Exclusive Interview with Erin Benach on ‘Loving’

I got to speak with Costume Designer Erin Benach about her work on Jeff Nichols’ historical drama “Loving.” The movie takes us back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s where we are introduced to Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose marriage quickly had them banished from Virginia as it violated the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. They later sued Virginia, and their civil rights case, “Loving vs. Virginia,” eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court which affirmed the very foundation of marriage ways and ended state laws that prohibited interracial marriage.

Benach also worked with Nichols on his other 2016 movie, “Midnight Special.” She earned a 2012 Costume Designers Guild Award nomination for her work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” and she reteamed with him on “The Neon Demon.” She has also worked with filmmaker Derek Cianfrance on his movies “Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” and “The Light Between Oceans.” Her other credits include Brad Furman’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Andrew Niccol’s “The Host,” Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Sugar,” and Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut “Lost River.” You can visit her website at www.erinbenach.com.

In my conversation with Benach, she talked about having the costumes fit into the story without overwhelming it, why the costumes could not stand out too much, and of the challenges she faced in capturing the look and feel of the years “Loving” takes place in. She also talked about the differences of working with Nichols and Refn whose films are so very different from one another.

Please check out the interview above. “Loving” is now playing in Los Angeles and New York.

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Exclusive Interview with Karl Glusman about Gaspar Noe’s ‘Love 3D’

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As many will expect, Gaspar Noe’s film “Love” is full of nudity and sex, much of it unsimulated. However, it is also his most personal film as he explores the power love can have over people and how it can be mesmerizing and yet so painful at the same time. Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, a young film student who is in a deeply romantic and sexual relationship with Electra (Aomi Muyock). Then one day they invite another young woman, Omi (Klara Kristin), to their bed to fulfill a sexual fantasy, and soon after everything falls apart. Murphy ends up having sex with Omi which leads to an unplanned pregnancy, and Electra ends their relationship as a result. In the process of trying to get her back, Murphy reflects on the highs and lows of his time with Electra as he sinks into a deep depression.

I got to talk with Glusman over the phone about what it was like to work on “Love.” It marks his debut in a live-action film, and he has since been cast in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” and Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.” Many have asked Glusman about what it was like to be fully naked throughout “Love,” but I was more interested in finding out what it was like for him to give such an emotionally naked performance. He also described in detail the way Noe makes his movies, and he shared his experience of working with Refn on “The Neon Demon.”

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Ben Kenber: “Love” is a very hypnotic movie as most Gaspar Noe movies are. The thing I admired most about your performance is how it is more emotionally naked than physically naked, and that’s something I hope people will realize when they watch it. Just how emotionally taxing was the role of Murphy for you?

Karl Glusman: You are the first person to ask me that because the focus is always kind of on the flesh. It was tough. Gaspar liked to surprise us a lot. He wouldn’t tell us what we were going to shoot the day we were shooting. He would kind of put us into position and let us run for 45 minutes at a time and then change the cameras around. There would be screaming at each other and spitting on each other. In Paris I was alone and I didn’t really know anybody, and I don’t really speak very good French at all. I could understand a little more by the end than when we started shooting, but when you are doing stuff like this you become part of a smaller group of people that really understands the work you are doing. It’s hard to talk to friends back home about it because they don’t really know what you’re going through. You feel a little isolated. It’s hard to talk to people about it when they have no concept of what you’re doing. There were definitely times where I felt kind of crazy. I felt like Gaspar was really having a laugh like he was sort of manic and he’s like the master manipulator. I had a nightmare before I went over to France and before he even hired me. In my dream I was in sort of a spherical compartment. The walls were lined with cameras from every angle, and I was being shaken and tossed around. That sort of in a nutshell was what the experience was like at times because he really asked a lot of his actors. He wanted you to cry, he wanted you to strip down naked, he wanted you to scream and spit on each other, and he tried to charm you constantly and get you to fall in love with each other and didn’t really allow you to prepare for it because there is no script. How do you prepare for something like that? You kind of just have to take a breath and jump off a cliff and hope that the parachute is going to open at some point.

BK: I read that you and the actresses didn’t have any dialogue to work with. How would you go about preparing to do a scene with Gaspar?

