THIRTEEN - PHASE9 Q&A with director CATHERINE HARDWICKE & actress HOLLY HUNTER
Movie Interview by S Felce
THIRTEEN was presented at the London Film Festival this November (2003) after receiving mixed press in the USA for this brutal but real portrait of young girls in America. However, first time director Catherine Hardwicke co-wrote the script with Nikki Reed, a thirteen year-old who lived for real most of the stories in the film. Moreover, Reed got a part in her own film, playing one of the main characters.
PHASE9 met up in London with Catherine Hardwicke and Holly Hunter, who stars in the film, to discuss about being thirteen and rebellious, the film's UK certification and the real story of Nikki Reed.
As a father of two daughters I thought this film was one of the scariest ones I have ever seen in my life! Can you tell us about your emotional journey once you started working with Nikki on the script and discover what exactly she had been through?
HARWICKE: I have known Nikki since she was five years old as I used to go out with her dad. I knew her as a cute and funny little girl who plays with her Barbie dolls. I went to Canada to work on a movie for a while and when I came back I saw a completely new person. She was 12 years old. She looked like a super model. I was shocked. All her world had shrunk to like this big and it only mattered about what two or three kids at school thought of her. She wasn't really doing anything apart from waking up everyday at 4.30 in the morning to do 2 and a half hours of hair and make up. And we are talking about a 12 year-old girl and she did it great, looking better that JLO. She was really angry with her mother, her father, herself, everyone!. As a friend I started thinking that I had known her since she was a little girl and I wanted to help. I tried to get her excited about creative stuff instead of distracting stuff or just being bored all the time. I taught her to surf, took her to museums, art galleries, read Jane Austen.... she hated it! Ten pages of 'Pride and Prejudice' and the book was in a trash bin! Then she said she was interested in acting. At first I thought ...oh my God, that would make her even more vain. (...Umm - looking at Holly Hunter - not the Holly would fit in that category!!) But we took it really serious, reading about techniques, going to acting workshops. Then I thought that there weren't any great parts for thirteen year-olds so we had to write something ourselves. I thought this could get her excited about writing and maybe back to Jane Austen. We started writing a teen comedy, but as you can see we really didn't fit the funny bits [in] anywhere. When I started seeing what were the real things going on in Nikki's life and in her friends' lives, she started opening up to me and we started writing about the real stuff.
(To Holly Hunter) :What made you take the part?
HUNTER: The movie has this kind of urgency. And the script has the same feeling. When I act I think a lot, I think an awful lot before I show up on the set and I try to obey my own impulses when the cameras are rolling. I think that the script does the same. It is very impulsive and it is not judgemental. It is an uncensored version of itself. This feeling it's still intact when you see the movie. I think I liked particularly the fact that it is not judgmental at all. The character of my boyfriend, played by Jeremy Sisto, is very damaged, but you can also see he has an ability and desire to love. You can see all in all the characters, it is not possible to categorised this people and judge them.
(To Catherine) Don't you think you have opened a new "Pandora's Box" for Nikki, putting her in a position when other people's opinion would matter even more than the one of her school' friends?
HARDWICKE: Most people actually appreciated her performance as a first time performance and I think she did an incredible job. But I think that this opportunity gave her more confidence, knowing that she can accomplish something gave her more self esteem
(To Catherine) Do you think that, during the promotion tours for THIRTEEN she has blossomed in the direction you maybe expected?
HARDWICKE She is now fifteen, she is in a her second year high school, she is trying to get a driving licence, going to college, having a steady boyfriend. Between thirteen and fifteen your life keeps changing and she keeps changing.
HUNTER: Also, what happened during the filming is that Nikki was forced to see her mother in another light. Her parents came to the set everyday as they were obliged by the law as she is under age. Nikki's mum is a great woman, very alive, very free and very funny. So Nikki was working with all these people that she loves and respects and her mother was a figure of admiration around the set. People really liked hanging out with her and this was a very unusual perspective for Nikki to see her mother in and I think this had a huge impact on her.
(To both) How were you at Nikki's age?
HARDWICKE: We were little angels!! Well, I think I was more like the girl in the movie who has the Chihuahua on the T-shirt, trying to get in, trying to be cool but not quite there.
When did you have your years of rebellion?
HARDWICKE: I used to live on a farm with my family in South Texas. My dad was a farmer and he was quite wild. When we got newspapers and there was, for example a picture of a punk, my dad would be the first one to try to dress up like him! He encouraged us to be like him.
HUNTER: I was actually quite involved in music and theatre. I used to play in a band, doing plays so I was always busy practising. Every day I had 6 hours of extra school activities .I was deeply engaged! I don't think I was much of a rebel, but also all my energies were put into these activities.
HARDWICKE: I think this is what is missing now in our schools in Los Angeles. There are reducing art to zero. I wanted to do a scene in a music class and then I realized that there are no music classes anymore and it's kind of shocking. I think this is the reason why our kids can't find anything to be excited anymore.
(To Holly) Did you have any sympathy for Nikki as a thirteen year-old? Would you like to be thirteen again because of the pressure they have to go through now?
HUNTER: Yes I would! I think that the trappings are different but the things are the same. I think my more experimental years happened later, it didn't happen when I was thirteen.
(To Catherine) This is a movie about women and I believe you used a lot of women behind the cameras too. Was it is apolitical or creative decision? Also will you carry on directing and encouraging other women?
HARDWICKE: Yes, yes, no and yes! (Laughs) I think that naturally more women were more close to this material. Question number two? Oh yes! I will certainly try to carry on directing. I have always tried between other movies to get my chance, writing my scripts, taking lessons. Now I hope I've got my chance, I am working on several other things.
(To Catherine) Are they only women's story?
HARDWICKE: Some of them are, some of them have ....men in it!
(To Holly) We haven't see you in movies for some time now. Were you busy doing other things and what are your next projects?
HUNTER: I actually act more than you probably see. (Laughs) I did a couple of movies that were only on cable and I had a movie out just before THIRTEEN called LEVITY which I loved very much but it didn't do well at the box office. And then I do stage.
(To Holly) Would you love to come here in London to do stage and did you receive any proposals?
HUNTER: I am actually discussing something right now but I cannot say anything at the moment.
(To Catherine) I thought it was quite ironic and sad that this movie won't be seen by kids in this country because of the 18 Certificate it has been given...
HARDWICKE: I am quite surprise that THIRTEEN has a more restricted view here than in the States. In the USA you can see it if you are thirteen or eleven if you are accompanied by an adult. Our rating system is quite strange. If you say the F-word twice you get an 'R' which means the view is restricted to teenagers accompanied by an adult, but if you kill any number of people...that's ok! I hope that with the DVD it will be seen more. It has been used in school already in the USA for educational purposes.