by Mark Zimmer
Our Mark Zimmer was there when Patty Jenkins spoke with the press in a Q&A session about Monster and its recent release to DVD.
Q: [Did] Nick Broomfield's films [have] any influence on Charlize's performance or how she prepared? Did you have any contact with him, or did he show you any footage of the interviews with Aileen before her death?
PATTY JENKINS: Yes, he was very gracious with us about that. When we had started making the film, and we were I think about six months in and about ready to shoot, when he was called down to Florida to testify... I think it was right before she was executed, and then decided to make the second documentary. And so, he and Charlize had met each other before. He was very gracious. I never got to talk to him really, but he sent us footage in advance of the second films for us to research.
As far as the first part of the question is concerned, it definitely did. I had followed Aileen's story from 1990, when it broke, and had always watched it on the news and kind of read the things that were available. And when his documentary came out, you know, it was definitely a lot of really interesting information and continued to be - you know, keep it in my mind. And then, his second documentary, we poured over both of those and all of the Court TV information, all of specials that had been done about her all over the world and any footage we could get our hands on.
Q: There were no deleted scenes on the DVD. With a pretty modest budget, did you have extra footage or did you have to be conservative in what you spent and what you shot?
PJ: Well, the first thing is that actually there is going to be - this whole thing happened so quickly. This was a movie that was finished in November and came out weeks later.
It was actually a movie that should have come out this year, and it was only because of the amount of publicity that we've gotten everything happened really, really quickly. And I went straight from finishing the film into being on the award circuit and the European press circuit. So, this is an initial release of the DVD that they just had to get out what they could, in order to meet the dates - the correct dates. So, there will be another DVD with more - with footage and a director's commentary and bonus things. But the truth is that it's been funny even working on that; there's one deleted scene. I mean the movie, by the time - with me being the writer, as well as the director, I was writing at such a furious pace, and we had to shoot the whole film in 28 days. So, there was not a lot of fat and it had to be very exact, by the time we went to shoot. And scenes were longer and scenes were shorter and slightly different, but it's almost exactly verbatim - the script.
Q: Do you know when that perhaps special edition might come out?
PJ: I think it might be around September. I'm not sure.
Q: Are you working on a new project yet?
PJ: Yes, I am, but I don't really talk about what I'm doing, just because if I hear it come out of my mouth, it sounds all wrong. So, until the script is done, which should be not too long, I'm not really saying what it is, but I'm writing it myself and I'm still - have stayed open to reading a lot of scripts that have been given to me. But all I can say is it's not true crime, and it's not a true story.
Q: Do you have a dream project? Is there something that you're not working on now, but is something that you've always wanted to?
PJ: Yes, there's only one that springs to mind, which is, I think, actually in development right now with somebody else. It was [one] of the first things I asked about. The only other bio pic I have been dying to do my whole life, as strange as it sounds, is about Chuck Yeager. My father was a fighter pilot, and I grew up in the world of fighter pilots. And this sort of folklore about him and the romance about life is something I really feel and would love to do a movie about Chuck Yeager.
Q: Did you expect the film to be as popular as it was? I mean, until a couple of weeks ago, it was still playing here [in] theaters, and as a result of the success, I bet you've been offered every serial killer movie under the sun.
PJ: Yes. Well, I never, ever in my wildest dreams honestly imagined it. And it was almost a fantastic way to go into it, because I did expect it to be a film that I was proud of, and I did have much higher expectations for Charlize's performance, and for a lot of aspects of the film that I think people realized. You know, I always thought that this was a genre like "Badlands" and "Taxi Driver" and all these films that really could aim much higher than people - than the words - "female lesbian serial killer." I always thought there was a bigger thing there.
But everybody unanimously said, "This is a really unattractive woman that everybody in the country doesn't like and has no interest in." And I kind of went into it knowing that she wasn't somebody people even really wanted to know about. So, we were aiming for very, very moderate city based art house theaters success. So, the fact that it went to this place, I didn't even know what to do. So, it was like great to go into it, because we were like, "Yes, victory. It's going to get released in two theaters. All right."
