Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The "Cracks" Are Showing

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The "Cracks" Are Showing

(from 3/17/11)

Rather than drawing from the spate of big-budget commercial blockbusters directed by her father Ridley Scott and uncle Tony Scott, Jordan Scott claims her feature smart and stylish debut feature, Cracks, is indebted to much more modest and arty fare: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Heavenly Creatures, The Prime of Miss Joan Brodie and Lord of the Flies. It wouldn't be surprising if this cinephile even drew from girls-boarding-house horror films, summer camp comedies, and every other film that features budding girls, repressive environments, and bullying. Familiar elements are plentiful in Cracks, but what sets Scott's movie apart is the lead character, Miss G, played by Eva Green, the gorgeous French actress who made big impressions in The Dreamers, Casino Royale, and Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. Miss G is a diving instructor at a girls boarding school on a secluded island in Great Britain in the mid-1930s. Her teenage students, who have been dumped there by their parents, adore her because she's flamboyant, daring, and regales them with stories of her world travels before coming to the school. They don't realize that she's never been off the island, having grown up in the school. When Fiamma (Maria Valverde), a lovely and dynamic young diver from Spain, arrives--and she really has traveled the world--Miss G is drawn to her and becomes increasingly unstable as she tries to get closer. Meanwhile, the other girls, particularly the leader, Di (June Temple), who feels shunned by Miss G, turn on the new girl. In anticipation of Cracks' release, I participated in the following roundtable with Jordan Scott and Eva Green. I note my questions.
Danny Peary: What does the title mean to you?
Jordan Scott: It refers to the psychological cracks in Miss G's personality, how her facade starts to crumble.
DP: Just her?
JS: Well, mainly her. Also, I suppose it's the crumbling of the girls' group dynamic as well.
Q: Eva, what did you have to do to get into your character?
Eva Green: I went into an asylum. No, no. [Laughing] First of all I met Jordan and we talked a lot about the character. She gave me a bit of homework--I had to see Picnic at Hanging Rock and Heavenly Creatures and she showed me a lot of photographs by [Jacques-Henri] Lartigue. And of course I read the book [written by Sheila Kohler in 1999]. It's rather different from the script: it's set in South Africa, where it's very hot; my character is more masculine and is really tough; and it's quite intense. But it was good to be able to absorb the essence of the other piece.
Q: Can you talk about the bullying that takes place at the school in your film?
JS: Especially since it's set at a boarding school with only girls, the whole atmosphere is heightened. I went to an all-girls school and know how dreadful girls can be. When you cut the energy by having boys present as well it creates a different dynamic. But when it's all girls it can get a little intense and crazy. The film does speak to that and how out of control things can get in schools when teachers have no idea what's going on. It happens every day here but it's kept under the radar.
Q: Eva, have you had experience with bullying?
EG: Not yet.
Q: What was it like having a whole cast of girls?
JS: You know, it was actually fine. The girls mostly knew each other already and had gone to school together at one point or another. I kind of had the feeling that Juno Temple, who plays Di, was like the queen of the school, just like in the movie. She was the group leader.
Q: So when you bring in an outsider from Spain to play Fiamma, the dynamic changes like when Fiamma comes to the school.
JS: Yes, but they were just the softest, sweetest group of girls and just wanted to take care of Maria. They were really fascinated by her because she didn't speak English that well at first and was a bit mysterious, fragile, and lovely.
Q: Eva, talk about your relationship with the young actresses, because some directors want their characters to bond and some don't.
EG: Jordan wanted me to seem mysterious to the girls. I don't think she wanted to impose our not mingling, but I stayed in a very nice flat by the sea and the girls were all together in a hotel, so we didn't see one another apart from on set. It was quite an intense shoot for seven weeks. Of course in the evenings I was a big nerd and worked hard so I didn't have time to hang out with them. But the girls were just so beautiful and very professional and disciplined. Sometimes I was their mother, sometimes a friend, it was very easy.
Q: Did you go to boarding school?
EG: No. I was raised in Paris and went to a school with boys. I didn't know the boarding school experience. That was my parents' threat--I'd be sent to boarding school.
Q: Eva, how do your parents see your career?
EG: My mum is very proud of me. I've done some weird choices and she's said, "Why did you do that?" When she sees the movie, she's is always surprised. So she respects my choices now.
DP: My guess is that in all the years, Miss G has never seduced a girl at the school, although she certainly could have. [Eva nods affirmatively.] You agree with that. So why does she try to seduce Fiamma? It's not because she's a lesbian necessarily.
