Catherine Hardwicke spoke with Solzy at the Movies about directing Prisoner’s Daughter in the Las Vegas heat and other challenges.
Our conversation took place one day after the word premiere at TIFF in September. Hardwicke spoke about some of the challenges that came with directing the gritty drama about a daughter who takes in her estranged father, who is dying of cancer. She also spoke about how she went from being a production designer to directing movies. The filmmaker also mentions what she would do differently if she had to direct the film again.
Congrats on Prisoner’s Daughter being selected for Toronto.
Catherine Hardwicke: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. That was a beautiful honor. Yes.
How did you first become attached to direct the film?
Catherine Hardwicke: I think the writer and the producer sent the script to me. I think they’d seen my movie, Thirteen, and thought, oh, maybe this is kind of gritty family drama. I did read it and I did think, Oh, shit, this is intense! It was like Thirteen for me—I wanted just to be there, inside this family, and trapped in the kitchen with them and stuff like that.
What was it like to be able to direct Kate Beckinsale and Brian Cox?
Catherine Hardwicke: Very challenging because in a lot of my movies, I direct actors that are very young. They certainly haven’t had the kind of experience that Kate and Brian have so that made it really fun in a way. It was a good challenge. I mean, Brian, the resume is insane but he really felt a connection to this character, kind of like the flip side of Logan or something like that. A flip version, the working class version of him—he’s made so many mistakes and also lets his physicality take over—the animal brain takes over instead of the intellectual brain. It’s kind of different but similar, the rage is there, the anger.
For a film that has such a heavy topic, how do you keep the atmosphere light on set?
Catherine Hardwicke: I kinda like to laugh and both of those two are hilarious. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve heard him cracking jokes or anything, but they both are outrageous. Sometimes, it will almost get out of control—too funny. I’m like, Dude, this is supposed to be serious. We had a lot of challenges. You might have heard in Vegas when we shot, it was 115 degrees, 112 degrees. It was miserable and you kind of had to laugh through the misery (Laughs).
Kate was saying that she got injured four days into the shoot just doing a regular thing.
Catherine Hardwicke: Yes. So fricking hot. And yes, she had to stay in the hospital. We had every challenge and of course, COVID was there and the heat and all the regulations. We had a very tiny budget and then all that money has to be spent on the masks, the COVID office. You’re just struggling every day.
Were there any other challenges during the production?
Catherine Hardwicke: Well, yes. In the first three days, four ambulances came to the set and took people away. That was a hallmark. Yeah. The house we shot in, it had to fit the character and had to be believable that she had no money, not even enough money to buy the pills for a kid. The house had to look in pretty bad disrepair. The only house we could find like that, the guy was like a hoarder. He had all these problems and that was just a big challenge just to get the house. Everything’s falling apart there and then we couldn’t keep it air conditioned. I mean, we had no money every day. I sent a truck back to my house in LA. Luckily, my boyfriend was out of town so he didn’t know I was doing this. The set decorator FaceTimed with me. I said, Take that bedspread, take that lamp, take that table because we didn’t have money to get the furniture. Half the stuff’s from my house. The bedspread Brian’s sleeping under, that’s my bedspread (Laughs).
If you could do it all over again, would you have suggested to the writer, Hey, can we move this out of Vegas to city that’s going be a lot cooler?
Catherine Hardwicke: Yeah, it wasn’t even said in Vegas when he wrote it. They moved it to Vegas. They thought there was going to be some tax incentive. But then, we ended up there in September, which is the hottest, hottest month in Vegas. I think, yeah, if I did it over, I would not have shot in September. (Laughs) But maybe it added to it? I don’t know. Because you felt like you were kind of stuck in that house with them, right, in a weird way. Like that kitchen? We kind of were while we were shooting.
You started out as a production designer. When did you decide you wanted to become a director?
Catherine Hardwicke: I was even trained as an architect before that. I had a five year professional degree as an architect, then I went to film school at UCLA. When you go to film school at UCLA, they just say, okay, you’re gonna make your own movie, you’re gonna write it, you’re gonna direct it, you’re gonna finance it. I’m like, what?!? It was like from outer space to me but I just started doing it and then I loved it. But to make money, I had to get jobs as a production designer because I didn’t have any money. I would work at that and then I’d be trying to figure out how to make my own movie in between every job. I would take classes, writing, acting, save up money, go make short films, everything I could until I finally got to direct Thirteen.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for a woman in the industry? I feel like there’s still not as many female directors working on studio films as there could be.
Catherine Hardwicke: That’s very true but we’re doing better. Okay, so that’s good. But for me, back in 2003 or whatever, they weren’t even thinking we should have more female directors. I would write a script and it was a $10 million movie—even though I worked on Vanilla Sky, big budget movies, people wouldn’t give me a chance to direct. And then, I’d write a cheaper movie, then I’d write a cheaper movie, until finally, I wrote Thirteen, which only cost a million and a half dollars and I’m like they cannot stop me now. It was just the iron will to say, I don’t care what anybody says, I’m going to make this GD movie! And yes, I’ll use my own furniture, my own car, my own house—they can’t stop me. That’s why a lot of people do their first film. It’s just a force of sheer force of will and it kind of works sometimes (Laughs).
How do you get somebody to believe in your idea and you’re a woman, too? They don’t believe that you can do action. Maybe that’s a cliché, but it’s kind of true. They don’t think you’re gonna understand visual effects. Patty Jenkins comes out-yeah, fuck you guys, here’s Wonder Woman. She handles it all—great, you can’t use that excuse anymore. Everybody that kind of breaks down the barriers is helping.
What do you hope people take away from watching Prisoner’s Daughter?
Catherine Hardwicke: Well, I do think it’s about mending relationships, about forgiveness but not just unearned forgiveness, you’ve got to work for it, too, and about redemption, and then even, the prison system and prison reform. A prison could be a place where people actually improve their lives and improve some of their problems instead of just being a dead end.
Vertical will release Prisoner’s Daughter in theaters on June 30, 2023.
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