called Your Voice in My Head — is that something you worked on while traveling with this film?
Gregorini: I think if you’re smart that’s what you do but I sink my teeth into one thing and I have blinders on. I’m a freight train. I’m making a movie and I think eat and sleep all about one thing. A lot of people are developing four or five things and whatever catches fire they jump at, but I do that. I’ve stepped off [Your Voice in My Head] and I’m on to another project. I’m starting to write something that’s been cooking in me for a few years, but I’m stepping into something written by someone else. An [original] period piece, Paris in the ’20s. I’m going to try my hand at something completely different, and yet still female-driven and something I can say something about.
Bad news: You have until today to see Kaya Scodelario’s American big screen debut, The Truth About Emanuel, at the Gaslamp. The good news is you can watch it tonight on VOD.
The camera loves Kaya Scodelario, and in return she’s favored audiences with some of the most commanding small screen closeups of recent vintage. I’m old enough to be Kaya’s fath…brother. A guy my age with so many movies to watch has no business being sucked in by any TV show, first and foremost the wildly popular E4 teen drama, Skins. Needless to say I’ve seen every episode.
Back in high school, three friends and I would pull out a battered deck of cards and play a few hands of crazy eights during our lunch break. One of my fellow card sharks must have had a lazy tongue because for some long forgotten reason, the name of the game somehow managed to morph into “Ka-Ya.”
Flash forward 30-something years. It’s the birthday of John Laftsidis, the only one of my former lunch mates who I’m still in touch with. Because I’m too cheap to buy a card, I Google “Ka-Ya” in hopes that something funny turns up to send him. Interspersed between pictures of Bob Marley — I sent John a link to his song, “Kaya,” the year before — are images of this beautiful, incredibly evocative face wearing a cigarette and gallons of badly applied mascara.
I had to know more and wind up tracking down every season of Skins. That’s how “Ka-Ya” eventually led me to Kaya.
Do I risk sharing this admittedly sappy and sentimental anecdote? Kaya will either find it endearing or clam up tighter than Effy on the first season of Skins. Let’s begin with her reaction to my tale of Junior year whimsy.
Kaya Scodelario (Laughing): That’s brilliant. That’s got to be one of the best stories I ever heard.
Scott Marks: It took weeks to arrange this interview. You’re harder to track down than a laugh in an Adam Sandler picture.
KS (Laughing): Very funny.
SM: I was told you were in Africa over the holidays. Was it work or were you there on vacation?
KS: In Africa?
SM: That’s what the publicist’s email said.
KS: I was up the coast of Africa in a place called the Canary Islands. I was there with my mom. I took her away for a couple of months. It was just me and her doing something a little bit different on Christmas.
SM: How nice. Growing up, what kind of films did you watch?
KS: I was really into watching films that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I lovedBoogie Nights growing up and Face/Off and things like that. I just found movies interesting. The first film that really impacted me was Kids, which I guess was the Skinsof its generation. It really affected me. That one made me want to tell stories and understand the power of film.
SM: You were 14 when the casting call for an inexperienced actor to star in a new series called Skins. How did you happen upon the show?
KS: I was walking home from school and they were having an open audition. I thought I’d have a look because I always wanted to act, but I didn’t know how you do that. It seemed like it was out of my reach. The director saw me outside and he came over and asked if I would audition. And I did. And I got extremely lucky.
SM: For the first season of Skins you play a near catatonic mute who handily steals every scene she’s in. At what point in the proceedings did you learn that the writers were going to ax every character save Effy?
KS: For a long time I didn’t think it was going to happen. I thought it was just going to end. My mom told me it was going to happen and I thought that she was just saying that to keep me happy so I wouldn’t cry. (Laughing.) It wasn’t until they started auditioning people that I realized it was serious. For a long time I thought my mother was just bullshitting me so I wouldn’t get depressed.
SM: What do you credit with Effy’s enormous appeal?
KS: She’s one of those girls who didn’t fit in but who still has the confidence to be happy with who she is. In England that was a big thing at the time. We had the student riots because they raised the fees at the university and there were all these kids running around that didn’t know what they were supposed to do. In America you had beautiful blonde cheerleaders who were good in school, something we couldn’t really relate to as much. I thinkSkins changed that a little bit.
SM: At the risk of sounding like a reporter from Tiger Beat, will there be a Skins movie?
KS: I don’t know. I feel that it’s kinda wrapped up. We did a final two-part mini-film…
KS: You are a fan.
SM: Of course.
KS: It was such an important time for everyone back then that I don’t know if it would work anymore.
SM: I’ve read that you were the subject of bullying growing up and suffered from low self-esteem on account of it. Welcome to the club.
KS (Laughing): Exactly!
SM: How do you deal with fame and the constant recognition it brings?
KS: I don’t deal with it. You just make it a thing. It doesn’t define you as a person. I go to the same pubs, I have the same friends, I do the same day to day things. I’m not afraid to go out without makeup. Once you start thinking of yourself as famous, that’s when it can start to affect you. It’s a really difficult question. There’s a part of every job that you don’t like and there’s a part where you just have to get on with it. I’m lucky enough to have a job that I love ninety percent of. I can’t really complain.
Jessica Biel’s career has taken some wild turns. Originally a child star on the longest-running family drama in history, 7th Heaven, she had pivotal roles early on in critical darling s like Ulee’s Gold and The Rules of Attraction. She also drew the enraptured attention of the Hollywood sex-symbol-finding machine, and has been a fixture of tabloids and “sexiest” lists ever since. That status has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. It’s afforded her a level of celebrity that dramatically increases her visibility and power in the industry, but it’s also encouraged many to dismiss her as a serious actor. But as she reminds us in this week’s The Truth About Emanuel, which debuted at Sundance 2013, she’s got some great performances in her. She plays a young mother with a troubled past.
Paste: I thought your performance was really outstanding, and I had a couple of people at Sundance tell me, “Wow, I’m a little bit surprised, that came out of nowhere from Jessica Biel for me—she was really good and I didn’t realize it.” And I would always tell them, “Did you not see The Illusionist? Did you not see Elizabethtown? She has got a ton of talent!” So congratulations on a really great performance.
Biel: Thank you so much!
Paste: So tell me about tell me about coming to the project, and what attracted you to it.
Biel: Well I think a lot of different things—number one of course was it being this really fascinating character who is in the midst of, like, a reality break. I think more than anything I was interested in the human brain and what it does to protect you after a traumatic experience. It’s fascinating how and what our brains do for us when you’ve gone through a trauma. And I think, most of all, I just felt for this woman and I thought, “God, how is this possible that this is something that can happen?” And of course I looked into it and it’s totally possible, and even crazier things are possible. So I think I was mainly fascinated by what was happening to Linda. And, you know, I want to work with great, interesting directors—especially if they can be women. It’s really exciting to work with a female director on a story about women’s experience, and especially a younger woman and an older woman. There were a lot of really cool elements that drew me to this part, to this story.
Paste: It’s funny, I just got off of a 90-minute phone call with Forest Whittaker, who plays a lot of characters who are very interior. So this is what I want to ask you about playing this character: tell me about the challenge of playing someone who is so in her own mind, and yet you’ve got to be able to give some energy as an actor to your fellow actors around you as well. Tell me about how you found the balance of that.
Biel: Well first, I’m totally, just, devastated that I’m having to talk to you after Forest Whittaker, how boring for you! I’m so sorry!
Paste: Ha! Well he’s a little older than us—you’ve got time to catch up to him.
Biel: Okay. It’s a very good question because, you’re right, he does play a lot of really internally conflicted people. And it’s a constant struggle, I think, when you’re working out how to bring these kinds of people to life. You’re right, you’re so in your own head and you’re really going through your own thing, and yet, if you don’t share and pass the energy back and forth, it’s dead. You’re dead, nothing’s happening, there’s no juice there. So it’s a constant struggle because what’s most important is that—whoever you are portraying, whatever their affliction may be—is that you genuinelybelieve it.
It’s like a great villain—they don’t think to themselves, “Aha! I’m such a villain!” you know? They just believe in their cause. They’re righteous about whatever the hell it is that they care about. And I feel like that’s what I tried to do with this particular person. She just believes that—there may be flashes of moments where she can maybe get drawn back into reality about this one particular thing in her life—but for the most part she’s in a place where it’s happening, and don’t try to tell her any different, because that’s what happening.
Paste: Yeah, the fact that other people don’t believe that it’s happening or don’t perceive it as happening is not a part of her reality really.
Biel: Yeah, it’s not something that she can accept at all. At this moment in her life.
Paste: It’s like that great quote that’s been attributed to a lot of different people, that “every villain is the hero in the movie going on in his mind,” right?
Biel: That’s exactly right.
Paste: So for her she’s the only one who sees—
Paste: Yeah, yeah.
Biel: And now she has someone in her life who sees it too, you know? The fact that Emanuel goes along with it—it defines them. It defines them in their lie, in their façade—I mean, she trusts Emanuel, whereas I think she feels that she was so betrayed by her husband. Who just didn’t believe her and just left her to experience whatever she was going to experience, and now she has a person in her life who, whether—I think its totally subconscious—but this is the trust. This is a place of trust and safety.
Paste: Which she needs, and she responds to it because she needs it.
Biel: She needs it, definitely.
Paste: I have another parallel. I had a conversation about a month ago with Alice Eve, and I talked to her about something that you and she have in common I suspect, how for Alice, you know, she’s done this really amazing work in some serious, smaller movies. But because she’s genetically blessed, because she’s very beautiful, as are you, there’s a strong current in Hollywood of big, big pictures to say, “Okay, she’s going to be the hot chick in the romantic comedy or the hot chick in the horror movie.” And I’m curious—you know you were talking earlier about women’s stories and especially told by women—and I’m curious as to what your experience has been in trying to find meaningful stories to tell in a culture that sort of relentlessly tries to push you to not meaningful stories.
Biel: Right. I think every actress has experienced this feeling. And I think it’s even less about actually the physicality of women—I mean, I think that’s part of the story and will always continue to be part of the story—but there’s something about the fact that this culture doesn’t want to hear or is less interested in women’s experiences. And that’s what bothers me even more, you know, than when you see a beautiful woman and you’re like, “Man, she has nothing to do! Why didn’t they give her something to do?” You know? For example, one of my favorite movies this year is Out of the Furnace—did you see that?
Paste: Yeah, with Christian Bale.
Biel: Yeah, I loved that film, and I thought Zoe Saldana was so great in it. And I also thought, “She has nothing to do!” You know? I was like, “Come on! Like, give her something!” I wanted to say, “Please give her more, give her more, there’s something else coming, there’s something else coming.” You know, it’s hard. It’s hard being a woman, to watch your peers who you look up to and you admire and the women you want to be like and the women whose parts you envy and whose careers you envy. It’s just so hard for everybody. It’s hard for everybody, I think, to find those substantial parts where it’s less about being somebody’s girlfriend or less about being somebody’s wife, but you’re the lead in this script.
It’s, it’s—I don’t know. I don’t understand why it is, but it is that way, and I feel like every actress I talk to feels the same way. I don’t know if someone like Meryl Streep would feel the same way because I feel like I watch her career and I’m like, “Wow, she just does it.” She finds those parts and she pulls out another incredible performance every time you watch her do anything. But my guess is that everybody feels that way, and it’s less about the physicality and more about just being a woman. Which is so maddening!
Paste: Which is strange because generally, in most couple households, when you go out to see a movie the woman has more influence than the man over what movie you go see, generally. And so you would think that the money is out there for more people to see women’s stories, I mean, the audiences are out there. Never mind women’s leads—that’s just one of the reasons I love Jessica Chastain so much. I mean, look at what she’s done with the leads that she’s gotten that are incredibly compelling for men and women alike.
Biel: I know. I agree, you know, she’s a great example—just because it’s a woman in the forefront, doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. Or if you see August: Osage County, I mean, that is a powerhouse of women’s experiences and it’s irreverent and it’s perverted, it’s fucked up, it’s mean, it’s nasty—it’s like everything that you’d think of men would die to watch. And, I mean, I’m not saying that the movie’s not going to do well or, you know, men aren’t going to like it—I’m just saying, like, there’s a lot of interesting stories out there with women as the driving force.
Paste: Yeah, absolutely.
Biel: It’s funny—I don’t know why our culture is like that, but hopefully it’s changing. Who knows?
Paste: Well I think you need to hop in there and produce some of those stories, that’s what I think.
Biel: Well I am trying to work it out, my friend, let me tell you!
Paste: Last question: can you tell me a little bit about Shiva & May and Devil and the Deep Blue Sea? Those are the two you’ve got coming up, is that right?
Biel: Sure. Devil and the Deep Blue Sea—its so funny how information sort of becomes bigger than it actually is—it’s a project that my producer partner Michelle and I have been working on for about six years. We haven’t even shot it yet! So it’s on our slate for this year but it’s really funny how everyone’s asking me about this. I love this project, it’s amazing, and hopefully we’ll shoot it this year and I’ll actually have something to talk about.
Paste: Okay I gotcha, I gotcha. And how about Shiva & May, with the great Kate Burton?
Biel: Oh Kate—god, what a dame. I love her. Shiva & May is a really, really interesting, also another really small, woman’s experience story about these two women that meet each other and totally change each other’s lives. They flip each other’s lives onto their asses. And Diane Bell directed, so another female director which I loved working with. She did Obselidia, I don’t know if you ever saw that at Sundance.
Paste: Oh I know Diane! She’s wonderful!
Biel: She is wonderful. I love Diane. She’s amazing.
Paste: Oh, she’s got such a great energy.
Biel: She’s the best. I’m really excited to see how that turns out, you know, another little, tiny character piece. So we’ll see. I’m excited about it.
There is something incredibly sisterlike about The Truth About Emanuel director Francesca Gregorini and actress Kaya Scodelario. Sure, superficially they could easily be mistaken for siblings, with their long, curly, dark hair and eyes that appear to house equally complex and compelling recollections, but that feeling of connectivity goes beyond mere physicality. There is an essence that the British 21-year-old actress displays as Emanuel that is mirrored in the 45-year-old Italian-American auteur who initially put her character on paper.
The psychological thriller that gained critical acclaim for its strong performances and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 tells the story of a teenage girl whose mother died at childbirth. Scodelario’s character tries to fill her emotional void by getting close to a new neighbor (Jessica Biel) who bears a striking resemblance to her mother. But their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Emanuel discovers the secret that the neighbor harbors.
“I think the character is like me in many ways because I had an absent mother. Growing up in a challenged household, you carry the secrets of the adults that are caring for you. You become the protector,” says Gregorini, the daughter of former Bond girl Barbara Bach, who struggled with addiction in Gregorini’s youth. (Her stepfather is Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.) “I guess the character of Emanuel represents the exorcising of my youthful demons.”