EG: Yeah, yeah. Fiamma is exotic, she's traveled a lot, she's cultured, she's very controlled. She's everything Miss G would like to be. At first she's interested in her, then intrigued, then fascinated, then unhealthily obsessed. She wants to own her and be her.
DP: How much of her attraction to Fiamma is sexual?
EG: I don't know if it is sexual when it reaches that level of obsession.
JS: I never thought that the sexual part had anything to do with....that's not where she came from, just where she ended up. Miss G has a need to consume Fiamma and it suddenly gets expressed in an awful sexual way. I don't think it was ever that she is a lesbian or had a crush on Fiamma in the beginning. It's just her need for ownership, her obsession and her wanting to become her.
Q: Talk about the diving. The girls had doubles but I'm sure they had to go into the water.
JS: Yeah, they had to go in and we had to drag them to the swimming pool. We got girls from a big diving team in Dublin. All the doubles were the same body shapes--it was really weird. Our girls weren't wimps, they tried really hard but it was really, really cold water--and the Irish doubles were paddling in the water between takes and didn't feel it at all.
Q: What revisions were done in the screenwriting and editing stages?
JS: There was a script that already existed that somebody else had worked on. We went back to the book and started again in a way. In our adaptation, we made it a lot more lush and more of a fairytale in the minds of Miss G and the girls. We wanted everyone to view the world in the way the girls viewed it, which was magical or something in a very protracted dream. In the editing room you discover things. It became more operatic in a way, operatic in the sense of young girls' hysteria. In the writing, I tried to pare it all down but in the editing everything was more heightened. I saw the actors doing their thing and sort of went with that.
Q: Eva, how was it seeing this film the first time?
EG: I was by myself. It was very hard for me to watch. I don't like watching myself full-stop. It's a violent process, I can not say what I think. I had this movie in my head, a movie on an island, and then I saw it. It's blurry. But I'm very proud of this movie. It's a gift for an actress, it's the best role I've had so far. It's a very complex part. I'm very lucky.
Q: Did you do any character studies?
EG: I did some prep. I worked on the script, reading it again and again and again and talking with Jordan. And I watched some movies. I watched Bette Davis because Miss G has created a persona and she's an actress in the way she walks and speaks. You see the more vulnerable side when she starts falling apart after she realizes that Fiamma doesn't care for her.
DP: In terms of her complexity, what is she like at night when she's by herself?
EG (laughing): What does she do? She reads a lot of books and fashion magazines. She sews her clothes. That's why she's classy and perfect--too perfect. Obviously it's all rehearsal for her performance the day ahead in front of the girls.
Q: When she leaves the island to shop in town, she suddenly becomes completely unsure of herself.
JS: In the book she's a lot darker and has even bigger problems than she does in our film. And you get the sense that she's had unhealthy obsessions with other girls in her past and has been moved to this distant boarding school in the middle of nowhere. In the film, she has agoraphobia, having been institutionalized from having never left this boarding school. She has always remained a fifteen-year-old who has no idea how to cope with the real world or life outside of the school.
EG: She's very fragile--you touch her and she falls. It was interesting and fun to play her as being tough within the boundaries of the school and then to show she's a woman made of glass outside it.
Q; Jordan, did you move the movie from South Africa to England in the thirties to consciously add to the sense of repression?
JS: Yeah. Well, I moved it to England because I'm English and I wanted it to have a degree of my own experience. The English countryside and that world is something I really connect with. Moving it to the thirties was for the reason you mention. People in Europe were going through a period of denial about what was going on around them. This school was cut off from the outside world as well.
DP: I get the references to Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Lord of the Flies, but what is the reference to Heavenly Creatures?

JS: It's basically that these two seemingly normal girls manage to work themselves up into such a complete frenzy until they do something absolutely horrific that no one could see coming. Who knows if that existed inside of them all along or if they were an awful influence on each other.
Q: What are you doing next?
EG: I have a movie coming out called Perfect Sense. It was at Sundance. Also I'm playing Morgan, Arthur's rival and a very complex character, in Camelot, a television miniseries, and I'm shooting Dark Shadows.
JS: And I'm filming a Chinese ghost story.
Q: Did you learn any direction tips from your father that you applied to Cracks?
JS: I'm not sure if there were specific tips, I think he wanted me to find my own way. Every film, every piece of material, is so different. For him, it's not even the technical side, just the day-to-day drudgery side, the marathon element to it, just how to stay focused and keep going even when you're exhausted. He was very practical with his advice. And it worked!

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