And yes, I mean, it's funny, I have a really good agent, so I think I get protected from a lot of things. But I definitely get a lot of strong, aggressive women taking things on - projects, you know which is because that's like the one thing - I'm like, hey, guys, it's not that I'm a feminist or something, I'm just - I'm spent on that topic. I've got nothing to say there, so yes.
Q: While Charlize Theron deservedly gets plenty of credit for her performance, Christina Ricci really struck me as being amazing as the monster behind the scenes. Did she do similar preparation based on actual footage, or was that mostly in the script, or she just conjured this up out of her own skills?
PJ: Well, it was a completely different process. Thank you. I appreciate that, because one of the - it's fine, and it's reality and it's something that we all know. I knew going into this film that the greatest thing that could ever happen - it's a performance movie. And based on the history of those movies, it's Robert De Niro that you're going to notice, and that's correct. You notice the person doing the tour-de-force performance like this.
But it's been bittersweet, when I saw how hard she worked and [how] good she was, and how that - Charlize's performance is really impossible without Christina being the kind of level of actress that she is. So, I was blown away by her, and also being someone that came into it knowing that it would never have the glory. It was never going to be the appreciated role.
But it was a very different process. The thing was, Aileen was someone that everyone knew what she looked like, and I felt it was incredibly important that Aileen needed to look like the story we were telling. You can't show a drop-dead beautiful woman on the side of the highway and tell the audience that no one is going to help this person, you know? And people - visually we can tell when someone's lived a rough life or drinks a lot or is homeless, and these are really important details.
With her girlfriend, the reality of what her actual girlfriend looked like, in the context of the world they live in, is that she was cute. She was cuter than Aileen and she was very sheltered, and she was a little chubby and, you know, kind of quiet and all of these things. But she was missing a tooth and she a kind of, you know, masculine haircut. And when I looked at that and I thought about it, I thought to get another actress and have her take a tooth out, would just push the audience a little too far and would become like the "Beverly Hillbillies." And the point was not what exactly does Aileen's girlfriend look like. That was something that people don't know as much of and it doesn't matter.
The point was to stay true to the relationship between them. So, in that case, instead of studying one person specifically, Christina and I talked a lot about what the dynamics were between these two people. One is very independent - I mean, one is very dependant, very naive. She romanticizes what she thinks Aileen is doing, and that's her way of compartmentalizing the horror going on is because she just can't quite grasp how serious it is.
So, those things were very important, but then beyond that, we tried to make someone who more to me mirrored what she looked like in Aileen's eyes, rather than just push it so far out of the audience's mind that they couldn't ever get into or understand the love between these two people.
Q: The writing of the script was just incredible. Why did you make the decision to incorporate so many childhood memories into the screenplay? And what was it like to shoot the really violent scenes?
PJ: Yes, thank you so much for that. I appreciate the compliment. You know, it was funny, the opening section of the film, where she is remembering things, that was something that I deliberated for a long time about whether - and on pretty much every pass of the script it would come on and back off and back on and back off, and even when we were cutting the film I would take it away, put it back, take it away. The reason that I ended up putting that there was because when I would take it away, too many people would have questions.
People have a very hard time, I realized, capturing a person who they can completely relate with, like a five-year-old child, can get to this place. And so, when I would take that information away, people would ask a lot of questions, like, "What is this woman, and why did she decide to be a hooker in the first place?" and these sorts of things. So, I found it important to understand the progression of how a human being doesn't necessarily decide to become a hooker, but this long series of events can lead you to being, cut to 30 years later and here you are.
The other thing that I was always fascinated with about Aileen was and about damaged people in general is the way that damaged people, unfortunately, don't come up to us and say, "Hi, I'm really damaged. I was raped as a young child, and now I'm a little unpredictable." Instead, it comes out sideways, and they bury - it's like burying the leaves (ph). You know, they're telling you one thing, and only over a period of time do you get to start to collect this picture. What was very important to a lot of damaged people, particularly who live on the street, is protecting themselves by always putting forth, "I can handle it. There's nothing you can't do to me that I can't handle."