KG: I’ll take you through one day of shooting. Without giving any of the plot away, there was one day where I got up, I had my little coffee in the morning, I’m waiting for the car to pick me up to take me to set and I get a call from Gaspar and he’s like, “Hey I’m at a café not too far from you. Can you come over and meet me here?” I said, “Yeah but the car is coming to pick me up like right now.” And he’s like, “Oh no, no, no, I called them and I told them not to get you. Just come over to the café which is a couple of blocks down on the left and meet me there. There is somebody I want you to meet.” Okay, so I walk over to the café and there is a young guy there whose name is Juan and he’s actually in the movie. Juan didn’t know it, but Gaspar wanted to put him in the movie so he has me meet him to see if he can play my best friend. So I meet that guy and he’s like nice and we talked for a minute. He had done this with a couple of other actors and I tried to give him the thumbs up. And he turns to Juan says, “So can you come by to the set today for a little screen test? Would you be cool with that?” The guy was like, “Sure, cool.” Gaspar then said, “Cool, just make sure you’re not late.” So then we go to set and a couple hours later Juan shows up and he thinks that he’s just doing a little audition or something, and both the cameras are set up. I don’t know what the shot’s going to be, neither does Gaspar, neither does Benoît Debie (the director of photography). They (Gaspar and Benoît) play with the lights for 45 minutes before they find a shot that they like, and that’s literally how they work. He just knew that if he put me in this position or if he put her in that position, then maybe he could match cut it with a different scene. He is giving himself options in the editing room. And then before Juan knows it he’s signing his NDA and he’s cast in the movie, and like 10 minutes later I’m like screaming at him that I’m going to kill him for like fucking my girlfriend and this and that. It was like that the whole time. We wouldn’t have an actor cast and he’d say we gotta go find an actor, and we would go out that night and go trolling the bars looking for someone who might be able to play the police commissioner and then we would run it through Vincent Maraval, our producer at Wild Bunch. Gaspar would tell them, “Hey you should be in the movie” and they were like “nah, nah, nah.” And Gaspar was like, “No, no, no, you should show up tomorrow.” And that’s how it was. Gaspar would have friends show up on set and make cameos, and it was all very, very improvised, very in the moment, very immediate. The whole nature of the movie and in terms of his process is surprising himself, surprising everybody around him and kind of not planning. That’s kind of the way it was with him. It was just like go, go, go and you never knew what you were going to get that day. His whole mantra was every day is Christmas. What do you want for Christmas today? And I think that he kind of lives by that; that life is short and that the only promise that God ever made to man is that you’re going to die and you might as well enjoy it now because you don’t know what dreams may come.

BK: I imagine many people, especially in America, will be quick to dismiss “Love” as just a porno, but it really isn’t. What’s fascinating is how it portrays sex in its different forms.

KG: Yeah, sex is a necessary component to love. Let’s get real here; real love requires that. You can love someone without having sex with them, but if you are in love with someone, especially when you are young, you’d probably, I think, would want to have sex with them. The whole porno conversation is a bit of a joke and a bit of a marketing thing. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have gotten a lot out of this. They had an experience, and I think those who are patient with the film will see something much bigger than what they might assume is some raunchy porno. I would be hard-pressed to think that Pierre Rissient who runs the Cannes Film Festival would let some piece of trash into his festival. He has high standards usually.

BK: Your character of Murphy is very self-absorbed.

KG: Definitely (laughs).

BK: But that reminded me of how self-absorbed we can get when we are young or when we are in love. It’s like the outside world almost doesn’t exist and the movie does a very good job of making us remember a time like that in our own lives?

KG: He’s a bit of a bitter loser, not making films. He’s a young filmmaker guided by passion.

BK: While Murphy may not be altogether likable, we are still compelled to follow him throughout this movie. How did you approach this character?

