By Dino-Ray Ramos
special to Pop My Culture
Carrie is probably one of the most iconic horror movies of all time. More than that, it is Stephen King’s first novel which is has elevated it to legendary status. That said, to direct a remake of this movie is quite risky for two reasons. 1.) You are competing with Brian De Palma’s version and 2.) Carrie purists will be breathing down your neck, waiting for you to screw something up. This is a challenge that director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) has accepted with open arms. She gave us the lowdown on how it was getting De Palma’s blessing, re-working the classic film, and making Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore become the best dysfunctional mother/daughter pair ever.
Audiences can be very critical when it comes to remakes. What made you want to do a remake of something so iconic as Carrie?
I’m not necessarily for or against re-imaginings. I was a literature student. I love Shakespeare. I love the original Scarface. I love the new Scarface. I love both Imitations of Life. To me, (this is) an opportunity. Then the question is, is it a good opportunity? When they came to me the first thing I thought was I adore Brian De Palma. I think he’s a fantastic director I love his original and I actually am friends with him so I felt I had to talk to him about it. I emailed him and he said lets Skype — which shows great how progressive he is. We had a beautiful Skype. I wished I’d recorded it. He was really supportive, and he said, “I think you should do it”. So that was great.
Once you got the De Palma blessing, how did you get started taking on a project where the source material is so sacred?
I picked up the book which I had read as a kid. I was a big reader in a book club and when I was at the University of Chicago I think I re-read it around then. But I dove back in and I was on an incredibly long flight to Istanbul — like 16 hours — so I had a lot of time to read and I got through it. I read it pretty much back to back three times because it’s so compelling. It became really clear to me that I had to do this movie because of how great the Carrie White is. She’s a misfit, a social outcast, and what I loved was that she wanted love, and acceptance and was up against huge obstacles. At the school the girls made it impossible, at home she has this amazing relationship with her mother, and her mother loves her but her mother’s feuding with her because her mother thinks that she’s evil and also thinks that she reveals the mother’s own sin. So Carrie is up against these obstacles but will do anything to overcome them to get what she wants. So, I loved that.
So how did you approach creating the story for your version?
I loved that there was a Cinderella story component that she wants to wear the beautiful dress, she wants to go to the ball, she wants to dance with the handsome boy, and she wants to have that magical night. That to me is fantastic. You fall in love with that even though you know that she shouldn’t do that. The second thing that I saw was that we could make very modern was the mother daughter relationship. They’re locked in this love affair and this feud. The third thing that was really important to me was that I saw it as a superhero origin story — that was really exciting to me. Look maybe that’s because we’ve had the benefit of all the great Marvel comic movies. We’ve had great characters great actors play these roles but these are real stories that young people and older people can go to. I loved that the superpowers were part of Carrie’s identity. They were part of her survival. .
To me it was a good old-fashioned revenge tale, and the way to make the revenge tale work it was imperative that we loved Carrie White. You had to identify with her. You had to want to see the Cinderella story go well. You had to feel excitement when it did go well but you had to know that Chris Hargensen had it out for Carrie and she was going to take it all away. And when took it away and you watched it be taken away, you had to feel a level of anger. You had to feel a sense of injustice, and you had to want Carrie to pull those superpowers out and go after the people who did this to her.
When was the first time you saw the De Palma’s Carrie?
I’ve been going back in my memory to try to figure out when I first saw it. I believe that I saw it in Japan because I left the States when I was 18. I was at the University of Chicago, and with my boyfriend we moved. We just wanted to get out, and interestingly he was Korean but he had studied Japanese history and he knew that we could just move there and I could take photographs, we could teach and we could support ourselves. So we just went. After a year and a half of starting to learn Japanese (culture), I had a huge craving to come back to the States and be an American again. It was like I was able to be an American with a newfound understanding of my own identity. In many ways my stories are always about identity. I started going to the American Consulate all the time and I started consuming American culture. So I was re-reading J.D. Salinger and I saw De Palma’s movie. It was almost like I was looking for the most American pieces of literature and film to reorient myself with. Fell back in love with everything that I had loved but kind of saw it with new eyes and particularly with the De Palma film. I think what it did was it gave me permission to dream and to dream in terms of cinema, which was, “Wow you can do anything. You can be free”.
What made you cast Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie?
What was important to me was you had to be deeply in love with Carrie, you had to walk in her footsteps. I knew I needed somebody who had the warmth and the love but then I needed somebody who could go through a transformation into a human monster right. If you ever lost your sympathy for Carrie the movie did not work. Avy Kaufman is my brilliant casting director and we must have looked at a few hundred girls all over the States. I was getting tapes from Germany, Australia, Paris, because the reach is so deep I could basically Skype with somebody and direct them and they could make me a tape that came to me immediately.
