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‘Miss You Already’ Director Speaks Out

I  found this article on  ‘I Miss You Already’ Director Catherine Hardwicke of interest:


The Guardian 21/09/2015 written by .

Catherine Hardwicke is dabbing her eyes when I arrive; the journalist before me has made her cry. His wife, like the central character in Hardwicke’s new film, Miss You Already, has been diagnosed with breast cancer and the similarities between their lives, she tells me, “are spooky”. I suppose, out loud, that Hardwicke might expect to be stopped quite often now with heart-rending true-life stories. Cancer, after all, is an illness as pervasive as it is tragic and her film yanks hard for the audience’s heartstrings (the screening I go to offers a pack of pink tissues on the armrest of every seat, in the hope of mopping up tears from the attendant hacks).

Miss You Already gives us cancer through the fairy-lit lens of a lifestyle mag. This is luxe London about two best friends – brash, vampy Milly (Toni Collette) and staid, boho Jess (Drew Barrymore) – dealing with life and death together in the most literal sense: Jess becomes pregnant while Milly undergoes chemotherapy. It’s a rare example of a film acing the Bechdel test scene after scene where two female characters talk to each other about things other than their relationships with men. Its writer, Morwenna Banks, lost three close female friends to breast cancer and the experience compelled her to write a version of this film as a play for Radio 4. Dropped in the Saturday Drama slot, Goodbye aired in the autumn of 2013, with a starry British cast including Olivia Colman, Natascha McElhone, John Simm and Alison Steadman.

But Hardwicke, 59, wasn’t particularly moved when she read the first draft of the film. It was her agent, she says, who insisted that the producer, Chris Simon, “was a really great guy” and that she should give it a chance. “I thought it was too sentimental,” she says. “I didn’t respond that much to it. Of course, the subject … I’ve lost friends to breast cancer, but I thought [the script] could be a bit tougher. And funnier. I couldn’t just have characters on screen crying all the time,” she mugs, in dramatic horror.

Hardwicke, it’s often noted in interviews, seems far younger than she is. One journalist described the aesthetic of her Venice Beach home as “teenage bedroom chic” that allows Hardwicke to “live in a collage”. In person, this translates to conspiratorially stage-whispering when she goes off-script, with SoCal injections of “awesome!”, ‘badass” or “so cool!” hanging off her native Texan accent. On screen, it’s given us acclaimed takes on adolescence: Thirteen, Lords of Dogtownand the first (and best) Twilight movie.

“I’m not ever conscious I’m making a statement about youth culture or friendship,” she says, on her reputation for both. Miss You Already might be her first feature about the so-called grownups, but the friendship between Colette and Barrymore has echoes of ones Hardwicke has explored before: Milly, arguably like Evie (Thirteen) and Bella (Twilight) before her, is a demanding narcissist clinging to the straighter, no-nonsense Jess, who is more Tracy (Thirteen) and Jacob (Twilight).

“Isn’t that life?” Hardwicke says, when I ask what draws her to that dynamic. “Aren’t our most interesting friends like that? My closest friends influence my films. If you have boring friends, it’s hard to be a filmmaker – if they’ve been to too much therapy, there will be no drama.” She laughs, and then nods: “I’ve had a lot of friends like Milly, who are just a hot mess. I know, if I’m going out with, say, Janice, that I might get arrested or end up two states away. But you know it’s going to be fun.”

With shows such as Girls, Broad City and Orange is the New Black, female friendships, I suggest, seem to fare a lot better on TV than film these days. “Well, it’s not better, it’s just been kept out of the film business because, as we know, only 4% of movies that are directed by women make it to the theatre.” Hardwicke remains loudly unimpressed about how slow industry progress is. “The male gaze is talked about a lot right now. Why do we have such a narrow gaze, a white male gaze, particularly in Hollywood? And how can we broaden that in cinema and TV? These stories should be told everywhere.”

Hardwicke is a huge fan of Orange is the New Black, not least for it proving that “every kind of woman, every colour of the rainbow, shape, size and age” can make for a massively successful show. “You can use that as a director when you pitch. Like, ‘Look! Look at this example, look how it works.’ And the more it happens, the more it will happen.” We are, she says, at step one.