KG: I went to school, I studied seriously and I had incredible teachers that I admire. I admire talented and great actors and I have no interest in just being in a porno. Gaspar Noe is someone who I consider to be a brilliant filmmaker and someone I always wanted to work with, and it was all about trusting him and his vision and being part of that. When we talked about the characters I was asking all these questions. Who is this guy? What is he like? What does he want? He’s so secretive and he’s always kind of withholding information. Gaspar was like, “Well he’s kind of like sort of a funny guy, kind of clever at this and that.” At one point he said, “Maybe is kind of like my friend Harmony Korine when he was younger but not so drugged out. He’s just kind of funny in that way.” Gaspar was always complaining that I was too sweet to the girls and said, “I want you to ravage them. I want you to do this.” And I always thought that since we were making what some people might think of as sort of a dirty movie that I should be really sweet and really kinder. I always would try to insert jokes. I was always trying to make the crew laugh as much as possible while we were rolling. It’s kind of my fantasy that 10 years down the line maybe Gaspar will let me have a crack at editing my own version so that I could release a 3-D comedy because I think there is an alternate version where there’s a very sweet, a very funny Murphy which was what I was trying to do. But in the end he didn’t want it to be too funny. He didn’t want Rock Hudson. He wanted someone who was more bitter and had a lot of contradictions and would say one thing and like and then go do something else just like real people, he said. At one point, Murphy has sex with another girl at a party while his girlfriend Electra is in the other room and I was like, what was that? That makes me a total liar and he said, “Yeah, just like real life. People lie and people cheat on each other.” And I really had a moment where I was like, “Yeah you’re right.” We’re really just trying to make something that really felt honest. It’s not the smoothest, most cinematic piece where someone turns to their close-up mark perfectly so that the lover turns their collar and walks off into the rain. It’s not like that. It’s messy and it’s meant to feel much more like an honest depiction of what he or I or our friends relate to.

BK: I kept thinking that your character was more or less based on Gaspar especially in the moment where Murphy says his favorite movie is “2001.”

KG: There’s definitely a lot of that. I’m wearing Gaspar’s clothes in many of the scenes like T-shirts that he didn’t even wash. I would smell like his armpits. And sometimes he wouldn’t like the color of my pants and he would just pull his pants off and we would switch right there. He decided keep my belt because we had slightly different waist sizes. A lot of the story came from his own experiences. Not everything. There are certain things like I don’t think Gaspar ever impregnated the wrong woman, the woman he wasn’t in love with. He drew from some of his friends’ experiences and took them apart and put them together to create this portrait of a love story and tried to hit all aspects of it that he could think of. But as you see, a lot of the characters’ names are… Noe is the gallery owner, Gaspar is the child, and Murphy is actually Gaspar’s mother’s maiden name. He wanted to make what he felt was his most personal film, so there are little tombstones there to his loved ones and friends with the characters’ names. But obviously there’s also visual inside jokes. You can see the model of the Love Hotel from “Enter the Void” somewhere in the movie. I even tried to do little things that I think he kind of got a kick out of. I would change the time on the clocks to Gaspar’s birthday. I pulled out the DVD case of “I Stand Alone” at one point. It’s nice to have those Easter eggs there.

BK: There are a lot of easter eggs throughout this movie. He has all these posters of movies he really likes and which had an effect on him as a filmmaker like “Taxi Driver.”

KG: He’s got a pretty amazing poster collection. He keeps them all sort of rolled up or laid flat. He doesn’t hang them up, but he’s got some really rare ones. That “M” poster that you see at one point in my room is one of four existing “M” posters in the world. I think the Nazis destroyed most of them, and that one is one of four and I think it’s like one the nicest condition ones. I think he goes and does a commercial and get a bunch of money and then blows it all on old movie posters.

BK: I imagine a lot of people tried to dissuade you from doing this movie because of the nudity involved and the potentially negative effect it could have on your career. But you have since been cast in movies directed by Tom Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn.

KG: Nic is awesome.

BK: Working with Nic was fun?

