RK: This red riding hood isn’t so little. She’s a young woman, apparently caught in a love triangle. Where did the idea of sexing up this folk tale originate?
CH: It came from Leonardo DiCaprio. He came up with the idea, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a Gothic twist on Red Riding Hood, with the wolf being a werewolf, and just have a cool, sexy romantic thriller?” His company, Appian Way, commissioned David Leslie Johnson who wrote “Orphan” with them to write the screenplay.
RK: Where did you shoot this?
CH: Vancouver. It’s mostly a stage build. We had to build the village from scratch. It’s our own created world. Our village has very muscular, heavy timber construction. All the buildings are raised up on stilts and they have spikes because they’ve lived in fear, and paranoia for decades as they’ve been menaced by this wolf.
RK: After making “Twilight,” where fans felt such ownership over the story, is this a film in which you can create your own visual world?
CH: I think so. There’s so many versions of Red Riding Hood. It goes back 700 years. It’s much more open to interpretation. At the end of the fairy tale she’s saved by a woodcutter. That’s one of the reasons why we have the houses all out of heavy construction. We stayed true to the oldest telling of the stories in a lot of ways. There’s a great book called [Bruno Bettelheim's] “The Uses of Enchantment,” delving into the meaning and philosophy of fairy tales and why these stories have endured and gotten under our skin. That was very inspiring to me.
RK: Why has the story of Red Riding Hood endured?
CH: The girl in the story, her mother tells her, “Go straight to your grandmother’s house. Don’t dawdle or talk to strangers.” And she stops and picks flowers. She’s getting in touch with her own sensuality and then the wolf comes up and asks where she’s going and she tells him. She unknowingly opens up that door to let the wolf into her life. And then there’s so many interpretations of the red cape and what it symbolizes, from witchcraft to coming of age and sexuality.
RK: The red cape itself is huge and striking. What went into its design?
CH: It’s huge in a few fantasy sequences. But normally when Valerie, Amanda’s character, runs around in the cape, it’s just to the ground. You see that this cape has inspired painters for hundreds of years. We thought it would be interesting if this fabric had been woven with a lot of great care. We had a sewing circle of 14 women in Vancouver get together and embroider all this detail. We also have a very controlled color palette where there’s no other red in the movie except the cape.
RK: What kind of Red Riding Hood does Amanda play?
CH: She’s brave and does stand up to the wolf and stands up to the town elders as people start turning against her. In our story the town has a lot of secrets and lies, which start unraveling. She makes all these discoveries that she has to deal with.
RK: In what era does this film take place?
CH: It’s medieval but we didn’t want to say it’s 1437 southern France. We didn’t want to nail it down that much because it is a fairy tale interpretation.
RK: In Disney’s new film, “Tangled,” Rapunzel is a much more active heroine. She does more than let down her hair. Do you think we need to update our fairy tales for modern audiences?
CH: The Brothers Grimm wrote down most of these fairy tales and they were men. It’s great that people are infusing more life and more energy and a more active nature to the girls in the fairy tales. It probably would have always been that way if we had had our say.
RK: Who are the men competing for Red Riding Hood’s affections?
CH: One of them is Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez. She feels he is her soul mate, but he’s had more of a troubled past. They love each other but that’s not the way her mother wants Amanda’s life to go. She wants her daughter to have a better life and arranges a marriage with Henry, who’s played by Max Irons, the son of Jeremy Irons. He’s a very striking-looking kid, as is Shiloh, who’s very soulful. Shiloh was my runner-up for Edward in “Twilight” but he and Kristen [Stewart] didn’t have the instant chemistry lock that is now well-known.
RK: There’s a whodunit element to the story. The wolf is a townsperson, right?
CH: It is somebody who lives in the village. The whole town turns against each other when they realize that any of them could be the wolf. This paranoia creeps in. When Gary Oldman arrives he’s almost like Homeland Security, “Turn in your friends if you see anything suspicious.”
RK: Was Amanda already attached when you came on board?
CH: I came on board when it was a first draft. Many things have changed since then. In the first draft the grandmother was a really craggy old grandmother who wanted to teach the girls to embroider and she was always wagging her finger and giving lectures. I’m like, “No, no no, we’re gonna have a hip, sexy grandmother,” and that’s how we got Julie Christie. Amanda was not attached. I fell in love with her when she did a little piece for an autism benefit. This person just reached out and grabbed your heart. I felt like, if she can make this monologue that alive…. Those eyes. That face. She’s just kind of ridiculous looking.
RK: She also, based on the trailer, seems to be a bit naughty.
CH: This Red Riding Hood, really, like the original Red Riding Hood is a bit naughty. Good girls don’t talk to werewolves. She’s kind of wild, she’s coming into her own. Back in medieval times, Victorian repression hadn’t come in yet. People were bawdy and wild and more in touch with their true natures. If you look at the Bosch paintings or Bruegel, you see when people are dancing they’re totally cutting loose. I have a scene that feels like Burning Man, which of course was itself inspired by medieval scenes of burning effigies. In the film, the town feels like they’ve conquered the wolf. They feel justified in celebrating. They build this giant wolf effigy, a huge bonfire, everyone’s dancing like crazy and partying and going wild, so I used the Bosch painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” as my inspiration for that. We built all the instruments in the Bosch painting, a hurdy gurdy, standing horn pipes, the same blue drums. We commissioned this band from Sweden called Fever Ray. She’s always performing in radical costumes, she’s like the Lady Gaga of Sweden. In our movie she’s wearing a harvest mask with a corn husk face and she’s singing and everybody’s dancing and singing. Of course it all goes to hell soon enough but it’s fun for a while.
RK: How did you get this project greenlit?
CH: Nowadays to get a movie greenlit, you have to make an incredible effort. I made a visual presentation with my own paintings and drawings. I also cut a trailer that gives you the feeling of the music. They want to see, what kind of world are you creating? What’s the vibe? What’s the feel? Do we like that? Can we afford it? You do it on one level to get them excited about the project and then you do have to go and budget it too. I thought this was gonna be an $80-million movie but we had to make it for $42 million. So you take all your big wild ideas and then you figure out the most creative way you can to stretch the dollar.
RK: What’s the song in the trailer?
CH: That’s the song performed at our Burning Man concert. It’s the Swedish band Fever Ray. Karin [Dreijer Andersson], the leader of the band, collaborated with our composer Brian Reitzell to create this song that you see musicians performing live in the movie with the Bosch instruments. I loved it cause it was haunting. I felt like it was ancient, but edgy and modern.
– Rebecca Keegan
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