‘Carrie’ remake director Kimberly Peirce talks horror, Hollywood

Oct. 18, 2013 | 4:25 p.m.
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"Carrie" actress Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and director Kimberly Peirce are photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, on Oct. 4. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

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Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and Julianne Moore in a scene from "Carrie." (Michael Gibson / Sony Pictures)

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Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and Julianne Moore in a scene from "Carrie." (Michael Gibson / Sony Pictures)

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Gabriella Wilde, left, and Chloe Grace Moretz in a scene from "Carrie." (Michael Gibson / Sony Pictures)

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Julianne Moore, left, and Chloe Grace Moretz in a scene from "Carrie." (Michael Gibson / Sony Pictures)

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"Carrie" director Kimberly Peirce, left, and star Chloe Grace Moretz on the film's set. (Sony Pictures)

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"Carrie" actress Gabriella Wilde, left, and director Kimberly Peirce on the film's set. (Sony Pictures)

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"Carrie" director Kimberly Peirce, left, and stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore on the film's set. (Sony Pictures)

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"Carrie" actress Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and director Kimberly Peirce are photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, on Oct. 4. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

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Julianne Moore, left, and Chloe Grace Moretz attend the Los Angeles premiere of "Carrie" on Oct. 7. (Eric Charbonneau / Associated Press)

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Chloe Grace Moretz attends the Los Angeles premiere of "Carrie" on Oct. 7. (Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images)

“Carrie” filmmaker Kimberly Peirce didn’t exactly spark immediately to the idea of remaking “Carrie,” Brian De Palma’s 1976 Stephen King adaptation that offered up the indelible image of a wide-eyed Sissy Spacek wearing a blanket of pig’s blood over her homemade prom dress. The writer-director was famous for her searing dramas “Boys Don’t Cry,” about the rape and murder of transgendered Nebraska man Brandon Teena, and “Stop-Loss,” about the traumatic realities of soldiers being called back for multiple tours of duty in the Iraq war — not exactly mainstream genre fare.

“I love horror, but I didn’t have the idea that, well, I want to go make a cheap horror remake and make a lot of money,” Peirce said. “And when they said, oh, well, they like you because of ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ I just thought, well that doesn’t make any sense.”

But Peirce was curious enough to go back to King’s novel, his first ever to publish, and reexamine the story of Carrie White, the shy, troubled girl with the budding telekinetic powers who’s bullied at school and coping with an abusive, disturbed single mother at home, a religious zealot who locks her in a prayer closet in a misguided attempt to save her soul. Reading through the story, Peirce began to realize how neatly its larger themes — an outcast struggling to come to terms with her identity, the turmoil of adolescence, mother-daughter relationships — connected to her previous work.

"Carrie" director Kimberly Peirce, left, and stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore on the film's set. (Sony Pictures)

“Carrie” director Kimberly Peirce, left, and stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore on the film’s set. (Sony Pictures)

“When I saw, wow, there’s an amazing classic architecture here — I can tell this woman’s story, I can tell the story of the misfit, tell the story of the girl and the mother and it’s a small town, it just all — you know, all of a sudden things are just clear to you? I was meant to do this.”

To hear Peirce tell it, her life has been filled with such moments of epiphany. She abandoned a promising academic career at the University of Chicago during her undergrad days to explore Japan because it felt like the right thing to do. During her travels, she discovered a passion for photography and a creative drive that eventually led her to return to college in the U.S. with an eye toward the arts. Peirce enrolled in Columbia to study filmmaking and found herself a part of New York’s indie movie scene, which led her to a partnership with veteran producer Christine Vachon, who helped shepherd 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”

She became so invested in telling the story of Teena that she searched for three years to find the right person to portray his story onscreen; Hilary Swank, of course, won her first Oscar for her portrayal (her costar, Chloe Sevigny, was nominated for her supporting performance).  Peirce’s facility for discovering talent also led her to fight to cast Channing Tatum in her follow-up, 2008’s “Stop-Loss,” a story inspired in part by her brother’s experience in the service. Although well reviewed, the movie didn’t match “Boys Don’t Cry” in terms of acclaim or profit.

Actor Ryan Phillippe  with Kimberly Peirce on the set of "Stop-Loss." (Frank Masi/Paramount)

Actor Ryan Phillippe with Kimberly Peirce on the set of “Stop-Loss.” (Frank Masi/Paramount)

With early estimates suggesting that “Carrie” could pull in roughly $30 million this weekend, the R-rated horror remake stands a good chance at becoming Peirce’s biggest commercial hit. Although most reviews have suggested that the movie still exists in the shadow of De Palma’s version, some critics have praised Peirce’s take for tapping into the dark currents of contemporary culture. L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson wrote of the scene in which Carrie, in the wake of the cruel prom night stunt that leaves her drenched in blood, begins to exact her own revenge: “After the betrayed girl slams shut the gymnasium doors, we can’t help but think of the elaborate kill lists that school shooters leave behind before they give up and just start spraying everyone.”