Chloe Moretz became my Carrie because she’s inherently charismatic. The camera loves her and she’s been acting since she’s five. She knows her instrument. She’s very physically able and I knew that she could carry the movie because of her amount of charisma. So I sat down with her and I said, “You’re amazing but look at you.” I was like, “You’re so confident. You’ve got a family that loves you. Carrie’s mother loves her but it’s complicated, and you’re a total professional and you live on the world stage.” And I said, “You could not be farther from Carrie White”. I said, “It’s imperative that we get rid of your confidence, that we make you fragile, you’re not a child star. You have to be a broken young woman.” She was like, “Kim I will do anything you want”. And I said, “Well we need a teenage rebellion. We need you to basically stop listening to your mother, move out of your house, come live with me.” But I was joking. And she’s like, “I’ll do it”. I was like, “Okay, you’re not going to be able to move out of your house, but that’s the right mentality.” Hilary Swank had that in Boys Don’t Cry. Channing Tatum had it when I did Stop Loss. They need to just say “I’m in.”
What made you choose Julianne Moore for Margaret?
This is a woman who loves her daughter but feuds with her because she thinks her daughter’s evil, thinks her daughter has evil powers and feels that her daughter is exposed essentially for the fact that she had sex and enjoyed it. So she’s at odd with her daughter. She also is a woman who doesn’t like to leave the house because she’s scared of the outside world. She uses corporal punishment on her daughter but actually as Julianne will tell you, uses it even more on herself. She doesn’t want to hit her daughter would rather hurt herself, which really we made great inroads into the movie. I needed to bring this woman to life. Julianne was the only person who could play that role because she’s such a brilliant actress. She’s one of our greatest living actresses. She is warm, she is sensual she is sexual, she’s beautiful, she’s a consummate professional.
Was it long before they had that perfect delicious mother/daughter relationship of dysfunction?
(Julianne) is a great mother to her children so she carries with her an understanding of motherhood.
Chloe is a wonderful daughter to her mother, brings to with her an understanding of being a daughter and also she isn’t yet an adult, she’s still growing. So when they got together the amazing thing was what you just saw was that the relationship took off. They really worked together in ways there were profound.
There was one scene in particular they’ve actually been showing it on TV — the closet scene when she pushes her in there. We did the first take of the scene and I was like, “Whoa that was too easy.” I went to Chloe and I said, “You’re making it too easy for her to put you in the closet…you need to fight back.” So Chloe fights a little bit and doesn’t fight too much and I said, “Oh I see the problem. You have too much respect for Julianne Moore”. I told her, “Forget your respect for Julianne Moore. She’s not Julianne Moore. She is Margaret who has been beating you and putting you in that closet forever. You are terrified of that closet you are going to fight to the death. You’re not going in that closet”. The take that we finally used was when she stopped showing respect and she started fighting for her life. When she starts fighting for her life not to go in that closet, you see Julianne sweating. Now, Julianne has to work harder. When she works harder, Chloe works harder. All of a sudden you have a relationship. You’re no longer two respectful actresses doing what they think of as their job. They’re in there fighting for their life. So, that’s the kind of stuff that happened.
Was there any point when the studio wanted to give this a PG-13 rating?
From the beginning, when I was hired, we all agreed it had to be an R movie simply because of the DNA of it. I mean it’s not like there’re certain amount of words you could take out that you could fundamentally change its DNA. Everybody knew it should be R. Fans wanted it to be R. That was the only really way to honor the story. There was a moment when they got very excited by how entertaining the movie was. That’s going to happen in any movie. They said, “My God if it’s a PG13 we could get to more people!” It lasted honestly 10 seconds but I respect that they’re going to ask that. I actually think young people should see it and can see it — but you know that’s up to their parents.
There was a rumor floating around the Internet that there were five or six different endings that you shot for this film. Is that true?
That is a rumor. (laughs) There were not five or six endings. We definitely spent a lot of time thinking about the ending but there aren’t five or six — but I like rumors.
You’re rooting for Carrie, but eventually she turns to violence. Were you cautious about the “bullying message” in the film?
Well this is my feeling. I don’t think we want to go to the movies and see the headlines play out at the movie theatre because I think we have the news for that. I think movies are a level of escapism. We want to go we want to be entertained. We want to have fun with the vengeance story. We don’t want to be weighed down by it. My goal, in service to King, was to make this wildly entertaining movie but at the same time, I think if a movie is completely divorced from the reality of the current day, and the issues, then it has no weight to it. So it’s a very interesting thing that you’re surfing. You want to make a wildly entertaining movie that allows you to have fun with a revenge tale but because there’s a level of justice you feel good about it, but at the same time you want it to be touching the issues of the day so you feel like there was meaning there. I cared about it and I think that’s a real interesting challenge that a director goes through. You know if it’s grounded in it then there’s something about it that touches you and you’re like, it was a good metaphor for what’s going on. You want it to rise to the level of myth and metaphor you don’t want to be in the reality. If I want to do the reality I’ll go do a Boys Don’t Cry or I go do a documentary. But if I do this I’m trying to take you on a really fine journey that has truth in it.