Though Emanuel is a loose projection of the film’s creator, Gregorini admits she wasn’t looking for someone to play her. “I think that is an extreme compliment,” she says, when told Scodelario is reminiscent of her. “I wasn’t trying for that. Most of the girls that were on the short list look nothing like me.”
The main character of the movie was a role initially written for Gregorini’s friend Rooney Mara. But once the financing of the film finally came together, Mara was already 27 years old. “When I realized I couldn’t work with Rooney, I was devastated,” says Gregorini. “You just feel like all is lost, and then, enter stage left: Kaya. This is who was meant to play this part, and I really feel strongly about that.”
Scodelario says she had never felt so passionately about a script and immediately had a connection to Gregorini when the two met in London. “We just started to talk and got to know each other,” says Scodelario, whose father passed away in 2010. “The themes of parenthood and that sort of loss—we really related to each other.”
A grueling filming process and the Sundance experience have cemented their friendship. “We stuck together like glue,” recalls Scodelario of Sundance. “I started to panic, and she was holding on to me during the press line just to keep me steady.”
Scodelario is already preparing for the kind of madness that next fall’s blockbuster, The Maze Runner, will bring, but as Emanuel transitions from the festival circuit into theaters on January 10, Gregorini already predicts the two will join forces again. “I love her so much,” she says. “So yes, I would strongly predict that that will happen in the future.”
From writer/director Francesca Gregorini, the indie drama The Truth About Emanuel tells the story of the troubled Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario), who becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, Linda (Jessica Biel). In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a world that blurs the line of fantasy and reality, and shows just how dangerous secrets can be.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Jessica Biel talked about how she got involved with this film, her audition process for the role, playing a character with such a delicate mental state, how much she enjoyed working with co-star Kaya Scodelario, and how this experience helped her to become more confident in her own instincts. She also talked about what attracts her to a project, the heartbreaking journey that she’s gone through with the David O. Russell film Nailed, that never got finished or released, her hopes that The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea will go into production soon, and that if the right thing came up, she would definitely consider returning to television.
How did you come to be a part of this?
JESSICA BIEL: The script was given to me, I took a read, and it was just one of those scripts where I finished it and I said to myself, “I have to do this. I don’t care how. I don’t care who’s in it. I don’t care who’s directing it. I have to do it.” I called my representation and said, “I don’t care what you have to do to get me this movie, but I have to do this part. I don’t know why, but I feel empathy towards this person.” I’m fascinated about how the human brain handles trauma and grief and guilt, and that’s what I feel this character is experiencing. The guilt of what happened to her child and how it manifested into her life, and how she has this relationship with this younger girl, who’s also, in her own way, experiencing guilt and shame, in regard to her experience with her mother, is how these two odd people connect with each other. So, I just auditioned for it, and I got it. It’s as simple as that.
When you go into an audition, especially for something that you really want, are you very focused and determined? How are you with the audition process?
BIEL: Luckily, I’m a pretty good auditioner, which doesn’t mean much. All it means is that you can get through the experience without having a total breakdown. It’s hard. The audition process is so tough because the environment is weird, you’re on the spot, nothing is helpful, there’s no visual aids or emotional aids, and you’re reading with someone who’s probably not an actor. The experience is really hard, but I’m okay with it. Usually, I can do a decent job, but I still get nervous. A lot of the times I’ve gone into an audition and felt like, “Wow, I killed that!,” I walked out and never got it, with no call-back or anything. And there are times I’ve walked in there and felt like, “Well, I have no idea what that just was,” and then you get the part. It’s so hard to tell. It’s hard to step away and look at it from an objective perspective.
What was your audition like for this?
BIEL: The audition that I did for this film was super hard. It was the scene where they’re looking in the crib and the baby is there, but the character who works at the medical supply store is saying, “This isn’t your baby. Where is your real baby?” That was one of the scenes that I had to do for Francesca, and it was crazy. We were in some weird room with the camera, her and a casting director. It’s insane, what you have to try to create. It’s a tough experience.
This character has a very delicate mental state. How detailed was that in the script, when you read it, and how much of it evolved out of conversations you had with Francesca Gregorini?
BIEL: We talked a lot about how we were going to do this. It developed through those conversations because we really decided that this person believed, wholeheartedly, in this experience. Subconsciously, there’s probably some doubt and moments of clarity, but that’s so under the surface and so hidden in this person’s life that it’s not even accessible to her. She’s like a villain. She just believes in the cause, and she will continue to believe in it, until that one moment where the consciousness raises and there’s that clarity, but then the brain protects her again. It was very delicate. It was a constant struggle. We were constantly trying to find the balance of what is realistic, what an audience can believe, what they will empathize with and what’s too far. That balance probably came a lot from the editing process, too. We’d try things that were too much, and then we’d have to reign it back in. It was all about being really genuine about what was happening, and self-righteous in the belief of the facade.
What was it like to do the scenes where you’re actually supposed to be holding this infant?
BIEL: It felt really silly, at first. With the first take, I felt like I looked like such a moron. I had to get through that. My ego got in the way. I was like, “I look stupid doing this.” But once I got through that, then I started to go with it and it became real and fun and freeing. The baby became, in some sense, a real baby because we treated it with respect and we held it all the time. But, it is weird. It was an odd experience.
How was it to work with Kaya Scodelario and play that very complicated and complex dynamic between Emanuel and Linda?
BIEL: It was fun! Kaya is lovely to be around and to work with. She’s fresh and young and just open. She’s a very open person, ready to absorb. It was easy. I felt a natural maternal thing for her, in real life, as well. We were that way, off camera. Having that maternal relationship with her on camera, and having that mentor thing was easy. We got thrown into the fire real fast, with no time and no money. I felt protective over her. I felt like I needed to teach her how to protect herself in this crazy business. She hadn’t worked in the States before. This is very new for her, and I felt very included to teach her about how to watch out for her. It’s easy to be a young woman in this business and let other people say, “You need to do this and that.” Even when it doesn’t feel right, you do it anyway because you figure, “Well, I guess they know better.” And it takes a long time to learn that. I just felt very included to be there for her, if she had questions, or if she needed someone. She didn’t know anybody. She came from London and she had no friends here. I felt worried for her and I wanted to be someone that she could trust.
A role like Linda must really push you, as an actress. What did you learn from the experience that changed you, and how do you think it will affect your future work?
BIEL: That’s a really good question. It’s hard to have perspective, on these parts that you do in the films that you do. You don’t know exactly what you learned and what you’ll take with you. With this particular one, it’s maybe the confidence to trust what I’m doing, amidst a crazy story and with a really bizarre character who’s doing things that could come across as really ridiculous. Because it turns out okay and it’s not a complete disaster, I think maybe I have a little bit more confidence about my instincts and about the ability to dive into what you have to believe is real. That is working, at this moment. I want to continue doing that, with everything.
At this point in your career, what do you look for in a project and role, and what gets you excited about something and makes you want to sign on to do it?
BIEL: I look for a challenge. I want to do something that I’ve never done before, something that seems really hard, and something that’s really different from me. That kind of thing really gets me going. If I go, “Wow, people probably don’t think I can do this,” then I’d like to show them, and I’d like to show myself, more than anything. That’s exciting. A challenging part, or to work with someone who I’m a huge fan of, or to be directed by someone who I love would be a huge moment for me.
lDo you have any idea what you’re going to do next, or are you working on anything now?
BIEL: I’m not working on anything right now. There are a couple of things that I hope can come together this year, but I don’t know for sure what that’s going to be. I’m still looking. It’s a new year. The beginning of January is always an exciting time. You wonder, “What’s going to happen this year? What amazing thing is going to be available to be a part of?” I’m just starting the search for this next year.
For the last couple of years, every time I’ve spoken to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, he’s talked about how he hoped The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea would go into production. Do you think that film will ever happen?
BIEL: I think it’s gonna happen, actually. I really do. If you had asked me at another time, I probably would have said, “That project is never gonna happen!” These little indie movies can take nine or ten years to come together, so that gives me hope. It’s all just not for naught. The story is great. I love the story so much. We want to tell the story. We will tell the story, at some point. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I think this is our year. I think this is the year we’re actually gonna get that done. If we don’t do it soon, Chloe [Grace Moretz] is gonna be too old and I’m gonna be playing the grandmother. It’s really incredible how hard the film industry is. If it’s not a big-budget film with a huge studio behind it, it’s incredible how tough it is to get these little movies made. So, we’re still working on it and we’re not gonna stop.
Could you ever have imagined the odd journey that you’d take with Nailed, almost finishing the movie and then never having it be released?
BIEL: I never would have guessed that that was going to be the experience. I never could have understood the craziness that would have ensued over the last five years with that film. You work so hard on something and to not finish it is a map of heartbreak. To this day, it’s not finished, in the way that David [O. Russell], Catherine Keener, Jake Gyllenhaal and all the cast who worked their butts off would have liked to have seen it be finished, and to respect what we did. It’s tough. It’s a tough thing to swallow, for sure.
You haven’t done television since 7th Heaven, but there’s some really great work being done now, especially on cable. Have you thought at all about returning to TV and exploring a character over the long term, if you found something intriguing?
BIEL: Yeah, absolutely! There’s such great stuff happening on television, especially for women. I’ve definitely thought about it. It just has to be the right time and the right thing. If everything lined up, I would definitely consider doing that.
The Truth About Emanuel opens in theaters on January 10th.
In The Truth About Emanuel, rising star Kaya Scodelario plays Emanuel, a troubled young woman who becomes engrossed in the lives of her mysterious neighbor (Jessica Biel) and her child. Reminded of her own mother who passed away in childbirth, Emanuel is drawn to the pair and unwittingly creates with them a fragile and strange world, which she strives to protect at all costs.
Scodelario turns in a tremendously complex and thoughtful performance in her debut US feature. We talk to the actress about her experience working on the film, female storytelling and The Maze Runner, her upcoming foray into the studio world.
Tribeca: What were your initial reactions to the script of The Truth About Emanuel? Can you talk about the audition process?
Kaya Scodelario: I fell in love with the script straight away, which I think is quite rare for a project. I also quite liked the idea of having such a strong female carry a whole film. It was just magical. I loved every word on the page, and I really, really wanted the part.
Tribeca: Aside from the American accent, can you discuss your research/ preparation process for the role of Emanuel?
KS: I didn’t really do a lot of research because I found it was easy to identify with her. She’s a young woman dealing with all these problems and trying to discover herself at the same time. I wanted to work with the script a bit more instinctually and just go with it because things tend to change when you get on set. I wanted to work with Jessica [Biel] and to learn from Jessica’s approach so that our characters could grow together throughout the filming process.
Once I came into the media world, 95% of the scripts I read had a nude scene or the female character would be in her underwear for no reason.
Tribeca: From her first film, Tanner Hall, Francesca Gregorini has already shown she has a keen insight into the minds of adolescent females. What was your collaborative process like?
KS: She’s brilliant. She really does understand young women. Francesca puts her all of her heart and soul into the scripts she writes, and you really feel that when you watch the film. I knew straight away that she understood me, and I really felt a connection from the moment we met.
The audition process was also really unique. Instead of the typical process where you do scenes, our meeting was more of a conversation between us. We just chatted about normal things and our upbringings and how we felt on certain subjects. Our connection was there from the start.
Tribeca: The Truth about Emanuel deals with complex themes like motherhood and female friendship. How important is it for female stories to be told? Why does it seem they are only being told in the independent film world at this time?
KS: It’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot, definitely since I’ve started my career. My mum brought me up to be very independent and strong, never subservient. I’ve always been proud to be a woman. Once I came into the media world, 95% of the scripts I read have a nude scene or the female character would be in her underwear for no reason. It’s really difficult and can be disheartening.
However, we have to focus on the good projects to give them the recognition that they deserve. Strong female leads need to be made more mainstream. There are some wonderful, wonderful independent films being made with women of all ages. I think that’s what we should try and focus on. There is still an imbalance between insightful, strong roles and stereotypical ones from my personal experiences, but I don’t think it’s a lost cause.
I continue to be blown away by the amazing female talent I’ve seen—both on and off screen. I think Hunger Games did a lot for that – having Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss has really turned the tables in the Hollywood side of it. Hollywood seems to be catching up to the independent film world in terms of women taking charge. I’m excited to see what can come of this trend in the next few years.
Tribeca: You’ve recently finished work on The Maze Runner, which is also your first foray into the studio franchise world. Were you at all apprehensive about taking the role?
KS: It was a lot of fun. For me, honestly it was actually the same as making an independent film in many ways. At the end of the day when you’re on set and you’re working; it doesn’t matter what environment you’re in. The work should still be of the same quality, and you should still put as much of yourself into it as you would anywhere else. But obviously there are nice positives – you get a lot more free food, which I really like. [laughs] There was chocolate all the time and cookies and stuff, which I thought was amazing.
The set was a great atmosphere, and the director, Wes Ball, was really fond of the idea of making this film. His energy just fuelled you to work harder, and that’s important. I didn’t find the creative side of the project to be compromised by the money and the studio. Everyone behind The Maze Runner just wanted to make a really good, high quality film. And I think we achieved that. I had such a wonderful experience, much better than what I expected to be honest.
Tribeca: You are one of the most re-blogged actresses on Tumblr in 2013. As a young actress, how important is it to maintain a social media presence?
KS: I don’t know. I think that’s quite a difficult question. It depends on how you look at it. I really enjoy the social media because I feel like it’s a connection between me and other people. It also shows that I am a normal person. I will Tweet about farting or I will talk about my dog weeing in the sitting room and stuff like that. [laughs] It definitely opens up those doors.
I think, as with anything, it can have its negative sides as well. I’ve been really lucky. All of the tweets I get have been very positive and it’s interesting to see peoples’ feedback. They tell you what they want to see you in and what kind of roles they want you to play, and they ask all sorts of interesting questions.
Tribeca: Is social media becoming part of the job requirement?
KS: I try to keep my Twitter as personal as possible, so I don’t tend to tweet the interviews or photo shoots. That wasn’t why I started it. I use Twitter more to just get the crazy thoughts out of my head and put them out into the world. Maybe someone will like them or whatever. I’ve tried to keep it more about me as a person than me as a professional, but a lot of people do use it that way as well.
I find it more interesting to just kind of be normal and have a laugh. A lot of my friends are on Twitter so I use it to keep in touch with people from abroad. Though, with a indie project like The Truth About Emanuel, there isn’t a huge budget for publicizing it. I really love the film, and it’s nice to be able to share it with 300k people and tell them, “Check out this little film I did, it’s got a lot of heart and soul in it, you might enjoy it.”