So, oftentimes in Aileen's personal letters that I read, she would write, "Oh, it's so funny." If someone wrote, "I have sore legs," she'd be like, "Oh, man, I remember once I was walking like a duck. I'd had my whole, you know, pelvis was broken by these guys that raped me a beat me up. And I'm like walking like a duck for" - and it would always - that kind of information would come out sideways, and you'd be saying, "Wait, back up. That's horrific, what she just said," but it was important to her to always couch that sort of thing in - oh, it's no big deal. I can handle it. There's nothing that you can do that I - oh, it's old hat.
And so, after putting in those initial scenes in the beginning, it was important to me, first of all, that the tone of her voiceover not nod to what we were seeing, because you have to find a way to live with it and not remember the bad things. And then, throughout the movie that little pieces of information would kind of drop just accidentally. And so, that was why - yes, I decided to do that.
Q:What it was like to shoot the really violent scenes?
Horrible. Just horrible. I mean, I think that the hardest scenes to shoot were the first murder, the last murder and the bus station scene. They were particularly difficult because there was a constant intersection between reality and making a film going on all the time. And in those cases, in particular, obviously we don't know verbatim what was said in those cases, but we pretty much ascertained pretty confidently that they had gone down something like that.
And being in Florida, in places very close to where these things actually happened and reenacting something that had happened to people, was really very overwhelming and somber and a devastating experience. I think the thing that Charlize can never get enough credit for is that acting is a much more emotion art form than people necessarily credit it.
You have to live that life, and you have to get yourself to a place where you can justifying making the same choices as the person you are playing. And that's really scary, scary place to go to - very, very horrifying to actually force yourself to walk down that same decision-making process. And so, it was very hard: hard for me, as a director, to watch somebody go through that and hard for me, as a writer, to go through it myself.
Q: We have a lot of people in our culture who look at this and consider it to be some kind of coddling or apologizing for people who engage in pretty inexcusable behavior. Did you hear a lot of that along the way, as you were working on the picture, while you were actually making it, while it was in release? Even now, do you still get feedback from people who don't necessarily get what you're trying to get across?
PJ: Yes. No - and thank you so much for your comment. No, I definitely did all along, and to that part, it simultaneously always - I've expected it, but it always surprises me, too, just in the fact that so many times what those comments are based on is people saying, you know, "How could you ever think that this person is a human being that's capable of doing this?" And every time I look at those people and I say, "How many men in our country went to Vietnam and justified similar actions? And how many people go to war all over the world, or commit acts all over the world, all the time on a daily basis and find a way to justify those acts?" It's not about me justifying those acts. It's about saying this is something that is a fact.
As tempting as it is to be sheltered from it in our country and say that we do not have within us the capability of doing anything close to this, the reality is the overwhelming proof is that we do. And when we know that, it's an important thing to look at. It's not about saying it's OK that she killed seven people; it's about saying people can get to a place, under pressure, where they're capable of doing horrific things, why and how are they working with the same emotions that we are working with, to make those decisions. And that's a chilling and an important thing to look at.
It's interesting to me, too, that that has been like a - that has been such a classic tradition, not only with woman and men, in what Shakespeare and Greek myth and whatever, but it's been such a classic tradition with men, and so rarely are the movies with men seen this way.
Q: I'm really happy to hear that there's another DVD coming out in September, and my question has to do with the effect that DVD content is having on the creative process these days for directors like yourself. Is it something that you embrace and enjoying doing...or is it more of a labor that you wish that you didn't have to do?
PJ: I'm like in a continuing dilemma about it, because I've just had a couple of conversations with other directors who were arguing back and forth. One is a director who I have a ton of respect for and who's done great films, and he saying that he will never do a director's commentary, because the work should stand on its own.
But for me, as someone who has learned a lot from other people's books and DVDs and, as a filmmaker, getting to watch them, it's kind of weird, because granted, ythe general public is getting a view behind the curtain in a way that they never have before. And whether that's bad for the film or not, I don't really know. But for me, deconstructing something for me, as a filmmaker, doesn't kill its power.
So, I don't know. It's a tough one.
Q: The film has a beautiful look to it on DVD. Was there much processing done for the transfer?