KG: Yeah I would love to plug Nic right now. He, like Gaspar, is an auteur. He has final cut, he works from a script too, and he’s just one of these interesting guys who can paint his own picture. You’re not gonna tell him like, “No I need more green on this. I don’t like that. You need to change that.” He is someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do but however, like Gaspar, he is a collaborator and he’s very inclusive. When I was cast, I had this sort of blank canvas. I told him anyone can do this part and he said, “Karl if we cast you then you and I will build this character together and we will make it something.” And he was bringing me over to his house for meetings along with the other actors. He always asked everybody, what do you think of this? How do you think this should happen? What do you think you should do in the scene? Where should you be from, or how do you feel about that? And Nicolas shoots chronologically which is cool because then you can change where the story goes. I think the ending of the movie is completely different now than the draft I read initially before auditioning for it. He doesn’t know where he’s going, he doesn’t know what’s going to be, so that’s what’s exciting. So in a way I guess in a way he is similar to Gaspar like that in the sense of he wants to surprise himself. I think that’s pretty fun. I think Hitchcock was once quoted as saying “shooting a movie is the least exciting part of making a movie” because he already knew what everything was going to look like whereas I think these two filmmakers were talking about how that in a way they had no idea where they were going. They both want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I think Gaspar was really happy with the end product. He said it came out much better than he ever thought, and I think that was in big part because of hiring Aomi who I think is just lovely and just fantastic in the movie and Klara who’s just so brave as well. I think these girls were just so generous and so joyful on set, and we got something much better than what he ever anticipated. And Nic and I have stayed in touch. He needled me a little bit saying that just a hang tight and that we were going to make another movie together, and I told him he can’t fuck with me like that. If we’re going to bed and we’re gonna fuck then we better fuck. Let’s not talk about it. He once said that making a movie with an actor is like going to bed with them because you make this baby with a big movie.

BK: It sounds like “Love” has had a very positive effect on your career so far. How would you describe the overall effect it has had?

KG: Well I mean it’s just kind of like a more immediate and obvious level. I met Tom Ford at Cannes, and so I happened to be in the same venue as him and talked to him about his movie. A couple of months went by before he hired me, but that meeting led to a job. Gaspar actually called Nic Refn personally in front of me and sold him the movie and told him to hire me. He gave me this ridiculous pitch which sounded better than any agent saying “he is the most daring and most professional actor in the world!” I don’t know if he went out on a limb but he didn’t have to do that, and his recommendation meant a lot to Nicolas because Nicolas has a lot of respect for Gaspar. And the movie resonates with certain filmmakers and certain actors who I admire and would love to work with some day. The movie has had nothing but a positive effect. My mother, she cried when I told her that we were going to go to Cannes. That was a big deal for her that her son might get to go to a big international film festival like that. I always wanted to do things that made my mother proud of me and cheer her up. When I was a little kid actually I think that was kind of the first thing that got me into acting is when my parents split up. I used to entertain my mom in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans and putting a chef’s hat on my head and pretending to have a cooking show. I called it Thor’s Kitchen because my mom was really into Norse mythology and I would make imaginary recipes in front of her and try to make her laugh. I think she has always been the driving force for me. So although she hasn’t seen this movie yet, and it will probably be some time before she does, she’s very proud of it and I think my dad kind of understands it better than some people too that there is a theory to cinema. Not every movie is just entertainment. Some movies have political messages or social messages. Some movies have an ambition to do a little bit more than just entertaining for an hour and a half while you’re chewing on popcorn.

BK: And some movies are meant to be an experience more than anything else

KG: Exactly, and this is one of them. It is not an experience for everybody, but some people will like it a lot hopefully.

I want to thank Karl Glusman for taking the time to talk with me. Special thanks also goes to WooJae Chung for the use of his photo at the top of Glusman which comes from his film “Consilience.” Gaspar Noe’s “Love” is now available to own, watch and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

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The Neon Demon

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This is a motion picture you will either be on the same wavelength or not. That’s usually the case with any Nicolas Winding Refn film whether it’s “Bronson,” “Drive” or “Only God Forgives,” but I imagine “The Neon Demon” will be his most divisive movie yet. As for myself, I was entranced with this movie from start to finish as it combines the visual aesthetics of a Gaspar Noe film with the dreaminess of a David Lynch one, and those elements come together to form something that is uniquely Refn. In a sea of movies out right now which feel largely underwhelming, “The Neon Demon” is a refreshing one with its undeniably strong visuals, and that’s even though it takes a very sharp left turn in the last half.