Tribeca: As a young actress, you’re able to slip seamlessly between high-school age and women-on-the-verge roles. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be in that age range as an actress? Does it matter if the roles are good?
KS: I think it’s all about the role itself. I got really lucky that I started on a TV show that was focused on people my age. Before then, at least over here, there weren’t a lot of parts for teenagers apart from your stereotypical high school thing. I feel like now there are a lot more interesting stories told being told about people in my age group, which is great for me! [laughs] It’s the age when you determine who you are as a person and how you want your life to go ahead, what your focuses are going to be, and what you will do about boys and love and all of that bullocks! I think it’s a really interesting part of life.
Jessica Biel opens up about her bizarre role as an unstable mom in The Truth About Emanuel, life as Mrs. Timberlake, and her heartbreak over a sidelined David O. Russell film.
Jessica Biel has played some far-out characters in her day, from a teen nympho in The Rules of Attraction to a turn-of-the-century duchess caught between a prince and a magician in The Illusionist. But this is by far her most peculiar role yet.
In The Truth About Emanuel, in theaters Jan. 10, Biel plays Linda, a mysterious woman who moves in next door to a tortured teen, Emanuel (Kaya Scoledario), who still blames herself for her mother’s death during childbirth. Emanuel finds herself drawn to Linda, who resembles her dead mother, and agrees to babysit her newborn child. However, she soon discovers that Linda is a mentally unstable woman who believes a baby doll is a flesh-and-blood child. As the troubled Linda, Biel delivers one of the more fascinating performances of her career, and the film as a whole resembles a more surreal and horrifying version of Lars and the Real Girl.
Biel spoke to The Daily Beast about her new film, the secrets to making her relationship with husband Justin Timberlake work, and much more.
The first time I saw The Truth About Emanuel was at Sundance last year, and it was called Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes back then. But what drew you to this strange character—a mentally ill woman caring for a baby doll?
The mental state of this person, the trauma that this person has gone through, and what the brain does to the body when you experience a traumatic thing in your life was interesting to explore. I’ve never experienced anything remotely like this woman has experienced. It’s a snap in the brain, and the protective quality of the human brain is very fascinating.
Was it tough to be mothering a baby doll? Did you have trouble keeping a straight face?
It was pretty easy to become quite accustomed to it, and the weight of the doll was so human-like that when you actually picked it up, it felt like a real baby. So it was very easy to just dive into that headspace of, “This is a real thing, and this is what this person believes.” The first moment it did feel a little funny, like, people are going to laugh at me, and watching the film for the first time, peopledid laugh when it premiered at Sundance. I started to sink down into my seat a little bit thinking, “Oh no, this is going to go terribly wrong,” and then it became nervous laughter, and then it stopped because it started to affect people in a way they didn’t think they’d be affected. But at first, it does seem kind of ridiculous.
Did you have any dolls or toys when you were growing up that you treated as if they were alive? I remember my sister had a Tamagotchi and our family had to feed it while she was at summer camp.
I definitely had dolls when I was a kid. I don’t remember being very thorough with them and making sure they got fed in my make-believe world. A lot of Barbie haircuts were given, though. I had a Tamagotchi as well but I think that thing died really quick. They were hard to do!
There’s two parallel stories going on in The Truth About Emanuel—yours and Kaya’s coming of age thread where she experiences love for the first time. Do you remember the first person you thought you were in love with?
I was about 16 when I really thought I was in love and thought, “I can’t live without this person otherwise I’m going to die!” I’m sure I had other infatuations when I was younger, the “oh, I’m in love with that older boy, he’s so cute.” When I couldn’t be with this one particular boy that I knew when I was 16, I would sit on my floor, cry, and listen to Elvis Presley.
What was it about this boy—was he a “bad-boy?”
He was totally different from me and came from a totally different family, and yeah, he had that bad-boy thing going on which is very attractive when you’re young.
You play a young mother in The Truth About Emanuel. Is motherhood going to be in the cards for you soon? I’m sure you get asked this all the time.
It’s funny. I feel like whenever you’re dating someone, you get asked, “When are you going to get married?” and when you’re married, you get, “When are you having kids?” It’s the craziest thing—you’ll see. But yes, I do think it will be in the cards for me at some point in the future. I don’t know when. But yes, I’d like to experience that.
It really is the most interesting experiment you can do, I think.
Right. It also seems like the greatest sacrifice—and I don’t mean that in a negative way. You sacrifice pretty much everything for this person, this little thing, and it does seem crazy, but when I see my friends who have kids they tell me, “It’s worth it. We’d do anything for them.” It’s wild.
I dated someone who lived in Boston while I was in New York, and even that was a struggle for me to deal with. How do you manage seeing someone who’s this music icon that’s traveling the world constantly? I imagine that’s not the easiest thing.
You’re right. It’s not easy. You know what it’s like when you’re even dating someone from a few states away, and it’s a really big challenge. Your relationship just has to be a priority, you have to make sacrifices for it, and you have to make time to see each other no matter what. You have to pick whatever number of days as your cut-off point, and no matter what, one person has to make the journey to see the other person if one of you is far away. It has to be important enough to you to make the effort, because it is a lot of effort.
Do you have a favorite Timberlake song? We used to rock out to “My Love” in college.
Not really, because my favorites change all the time!
What about off the new album—or albums, rather.
I really love so many songs from that double-album. I love “Only When I Walk Away” and “Drink You Away.” I love the whole thing, but those two songs I really, really love.
As far as your acting career goes, you’re very good in this, Easy Virtue, and The Illusionist—more character-driven pieces. Do you feel like you were talked into doing some of the blockbusters for the wrong reasons?
It’s really tough. It’s so easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say, “Oh, that was a bad idea.” The thing is—you give up so much control. You do your job while you’re shooting, and then that’s it. I’m not in the editing room, I’m not sitting there with the director, and I’m not sitting with the producers. I don’t have any of that capacity, but I’m hoping to produce my own things so I will have that capacity. It’s such a gamble that everybody takes when you agree to do something. And sometimes you make a decision because you need to pay your rent, sometimes you make decisions because people are talking to you about “international value,” and to do a movie that would do well internationally, even though it’s not the right creative choice for you because if you can do that, then maybe you can do that small character piece that you really want to do. And usually, the ones that look right on paper are the ones where you go, “What was I thinking?!” and the ones that look crazy, you end up going, “Wow, what a great outcome that was.”
The first time I saw Justin act was at Sundance in 2006 in Alpha Dog, and everyone thought, “Wow, this guy can act,” and now he’s a pretty prolific actor. Do you two vet each other as far as movie roles are concerned? Are you giving each other input on what roles to take and avoid?
Yeah, we do sometimes. He’s not only my partner but he’s my best friend, so he’s someone whose opinion I respect and if I can’t get a clear view of the project and just need an outside perspective I’ll ask him to read something. But most of the time, I’m confident about what I love and don’t need anyone else’s advice. That’s how I felt about The Truth About Emanuel. I thought, “I need to do this. I don’t care who it’s with, I don’t know the director very well, but I have to do this movie.” That’s what I told my representation and they said, “OK!” And then I had to audition for it and got it.
One film I was very excited about—and I’m sad hasn’t come out yet—isNailed. Is this project ever going to come out? I heard it’s almost done shooting and it’s a screwball comedy with you in the lead, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Catherine Keener, directed by David O. Russell. It’s crazy.
You know, I wish I had an answer for you—I wish I had an answer for me. This particular film is such a heartbreak for me because I had such a great time working with David, and it was such a wild and wonderful experience. For me, it was like, “Wow, I really am a part of something special,” and I’m such a big David fan, so when all the stuff came down with the financing and everything, it’s just like the knife gets shoved deeper into my gut every time I hear something else about it. Is it going to come out? I don’t know. I heard it might come out on DirecTV or Video-on-Demand, but we haven’t finished it. There’s a big scene that we’re missing and it was never fully finished. I’m sure it can be doctored in some way where it appears like it was finished, but I’m not sure. It’s a bummer.
You have this upcoming project that you’re acting in and producing,The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, an indie drama with you and Chloe Grace Moretz starring, which sounds intriguing, and rumor has it Justin is also doing the music for it.
This is something that my producing partner, Michelle Purple, and me have been working on for about six years now. It’s so funny how things get written up. It hasn’t even been shot yet. But it’s a huge passion project for me, and yes, Justin said that he wants to do the music—but we haven’t even shot it yet. If the movie becomes the piece that we all think and hope it will be, and I think it’s worthy of it, I’ll ask Justin if he will do that, but we have to shoot this thing first. It’s very challenging to get this tiny films made. We’re gonna make it this year! That’s my New Year’s resolution.
Man this year has flown by. I feel like I was just at Sundance watching Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. We ran my interviews with director Francesca Gregorini and star Alfred Molina at the beginning of the year. Now the film is on VOD under the new name The Truth About Emanuel, and coming to theaters on January 10.
Kaya Scodelario plays Emanuel, the daughter of a single father (Molina) because her mother died in childbirth. She’s rebellious, but agrees to take a job babysitting for her new neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel), when she finds out something very strange about Linda’s baby. I got to speak with Scodelario by phone after returning from Sundance, since we didn’t connect in Park City.
We still want to preserve spoilers, so some of this reads vague, but if you watch the movie you’ll know what scenes we’re talking about.
CraveOnline: As soon as I started watching the film and heard your opening monologue, I felt like I knew this girl. What was your way into Emanuel?
Kaya Scodelario: For me, it was so well written, like you say about the monologue. I was very captivated by that after reading the first page. You don’t really get that very often with scripts. You have to give it 10, 15, 20 pages before you can really understand what’s going on. I thought with this, within the first five minutes of sitting down and reading it, I understood it. I really wanted to make the words come to life because I’d genuinely never read a script so beautifully written before. That’s really what pulled me towards it I think.
When you read the script and you got to the point where we find out exactly what Linda is doing with her baby, what were your thoughts then?
I was told about it before. I’d actually watched a documentary about it a couple of weeks beforehand, so I knew it wasn’t some crazy idea that everyone would be like, “Well, that’s really unrealistic” because I knew it was something that could happen. And actually, a quite interesting subject matter, so for me I really wanted to know more. I wanted to explore it more. I thought it was beautifully written, the way we discover it and yet we still do go along with it in the story. That was just quite hard to try and think how you’re going to play that because you’d think that you’d react in a manner of wanting to scream and shout and run away, but I like that Francesca had created enough of a bond between them beforehand for Emanuel to stay there and want to protect her.
Both Emanuel and Linda are dealing with their own grief, which is a subject that really appeals to me. Do you feel that makes really good drama?
I think really good drama comes down to real human emotion. That’s what makes us all tick and that’s what I’ve always been drawn to when it comes to scripts is real human emotion and dealing with that. I find that all very fascinating, the human psyche. I lost my father a couple years ago so to me it was still quite raw, that feeling of grief. I’ve never really had it challenged that way before in a script. I’d never done a job where I had to really focus on that, so to me it felt like it came at the right time in my life and it was something I really wanted to explore and see where it would go on screen.
Was it a process of tattooing the name on your arm every day?
It was really simple. I’ve got six real tattoos and I kind of felt it was going to be so annoying having to put it on every day, but it was actually very simple. It was just a simple transfer like you get when you’re a child where you just wet them down and place them on the skin and peel it back, and then it just stays on your skin.
Emanuel is very clever and she’s very funny when she lashes out at people, but that cleverness puts a wall up. What was your take on her humor?
I think that’s really interesting. I think a lot of people when they don’t quite fit in in the world use humor to combat that and to find their place in society. I feel like that’s what she was about, but again I think most of the time she’s just being quite honest. Because she’s being so honest and so blunt, it came out quite funny. A lot of us didn’t expect it. When we were watching the screening and hearing the laughing, we were quite taken by surprise how much the dark humor did really come across because for me it was more about just playing it honestly and not trying to be funny. I don’t particularly find myself funny at all anyway, so I definitely wasn’t trying to play a comedic part. I think that kind of honesty especially from a young girl can be seen as quite funny and that’s just how it happens to come out.
What were some of the difficult scenes? Were they the scenes at the dinner table, making her father tell the birth story, or scenes in Linda’s house?
It depends what you mean by difficult. I think emotionally I’d say interesting rather than challenging was probably the graveyard scene and the scene with Alfred [Molina]. The scene with Alfred was tough purely because I just wanted to watch him. He was so amazing when we were doing that scene I kind of lost myself and I just wanted to watch him because he really hypnotizes me in that way. He’s the only actor I’ve ever really had that with. So that was a challenging thing for me personally to try and stay in the zone and try not to just watch this brilliant actor doing his thing.
As far as scary challenging, it would probably have to be the underwater stuff because that was something I’ve never done before whatsoever. Never been scuba diving or snorkeling or anything like that, so to be 20 feet deep underwater, in a foreign country, without your mum, in the pitch black, freezing cold was the hardest couple of days for me. But, I think they come across so beautifully that I’m glad that we did it and did it properly.
We spoke with Alfred and he told us that acting is fun, even when it’s painful scenes like the birth story, that it doesn’t have to actually be painful. Did you ever talk to him about that?
Yeah, Alfred is amazing. Every time I see him, I just want to cuddle him because he’s the best person to get cuddled from. He’s just lovely and wholehearted and I think possibly the nicest actor I’ve met on my little journey. He just really made me feel safe and welcome. He just kept the mood so light the whole time and that’s so important I think, especially when you’re doing a low budget project. Everyone’s quite stressed, they’re doing very long hours and your’e trying to get everything done. If you have someone like Alfred on set who’s just laughing throughout the whole day, it really does lift the mood. He taught me that, that it’s important to have a bit of fun with the crew members and keep it lighthearted, and it helps the day go along quicker.
What did you do after Emanuel?
I just finished shooting a TV show for a channel over here, a four part drama directed by Sean Durkin, who was massive at Sundance a few years ago. It was really cool to be able to talk to him about what the experience was going to be like, and he’s such an exciting young director that has such a different vision from everyone else, I kind of want to carry on doing that, working with exciting people that are trying to do things a little bit differently and pushing the boundaries of everything.
I hadn’t heard that Sean Durkin was doing a TV show, let alone in the U.K. What’s that called?
It’s called “Southcliffe.” It’s a thriller for a channel called ITV over here.
What do you get to play?
I don’t know how much I can say about it. I don’t think they’ve had a press release, but it’s set in a very small town in England where a tragedy occurs. It’s how different families and different people involved deal with that tragedy. Sean Harris is the lead in it and he’s an amazing actor. My part is quite small but it was one of those that you’re on set and you just feel like you’re part of something really cool.
One of your first roles was in Moon. What was your experience on that film?