PJ: No, nothing. I mean thank you. Thanks. I'm glad you think so, because I'm always obsessed with that.
Q: For 28 days, did you use hand-held camera? I know you said you [worked] at a fast pace.
PJ: I didn't think hand-held camera was correct, because just deep down inside, hand-held camera implies the presence of a camera. When you're dealing with someone like Aileen, she's such a private person that for there to be like presence of another person, it just didn't feel right. We just worked lat a hyper speed, not a lot of moving of the camera, not dolly tracking shots or tricky things. I mean, we had to prioritize really clearly, from the very beginning, this is about performance. Every shot I need to be able to cut to at any given time and let's stay out of the way.
And then my DP, Steven Bernstein, it was why I chose him and why he was great. He just worked so quickly, with such a tight crew. But thank you, because I was blown away about how good I didn't think the film needed to look as good as I thought it ended up looking.
Q: Well, it was dazzling, despite that you probably wanted a gritty look. It was just so pristine that it was just remarkable. You really did capture something that was true to life.
PJ: Thanks. And in fact, I didn't want a gritty look. I was trying to make it look as good as possible...I think that I always say camera style is the bad score of the '80s to right now...I think the music video generation, we tell people the same information 10 times. This was such a horrific movie story that I was like I don't want to tell them that with other mediums. The camera should stay out of it, and the music should stay out of it, and all of these things should stay out, because hopefully it will speak on its own. And I had grown up watching things like "Badlands," which were gorgeous, and it made it even more horrific.
But thanks. Yes, we didn't do anything for that transfer. But again, yes, like you were saying, if it was grittier, it would have been fine with me. I just expected we were going to get what we were going to get. But that was just a straight transfer.
Q: Were you worried about maybe the makeup process coming through like you wanted in the final product?
PJ: Oh, yes. We didn't know what we had - Charlize and I both. When the film came out, we had no real ability to process how big that transformation was, because we were involved in every little step. And still, when I look at her, that's the way I got to know Charlize. She was always like a little a little heavier, a little this and that, and she and I were not very impressed. I mean, we were [certain] all the time you could see the makeup. We'd just stand at the monitor and obsess over it.
Q: Her mannerisms were unbelievable. Was that something you taught her, or she just picked it up as she went along?
PJ: She did it on her own, and it was a fascinating process that my involvement in that was our discovery of the thing that rooted each of those behaviors. I mean, that's what was incredible. Instead of mimicking the affectations of someone, we started to understand that Aileen would write in her letters, "Well, yes, I was homeless, but you would never know it because I had beautiful hair. And I would always wash my hair, and you would never think I was homeless." And then you start to understand why the constant attention to the hair, and those little things building up and Charlize and I talking about that was fascinating. To then see when is she going to flip her hair back; when is she going to try to get some integrity by saying, "Yes, but I have naturally blond hair," was that that stuff was incredible.
Q: She was...channeling Aileen.
PJ: Oh, yes. She flipped me out on set. A number of times, I just got up from the director's chair and just said, "Hey, man, I don't know what's going on here, but that just freaked me out. Let's just go again."
Q: Did they have to pick you up when she won the award?
PJ: One of the most surreal experiences of my life, particularly the weirdest experiences of my life, because by the time we got there - well, first of all, she won an Oscar and that's ridiculous, you know, for our tiny, tiny movie that no one...wanted to distribute. But by the time we got there, too, she had so swept to the awards that walking down the red carpet, everybody was like blithely asking, "So, she's going to win. How does that feel?" And I was like, oh, my God, this is so bizarre. Not only are we at the Oscars, but now we're jinxed not to win, because everybody's assuming she will win. So, it was like this weird churning - I don't remember any of it.
Q: Will you have Ted Demme, or any of your mentors talking on the special edition...?
PJ: That's an interesting idea... I don't know what they would say about this film in particular, but it's an interesting idea.
Q: The running time, 109 [minutes], you said it'll be extended, maybe on the new edition...?
PJ: That was just what the cut came down to. I felt, yes, there are moments all over the place I wish were longer... Somebody even said the other day, "Why don't we put a director's cut on it?" I really do think that's my cut. I mean, there are things I will obsess over forever, but I like economy in filmmaking and not with a lot of story to pack in there.
