Director Kimberly Peirce has earned acclaim helming charged, controversial films Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, and her next release is no less challenging: She’s taking on Stephen King’s Carrie, a big-screen adaptation made iconic in 1976 by Brian DePalma.
Peirce isn’t too worried, though, because she’s friends with DePalma, who not only gave his blessing but, as she told reporters at New York Comic Con, also challenged her to top his infamous ending shot. She also discussed casting young star Chloë Grace Moretz and then transforming her from confident to vulnerable, and bringing personal experience to the material.
The original novel is written by a man, the 1976 film is directed by a man – what do you think you're bringing to the project as a female director?
Well, let's say as a director, because my femaleness comes and goes. [laughs] Stephen King is a man and he wrote the book, and the book is brilliant, so how did that happen? Well, what's interesting is, you know the story: that he was working as a janitor and he found a bloody tampon and he thought it was really gross. Then he wrote about, ‘What if a girl was tortured by this bloody tampon?’ That’s fascinating. That's a lot of fear around a period! So that makes sense, that a man would have that fear, and that a man could create this brilliant archetypal story from that. So I don't know that male or female is what's right, it's just that the lens tips. So he tipped it a certain way, then I come in, and I can definitely see why a period is gross and a period is scary and why a girl going through that could be terrified. But you know, maybe in my experience there's other things that I can bring to it – which is, I deal with that, I get it. But then we get to the mother/daughter relationship. Men have complicated relationships with their mothers, so they can understand that. I have a very complicated relationship with my mother, and there's a lot of love, there's been a lot of war, and there has been breakups. And that is something that most women will tell you, is your relationship with your mother can be very claustrophobic to women, can lead to breakups. So maybe there's just things that I've experienced that I was able to bring to it.
Sissy Spacek was 27 when she played Carrie, and Chloë is 15. Was it important to cast someone closer to Carrie's true age? And what was it about Chloë that made you realize she could handle such an emotionally intense role?
Well, first of all, Chloë is very close to the age of Carrie – like a year away. I did want to cast age-appropriate. Ansel, the boy who takes her to the prom, is 18. The guy who plays Billy is Billy's age, and I don't think that actors have to be limited by age. But there's something about youth that is very hard to capture. Chloë has youth. Her confidence , to me, was the biggest challenge to her doing the role. Because when I first met her … I was like, "You're hanging out with Martin Scorsese, you're hanging out with Tim Burton, you have the world at your feet, you are walking the red carpet, and you're shaking hands like you're in charge, and you have so much confidence, but it's in your DNA." And I was like, "You know who you're completely opposite from? Carrie!" So I was like, "You have all this stuff that I'm glad you have as a human being, but to be this character we gotta lose the confidence, we gotta lose the childishness, and we have to have a need for rebellion." So those were the things we created.
This is the first time you've done a horror film. What's it like to work in this genre, as opposed to the other films you've done?
Well, Boys Don't Cry was not exactly a romantic comedy. [laughs] But let's just say my other movies are cousins of horror. It was fantastic, because I realized – it being the cousin of what I've done before, the structure's the same. I still want you to be terrified, I still want you to be affected viscerally by everything. I still want you to dream, but I can have … there's a more obvious fun, which is you know, when the mother's beating up the daughter I don't want you to say, "Oh, I feel bad" like maybe you felt in my other movies. I want you to say, "Oh, God, that's great – do it again!" There's a moment when Margaret hits Carrie with the Bible, and every time I screen it everybody's like, "Wow, why do we like that?" Because there's pleasure in the pain. So it's about celebrating the pain. It's a turning of the dial.
There also seems to be a thoroughfare of you directing films where the main character is an outcast. Is that something you gravitate to?
I don't look for it. I look for a great character, I look for a character who I can fall in love with. It's easier to fall in love with people who need you, right? I'm just drawn to great characters who need to be empowered.
The ending of DePalma's Carrie is one of the most famous film endings ever. Did you feel any pressure to meet that goal with your version?
Well, Brian said to me, "So what are you gonna do about that end?" And I was like, "Brian, I know you revolutionized cinema …" [laughs] Of course it's on my mind! I'm not blind to the brilliance of his movie, but I'm also not blind to the fact that I can't go down a road that he's done. You have to be mindful. And I just don't think you have to try to duplicate something that is so unique and so brilliant and revolutionized cinema. I mean, maybe I should be bolder and do it, but I think I'm a little too wise to. So I think you do something different, I think you just make sure your movie is what it is and that it fires on all cylinders as much as you can. And if you find yourself in a situation where you can top it, do it. But you probably won't.
Carrie opens March 15, 2013.