The stars and director/screenwriter of Beautiful Creatures, Alcon Entertainment’s upcoming adaptation of the popular supernatural-romance novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, were on hand at New York Comic Con to talk with reporters about the source material and what fans can expect from the film.
Set in a small Southern town, Beautiful Creatures centers on Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a troubled teen who longs for more out of life. Enter Lena (Alice Englert), a mysterious girl seemingly plagued by bad luck. Ethan soon discovers Lena is no ordinary teen: She’s a Caster (a witch, in layman’s terms), and on her 16th birthday she will be “Claimed” by either the forces of light or the forces of darkness. While Ethan encourages her to try to choose for herself, the future literally looks Dark as family, the town and an ancient curse conspire against them.
Ehrenreich was joined at the convention by writer/director Richard LaGravenese and fellow cast member Thomas Mann (who plays Link), Emmy Rossum (Ridley) and Zoey Deutch (Emily), who underscored that, while the film contains fanciful elements like witches and curses, at its core Beautiful Creatures is about real people.
“Some people expect it to be all supernatural,” Deutch said. “But it’s a human story, it feels real.”
The screenwriter of such films as The Fisher King and P.S. I Love You, LaGravenese told reporters he had been looking for a “mythology book” to direct for a while, and Beautiful Creatures fit the bill.
“I wanted to keep the thing as real and as honest as possible,” LaGravenese said. “The experience of reading a book is interactive, but when you’re making film it’s literal.”
Not wanting to tell the story through voiceover or special effects, the filmmaker relied heavily on the cast, which includes such notable actors as Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson.
“Viola Davis was the first actress I knew I wanted to play Amma,” LaGravenese said, citing the book’s Seer and grandmother figure to Ethan. However, “I knew playing it as written it was a part we’ve seen before in films, so I combined those two characters of the Librarian Marian and Amma to make her an elegant seer, maybe something we haven’t quite seen before.”
He also praised Thompson’s turn as Mrs. Lincoln, Link’s narrow-minded mother. “Emma Thompson plays this conservative Southern woman who is then possessed by the darkest Caster/witch of them all, and you only know that through Emma’s performance,” LaGravenese said.
The rest of the cast took a moment to talk about their characters, with Mann telling reporters he felt that Link, Ethan’s best friend, uses humor as a way to deal with his “crushing” mother. On the other hand, Rossum’s character is a much darker, serious and, at times, sensual character.
“I play Ridley,” Rossum said. “She is the cousin of our protagonist, and they fight all the time. My character has the power of persuasion and so it’s really fun, I get to play a badass, dark heroine witch, but who’s elegant and classy and really chic.”
Explaining that the read the trilogy of novels in one weekend, Rossum said she and LaGravenese kept the spirit of Ridley while changing her look. “She’s very kind of like this pop-culture badass, plaid-skirts girl [in the book], but we took it to this whole other kind of couture, old-fashioned, dark place for the look,” she said.
As for the film’s protagonist, Ethan, Ehrenreich was sympathetic to his character’s longing for more out of life than his small Southern town could offer.
“What I loved about this story, and why within a few pages of reading the script I wanted to play it, is because of the character that was on the page,” he said. “He’s just really romantic, idealist, hopeful and willing to really fight through everything that goes on in the movie. A lot of stuff happens to him and he’s willing to fight through that for what he believes in. It was this restless quality I really liked about him.”
While Ehrenreich identified with his character’s idealism, Deutch reveled in how completely bonkers her character goes after being dumped by Ethan.
“I play Emily Asher, who is Ethan Wate’s crazy, cuckoo ex-girlfriend” Deutch said, “and I’m sure everyone knows a crazy, cuckoo ex-girlfriend, so it’s fun to play!”
Saying she spent a lot of time experimenting with her character’s Southern accent so it sounded “manipulative” rather than “nice,” Deutch explained that Emily suffers from a broken heart and decides she’ll make everyone else suffer as well.
“You initially see her, or how I perceive her, as just — generally speaking — a nice, normal, popular, entitled girl,” she said. “She thinks she deserves everything that she wants and doesn’t understand when things don’t go her way. She doesn’t have the right tools to deal with a broken heart, how I interpreted it, and kind of goes crazy!”
That led Rossum to discuss her turn as the bad guy, and her own sympathy for Ridley, whom she described as a “vicious goddess.”
“I’ve always found darker characters more interesting, and to me the most interesting thing is to explain where that behavior comes from,” she said. “So we get to see a bit of this character’s backstory in a flashback, we see when she’s 16 at her Claiming and it’s a very painful, weird, physical awakening that happens and that gives her this power she’s then not sure what to do with.”
Touching upon his work adapting the book, LaGravenese admitted he only read the very first novel in the young-adult trilogy.
“When I adapted the book I had to give myself the freedom to omit, to recreate, and if I knew too much of how every little plot was entwined I couldn’t get the movie that I wanted to make, I couldn’t tell the best story that I knew how,” he said. “Hopefully the fans will understand. … It’s the same story, it’s the same characters, it’s the same experience.”
Ehrenreich said he enjoyed reading LaGravenese’s version of the story. “I think that what’s great is that even though it’s a book and the narration is saying, ‘Well, this happened and here’s how I felt about it,’ in the film you don’t get that kind of explicit thing,” he said. “So you see me going through this stuff with my interactions with other people, there’s not a lot of the film with me alone in a room emoting.”
All of the young actors laughed when asked about how authentic the teen voices are in the film.
“I read so many scripts where the teenager’s saying, ‘Hey, bro, let’s go to the neat-o place and hang out with all the bros!’” Mann said. “It’s a turnoff.”
“To me, what Richard did is he made the teens people,” the 21-year-old actor continued. “We live in a world where there’s so many different subcultures of teenagers and slang, there’s no way to capture how every teenager is. So we’re treated like real people instead of trying to create some style of teenager.”
“For me, there are certain things that never go out, that are never dated: characters or people who are smart, who have wit, who are literate,” LaGravenese added. “These people last centuries.”
“If anything, with Ridley’s character, I’m a huge film geek, so my favorite films are from the ‘30s and the ‘70s,” he continued. “So we decided to have some fun with Emmy’s character, and every time she incarnates as a Siren, I said to my costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland, I said, ‘Let’s have fun with it. I don’t care if the younger generation gets it or not.’ I said, ‘Let’s make her a film icon, someone that we love.’ So in one, she’s Rita Hayworth from Gilda, in another one she’s Marilyn Monroe from River of No Return, and in another one she’s Doris Day because she’s trying to be safe and nice.”
As for getting into character, Mann said he worked closely with his dialect coach on not just accent but also environment and getting into the mind of someone who has grown up in a small Southern town.
Rossum, on the other hand, looked externally for Ridley. “This character’s constantly putting on a show, there are very few moments when you see her vulnerability, so for me it’s about the embodiment of how does she walk, how does she strut, what’s the tone of voice she uses when she wants to manipulate you?” Rossum said, adding, “It was really an exercise of being over the top and full of your own sexuality and full of yourself.”
Deutsch also went method while trying to embody Emily. “I’m Jewish, I don’t know a lot about her religious ways, so I went to churches a lot and I watched a lot of videos and I tried to get the accent and make it different,” she said. “I wanted her to be different!”
Beautiful Creature opens Feb. 13.