We are introduced to Jesse (Elle Fanning), an aspiring model looking to get into the Los Angeles modelling scene. Equipped with some striking pictures shot by her friend Dean (Karl Glusman), she succeeds in getting signed with top Hollywood agent Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks) who encourages Jesse to lie about her age and is quick to dismiss other aspiring talents coldly and without a second thought. Soon Jesse comes to befriend makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who introduces her to the kinky club scene as well as a pair of models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), who are ruthless in their intent to stay relevant in an industry quick to chew them up and spit them out.

Essentially, “The Neon Demon” is Jesse’s descent into the hellish and shallow world of modelling as she becomes the envy of photographers and fashion designers in the industry and creates a cauldron of resentment for those who can only dream of having her natural beauty. That’s the thing; Jesse has a look that feels infinitely real compared to other models who have long since resorted to plastic surgery which has made them look like lifeless statues. How does a novice model make her way through such a cutthroat and friendless realm of existence? Well, Refn is not out to give us the definitive answer to that question, but the journey he takes us on gives us kind of an idea of what it could be like.

I loved the beautiful and yet clinical look Refn gives “The Neon Demon” as it is entrancing and immersive. We are sucked into a world that is not healthy for us, but we can’t turn away from it as, like Pandora’s Box, we have an insatiable desire to see what is inside. Colors abound as if he tried to combine the beautiful images from Noe’s and Dario Argento’s films (“Suspiria” in particular) and turn them into something original. This movie also benefits largely from the beautiful electronic score composed by Cliff Martinez which hugs these images while poking at the darkness lying beneath them.

Elle Fanning has long since distinguished herself from her equally famous sister Dakota, and her role here as Jesse is her most daring yet. Some will complain that all she does in “The Neon Demon” is just sit around and look beautiful, but that’s missing the point. What’s utterly fascinating about Elle’s portrayal is how she takes Jesse from being a seemingly innocent rookie in a business that can be quite cruel to someone who fiercely owns her beauty in a way that is as seamless as it is haunting. This is not a dialogue heavy movie, so Elle has to show this transition without words for the most part and she succeeds to where we cannot help but be horrified about what Jesse will become.

However, Elle is almost upstaged by Jena Malone who combines an earthly look with an almost alien one as makeup artist Ruby. Malone has always been a tremendous actress, and she makes Ruby a wondrous enigma of sorts as she reveals only so much about her character on the surface. As the movie goes on, Malone comes to exhibit a strong vulnerability as Ruby is denied the thing she desires most and ends up acting out in sheer desperation. Malone is riveting and fearless, and she shows no hesitation in embracing Ruby’s dark side.

Abbey Lee deserves credit for bringing unexpected depth to Sarah, a model slowly realizing she is now past her prime, as she sinks into a swamp of infinite envy and resentment. I liked how Bella Heathcote makes Gigi into a model who is unapologetic about the sacrifices she has made for her career and is fiercely defensive of her place in the industry. While Glusman doesn’t get to show a lot of range here as Dean, he does have some nice moments as a man trying to hold strong to his ideals of what real beauty should be. And even Keanu Reeves shows up as Jesse’s unsavory apartment manager Hank, a man John Wick would show no hesitation to beating the crap out of. Say what you will about Reeves’ acting skills; he’s much better here than he was in Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock.”

If there was anything that perplexed me the most about “The Neon Demon,” it was the last half where it suddenly turns into a Grand Guignol horror film. It’s like the movie suddenly turned into something completely different as we find the women in Jesse’s life determined to possess her natural beauty any way they can, and I mean any way. Granted, this is a Refn film so you have to expect the unexpected, but it bears repeating here as things take a direction that almost seems out of whack with what came before.

Many will keep trying to get answers from Refn in regards to the questions “The Neon Demon” casually leaves unanswered. Then again, this is not a movie designed to have easily answered questions as the viewer will have to use their own imaginations to decipher what they have just seen. The movie’s title alludes to an antagonist that can take on a variety of forms that even the real world can’t separate itself from. Or maybe it’s the one deep fear we have to conquer before moving on with life. Whatever the case, “The Neon Demon” in not a movie to be easily dismissed or forgotten. People will either like it or hate it, and I am not afraid to say that I liked it a lot.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.