It was amazing. I was only 14 at the time and it was only the second audition I’d ever been to, and I didn’t want to go to the audition. My mom actually really convinced me to go because I was really nervous. It was an American accent. I’d only ever done “Skins” which was the show I started on. I was quite terrified of it all. I was a very self-critical 14-year-old. So we went down and met Duncan Jones and he was amazing. He was very warm and very kind.
I was only on set for a couple of weeks but it was just really interesting to see a film being made. It’s such a different vibe. The sets were incredible and there was a giant spaceship. I got to meet Sam Rockwell who at the time I didn’t really know. I just thought, “Oh, this guy’s really lovely. He’s very nice, polite and nice to my mom.” Now looking back on it I’m like, “Oh my God, that was Sam Rockwell.”
What was your experience on the huge budget Clash of the Titans?
Very different. Very, very different. I felt like a tiny little fish in a gigantic sea. It was great to see how it was done and the costumes were beautiful. The setup was amazing, but I think it really taught me to appreciate little films and to appreciate a director who loves the project they’re doing and people that are involved in something because they really want to make something that interests them or that challenges them, and not necessarily just to make a lot of money. It’s a completely different world I feel and I was still only 16 at the time so it was quite overwhelming to me, but it made me miss being on a tiny set with a small crew and no trailers, eating fish and chips.
How do you look back on “Skins?”
“Skins” was the university for me. It was the best years of my life really. We were all just a bunch of friends. At the time, we were all just a group of eight kids that had been given this amazing opportunity and we really wanted each other to do well. We really supported each other and we just wanted to have fun and make the most of it. We still all keep in touch now, and we try and meet up every month all together. It was great. Those are some of the strongest friendships that I have now.
Did you ever see the American version of “Skins?”
I saw one episode. I was on holiday in Jamaica with two of the other girls from the cast. It was American MTV on and we started watching it, and it came on out of nowhere. We weren’t expecting it, and we were so freaked out about it that we had to switch it off halfway through because we just couldn’t. It was too much of a headfuck for us. It was just too strange to see Americans playing our parts. It was such a different feel. I think they bleeped out the swearing as well which is a bit like, okay, what’s the point of that?
It almost didn’t happen. Mara and Gregorini remained very close friends after filming Tanner Hall, and Emanuel was written for Mara, who is credited as a coproducer. But financing took three years to assemble, and Mara, at 27 when production began, wasn’t really believable as a teenager anymore. “That was heartbreaking to me, but it really led to finding Kaya, and that’s been amazing, because I have a new, amazing friend and she did an incredible job.” As Emanuel, Scodelario at times offers shades of Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone, but in the end, she’s her own actress, charming and satiric.
For a movie that’s not ostensibly queer, there’s plenty of lesbian subtext. Gregorini leans in like she’s revealing a secret to a confidante, grey pageboy hat askew over her mop of dark chocolate hair. “There were some sexual undertones of the relationship between Linda and Emanuel that were intentional and discussed with the actresses beforehand. As a gay woman I think it’s important for me to put that in my work.” But this is not a gay story. Gregorini says she’s waiting to do that for when she has the right story to tell. “In the meantime, I make it a point to put something in there that is profoundly me.” Linda (played by Biel) and Emanuel develop an intimacy. Gregorini adds, “Also at times in friendships that aren’t gay…when you’re excited and you meet someone and you connect with them there is a sexual energy there. It doesn’t mean you’re going to act upon it or that it’s going to become sexualized, but we are sexual creatures, and that’s part of liking someone.”
The subtext of the film’s friendship includes a kind of a courtship and the fear of homosexuality that underscores modern life. Part of what Gregorini calls “English humor” is set up in the first scene, a traditional family dinner in which Emanuel tells her stepmother that she has had a sexual dream about her the night before. Later, Emanuel’s stepmother tells Linda that Emanuel may have unnatural desires for her because her own mother’s death has left a missing piece in her life. The stepmother creepily urges Linda, “I don’t want her to misinterpret your fondness for her” and then encourages the character to reiterate her interest in men, asking, “You are interested in men?” The scene cuts back to Alfred Molina and Aneurin Barnard — who play the dad and the boyfriend — leaving the question unanswered. The realness and absurdity is one of the laugh-out-loud moments in the film.
The combination of metaphor and fantasy, allegory and symbolism in Emanuel is “very grounded in true human emotion and our true struggles to get over loss,” Gregorini says. Heartbreak and loss are something Gregorini had to experience on a national stage. She was engaged to and had been living with Arrested Development star Portia de Rossi for three years when the actress left her for Ellen DeGeneres. Tabloids ran headlines like “Ringo Starr’s Little Girl Dumped By America’s Most Famous Lesbian.” At the time Gregorini decided not to talk to the press.
“It was pretty harrowing,” she now admits. “I’ve never really talked about it, and I want to be respectful to all the players — and, to be honest, I’ve definitely made my peace. Portia and I are friends, I’m friends with Ellen.”
Few psychological thrillers are led by women, and those that are (Single White Female, Black Swan, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) tend to pit women against each other. Women’s fascination with each other in these films, when it exists, generally ends in betrayal and violence. Yet Gregorini insists that her film passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Named for writer-cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the test asks whether a work of fiction includes at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man; few films pass.
“The men in it are the supporting characters,” she says. “I don’t feel like I need to make an excuse for that.”
She says it’s still a problem for critics, though. “Still, 85% of the critics out there are middle-aged men. So that’s kind of the stumbling block that you run into. Your film is probably going to land on one of their desks, and, God bless them, love them, want them to write great things about it, but it’s like, it does skew the reviews that you get.” She says, “It’s great there’s more female moviemakers, and it’s great that there’s more and more stories about women, but really what we need to consider is a whole ecosystem, and critics are part of that, and financing is part of that, so the bar that we have ahead of us is higher than some might think.”
After four years in the making, The Truth About Emanuel opened January 10, and Gregorini — who’s had total creative control on her first two films — hopes it does well enough that she can make films with bigger budgets, ones where she doesn’t spend years stumping for cash.
“I’m just hoping that this film does well so that I have enough clout to sort of mitigate some of those factors moving forward,” she says. “I’m sure I’m super naive and it’s not going to [earn] jack-shit [at the box office], but that’s the hope: That if you do good work and they know that you were in control of the entire enterprise, that they’re going to trust you a little bit more to sort of navigate the ship,” she says.
“When we meet again, I’ll tell you if that worked out at all.”
From writer/director Francesca Gregorini, the indie drama The Truth About Emanuel tells the story of the troubled Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario), who becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, Linda (Jessica Biel). In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a world that blurs the line of fantasy and reality, and shows just how dangerous secrets can be.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, filmmaker Francesca Gregorini talked about how this film came about, the themes she wanted to explore in the story, what led her to Kaya Scodelario, what sold her on Jessica Biel, how the final product is a leaner version of the script, the importance of giving a dark story like this some hope, and why the title of the film was changed. She also talked about how she’s looking to direct a film from someone else’s script, but that she could never see herself handing one of her own scripts to someone else to direct, and that she’s no longer attached to direct Your Voice in My Head (in which Emma Watson was set to star).
Where did you start with this story? Was there a theme or idea that you wanted to explore, or did it start with a specific character?
FRANCESCA GREGORINI: It actually started with the character of Emanuel. Rooney Mara and I became close friends after Tanner Hall, and I set out to write her, her next movie, so Emanuel was based on her. Not her, the person, but the characteristics of the character. So, the seed was wanting to write something for her. And then, the themes of madness, loss and mortality are just valid themes to explore, and are something that I grapple with in an existential and non-existential way. It’s hard to explain how stories happen. I just sat down, and that’s what started coming. I wanted to do a story that was about collusion, and the way that children or young people carry secrets for the adults in their lives, because that’s definitely something I had experience with. All the things that live within you find their place, in character and story, once you tap into that other space that is the creative writing space.
Do you find it easy, as a writer, to leave yourself open to including your own personal experiences? Do you want to go on that kind of cathartic journey, or do you find it difficult to open yourself up personally, in that way?
GREGORINI: I find that that’s the goal. The more personal you get, the more universal a story you end up telling. Ultimately, what audiences respond to is truth. Even as fantastical as the story can be, and out there, at its core, it’s dealing with loss, madness and mortality. All of those themes are very human themes, and are things that we all grapple with, in our own ways. Bottom line is that it takes forever to make a film. It’s a gargantuan thing of untold effort. So, if I’m going to take that time and put in that effort, I want to tell a story that is actually about something, is meaningful, and is a tale worth telling. That’s how it is for me. If I’m gonna bother to do that, then it best really touch on some real shit, for lack of a better word.
When you write, do you do so knowing, in the back of your mind, that you’ll be directing, so that you don’t write yourself anything to impossible to shoot, or do you not even think about that?
GREGORINI: I don’t do that. As a writer, I just let myself write whatever. When I then turned around and hired myself to direct it, and I looked at those water sequences, I was like, “How the hell am I gonna pull this off, on this micro-budget that we have to shoot with?” If I was thinking with my right head, I never would have done that, but I just allow myself to write whatever it is that I want. And then, when reality hits and I’m in the director’s chair, I try to do the best that I can with what the vision is. But, I think we all have limitations, as directors. I don’t care what the budget is, it’s probably never enough money and never enough time. You figure it out. Sometimes the limitations bring more creativity.
Both Kaya Scodelario and Jessica Biel are not obvious choices for these roles, but they’re so terrific in the film. What led you to Kaya and ultimately sold you on her as this character, especially having envisioned it as somebody else, originally?
GREGORINI: That was difficult. I actually saw every girl in that age bracket in Los Angeles, over months and months and months, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around anyone. Not that they weren’t extremely talented. Some of them were fabulous, and I want to work with them. But, none of them were Emanuel because it was so specific, in my mind. Also, Rooney Mara is a high bar. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less. So, I ended up actually taking a plane and going to London. I was like, “She’s not here. I know Emanuel is not here because I’ve literally met every actress that it could be.” My producers thought I was insane because we already had such a small budget. They were like, “Really?! You’re gonna go to England, and then we have to fly her over, we have to put her up, we’ve got to train her out of her British accent.” I was like, “I don’t know that’s what’s gonna happen, but for my own sanity, I need to go see.” And then, on day two in England, I met Kaya and I just knew. Casting is very instinctual. I really like to meet people. To me, it’s about their essence more than their audition. Kaya is not even a particularly good auditioner, but I didn’t care because I knew she was the girl. I think it will be exciting for American audiences to discover Kaya because I think she has a tremendous career ahead of her.
What made you decide to cast Jessica Biel?
GREGORINI: She read the script and loved it and wanted to meet. I wasn’t sure that she was the right person for the part ‘cause I’d never seen her do this type of role. And she was open to auditioning, so I was like, “Wow, okay.” She blew me away, in the audition. I was like, “Okay, great! Here’s your part.” I think she’s gonna be a real revelation to audiences who see her in a certain way. The truth is that she’s actually a great actress that has a lot of depth and range and nuance. It was a pleasure, really working with both of them.
Is this final product of the film pretty close to what you envisioned for it, or did it evolve a lot?
GREGORINI: Of course, there’s a lot of shaping in the edit, but one of the things that I learned from my first movie, Tanner Hall, was that your script better be rock solid because that’s the foundation of the entire thing. I really took a long time to get the script for Emanuel to really be where I wanted it to be. Even structurally, there wasn’t much of that kind of craziness going on in the edit room. It’s pretty much the script. If anything, it’s a leaner version of the script. A lot of things ended up on the edit room floor.
Because this film takes a pretty dark journey, was it important that, not only do you never really judge any of these characters, but that you do also leave audiences with a sense of hope?
GREGORINI: Yeah, I think hope is key, in life and in art. If you’re gonna take people on a journey that deals with some pretty heavy themes, I think you best have a sense of humor, here and there. Life, to me, is never one color. Even in the saddest moments, you can have a chuckle. And in the happiest moments, you can shed a tear. I think it’s important that that be a part of it. And what I love is when I’m in the theater with audiences and I hear them laugh. That’s such a relief to me. They’re going on the ride and they’re allowing themselves to enjoy it, even though we’re traversing some dark waters.
What made you change the title from Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes to The Truth About Emanuel?
GREGORINI: I think Tribeca just thought it was too long, quite honestly. That’s basically what it came down to. I put up a good fight, but in the end, they triumphed. But, I’m happy with it. It kept the main elements, which were Emanuel’s name and the word “truth.” I think we came to a happy compromise on that. I knew it was a very long title, but I’m quite superstitious. When I started writing it, that’s the title that came to me, so I had to keep it. I had to keep it until I was told I wasn’t keeping it.
rAre you still going to direct Your Voice in My Head?
GREGORINI: That movie is not actually happening. It’s all new to me because I haven’t been in the director-for-hire position before. It’s all a new experience. But apparently, it happens all the time, so I best get used to it.
Do you have any idea what you’ll direct next? Do you want to direct something you haven’t also written?
GREGORINI: I do, actually. I am open to that. That’s actually the primary reason why I signed on with CAA. I am interested in directing other people’s work. I don’t know what that next project is going to be, at the moment. I’m looking at a 1920s period piece, set in Paris, which is really exciting me right now. We’ll see what happens, in the future. I’m also starting to get the itch to go back to writing, myself. I don’t know, is the actual answer to that question.
Could you ever see yourself writing something that you’d give to someone else to direct?
GREGORINI: No! I don’t see it going that way because what I write is so personal. For whatever reason, I don’t see myself doing that. But, I can imagine a world in which I would direct someone else’s work that spoke to me. The test for me, when I read other people’s scripts, is whether I feel like there’s something about me that is the best person to tell this story. I have a pretty high bar for myself. There’s a lot of scripts that I read and think, “Oh, this is great, but I think there are 50 other directors who could bring this to the cinema.” When I think that it’s only me and that I’m the best one to do it, then I’ll go after it. I’m very jealous of actors that swoop in for 20 days, and then swoop back out. When you’re a director, you’re on that train for the next two years, so you best love it like you’ve never loved anything, ever.
Multi-faceted writer/director Francesca Gregorin has spent the the past several years carving out a diverse body of work, which has been turning the heads of both critics and film fans alike. Her character-driven films are visceral and darkly humorous, stylistically bold, with undertones of the magical and surreal. Her stunningly beautiful work has, without a doubt, established herself as one to watch in the years to come.
Raised in Rome, Los Angeles and the English countryside, she brings a worldly, passionate and unique sensibility to her filmmaking. A Brown University graduate with a Theater Arts major, Francesca sold scripts to both HBO and Paramount before co-helming her directorial debut “Tanner Hall” with Tatiana Von Furstenberg. The film marked the screen debut of Rooney Mara in a lead role. Rooney alongside Brie Larson and Georgina King play a trio of boarding school girls entering their senior year. This coming of age drama focuses on the girls flirting with adulthood and the consequences that brings. The film was an official selection at the Toronto Film Festival (2009).