Q: Aileen certainly generated a lot of press over the years, and I really felt there was almost two stories. There's the story of her leading up to when she's incarcerated and then sort of the exploitation of her afterward. How did you decide where to end your film and why did you choose that point in her life to end it?
PJ: Well, that was an interesting process. I've talked a lot about Nick's films and our film, and the thing that I always come back to is that I actually think Nick made films about the period of her life which is best made by a documentary. She was alive, she was present, she was available to be filmed and the real people were all available. The part of story that I decided that I was still always left with questions about because it wasn't what Nick's films were about, and it wasn't what all of the other things I'd seen more about was what happened in this period of time, between these two people, that culminated in this?
And once I really started to look at that, it was framed so honestly by this relationship, this last attempt to make something work, where she actually tried the hardest ever to clean up her life and ended up murdering seven people by the end of this year-and-a-half-long process. And once I started to look at that period of time, which is best told by a feature film, because all of these people are people who cannot communicate what happened during that time, so the only way to do it is to get into it yourself.
Once I started to look at that period of time, it was just the story. This was the story of this person's last chance at hope, and that hope ended. And her life, as far as this part of her life and this part of her soul, died the day her girlfriend turned on her, to me. And so, there had been talk about particularly because there was no plan to execute her at the time that I wrote the script and was writing to her. So, when that happened, there was period of time of saying what do we do, how do we change this, and I thought, you know, it's just those 12 years on death row have been not only well documented, but really that person was - her life was over. She spent the next 12 years writing about her - asking about her girlfriend and how she was, and she sort of lost all hope and faith in a future, at that point. And so, I decided to end it with that testimony.
Q: Charlize says that, unlike some movies where you have three hard days, this was a marathon of hard scenes. Did you do anything in particular, like at the end of the day, to help people just kind of step away from this and get a little relief before they had to get back into it the next morning?
PJ: I wish I could have. I wish there was a way... the interesting thing is I had written this script in a very short period of time, too, and I struggled a lot with that myself. And the truth was, this was such a hard place to go into. It was actually much more a matter of - the person who played Aileen, and this was paramount in my thought process when I decided to cast Charlize - had to be strong enough to go there and not come back for a little while, because it was almost impossible. Not to say that you don't go home and have a glass of wine and, you know, talk on the phone to your boyfriend or do whatever to make yourself feel a little better. Like there was a lot of watching junk TV, you know? But the thing was, I knew that there was not much we could do. It had to be someone who could handle that.
And so, instead, I think that my job as a director, with her mental health, was I had talked ahead of time - do we want to have a psychologists on set, or whatever. But it really became almost maternal. I was incredibly protective of her, gave her all the love I could, constantly had my eye on her and where she was and made sure that she felt safe.
And then beyond that, there was nothing I could do for her. You know and I knew she was in this dark place and I just made sure no one was making it worse, at any given time, and that she felt safe and loved and not judged and not any of those things.
Q:So, you never did meet Aileen, correct?
PJ: No, never.
Q: You corresponded with her?
PJ: Yes, I corresponded with her for about six months before her execution was suddenly announced.
And it was all it wasn't like we were best friends, or anything. It was all just kind of strategically leading up to how we would meet and talk about the film and what she wanted out of it, and what I was wanting to make a film about. And money would we pay her, would we pay somebody and things.
I didn't have any money, because I'd held onto the rights to the story and I just refused to sell the script to anybody until I knew it could be done in a way I felt comfortable with. So, to my great surprise, the night before she was executed, her best friend, who I had gotten to know, was with her, and as soon as her execution was scheduled I had said, "This is not appropriate. If there's anything you want to tell me, that's fine, but otherwise, Godspeed," you know? And she and her best friend spoke about the film the night before she was executed and, to my surprise, she decided to open up every letter she had written to her best friend, the 7,000 letters, over those 12 years, to Charlize and I for nothing, just on a wing and a prayer. And so, we got that call the next day, and I was completely stunned. And Charlize and I flew to Michigan and sat and read all of these letters, and then after the fact we got our producers to pay her best friend to help her save her farm, for her, you know, allowing us to come there and be there and to the rights to those letters.
