Based on the young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures is a story of a young man named Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) who falls for the "different" new girl in school, Lena (Alice Englert). As Ethan begins to get close to Lena, he learns more about her family's dark supernatural secrets, which are fatally related to past events from their town of Gatlin, South Carolina. As one can imagine, this film has Twilight-like potential, with three others books in the franchise that could readily be made into sequels. Directed by Richard LaGravenese, the film features lead performances from two relative unknowns, who act opposite the likes of Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Thomas Mann, and Emmy Rossum.
The daughter of director Jane Campion, Alice Englert has appeared in Ginger and Rosa opposite Elle Fanning, and also had a part in recent Sundance Film Festival movie In Fear. Ehrenreich, with a biography that claims he was discovered by Steven Spielberg at a party, has appeared in a few roles before Beautiful Creatures, including Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro. He is due to be seen in Chan-wook Park's Stoker and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine in the upcoming months.
In a roundtable interview, I discussed with the two stars the trick behind their convincing Southern accents, what struck them as unique about their characters when they read the script, how to handle potential mega-stardom, and more.
Beautiful Creatures opens February 14.
What do you think you did correctly in the audition process that helped you get these parts?
Alice Englert: Well, actually, I think maybe you know that we didn't want to audition at first, because we had just read the brief and not the script. The script made all the difference. Richard LaGravenese saw me in an audition I did for a different film, where I improvised a speech about an anorexic girl whilst holding an apple, which I kept passing back and forth. From that he went, "Oh, yeah. Witch. Let's do it." And then I was like "No, no." But when I got the script, I actually loved it, and wanted to do it. But I was afraid of the word "studio"; I thought they would want me to play it in an appealing certain way, and I wanted her to be a horrible, unappealing person, that no one wants to connect to at all. And Richard was like, "Great. Something like that."
Alden Ehrenreich: Sometimes I've been doing something with my friends where we'll write parts for each other. Sometimes you come across a line in a script that just fits, and you say it all day, and you just get it. I think it has to do with understanding the point of view of the character. It's like having chemistry with somebody. When I read the script, I just felt that. I got kind of what Richard's viewpoint on the character was, and I sort of knew that I had a take on it that was in line ... I knew where he was at with it. After I left, I just was like, "You never know." Sometimes I've walked out of interviews and said, "That was it," and not gotten it.
This story is different from others it might be compared to in that it is from the guy's POV - he's the one fainting, being jerked around. Did you have fun approaching that, or playing it that way?
Alden: Yeah, the funny thing that the author said, I don't really know much about this genre, but they said that in these young adult books, the guys were always these cold, aloof, impenetrable kind of jerks to girls, and the girls were all intimidated and stuff. So they wanted to write a story that had a guy character who was literate, and polite, and nice, and a good guy, basically, for the girls who look at this stories as their models for their kinds of boyfriends, the thirteen-year-olds.
Alice: I loved Ethan because he was a character that wasn't just a good guy; he's got flaws, and he's a real guy. What I think was so important in this supernatural story was to have someone who is really human, like a real flawed, full-on feeling human being who desired and wanted things. I think actually in many ways when people ask me what attracted to me character, it was the way she feels about Ethan, because I could understand that, I could believe that. And go with that.
Alice, did you approach Lena like a regular girl?
Alice: I wanted to play away from any magical thing, because I think the effects do enough of that. Even that we're sitting here now and talking to you guys, whereas its just someone else, it's very strange. But we don't sit here and talk amazedly.
Alden: To me, that's one of the things that is special about the story. It starts off about what is a witch, what is a castor, and then transitions to her, because she wants to be a normal person. It's almost like Ethan doesn't fit into this town of small-minded people, and she doesn't in this castor role because she is more of a real person. And it becomes an investigation on what does it mean to be normal. What does it mean to be a human being? That's what the title is. That's explicit in the book.
Alice: Yeah, the line that got cut [laughs].
Alden: Jeremy Irons says something like, "Human are just beautiful creatures that are people, because people are so foolishly hopeful."
What fascinated you about Southern way of life in America?