Francesca next wrote and directed “The Truth About Emanuel”, which stars Jessica Biel, Kaya Scodelario and Alfred Molina. The film tells the story of a young woman (Scodelario) who becomes obsessed with her mysterious new neighbor (Biel) who bears a striking resemblance to the girl’s dead mother. It premiered in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance (2013) and is being distributed by Tribeca Films domestically, and Myriad Pictures abroad. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Francesca Gregorini to discuss her roots in the entertainment industry, the process of bringing her scripts to screen, the challenges of bringing ‘The Truth About Emanuel’ to to life and much more!
I wanted to give our readers a little bit of background on you. What was it that intrigued you about the world of filmmaking initially?
I was a songwriter before I was a filmmaker, so to me it is really about telling stories. Through filmmaking, I found a better avenue for my particular talent in telling stories. I have always been compelled to tell stories ever since I was a child. I started with songwriting as my medium and then segued into screenwriting and then to directing. It just flowed in that way.
Who were some of the influences, both musically and directorially, who help shape the artist we see today?
I am a huge Roman Polanski fan. When it comes to the old school, I am a huge fan of him. I love Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, when it comes to guys who are more current. I am a big fan of Terrence Malick as well. I am a big fan of The Smiths, The Pixies and PJ Harvey. They are the people who inspired me as a musician. It all goes into the same pot, whether it is music or film, it all goes into the creative process.
You latest film is “The Truth About Emanuel.” For those who aren’t familiar with it and without giving away any of the twists and turns, what can you tell us about the film?
The best way to describe it is a psychological drama with some thriller elements, some surreal absurd elements and some dark humor. It is the story of a young girl whose mother died at childbirth, so she has a missing piece in her life. A new neighbor moves in next door that looks uncannily like her dead mother, so she develops with a preoccupation or obsession with her. In order to get closer to her, she offers to babysit because the woman has a newborn. In the process of doing that gets strapped into this woman’s fragile, fictional world. She ends up becoming the gatekeeper or protector, if you will. I think that kind of sets it up without giving away the twists and turns.
What can you tell us about the inspiration for the story and the process of bringing it to life?
The inspiration for any story, whether it is a song or a script, comes from me mining my own psyche and exercising those demons. [laughs] The main themes that run through this film are loss, madness and mortality. I think those are terms worthy of exploring and touch all of us because they are parts of the human condition. I experienced some loss in my childhood. Thank God none of it was death! [laughs] Growing up, I had an absent mother for some of my childhood. I think that is something you process throughout your life and is something a lot of us share. Basically, I think the character of Emanuel represents me in my youth and the character of Linda represents me in my adult life. Obviously, it is in exaggerated form and hopefully I am not quite as mental as Linda! [laughs] We definitely share traits, let’s put it that way. I also like the theme of carrying secrets. I think we all do that for the ones we love, especially children for the adults in their life. Part of loving someone is not wanting to burst their bubble, especially when you see the person is rather frail. It is a loving thing to do, yet it causes a lot of crazy stuff to go down.
How did the script evolve along the way from what was in the original pages to the final product?
Interestingly enough, the script I had written for Rooney Mara because Tatiana von Fürstenberg and I had cast her had cast and discovered her in ‘Tanner Hall.’ We became close friends and I said I would write her a script. It took me three years to pull the financing together for it. By that time, she was too old to play a teenager, so that was the impetuous for writing the part. She was the inspiration for the character of Emanuel. As far as how it changed, any true screenwriter will tell you that writing a script is all about the writing. It doesn’t differ much. I was very lucky with the script because it really kind of wrote itself to a large degree. The rewriting process isn’t so much about change as it is about leaving out things that are not as necessary as you think. That is a process that continues in the editing room. The editing room is kind of you final pass on your script in a way. I am a big re-writer but all of the main themes and characters didn’t change exclusively from the first draft to the last to a great degree.
You hit the ball out of the park when it came to casting “The Truth About Emanuel.” What can you tell us about the casting process and was it difficult to find the right mix of people to bring your story to life?
To replace Rooney was a big challenge, as you can imagine. I literally met with every girl in that age range in Los Angeles over a course of months and months and months! I couldn’t find Emanuel. It was not for a lack of talent in this town because God knows there are some brilliant actresses. None of them felt, in their essence, like Emanuel to me. As a director, that is really how I cast. It is less about the audition and more about if the person has the essence of the character already in them. Ultimately, that is what is going to shine through — at least it is in my experience. When I couldn’t find Emanuel here, I got on a plane and went to London. I know they spoke English and had great actors! [laughs] I met Kaya Scodelario on day two and that was that! I just knew the minute she sat down that our search was over! That was the process of finding Emanuel. Kaya shares an innocence and depth that is behind her years, along with a biting sense of humor. It was about finding this rare, complex girl that is also so appealing, brave and true. Kaya as Emanuel is all of those things. For the part of Linda, Jessica Biel read the script; she loved it and wanted to meet. I wasn’t sure she would be right for the part because I hadn’t seen her do this kind of work in her other films. She told me she was willing to audition, which is how strongly she felt she was right for the part and how badly she wanted to play the part. I said “Fine!” She really blew me away in the audition. I was like “Wow!” I think that is the same way audiences will feel. It will be a real revelation; what she brings to the part. Their chemistry, hers and Kaya’s, was amazing. Alfred Molina was one of the first people I cast. God Bless him! He stayed on even when the cast would come together and then fall apart and financing would come together and fall apart. He was my rock! He would say “I am not going anywhere! I’m doing this film!” The entire cast of the cast of the film did the film for scale, practically nothing, so it was really a labor of love not only for me but for everyone involved. I think you feel and see that in the film through the performances. There is a lot of heart and goodwill. Everyone really brought their talent and rolled up their sleeves to make it happen. Jimmi Simpson gave a great performance and Frances O’Connor really strikes the right balance with the character of the stepmother. Aneurin Barnard is someone I discovered in London while looking for Emanuel. At that point, I hadn’t cast the part of Claude yet. I thought I should look at some boys while I was in London as well. I am glad I did because I found Aneurin! He was such a discovery! He is such a sweetheart and did a terrific job in the film?
Looking back on this project as a whole, what stands out as some of the biggest challenges you faced?
I think the biggest challenge I faced is the same challenge faced by all indie filmmakers and that is the financing. If you are truly working outside of the system, it is about finding people willing to take a gamble on you and your vision. It’s hard, especially when you have a female driven piece. It is a hard sell when you say “This is a film about lose, madness and mortality.” People aren’t exactly seeing dollar signs! [laughs] It took a while but in the end, if you have to make this movie and that is how I felt, then you make it happen. You may have to do it for not as much money as you thought but that is just part of the process of filmmaking. As far as one of the bigger challenges on set, I would say shooting the water sequences was certainly a challenge on this budget level. That was quite a feat and I am very proud of those sequences. I am proud of myself for pulling it off. I am proud of the entire crew and I am proud of Kaya! It wasn’t like she was a water baby! [laughs] It was a real challenge for her. It was one of those things where you just have to power through and hope that it is worth it. It definitely was!
Was there anything you wanted to achieve stylistically with this film or explore directorially?
This is a narrative film, in many ways it follows Hollywood conventional film storytelling. What excites me is pushing those boundaries by going into surreal or absurd moments. I like to shoot a heightened reality. I think my films are realistic and certainly grounded in true human emotion, connection and struggles but they take some liberties and flights of fancy. I am a very aesthetic person, so I take great care in how this film looks and feels in terms of the cinematography, the production design and costume design. To me, it needs to be a feast for the eyes. That is how I like to seduce my audiences into the story. That is how I feel they are most willing to go on the ride. If you take a couple left turns, they are still there with you because they bought into. That is especially true if they have bought into the lead character, then you have them where you want them and can go anywhere you want. I think for this film, in particular, what was important to me was getting the tone right. Since it travels in some dark waters, I wanted to make sure it did have a sense of humor about it as well and it wasn’t this butter ride where people walk out of the theater decimated. I wanted to deal with some real issues that aren’t particularly gun but still have some laughs along the way. It was really important for me was to strike the right tone, look and feel of the film.
How do you feel you have evolved as a filmmaker since first starting out?
In term of how I have grown from “Tanner Hall” to this movie is I am more confident as a filmmaker. I think that allows me to take greater chances. I think I have become bolder stylistically and have dug deeper into myself. One thing I learned from “Tanner Hall” that making a film is this major endeavor that requires everything you’ve got for many years on the trot. If you are going to make a film, you best make it about something that is truly important to you and have something to say that is meaningful, otherwise you have just dedicated so many years of your life to something, With that said, I think I just went for it more than I did on “Tanner Hall.” I hope to continue along that path on my next film. You have to be brave because there is not much time! [laughs] We need to be brave in life and in our art as well by taking those chances. I feel I have been rewarded in doing that with “The Truth About Emanuel.” It came out the way I wanted and possibly better. That, in large part, is due to the collaboration with Kaya, Jessica and everyone else who brought their talent to the project.
Where are you headed next when it comes to film projects? Another other areas you are anxious to explore?
I am anxious to explore outer space! [laughs] I have begun work on that but I can tell it is going to be a few years in the making. I have a distinct that will not be my next film. I am also working on something that takes place in Paris in the 1920s, so that might possibly be my next project. There are a few things I am circling and that are circling me, so I don’t feel I am at liberty to announce what my next thing is at this point. There is no firm decision on that has been made to date. I am definitely open to directing other people’s work. I think that is an exciting prospect for me because I have not done that yet. At the same time, I think at my core I will always be a writer and it is what helps keep me sane! [laughs] I am definitely going to continue along that track as well.
You definitely seem to be great at juggling all of the different aspects of filmmaking. Is there a part of the process that you adore or a part that you absolutely dread when it comes to filmmaking?
The part to me that feels like you are tapping into the source and feels like magic is the writing because there is nothing there and then, suddenly, you have created out of thin air this world of characters, what they are saying and doing. That to me feels like an out of body experience! When it is working and going right, you are kind of a conduit o this story that needed to be told. You are kind of just birthing it and it almost doesn’t even belong to you in many ways. To me, that is the magical aspect of it. The part I find I enjoy the most is being on set and shooting. I love actors and I think that is part of why I have been so fortuitous in getting incredible performances out of them. I think actors by nature are very sensitive creatures and sometimes directors don’t particularly love actors and view them as a means to an ends. For me, I genuinely love them. I don’t know if that is because my mother [Barbara Bach] was an actress or what it is about them but I find that rapport and working relationship really satisfying. That is probably the part that is the most fun for me. The part of the process that requires the most out of me and sometimes I find it the most tedious but I really speak to it in a dogged manner is the editing. That is the part, at the end of the day, which really makes or breaks a film. I think editors and editing are the unsung heroes of filmmaking because that is where you movie is made or broken. It is the part of the process where you can really elevate what has been given to you by all the actors and heads of department. I really take it seriously and take that as the greatest responsibility.
I find your work truly inspiring as do many other people. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to young filmmakers, writers and all-around creatives who look to you for inspiration?
First of all, thank you very much for the compliment. From my experience, things have gotten better as time has gone on. Just do it! [laughs] I know a lot of people who have had a script for years and are like “Oh, I need to get X amount of dollars to make it.” or this that and the other. The truth of the matter is those people are never going to make their films. You can’t let anything stand in your way. I ended up making “The Truth About Emanuel” for exactly 1/5th of the budget that I was told by many a professional that was needed to be spent to do this script justice. At the end of the day, I just couldn’t rally that amount of money. I just pulled the trigger and said “I am going to make this film with the money I have and come what may.” Thank God I did because that is how we got into Sundance and I got to get my foot further in the door and advance myself as a filmmaker. My best advice is to give yourself a time limit, raise the money you can raise and then adapt your vision and script to make it for that. At the end of the day, you just have o get in the game anyway you can. I am in a fortunate position because I am also a writer and I can turn around and hire myself to direct. If you are not a writer and you are a direct, make friends with writers. Find out who are the writers in you school or town and familiarize yourself with who does the work that interests you. The script is the blueprint for your movie, so if it is not shit hot, then your movie is not going to be that. You are building your film on that foundation. To me, it is all about the story and writing. You can shoot it beautifully and have amazing actors but if you are telling a story worthy of being told or that moves you, you aren’t going anywhere with it that you want to be going. It is all about story and making sure what you invest your time into is of meaning and worth. If you don’t feel passionate about it, you are going to lose steam. You can’t fake it and you have to be very passionate about the story you need to tell and bring to the screen. You have to feel that nothing will dissuade you from it. You will get knocked down about 155 times, so the only thing that gets you standing back up is your resolve to tell that story! That is my experience anyway!
Thank you so much for your time today. It has been a pleasure to speak with you about the film. It is a truly brilliant piece of work. You have gained a fan for years to come!
Thank you so much, Jason. I really appreciate hearing that! Thank you for your time as well! Take care and bye for now!
17-year-old Emanuel, the protoganist of The Truth About Emanuel, lost her mother at childbirth. Unsurprisingly, the mystery surrounding this absent maternal figure consumes Emanuel and appears to be her only source of wonder about the world. Emanuel will never know exactly why her mother named her after a former French lover, but her vow to learn French is the first step.
In some ways, Emanuel behaves like a typical teenager: her wit is sharp and precise, and her presence at the family dinner table lasts long enough to pass the salad and recall a sexual dream involving her determinedly cheery and conservative stepmother (Frances O’Connor). She resents her father (Alfred Molina) for his recent remarriage. Much to her intense dissatisfaction, her family’s Victorian house is the most romantic part of Emanuel’s suburban microcosm. Babysitting for her new, worldly neighbor Linda, played by Jessica Biel, nurtures Emanuel’s dreams of a bigger future.
British actress Kaya Scodelario, who plays Emanuel, had her breakout role as teenage bad girl on the English series Skins. As Emanuel, however, Scodelario transcends the trope of the moody teenager. Emanuel’s relentless cynicism is compromised upon discovering that Linda believes a doll is her baby daughter Chloe, who died from unknown causes. Emanuel plays along, realizing that to shatter Linda’s carefully constructed reality could mean the loss of Linda’s maternal affection and, in a larger sense, the unknown mother that she idolizes.
Like Scodelario, Jessica Biel has been acting since she was a young teen, and Biel plays Linda’s normalcy with an equal intensity. Giggling about a date, lending Emanuel a covetable sweater, and adopting a tone of distracted impatience when Chloe “cries” are touches that increase the preciousness of Linda’s secret and its inevitable public discovery. We spoke to Biel about insanity, how to approach the art of small talk, and the complexity of sexual attraction.
HANNAH GHORASHI: When the film debuted at Sundance last year, it was as Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. How did the title of the film get changed?