Q:Could you have done this without those letters?
PJ: Not to this level. One of the best things was I had done so much research that it did confirm a lot of things for me, and that felt good. You know, the way that she spoke consistently about the first victim made me very confident about my read that it was indeed self-defense. And over the 12, she would change her agenda of what she would say. Like right before she was executed, she said they were all in cold blood, but she would write in her letters, "Listen, and this is what I'm going to say, because I want to get executed and you cannot go against it and please support me on this." And those things were very confirming, because a lot of people came at us afterwards and said, "Aileen herself just said they were all in cold blood." Well, she didn't.
Over 12 years, she consistently, hatefully talked about that first john and how he caused all of this.
Q: A lot of the supporting actors in smaller roles Pruitt Taylor Vince, Scott Wilson, especially Bruce Dern come to mind; wonderful, fully-rounded characters with not a lot of screen time. And right before the movie came out, I actually was on the phone interviewing Bruce Dern for another project, and he [said] "You have to see this movie. You have to see this performance. You won't believe it, first-time director. You won't believe that either. It's unbelievable."
Bruce Dern...talked a lot about it. The scene where Dern looks up at the television in the bar and just everything dawns on him without a word. It's a great moment for him in this film.
PJ: Oh, thanks. You know, I feel so unbelievably lucky it's the same as Christina - to have that level of talent show up for something they will never be celebrated for was incredible. I mean just incredible. I don't know why I got so lucky. I think that for whatever reason this script did, for at least Scott and Bruce, it had elements of things in their previous work and in other genre that, of course, they both all kind of know. And for whatever reason, they responded to that and said, "OK." And Scott, in particular, it's a one-scene thing, but it was [an unforgettable scene].
And I felt like the whole movie, at that point, hinged on that scene. And I just begged him. I just said, and Bruce called him, too, actually, and was like, "Listen, I know this is not what you need to be doing with yourself, but this a really important thing and we know you can deliver." Bruce just responded to the script, and Scott - we got lucky - and Pruitt - Charlize - Pruitt's agent passed just right off, of course, for one scene.
And Charlize got on the phone and said, "Listen, you're my friend, please come and do this." Yes, it was great. And then a ton of those actors, who were just southern character actors, who it turns out they're in everything, once you start to look, but unbelievable talents. I couldn't believe it.
Q: You talked about a number of men who went to Vietnam and justified certain actions. And I'm wondering, could you apply that same observation to what's happening now?
PJ: Absolutely. Yes, I mean, I think absolutely. It's something that is very heartbreaking to me. When I approached this story I've always watched a lot of true crime, and the reason that I ended up ultimately making this movie is because she never looked to me like a "serial killer." Serial killers are usually sexual deviants who have some sort of shame about their deviancy, and they kill people as a result of that.
This was completely different than that, and she always looked to me much more like a war story, like someone who had once been something, but had gotten to a place where they could carry a picture of their wife and kids back home, but murder women and children in this country because you learn to detach that those little kids have bombs on them and they could kill you know, whatever killed your buddy, whatever the case may be. And so, I think that it's definitely what's going on right now, and I think that the hardest thing for me is that there's very little outlet. I feel so badly for people who get pushed to that place, because there's no outlet or voice in this world for expressing shame, for the horror that lives within us, ourselves.
And when we stay in a really puritanical world, and we look at it and say, "Good people do this, and bad people do that." Well, once somebody crosses over to being bad in Vietnam, and comes back to a world where that's still the way it's perceived, what do they do with that shame, about the horrors that they committed and the fact that they have that within them?
It's not necessarily forgivable for someone like Aileen, but it is something that is true. And for me, I was so touched by making this film, by the kind of struggling, like Internet posts that I would read of people trying to express their own shame, of their own rage, being manifested in seeing a much more extreme case of Aileen.
Q: Would people be surprised perhaps to know how many of us out here genuinely struggle with sometimes fierce issues of shame and rage? Is there a lot of this going on that we don't necessarily know about, because "Monster" is the exception to the Hollywood rule?