That, of course, is essentially the end of the story, but the beginning also has to do with blood. Carrie, already a victim of bullying by a troupe of mean girl classmates, has the unfortunate luck of getting her first menstrual period in the showers after gym class, and completely unaware of what’s happening to her body, she goes looking for help. What she gets is pelted with tampons, which sets the stage for much of the emotionally brutal extremes the character endures before the movie’s tragic, fiery conclusion.

In searching for an actress who could play Carrie, Peirce turned to Chloe Grace Moretz, the young performer who earned a following in the “Kick-Ass” movies as the tiny heroine Hit-Girl as well as numerous other film and TV projects. Moretz has been working professionally since age  5, and Peirce said she was struck by the confidence that radiated from the then 15-year-old in their first meeting.

“She has an inherent charisma,” Peirce said. “No matter what she’s doing, she’s interesting. [But] could she play that role? I said to her, ‘You’re wildly successful, but that is completely opposite of what we need.  We need a girl who is not confident. We need a girl who doesn’t have wealth. We need a girl who is kind of in a state of poverty, a girl who truly is beaten by her mother. A girl who is awkward, scared and who is made fun of routinely at school. Now, how are we going to get you there?'”

"Carrie" actress Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and director Kimberly Peirce are photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, on Oct. 4. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

“Carrie” actress Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and director Kimberly Peirce are photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills on Oct. 4. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Peirce routinely had hours-long conversations with her young star, encouraging her to rebel (within reasonable limits) against her mother, and even taking Moretz to visit women’s shelters so she could meet and talk with people who had experienced real-world traumas of the sort that Carrie deals with. The filmmaker also set up a weeks-long intensive rehearsals process, during which time she and Moretz, along with Julianne Moore, who plays Carrie’s mother Margaret, worked to refine the mother-daughter relationship and bond before shooting commenced in Toronto last year.

While the main bones of De Palma’s telling remain intact — that shower scene, the make-good invitation to prom that Carrie receives from Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), popular Sue Snell’s (Gabriella Wilde) boyfriend, and, of course, the prank that prompts Carrie to take revenge — Peirce said she attempted to hone in on the relationships amid the horror. She saw that as one way to leave a personal stamp on the material, and as an ideal way to help the remake match the heights of other genre standard-bearers.

“That’s the amazing opportunity I saw with ‘Carrie,'” she said. “It was like, oh, can we go back to what Roman [Polanski] did with ‘Rosemary’s Baby?’ What Brian [De Palma] did with ‘Carrie’? What they did with ‘The Exorcist?’ What they did with ‘The Omen?’ Which is take a good horror movie, take a horror movie that’s scary but also add great acting and great story. Because, I think, when those intersect, people go nuts.”

Moretz said Peirce’s priorities and her demeanor on set created a safe space for her as a performer to experience Carrie’s darkest emotions.

“I think the reason she can work with younger actors is because she doesn’t treat them like they’re young actors,” Moretz, 16, said. “I think that’s a huge part of working with a young actor is not treating them like they’re kids. Treat someone like a kid, they’re going to act like a kid. Kim puts everyone on an even ground and that really does change a mood.”

Director Kimberly Peirce arrives on the red carpet of the world premiere of "Carrie" at the ArcLight Hollywood on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Director Kimberly Peirce arrives on the red carpet of the world premiere of “Carrie” at the ArcLight Hollywood on Oct. 7.  (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Now, with “Carrie” completed and opening in theaters, Peirce is in the position of deciding what happens next. In the years between her previous two films, she’d come close to making other films only to see the projects collapse inside the Hollywood machinery. On one hand, she said she’d like to take a break after two years of working 19-hour-days to complete the remake and spend more time with her fiancée, a professor at San Francisco State University.

On the other, after having had to wait so long between movies in the past, she doesn’t want to miss out on the right opportunity, should it happen to come along.

“Directors are just built to do this, so it’s not good for us not to work,” Peirce said. “But it is a real challenge to find good material. I’m looking for that thing that really means something.”

– Gina McIntyre

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Comments


One Response to ‘Carrie’ remake director Kimberly Peirce talks horror, Hollywood

  1. Rich says:

    CARRIE fans are petitioning for the full version of the 2013 film to be released on DVD/Blu-ray. We are hoping that all shortened or deleted scenes will be restored their rightful manner within the film. PLEASE SIGN AND PASS THIS PETITION ON TO OTHERS: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/carrie-petitio

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