BIEL: I don’t quite know. I think it was too long. I really liked that title. I thought it was really provocative—Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes.
GHORASHI: I liked the whole water theme, too, because it seemed really maternal, or womb-like.
BIEL: Yeah, me too.
GHORASHI: How did you envision the character of Linda playing out? At the beginning of the film, she seems very sane. Maybe the first time I thought there was something slightly off about her was when she told Emanuel to put her glass in the sink, a bit redundantly. How did you reconcile Linda’s being so normal with believing a doll is her baby?
BIEL: This is the ongoing question. You know how great villains just believe in what they’re doing? In their minds they’re not villains, they’re not doing anything wrong; they’re just self-righteous in their dedication to their cause. And that’s kind of the way I felt about Linda. This woman has had a traumatic reality break. Her brain is protecting her from the pain that she is experiencing, the emotional and physical pain that she is experiencing. She blames herself for what happened to her child. Is she crazy? I don’t know what the definition of crazy is. She can function in a social experience, in a private experience, but this is something that she truly believes in at this moment. She’s protecting herself. People have told me, “Oh my god, you’re playing a crazy person.” And I don’t see it that way. In my mind, she’s not a crazy person. She’s just—you believe her. She’s like any great villain.
GHORASHI: I really liked how the movie embraced uncomfortable silences, because that’s usually the one thing about movies that doesn’t imitate life. The scene where Emanuel’s stepmom comes out to the flower garden where they’re sitting there are just these couple seconds where no one really knows what to say, especially. Do you consider yourself good at small talk?
BIEL: [laughs] I’m not great at it. I can do it. I’m getting a lot better at it.
GHORASHI: It probably comes with age.
BIEL: It does, it does. For a long time you try to fake it, and then I think it even gets to a point where you’re like, “I don’t need to waste my breath; I don’t try to impress anybody anymore.”
GHORASHI: I’m interested in the French motif in the film—I really like France Gall, so I loved the inclusion of the song “Laisse tomber les filles”—but what’s your take on its significance to the rest of the movie?
BIEL: My take on that is that Emanuel, when she meets Linda, feels like her life is very small. She feels like she’s stuck in this house with a stepmother that she doesn’t want to like, and her father is her best friend in a sense. She has this small, limited experience. When she meets Linda—Linda is a traveled person, Linda is someone who’s lived in France and probably lived in other places, and someone who speaks a couple of languages possibly, and a life beyond her small existence, Emanuel’s small existence. I think in general, Emanuel is interested in these things, and Linda is someone who encourages it. She says, “Take these books, and you’re going to live in France, you have to live in France.” It’s already decided that Emanuel will be able to have the opportunities that she wants. I feel that as a young girl, meeting someone who’s 10 years older—that age range where you’re looking at that woman and going, “Oh my god.”
GHORASHI: I wish I had a neighbor like that.
BIEL: Yeah! You have a mentor almost—someone believes in me and isn’t going “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Sure, take French if you want, you’re never going to live there.” Linda immediately goes, “You’re going to live there, so you should know it.” It’s a bond.
GHORASHI: Linda’s style is decidedly boho. Do you think this was because she’s such a maternal person—that her style was an expression of fertility?
BIEL: That’s interesting. Yeah, that could have been a part of it. I think in our minds—Jessica, the director, and I—we wanted her to be effervescent and whimsical. Frances, Emanuel’s stepmom, is very proper and preppy. She’s very much more controlled, and the style is a very clean and stiff and Linda just floats through. She’s almost spirit-like, and this goddess of fertility kind of person. We just had this idea that we wanted to create this being that was so different, that Emanuel’s never seen before. This woman that doesn’t look like anyone else she knows except maybe, in her mind, resembles what her mother might have been like.
GHORASHI: There’s definitely an implication at a certain point in the movie that Linda and Emanuel might have had a romantic attraction between them, and, for example, we don’t see the Linda’s answer to Emanuel’s stepmom’s direct question about it. Do you think that’s a possible interpretation or do you think that’s the result of a confusion between the mother-daughter dynamic?
BIEL: I guess I think it’s more of a result of the dynamic. There’s nothing in the script that ever crossed the line between the two women, besides emotionally being very warm towards Emanuel. We talked about that—Emanuel is looking at this woman like, “This is the kind of woman I want to be,” before she realizes what’s going on. I think that’s a kind of infatuation. It was never meant to be sexual, but there is meant to be a question there. I definitely felt that when I watched it.
GHORASHI: Kaya had a lot of funny lines, especially at the beginning at the dinner table and on the train, but were there lighthearted moments during filming?
BIEL: Kaya’s fun and has a fresh spirit. And definitely the rest of the cast—everyone’s really, really lovely and fun. We were able to jump in and out a lot. We would do these scenes where it would be weird, and then there would be a cut and we would all kind of discuss, “How did that go for you?” Someone would make a joke, and we’d all laugh. It was very light, actually, it wasn’t at all a dark set where everyone was miserable the whole time. It’s amazing to work with such professionals who are able to jump in and out like that.
GHORASHI: At the end, when Linda finally has a breakdown—how do you work up to a big screaming session like that?
BIEL: You have to believe what it is. You have to believe what is happening is really happening, and then you start to feel all of this stuff. Which is what people talk about, when you’re there you’re really listening and you’re in the moment and you surprise yourself. You can’t even believe it sometimes.
GHORASHI: So are you not even aware you’re acting at some point? Do you make a transition between feeling like an actor and feeling like you actually are that character?
BIEL: I think that’s the goal, in those moments, to really forget. A lot of the times once you’ve finished a scene, the best reaction is to say you don’t really remember what happened. I don’t really remember what I did or the choices I made. I made them in that moment but I can’t tell you, “Oh, I did this there, or I did that there.” It’s just all happening so when you’re all done with it, it’s a bit of a blur. That’s a real successful day.
Francesca Gregorini’s film Tanner Hall marked the debut of two very talented women—Gregorini herself and her star, Rooney Mara. This coming-of-age drama focused on young women edging towards adulthood at an all-girls boarding school.
In her latest film, The Truth About Emanuel, which opens today, Gregorini gives us a portrait of two women, one just about to turn 18 (Emmanuel, played by Kaya Scoldelario), the other a young single mother (Linda, played by Jessica Biel) who meet in a moment of mutual transformation and grief. Emmanuel has struggled her whole life with her mother’s death during her birth. When Linda moves in next door, she’s struck by how much she looks like her mother, and eagerly agrees to babysit her infant daughter, Chloe. But Linda has secrets, and soon their lives become irrevocably intertwined.
The film is dominated by these two complicated, emotionally raw women—it is that rare story in which it’s the men who play a supporting role. It is also a film that, on a very modest budget, manages to pack a surprisingly vivid visual punch. Blending two powerful female performances with elements of fantasy, Gregorini’s story, which she co-wrote with Sarah Thorp, manages to feel like an independent, female-driven feature with big budget special effects.
We spoke with Gregorini about her long journey creating this film, drawing inspiration from her own life, and what happened when a scene that called for a little rain got much, much more than that.
How are you feeling with the film finally coming out?
This is the moment, right? This is the moment all those years led up to.
That’s a good place to start. How long have you lived with this story?
It’s been probably been a three to four year process. From the idea to the writing to the long haul of financing [laughs]. On indie films, that’s really what takes the longest. It’s not the writing, it’s not the editing, it’s the where’s Waldo of the money. Which is why I always say to the young guns coming up behind me, just make sure that whatever film you’re going to make is one you’re passionate to tell. Because in those moments, and there will be many, when the film falls apart or you’re getting no traction, that passion is the only fuel that will keep you going.
You originally wrote this film for Rooney Mara, right?
What happened was Tatiana von Fürstenberg and I did a film called Tanner Hall in which we discovered and cast Rooney Mara in the lead, and in the process Rooney and I became close friends. When that movie was over, neither of us had a job, so I said, ‘I’ll write you your next movie.’ So the character of Emmanuel is really, in some ways, shaped around the Rooney that I know. Her dark, biting sense of humor, her wit and intelligence—the whole thing started from wanting to write a film for Rooney. This film has definitely been through a thousand-and-one incarnations. But I have faith that, in the end, you make the movie you were meant to make with the people you were meant to make it with.
Tell us about the creation of the screenplay—where did you draw these characters from?
As a writer what you have is access to is yourself, and I think the character of Emmanuel is delving into the pool of my youth and issues I dealt with, which is carrying people’s secrets, especially adult’s secrets, and getting pulled into their fragile, fictional worlds. My mother was in and out of my childhood, and that longing for a connection with a mother figure obviously plays strongly in Emmanuel, and causes her to do things someone might not do if they didn’t have that missing piece in their life. And the character of Linda grapples with issues that I’ve had to deal with in my adult life. I’m not quite as mad as Linda [laughs]. It’s two fractured pieces of my psyche put into these characters and they end up doing this dance.
What’s also interesting, and quite refreshing, is this is a film dominated by women, and not just women in search of men.
It’s not like I necessarily set out to do that, but I am a woman, and growing up there were so few movies where the woman was the hero. I’d say ninety-five percent of the time it’s the boy’s journey or the man’s journey and the woman is the girlfriend or the mother or the helper. I think it’s important that there be cinema out there where it is the woman’s journey, and the characters of the men are there in the supporting role. I didn’t set out consciously to do that, but that’s just my experience as a woman.
Emmanuel and Linda have a really complicated relationship. Their chemistry is…nuanced, to say the least.
What’s interesting about people is the same thing I find interesting about characters—they’re layered and complex. These two women do have chemistry, and there are some levels of sexual undertones to that chemistry, and then there’s the mother/daughter chemistry—there’s just so many things that are being played out. It’s like when you meet someone and you really like them, and where you take that relationship or what form it takes is kind of up for grabs in the beginning, but a connection is there and that connection is real. Because both of these characters have this missing piece, this broken part to them, they fit together like puzzle pieces. That’s very powerful, and I think that that happens in life, too. You don’t know why you’re so drawn to someone, and perhaps you’ll never know because it’s so deep in your subconscious or unconscious.
This is not a Jessica Biel we have seen before.
You realize that if you’re a beautiful woman, you are type cast in this town, and it’s hard to get an opportunity to sink your teeth into more juicy material. She has some serious acting chops.
There’s a remarkable tightrope act until the first big reveal happens. That’s a pretty high degree of difficulty you set for yourself.
That never troubles me, I’m only troubled when I’m uninspired, and I was really inspired by this concept, and by having the reveal happen early and then having the movie be about the three of them and that dynamic. Because the more typical way of doing this type of film is you don’t do the reveal until the very end. For me that’s a less interesting type of movie. What’s interesting to me is what happens after the reveal. How do these two characters dance this dance? Who’s going to let the other drop? To me the collusion between them is what’s interesting.
Do you have any memories of days that you just felt like, ‘well, this is nuts’?
Definitely the water sequence day was the most lunatic moment. Because we were on such a tight budget, and then the crane we rented was not big enough to lift the reconstruction of Chloe’s room, we had this moment where we asked, ‘Do we risk it and potentially impale the actors with the crane falling on them [laughs], or do we pull the plug?’ So of course I pulled the plug, assuming insurance was obviously going to cover us for the crane, but apparently that was a ‘judgment’ call, and they don’t cover judgment calls. So had I let the actors perish and everyone in the tank get electrocuted, then we would have been covered, but because I chose to not kill everyone for art, we had to basically eat that cost, which really killed us.
That’s frustrating me, and I wasn’t even there and had nothing to do with it.
That day of trying to sink a room and having people in scuba gear bringing air to Kaya, who’s not the best swimmer to start off with, and she has an ear infection…I think what you learn in production is that anything that could go wrong is one hundred percent going to go wrong, so you just have to have that acceptance from the get go. So your job is to keep your hat on and problem solve for every minute of every day.
The director’s fate.
And another funny moment, well, it wasn’t funny at the time, but there’s a shot with Jessica and Kaya lying down and it’s supposed to rain on them. We had gotten a rain tower, and it was three in the morning and freezing out. I asked if I could see the rain on the stand-ins, and then I thought, ‘Are you really going to soak the stand-ins at four in the morning when it’s really cold out? This guy operates rain towers all the time, the lead actors will be fine, blah blah blah.’ So cut to the shot—thank God we shot some test runs before the water tower, which is what ended up using in the film—when the rain tower actually turned on, it was a fire hose of water that was choking our actresses. You have to take every precaution, and my kind nature had the better of me so I didn’t wet the stand-ins, but hey, it’s fine, it all somehow works out. I think dealing with water on this movie was the biggest hassle of all.
Well it’s the rare director who protects the stand-ins and blasts the leads with fire hose-strength water.
After the disappointed and apologizing for the mayhem, it was really funny to watch in the edit room. The look on their faces when they were getting pummeled with about fifty-gallons of water…
Francesca Gregorini’s vision should never be underestimated. The Italian writer-director is responsible for introducing the world to Rooney Mara with her directorial debut Tanner Hall, and now she’s doing the same with Kaya Scodelario, the UK darling who’s making her U.S. debut with The Truth About Emanuel. In limited release today, Gregorini’s sophomore effort follows a troubled teenage girl who becomes intrigued by her mysterious new next door neighbor (Jessica Biel). What unravels as the two grow closer is mind-boggling, and to give away any more would spoil the movie—it’s something that must be seen to be believed.
Complex got the chance to speak to the multi-talented filmmaker to discuss her muses, her latest movie, and her thoughts on the landscape for women in Hollywood.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
I saw Tanner Hall awhile ago and it was the first time that I saw Rooney Mara. And now that you have Kaya Scodelario in The Truth About Emanuel, I’m convinced you have a crazy eye for talent.
Oh thank you! Finally somebody is recognizing it.
Do you write with these people in mind or do you hope for the best during the casting process?
With Rooney, Tatiana Von Furstenberg (her Tanner Hall co-director) and I just found her through casting. We just saw tons of girls and Rooney hadn’t done anything, but she had that special something that is just unquantifiable that you are just drawn to. Then Rooney and I became close friends in the shooting of Tanner Hall, so I actually wrote Emanuel for her. It took me three years to raise the funding for it, by which point she was 26, which was verging on too old to play a 17-year-old. That’s when I stumbled upon Kaya.
I saw all the girls in that age range here in Los Angeles and even though there is tremendous talent here, none of them were right and none of them were Emanuel. I mean, Rooney is a pretty high bar. So then I got on a plane to England. On day two, I met Kaya. I knew from the moment that she walked in that she was the girl. There’s something super special about her. She has wisdom beyond her years and yet a true innocence.
Where did the idea for Emanuel come from?