The world Jess and Milly inhabit reflects a fairly narrow, privileged demographic, though. It’s an aspirational take on a grim, everyday reality. “How many issues can we tackle per movie?” Hardwicke clicks her fingers. “That’s a good question and, in truth, I had the goal that Milly’s husband was not going to be white. That was my goal, but I went through every beautiful minority actor I knew and none of them were available … Idris Elba, first call. Common [the rapper], I’ve worked with him before, but it was too difficult to make the British accent work. So, I’m trying to check that box, but I didn’t check that one. But I loved Dominic [Cooper] when I saw him in The Devil’s Double, and I thought ‘Wow!’ This guy is, like, the best actor!”

Cooper, in an unexpected departure from playing pretty Brit boys, played Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, and Uday’s body double Latif Yahia, in The Devil’s Double. He reverts to more familiar ground in Miss You Already, which makes clanging attempts to subvert gender norms: for one, Collette doesn’t play the deified, saintly version of the cancer-suffering mother, and is a catastrophe of swaggering selfishness. Secondly, she is married to baby-faced Cooper, an apparent movie mismatch I feel guilty for not being able to swallow, convinced that I’ve internalised sexist film tropes.

“He’s 37! He’s only four years younger than Toni,” says Hardwicke. “My own partner is 15 years younger than me. It’s a statement!” Hardwicke’s voice drops to a whisper. “To be honest, with Dominic, I did a big … a little … well, a rewrite. He was saying the same thing, that ‘I’m intrigued that you want me with Toni … what is this character?’ I made it so he was going to be this rock star kind of guy, that they would have met at a concert, had a wild night of sex and then he got her pregnant.”

I ask if she tested out their chemistry on her now famous bed, where Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart screen-tested their first kiss and where Nikki Reed and Evan Rachel Wood auditioned for Thirteen. “I didn’t get to because the casting was in London, but I did some tricks to see if it would work. But, you know, in Thirteen, Jeremy Sisto was 18 years younger than Holly Hunter. No one commented on that much.”

Hardwicke was an architect in a former life, and broke into Hollywood as a production designer before she sat down to co-write Thirteen with 13-year-old Nikki Reed, a friend’s daughter who had apparently gone off the rails. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described the film’s 2003 release as “the dark side to Dawson’s Creek” and “far more intelligent and compassionate” than Larry Clark’s cult classic, Kids.

“That’s a secret for filmmakers,” she says, when I ask about her debut. “I worked with David O’Russell, Richard Linklater and Cameron Crowe, and they are good examples of people who don’t try and study a culture but go and live it, breathe it.” Who did she learn most from? “David and Richard. I was more involved with them. They had the most different styles. Richard was chilled and Zen and never raised his voice. David is the complete opposite. I picked the parts of each of them that I thought would help.”

Five years after Thirteen, Hardwicke was reportedly sacked from directing the Twilight sequels for being “difficult and irrational”, but says today, unequivocally, that she walked away. How much did her life change after she made that first film in the saga?

“The scales were lifted from my eyes,” she says, solemnly. “I never believed there was any gender bias. How could I be that naive? I just thought, ‘I’ve got to work hard and be good and things will happen.’ I thought because my movies had some acclaim and made some money, I just needed to be even better. But Twilight made $400m. It launched a multi billion-dollar franchise. Why didn’t I get offered another movie after that?”

Hardwicke is legitimately still narked. She holds the record for the highest opening weekend box office ever by a female director. How long was it before she got another film? “It took another year and half to get Red Riding Hood.” The 2011 release was a blockbuster bomb. “I didn’t even want to do that movie. It’s one the studio bought to me and I got paid less than I got paid on Twilight,” she says. Despite running the risk of being blacklisted by studios, Hardwicke, who teaches a female filmmakers class at UCLA, remains vocal about Hollywood’s sexism.

“Myself and other [female] directors used to think we didn’t have to talk about women’s issues: that it would be enough to just make films and be an example. That doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. Now people are making noise, and pretty soon they won’t be able to ignore it. Why have Warner Brothers only had three female film directors in the past 10 years? I was one. But why only three? It’s ri-dic-u-lous.” Her arms waggle for emphasis. “Whatever it takes, we need to get women and minorities in that space.”

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