Alden: I felt like my character was an updated, or a comment on the Southern gentleman. I had a lot of fun playing around with that, and she even talked about that. "Drooling charm." Having this story where I get to play this classic figure in American mythology was cool, and it gets picked apart, and he learns his way out of that because the film takes the position that he is so drawn to how open she is, and honest and direct. He learns his way out of the southern charm, so when he explodes and shows how he really feels in the angry scenes, that's one of the only only under-arcs. It is subtle, but it is there.
When putting them together, how did you know your accents worked? Did you find they were easy to bastardize?
Alice: As an Australian, we have to learn accents. Always. It's so much a part of rehearsal, and doing a character, that it is not such a strange thing to have to deal with. It is a huge struggle, it is always. And then, it just happens. Learning an accent is a very full-on thing. It's the way your mouth moves, and the way you present yourself changes.
Alden: When I watch some of the movie, I have never looked like that. My face doesn't work that way. The accent activated something in me that I would have never done. But we had a dialect coach named Rick Lipton who was so amazing. He really taught us not just how to do the accents, but why they have their accents, and about southern culture. If you say, "How do you say this?" He'd say, "Well, why are you saying it in that moment?" This southern culture, I had a week to learn and get ready for that part, and he had supplemented so much for me because he had this research already done. But I still don't know if it works.
Alice: The other thing that I think is great is that the accent is about the manners, and the intonation. It's not about the fact that, I had to move my whole voice higher, and still my voice is low in the movie, but I had to move it kind of like up here, and then I could come back down when I needed to. That was hard for me because I ... [mumbles].
The books that Ethan associates himself with are very interesting choices - distinct, mature material.
Alice: It's so funny. We're going to have these 13-year-old girls reading Bukowski. In the movie he's reading the only sweet thing in there.
Alden: We were doing scenes when I had to make sure I wasn't on a page in which the book just said "C**t."
And for a movie set in the South, there wasn't any Faulkner, or Flannery O'Connor.
Alden: It's all about being away from this town. It's all about Ethan exploring, having this life that he can't have yet through the literature.
Alice, what did you learn from your mother's approach from filmmaking, and what she did with actresses?
So much. My god! There seriously. I don't know what kind of an actor I would be had I not been my mother's daughter. So much of the way she works I agree with, and has influenced me. It is so bizarre for me to imagine not having that in my life. I think what my mother really told me was, it's the first thing she ever actually said to me, was, I was doing a school play when I was ten, and my teacher had been saying time, "Emphasize this word!" And I would be reading my speeches in the car saying it, "EhhnnndaaaaDUUUHH DUUUH duuuh duuu DUUUhhh!" And my mom was like, "Look. No. Just say it. Breathe when you need to breathe, because it will just happen anyway. And what's interesting will happen anyway. Because this is a school kid's play. And she is saying, "The action will happen organically. Just say the words without trying to push the meaning, the words have enough meaning already." And I'm like, "No, mom! She's the school teacher! She told me to emphasize it!" And my mother turns to me and says, "Well, I'm a film director!" And that was it. It was like Moses or something.
Going with this definition of normalcy, there is this strong desire that Lena has in the movie to have a "normal awkward teenager date." With this movie and its installed franchise following, how are you enjoying your last moments of invisibiity, and also preparing for lack of normalcy?
Alice: I have always managed to not be normal [laughs]. Most people actually put it as, "Are you reaaady!!" No. How the hell can you possibly prepare for something like this? I think that once someone tried to explain to me what was going on, and I said, "I've got to go outside." I left.
Alden: There is not really a parallel experience to that. We haven't experienced it yet, but there's nothing in your life that could prepare you for that kind of thing. To me, my ace in the hole is having friends and family that are honest with me.
Alice: I like friends who just tell me I'm great [laughs].
Alden: I grew up around Los Angeles, and around people who have experienced the film industry in some way, or have been around it enough to not freak out about it. I just am grateful for that. Imagine coming from small town, and everyone is just looking at you like you're covered in gold. I think we'll both be better off not having that.