Both the characters of Emanuel and Linda are pieces of myself. To me, the whole piece is dealing with loss, heartbreak, and mortality. Those are three things that I think are worthy of investigation and are prevalent in my existential thinking. The whole mother-daughter bond and abandonment are part of my childhood. I had a mother who was absent and even though we have an incredible relationship now, I think the issues you take on as a child you end up sorting out the rest of your life. That manifested itself in character of Emanuel. The character of Linda is inspired by dealing with my own adult heartbreak and issues. I wrapped them both in one movie and let them sort it out.
The beauty of art is that you get to take poetic license and make things as dramatic as you want, and that is the fantasy part. And to me, I am a filmmaker and I am not a documentarian. I like to be able to take the fantasy and stick a toe into the surreal. My films are more heightened reality, and not life as is because life as is is not terribly interesting to me. What is interesting to me is the subtext and the madness that lives within all of us, one layer below the surface. That is where the heart of the matter is as far as I am concerned so that is what I like to happen to my characters.
Jessica Biel often gets overlooked. How did she become a part of the project?
I am not too sure how she got her hands on the script. I am assuming through her agent or her manager—I never actually asked her. She read it and really loved the part. Initially, I wasn’t sure that she would be right for it because I haven’t seen her do this work before.
We met for lunch and she said that she was willing to audition and I thought that was very generous and brave. I was only a second-time filmmaker and she is a huge international star, so I was like, “OK, wow, this woman really wants this part.” She blew me away at the audition.
I think she’s going to be a true revelation to fans of hers and people that aren’t familiar with her because I think she gave a very nuanced and brave performance.
How did you break into the movie business initially and when would you say your career really took off?
Well, I am also a writer, so that kind of made things easier. You can write your own material which you can attach yourself—there is step one. Usually, if you are just a director, you have to go out there and find a script that the writer is willing to have you do and if you have never made anything ever, then that is really a high bar.
For Tanner Hall, Tatiana and I found a producer that was really interested in the material and we were a part of the package. That’s how I got my foot in the door. Honestly, even before that, I got my foot in the door as a writer because I sold a pilot to HBO. That got me into the business.
Was screenwriting and filmmaking something that you went to school for? Or a hobby you just developed?
I studied Theatre Arts and Semiotics at Brown, so I kind of went to school for it. But I was a songwriter before I was a screenwriter and, strangely, I think that my screenwriting is an extension of my songwriting. I know that sounds bizarre, but I have always been a writer and someone who needs to tell stories. Filmmaking, I found, is the best medium for me to be able to express things I know or things I am grappling with.
Are you a musician as well?
Yeah, I used to have a band. I used to play bass and I sing. Back in my youth, I definitely kicked around for a while.
No. I still have my bass but it is really just for me now. I sit down at my computer and write more than I tend to sit down with my bass—as sad as that sounds.
What is the status of your next movie, the Emma Watson-starrer Your Voice in My Head?
The status of Your Voice in My Head is that it’s at a standstill. I don’t know what is going to happen with that project but I have two other projects that I am currently working on, which I think are going to go. So Voice is not going as far as I know.
How would you characterize the landscape for female directors in Hollywood?
My experience has been good thus far—knock on wood. When I went to Sundance with Emanuel last year, it was the first year that there was an equal number of male and female directors represented. I take that as a very positive sign because it’s a sign that things are shifting. The shift is slow and small in the “real world” of Hollywood and we have a long road to traverse, but it is starting to change.
The important part for people to realize is that it is an ecosystem. We don’t just need more female directors. The truth is we actually need more female executives, more female financiers, and more female film critics because it all feeds itself. At the end of the day, if you have a film that is very female driven and the majority of critics are white middle-aged males, it is a problem. If you have a female driven film and you are looking for funding and nine out of the 10 of the financiers are guys, it is a problem. Nothing against them, but their sensibility or their interest in certain themes or topics are going to be slightly different.
So we do need more female filmmakers, but we also need more women in other positions that will help move forward the female writers and directors. There are obviously appetites for it. There are so many more films now with female leads that are box office successes, like Hunger Games and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and there are tons of TV series that star women. We are getting there.
When people talk about director Francesca Gregorini, it’s usually not about her. They bring up her parents (Bond girl Barbara Bach, Beatle Ringo Starr), or the celebrities she’s dated (Portia de Rossi, possibly Amber Heard), or the actors whose careers she’s helped launch (Rooney Mara thanks to 2009’s Tanner Hall, Kaya Scodelario in this month’s The Truth About Emanuel). Mostly, though, they talk about Kathryn Bigelow.
“I think she’s a phenomenal director, obviously, but my interests lie more in telling stories about women,” Gregorini said in an interview with Bustle.
Looking at the two directors’ careers, there would seem to be no basis for comparison — Bigelow’s known for gritty war thrillers like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, while Gregorini’s two films, including Emanuel, out Jan. 10, are female-centric coming-of-age stories. And yet, time and again, the two women, along with a handful of others, from Sarah Polley to Lynn Shelton, are grouped together, if only because of one common trait: their gender.
“A lot of female directors, when you call them a ‘female director,’ their feathers go up and they get bent out of shape,” Gregorini told us. “But before I was a director, I was a female, so I’m fine with being called a female director.”
Gregorini may not be bothered by the label and the inevitable comparisons that it inspires, but she certainly has every right to be. Grouping directors together by gender is inane; Gregorini’s movies have as much in common with Bigelow’s as Her does with 12 Years a Slave. Yet rather than complain, Gregorini embraces the “female director” label and all that comes with it.
“It’s wildly important that stories are told by female filmmakers, because after all, we are half of the population, last that I checked.”
For Gregorini, being a woman directing movies isn’t enough. It’s writing stories about women, she believes, that matters most.
“It’s important for all the young generations of girls growing up that they have an opportunity to go to the cinema and see themselves reflected on the screen, and for them to see movies where the hero of the story — the person you go on the journey with — is a girl,” she said.
“When I was growing up, you kind of had to… assume you were the guy of the story because women’s roles historically and, honestly, still today to a large, large percentage, are the lover of, the mother of, the helper of, you know? The guy is doing his thing, and that’s all fine and good, but we need to tell our stories, too.”
With both Tanner Hall and The Truth About Emanuel, Gregorini is helping to get those stories told. The former, a 2009 drama starring a then-unknown Rooney Mara as a boarding school senior, focused on the complexity of female friendship. And Emanuel, an indie thriller starring Skins’ Kaya Scodelario as a motherless teenage girl and an out-of-character Jessica Biel as the strange new mom next door, takes on a topic even less frequently seen in film: mother-daughter relationships.
“I think that for everyone, male or female, your relationship with your mother is sort of where it all starts,” Gregorini said. “For a lot of us, that relationship is complex… that sort of connection with a woman who’s older and that you look up to and that you’re drawn to — it has an imbalance of power, it has intrigue, it has mystery. These relationships are complicated, and they’re layered.”
For Gregorini, focusing on the connection between mothers and daughters not only made sense — “for me, in particular, it had some elements of abandonment along the way, and that’s sort of something I continue to struggle with in my life” — but a relatable way of delving into deeper issues.
“I like talking about things without hitting them over the head,” Gregorini said. “I mean, the movie is about mortality and madness and about loss, and those are all universal themes that we all have to deal with or ignore.”
“It’s also the carrying of other people’s secrets,” she continued. “That’s something we tend to do, especially as youngsters, for the people we love — we end up doing it unbeknownst to ourselves… there’s a lot of things we’re willing to do in search of connections.”
In Emanuel, the teenage title character (Scodelario) becomes preoccupied with her new neighbor, Linda (Biel), due to Linda’s resemblance to Emanuel’s late mother. The teen offers to babysit Linda’s newborn, but soon learns that nothing is what it seems. The film is part-drama, part-thriller, and part-CGI, a compelling, original mix of realism and fantasy.
“What I think resonates is the emotional truth of things,” Gregorini said. “As long as you have that, you have the license to go into the absurd and go into fantasy and other things, and it still holds water.”
Emanuel premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it received a nomination for the prestigious Grand Jury Prize, an honor especially gratifying when considering the years it took just to get Gregorini’s film made at all.
“A lot of times people make movies and they never get released, and you just can’t imagine going through that much work and nothing happening,” she said. “When I got the call from Sundance… I just remember literally, like, crying, going, ‘oh my god, thank god.’”
The journey to make The Truth About Emanuel began nearly half a decade ago, when Gregorini first wrote a second film for Rooney Mara, who had become a close friend after Tanner Hall. But then there were money issues, and scheduling conflicts, and by the time financing for the film was secure, three years had passed and Mara was too old to play the teenage Emanuel. Gregorini spent the next several months looking for a new leading actress, only stumbling upon Scodelario, a 21-year-old known best for playing Effy on Skins, after leaving L.A. in the hopes of having better luck in London.
“The movie kind of rests on her shoulders,” Gregorini said. “She does a phenomenal job.”
Emanuel’s cast is rounded out by Jessica Biel (“She’s gonna be a revelation to audiences who will be able to see her in a new light”), Alfred Molina, and Frances O’Connor.
“I take the casting process really seriously,” Gregorini said.
And good thing she does. Gregorini has an impressive history of casting future A-listers in her films (“I have good taste,” she joked); Tanner Hall also gave Brie Larson, now an awards contender for Short Term 12, one of her first major supporting roles. It’s not far-fetched to believe that Scodelario, who is receiving high praise for Emanuel, will be the next Gregorini-discovered actress to find stardom.
“You can only be as good as the parts that you are given,” Gregorini said, adding, “ultimately, it’s about the connection that you, a director, can make to them as a person and as an actor. It’s that level of trust that the movie is riding on.”
It’s a truism that’s relevant in all filmmaking, but perhaps most so in the indie world.
“With everyone that comes onto an indie film, you’re paying them, like, a dollar,” Gregorini said. “They’re hoping that you’re gonna make something’s that worth their time and their effort. I think of it as a big responsibility.”
And it’s one that the director is happy to have.
“My interests lie there, and in telling these stories,” she said. “God knows from now until I die, I’m certainly not gonna have even touched the tip of the iceberg of stories to tell.”
After co-directing the 2009 indie hit Tanner Hall with Tatiana von Furstenberg, writer and director Francesca Gregorini makes her solo directorial debut with her new film The Truth About Emanuel, which stars Jessica Biel (The A-Team, Total Recall) and opens in theaters on January 10th.
While this is only her second film, Gregorini is no stranger to Hollywood being the daughter of former Bond girl Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me) and the stepdaughter of musical legend Ringo Starr (The Beatles). Her latest film, The Truth About Emanuel, follows the title character (Kaya Scodelario); a troubled young girl who becomes obsessed with her mysterious new neighbor (Biel), a woman that bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In addition to Biel and Scodelario, the film also stars Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence), Aneurin Barnard (Hunky Dory), and Jimmi Simpson (Breakout Kings)
I recently had a chance to speak with writer and director Francesca Gregorini about The Truth About Emanuel. The talented filmmaker discussed her new movie, developing the screenplay, its genre, the title change, casting the film’s baby, directing her first film without Tatiana von Furstenberg, what she learned from making Tanner Hall, Jessica Biel’s impressive performance, and working with the hilarious Jimmi Simpson.
Here is what Francesca Gregorini had to say about The Truth About Emanuel:
IAR: To begin with, can you talk about coming up with the idea for The Truth About Emanuel and writing the screenplay?
Francesca Gregorini: The impetus for writing Emanuel was Rooney Mara because coming off of Tanner Hall we became close friends and I wanted to write her next project. So that’s kind of how that started. It was based on the character of this girl who had this longing and this missing piece in her life. The lengths she would go to creating this bond and the secrets that she was willing to carry. I thought that was an interesting and fascinating concept. So that was the impetus to that and then the wild and crazy stuff that came out was just really based on some of my own childhood abandonment and madness. Emanuel’s madness is based on some of my adult grappling with my sorrows and madness. Strangely those two aspects of my life ended up in these two characters that end up relating to each other. It’s kind of a very expensive therapy in a way.
IAR: Rooney Mara was originally going to play Emanuel. Why did that not work out?
Gregorini: Yes, she was! I had written it for her and she was going do it. However it took me about three years to raise the funding for it by which point she was really not the right age to play a seventeen year old. I really wanted Emanuel to be a young woman. So often in Hollywood someone’s 40 and they’re playing 20. But we both felt in our hearts, that it really needed to be a young actress. Kaya (Scodelario) was 19, and that’s right. To be 19 and play 17 feels right. To be 26 going on 27 playing 17 doesn’t feel right. It was challenging to find Kaya. I had to fly to London to find her, but it was definitely well worth it. I loved working with her and it was fun to discover someone new because Rooney was an awesome discovery and Kaya was an awesome discovery too.
IAR: To describe The Truth About Emanuel, as a thriller, or a horror film, or even a drama, doesn’t really do the film justice. What genre would you categorize the movie in if it has one?
Gregorini: That is one of the challenging things. If you think of your life, what genre is your life? If you had to force a genre on it, I would say it’s probably a psychological drama with some thriller aspects and some dark humor. It has a bit of surrealism in it, it has a bit of absurdity, but that’s what I tend to like. I tend to like things you can’t put into a box like a full bouquet because I think life is like that. If you’re going to challenge audiences with material that deals with heavy themes of madness, loss and mortality then I think you best have some different aspects in it. You best go to some different places because that resonates better between laughs.
IAR: The film was originally titled Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. Can you discuss the decision to change the title?
Gregorini: Really that was just my distributor dealing with the title being too long. It’s as simple as that. We negotiated it down so it kept its essence. It still has Emanuel in the title and the word “truth,” which was important to me.
IAR: Can you talk about Emanuel’s journey in the film and why she decides to protect Linda’s secret?
Gregorini: I think that happens a lot in life. I think children carry adult’s secrets knowingly and unknowingly. I mean I know that I did for my parents growing up and I know I’m not the only one. I think that concept of not shattering someone, or someone’s delusion of themselves, or delusion of their reality was interesting to me and interesting enough to explore in film.
IAR: Without giving away too much about the film, can you discuss developing the look of Linda’s baby and getting that just right? Was that a difficult challenge?
Gregorini: That was a very difficult challenge and that question is very hard to answer without giving too much away. Casting Chloe was as long and arduous a task as casting any of the other actors. It was difficult, and it was expensive
You co-directed Tanner Hall with Tatiana von Furstenberg but Emanuel marks your solo directorial debut. How was the experience of making this film different for you than working on your first movie
Gregorini: I think it had its pros and its cons. For both of us going into Tanner Hall that was our first film so it was so wonderful to have your best friend with you like a comrade in arms. When everything was going wrong you had someone to look at or someone to lean on. We could divide and conquer when the wheels were coming off the bus. It’s like, “I’ll take the front right wheel, you take the back left and we’re going to keep this thing moving forward.” I miss that, but it was also important for me coming of age to take this on my own and stand on my own two feet. Also to develop my own filmic language that wasn’t in collusion and in tandem with hers. I think Tanner Hall is a perfect example of a movie that was good for both of us to do together because it worked like that. It is what it is because of our shared vision of that world. This film felt more personal to me and perhaps darker in some ways and it just felt like the right thing to do on my own. I’m definitely not excluding working with Tatiana again in the future. I think she’s getting ready actually to do her first solo directorial venture and that’s super exciting to me.