PJ: Yes, I absolutely think so. I mean, when you look at the basic human emotions, they're the same. They are pursuit for shelter and food, pursuit of love and procreation, and rage and violence is a defense mechanism and it's extremely present in all of us.
Roman Polanski was talking about "The Pianist" the other day, and I thought his quote was so appropriate, when he said, "People can do almost anything in any given circumstances." It seems so obvious that we all have these things within, and when you have World War II and Vietnam and terrorism and people killing each other, for things that they believe are right all the time, and then having to live with that, not even to begin to talk about the murder and domestic abuse and all of the things that happen within our own country. A large portion of people are walking the earth who have been involved in that side. It is the dark side, but it's not that that's like a bunch of aliens walking around. Somebody did those things.
Q: When you first pitched the movie to other studios, they asked you to make a lot of compromises...[do] you remember what those compromises were?
PJ: Yes, that's true, they said you have to do this or you have to do that. Across the board, a lot of them said, "Oh, we love it. We think it's a great film." Not all of them; some of them hated it. But they would say, "You can't tell a story like this. This isn't even "Boys Don't Cry." In "Boys Don't Cry," the lead our main character is sympathetic. You cannot tell an unsympathetic woman's story who's unattractive, as well. And so, the thought process was either the theme and a lot of contention was the last murder.
It was the one thing that I had been so adamant about. And it's funny, because people have always come at you and say, "Maybe this is too sympathetic." And I'm saying, wow, I spent the entire film fighting for the reality that we could not be that sympathetic, that we wanted to be - fill in the details of this person's like that were sympathetic, but we could never back away from the fact that she killed people in cold blood who did not deserve it and ruined their lives, you know? And that was the scene that was most obvious for people to say, "Well, you need to cut that so that she's more sympathetic," and we said, "Absolutely not."
Q: On the DVD you had an interview with BT, and I was wondering if you could speak to the music in the film and the importance of the music in setting the tone of the movie.
PJ: Yes, absolutely. I'm music driven. I think the reason I became a filmmaker was because of my love of music, so I have probably a disproportionate amount of attention put into music. Even though the music is not very glaring in this movie, I think that what you're hearing - the emotion carried in what you're hearing is a third of the story that you're seeing at the time that you're watching it.
So, BT is somebody who I had always been a tremendous fan of, even though he's known for just doing electronica. He's a classically-trained musician who's done a whole - huge variety of things. And it was someone that after thinking long and hard about other people - the same thing as Charlize, getting him to do the score was the same process. Instead of saying, "Who had done this before?" I was saying forget that. This needs to be approached completely clean, because it's it's own tone and who has what it takes to get to find that to take that journey?
And he was somebody who's emotion I really loved and believed in. So, I decided to just go for it with him, and it was a long, hard process of he and I trying to do - it wasn't even that long. We had to do the music very, very quickly. But trying to find and invent a music specifically for this movie, and then getting to a place where it became, as always, a part of the storytelling, so where you're not hitting the same information too hard, but sometimes it's just like an ambience and sometimes it's leading you somewhere.
He was just an incredible partner to work with and someone who I really did just hook up with on this movie and plan to continue working with. I think he's incredible and really able to go the distance.
Q: Charlize had said that there was no way she could have played the role of Aileen without your support and your faith in her. Was anybody behind you who provided similar sort of faith or similar support?
PJ: Yes, my producer, Brad Wyman, who was the first person who I had met and he had just, in a completely offhand conversation, said to me, "Oh, yes, all these people are making serial killer films." And I said, "Oh, that's weird, I've always kind wanted to do a movie about Aileen." And I wasn't pursuing doing a movie about Aileen at that time. And he said, "Oh, just as a favor, I'll introduce you to the people that do them."
I ended up not being willing to do any of those deals, but at the end of the day, when I finished my script, he was the person who said, "Give it to me." And when he read it he said, "I don't know if other people believe in it, but I believe in it." And then, he was the person was confidently went forward and said, "It's hers and she's directing it and we're doing it." And so, yes, Brad Wyman. He was the person who was believing in me that way. And my boyfriend, Jesse Stern, was by my side the whole time, too.