As a director, what did you learn from your first experience working on Tanner Hall that you were able to apply to Emanuel and what new challenges came up directing your second film that really surprised you?
Gregorini: There’s a sequence in Tanner Hall when Georgia King is walking with a tray and you see these girls dancing in the cafeteria. It only happened for a moment, and it’s not explained. It was just kind of surreal. I really enjoy that in cinema. I like to have a tale that holds together and has a narrative, but I also like to take liberties. I like to go into the subconscious and go into a more playful aspect. I feel like I got to do more of that in Emanuel and I really enjoyed the fantastical and the magical. I think I took a step further with Emanuel in that. Tanner Hall was a great training ground but the difference was walking off the set of Emanuel I finally felt like I’m a director and I should do this. Walking off Tanner Hall I still had questions. I was not 100% sure I had a right to do this. It is such a privilege to do this and everyone gives so much of their time and effort.
IAR: Ever since I saw Jessica Biel in Ullee’s Gold with Peter Fonda, which was one of her first films, I’ve though that she was a great actress. But I also think that she is often underrated because of her beauty and her off screen persona. What was it like for you to direct her on this project?
Gregorini: I think she’s going to be a revelation to audiences as she was to me. She read the script and loved it and wanted to meet for lunch. I honestly wasn’t sure she was the right person. But when I heard her talking about it and she was willing to audition, I was more open. She really blew me away. Who knew! It was exciting for me to see and it’ll be exciting for audiences. She had a lot of depth and nuance in her performance. She knocked it out of the park and wowed me. It is a challenging part because it can be overdone and I really appreciated her subtlety and her finesse.
IAR: Finally, I’m a big fan of Jimmi Simpson and have been since he first appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman many years ago as “Lyle the Intern.” He’s a very naturally funny guy. Can you talk about working with him and did you ever have to reign in his comedic instincts during the film’s more dramatic moments?
Gregorini: No, he was great. He just got it. There were certain roles where I could have gone with this actor or another, but with Jimmi’s audition it was a no brainer. The part was his for sure. He’s a super smart guy and he was great, he had the right touch. This film needs humor and he provided the right kind of humor that was not over the top. It was in tone and in tune with what was going on and yet funny. He was naturally funny and not in a ha-ha way, but just in an off-kilter way. Because the film is off kilter in many ways he just fit right in, and he was a lovely guy to work with.
In The Truth About Emanuel the British actress plays the lead role of Emanuel, a 17-year-old girl whose first line of dialogue is, “I murdered my mother,” and the movie gets even darker and more surreal from there! We sat down with Kaya Scodelario to find out more about playing this troubled teen and working with the lovely Jessica Biel.
Despite the masculine spelling of her name, Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is a 17-year-old girl with a terrible burden. Her mother died giving birth to her, so Emanuel’s impending 18th birthday is not going to be a happy occasion.
We wanted to know what drew Scodelario to this complicated yet feisty character and she admitted to having an “interesting” relationship with her own mother.
“She raised me alone and she suffered depression most of her life. It can be very dark, very difficult, especially as a teenager. Sometimes you can hate the woman you love and you don’t know quite what is going on. I think that’s Emanuel’s journey, she’s never had that and she wants that.”
Emanuel’s life becomes particularly complicated when a woman named Linda (Jessica Biel), and her infant daughter Chloe move into the house next door.
Emanuel quickly discovers that Linda is living in a complete fantasy world. But instead of exposing her fragile neighbor, Emanuel plays along.
When we asked the raven-haired actress why Emanuel would so willingly enter Linda’s bizarre game, she told us, “[Emanuel’s] quite lost in the world, she doesn’t have any ambitions. When Linda comes along, she just wants to protect her and that’s why she kind of goes into her insane world.”
We don’t want to give away too much about the plot, but a hyper-realistic baby doll plays a significant and disturbing role. We asked Scodelario if the baby doll freaked her out.
“Oh my gosh, so much! The freakiest part about it, is that the doll is made to be the same weight as a real baby and the head isn’t supported so you have to hold it like a real baby. In between takes, you’d kind of feel yourself rocking back and forth, stroking the head and instinctually treating it like a real baby. I had to put her down.”
Scodelario also told us that, at one point, the doll became wet and needed to dry out before they could film the next take. They laid the doll on the sidewalk to dry in the sun — much to many strangers’ horror.
“Everyone was walking past saying, ‘That’s a baby, what are you doing?’ So we had to put a sign next to it saying it was a doll.”
We asked Scodelario what it was like to work so closely with superstar Jessica Biel. “I was really worried at first, this was my first American project and I had all these images in my head of what it was like, the celebrity culture,” she admits.
But the former Skins actress soon realized she had nothing to worry about. “From the second I met Jessica, she was a normal person, she has no airs or graces about her and she’s extremely professional. She connected with me. She gave me advice, made sure I wasn’t feeling lonely. She was wonderful.”
We had to ask: did Justin Timberlake visit the set? Scodelario sighed and said, “No, he didn’t. Everyone was waiting every single day but unfortunately, it never happened.”
So what’s next for Kaya Scodelario? She’ll be starring in a new movie called The Maze Runner, which is a film adaptation of the YA book of the same name, written by James Dashner. Look for that in September 2014.
Writer/director Francesca Gregorini recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” and Phoenix Movie Examiner about her new dramatic thriller “The Truth About Emanuel.”
In “The Truth About Emanuel,” which opens Friday, Jan. 10, Kaya Scodelario plays a troubled young woman who becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel) who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, the young woman unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world of which she becomes the gatekeeper.
Listen to “Breakthrough Entertainment” and Phoenix Movie Examiner’s full interview with Gregorini by clicking on the image above this article. The following is an excerpt from the interview in which the writer/director discusses the themes of “The Truth About Emanuel.”
“‘The Truth About Emanuel’ is [the story of] one girl’s coming-of-age and, in a sense, one woman’s coming-of-age. I like coming-of-age stories. And I like female-driven [stories]. I think that that is probably going to be consistent in my work. We don’t have enough of it and I’m good at it so I think that that is probably going to be a recurring theme in my work.
“I think that with ‘The Truth About Emanuel” I maybe dug a little bit deeper in terms of issues that that I was interested in tackling – like madness, mortality and loss. And even though they sound quite macabre and like a bummer, having seen the film you know that you don’t walk out of there being bummed out about life. Hopefully there is a sense of hope and a sense of wonder. And I hope to bring both of those things to my future works.
“Like I said, I think that the feeling is hopefully one of hope and I think that the message, if there is one, is that we can’t save ourselves. But in saving one another, that is how we save ourselves. Emanuel cannot get past the hurdle of her mother being dead and is unwilling to take even the most remote steps in that healing process.
“But I think that when she realizes that unless she does that Linda is also going to be sort of in a sea of trouble, she steps up and does it. I think that that is a beautiful characteristic of us humans. Sometimes we are unwilling to do something to care for ourselves but in caring for one another we sort of end up healing ourselves.” – Francesca Gregorini
Out director Francesca Gregorini premiered her second film The Truth About Emaneul (then called Emanuel and the Fishes) at Sundance last year, receiving accolades for her writing, directing and performances by stars Kaya Scodelario and Jessica Biel. Now the drama will hit select theaters in the U.S. on January 10, and the innate queerness of the film will not be lost on LGBT viewers.
Kaya Scodelario is Emanuel, a bored but witty 17-year-old who lives with her father and Stepford wife step-mom. She spends her time riding the train into the city for a job at a general store pharmacy, but quickly becomes intrigued by her new neighbor, Linda (Jessica Biel), a gorgeous and mysterious mother to a newborn named Chloe. Emanuel, whose mother died during the C-section she had while Emanuel was being born, offers to babysit for Linda when she needs to get out of the house. They embark on a relationship that is not quite understood by the people around them, causing Emanuel’s stepmother to urge Linda to make sure her interest in men is known to Emanuel, as she can sense Emanuel’s “unnatural” feelings for her.
Although both Emanuel and Linda have inner-turmoil over loss in their lives, they find a bond with one another that borders on mother/daughter and romantic/sexual. It’s a delicate dance that the actors play well and that Francesca has executed beautifully. We spoke with Francesca about the relationship between her female protagonists and what makes a gay film “gay.”
AfterEllen.com: The name Emanuel is not one you hear a lot, especially for a woman. What was the reason you chose that and included in the title?
Francesca Gregorini: Basically it just came to me, like the rest of the story. And I’m quite superstitious so that’s the name came to me so that’s the name that stuck. And actually when I wrote out the name I wrote out the male spelling just because I’m a bad speller, basically. And when I realized what it was, you’ve seen the film so there’s actually a scene in the film that explains why she has the incorrect spelling of the name, that’s how superstitious I am about things like that. I just feel like when you’re writing and it’s going well, you tap into the source—not to sound too new agey about it but I don’t like to mess with things too much. I like to be a conduit for what’s happening, whether it’s what’s happening in my unconscious or it’s happening, you know, in wherever I’m tapping into.
AE: I don’t know if it’s because I’m a queer person myself, but I saw the film as being very queer and I was wondering if that’s something you put into the film. Like even in the film, the stepmother wonders if this is some sort of lesbian infatuation.
FG: It definitely was a conscious choice and something that I talked about with Jessica Biel and Kaya Scodelario both. I think, you know, I think love is an interesting thing and when you love someone, I think we’re sexual beings and sexuality is part of who we are and sometimes, espseically when you’re young, you love someone—there’s that tension. And I think that tension exists whether you’re young or old or whatever—when you start to care for someone, sometime it has that component to it. And whether you act upon it or don’t act upon it is a different story but I definitely wanted that to be a part of their dialogue, for lack of a better word. Also I think people are complex and relationships are layered and so I like to sort of, in my films and characters portray people as I experience them, which are complex and layered, really.
AE: The one question I had from the film is if Linda felt like it was more of a mother/daughter relationship or romantic/sexual with Emanuel.
FG: Well I don’t think it’s like—I don’t think we’re all operating on such a conscious level. I think love is love and, like i said, it’s complicated and whatever. So I think these two characters are attracted to each other and you can interpret that in any way that you want. That’s what one ends up doing with art anyway, we sort of bring our own selves and our own experiences to it. Where you and other gay people may come away with really picking up on all the gay overtones that are in the film, I think someone else may much less. It’s definitely there. It’s like “Oh my god! Whoops! How did that happen?” It was definitely discussed and it was definitely something that I think makes the piece more interesting.
AE: I really liked that aspect and I’m sure I would have liked that even if I wasn’t queer. But you could have pushed it more, if you wanted to. At what point do you say “I like that they are flirting with this, insinuating this, but I don’t want it to happen on-screen for them”?
FG: Well because it just wasn’t that movie. That wasn’t the story I was telling, know what I mean? It went exactly to the point that I wanted it to. Obviously actors will do what actors do but ultimately you have control in the editor room to sort of pick and choose where the camera is looking, what takes to use, so I think I had them go as far as was appropriate for the story I was telling. If I was telling a “gay” story, then obviously it would have been very different. I think there are gay undertones in this movie, but this is not my gay opus, if you will.
AE: It was the same with your film Tanner Hall, which I really liked. Is that something you think will always be a part of your work.
FG: It’s such a part of me. When you watch people’s films, especially if they’re the writer and director on it, you can’t help but know them more because there’s so much of them in their work. As a writer, that’s the well you go to. It’s not like there’s some other well you have access to. You have access to yourself and your experiences. And as a director, you choose what interests you and the time you take with things is dependent on your level of interest in something, and what your proclivity is. And also making a movie takes an F of a long time, like three years of your life if you’re lucky. So you better be telling something that is of worth, and by that I mean that has some meaning to you, and because I am a gay woman, that is definitely a part of my identity even though I’ve not found the gay story that I want to tell that is close to my heart. I think I couldn’t—one of the characters in Emanuel is gay. I put some of that into my work because it’s just a part of who I am and I think it’s important that it be reflected in my work and also because it’s important that more of that be out there in the world. And also in the world where it’s not “Oh this is a ‘gay’ movie,” like mostly going to be seen by gay people. It’s like, I think it’s also important to have these gay undertones and gay characters in “other non-gay” films. That’s what I feel I’ve been able to do and in the future, I don’t know.
AE: It’s interesting because you premiered this film at Sundance where typically they will list films that are “gay” and your film wasn’t among them, maybe because it isn’t so “hit-you-over-the-head” gay.
FG: I’m so glad you brought this up because I kind of, you know, I take issue with that. Because I think as a gay filmmaker I should be embraced by Outfest and gay-centric publications, etc. Just because I’m not telling strictly gay stories, I mean, as you pointed out, both of the films that I’ve done definitely attract some form of gayness, for lack of a better word And I am a gay filmmaker so its like, I think, I don’t know. You bring up a good point and what one that has puzzled me as well. I think it’s because they want to see you do gay specific work, and I’m not ruling out by any stretch of the imagination doing a gay love story at some point in my life and career, but in the meantime, I think the work that I am doing—and I do bring gay themes into it, should not necessarily be overlooked.
AE: It’s funny because in the past, gay people—we’ve had to work with less in terms of subtext and things like that. Now that there are movies with two men kissing or two women kissing or having a 10-minute sex scene like in Blue is the Warmest Color, it’s like, this film still screams queer to me but I like how it’s kind of without the hit-you-over-the-head gayness about it.
FG: Great. I think this might be my first queer interview and I’m super psyched to be acknowledged in this realm because these are my peeps!
AE: I’m sure you’re asked all the time about being a woman filmmaker but as a queer filmmaker do you get things sent to you that are queer-themed ever? Or do you think because you haven’t made any gay-specific films you aren’t approached with those kinds of things?
FG: The two films I’ve done I’ve written myself so only as of late have I been open to directing other people’s work and I can’t say—I’m trying to think of the scripts that I’ve read. I don’t think I have been sent specifically gay-themed material. I don’t know if that’s because i haven’t done what is seen as “gay films” or not, but I definitely don’t rule it out. I feel like that’s so personal to me that the film that I do would be something I write because I haven’t found, within myself, the story I want to tell, you know? But I have a feeling, because it’s personal that it’s something I write or direct rather than a gay story I choose to direct. But you never know. I’m not ruling it out.