Stepping out of the van, the heat hits all of us at the same time, and before we’ve even made it halfway up the dirt pathway—to where a sprawling, vine-covered Gothic mansion is quietly redefining the word “imposing”—every one of us is starting to sweat. The person guiding us to our destination points, and we all look around a corner to see what appears to be a checkered ballroom set into the center of a topiary garden. Dozens of elaborately-costumed actors and actresses are milling about: some have foot-tall, brightly-colored hairdos, others have their faces covered in intricate makeup jobs, and all of them must be dying in this swampy heat. Just as we’re starting to make sense of what it is we’re looking at, Jeremy Irons walks by holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee and nods a “Hello” at us.
Earlier this year, I was invited out to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Warner Bros. and director Richard LaGravenese were bringing the YA novel Beautiful Creatures to life. To say the visit was surreal doesn’t quite do it justice, but I’ll give it a shot. Meet me after the jump to find out what I learned on the Beautiful Creatures set…and why Warner Bros. might have the next, big Twilight-sized YA hit on their hands.
For someone like me—the kinda guy who has zero interest in the teen-centric supernatural romance sub-genre—Beautiful Creatures doesn’t jump out as the sort of project that I’d be in line for on day one. Indeed, a gothic, small-town romance set against the struggle of a centuries-old society of witches (here called “Casters”), Beautiful Creatures sounds like the sort of thing I’d make an effort to avoid on opening day, preferring to leave my seat open for the type of viewer that might have a great appreciation for such entertainment.
But when the offer to visit the Beautiful Creatures set came in earlier this year, I admit to being intrigued: after all, the production had attracted some seriously impressive talent (from acting legends like Jeremy Irons and Margo Martindale to relative newcomers like Emmy Rossum), and that seems to indicate that LaGravenese is building something with a little more substance and pedigree than the average teen supernatural-romance project. Upon our arrival, such indications only became more prevalent: the set design, costuming, and attention to detail we saw on display was astounding, and I walked off that set visit genuinely curious to get a look at the final product. Sure, the genre might not be in my wheelhouse, but what I saw that afternoon made it impossible for me not be a little curious about the film in its “final product” form.
That said, I’m willing to bet that there’s a large chunk of the Collider.com readership who still doesn’t have Beautiful Creatures on their radar, if only because of the genre it take place in. To be fair, it might turn out that LaGravenese will turn in something that’s right in line with the other films and TV shows that take place within the genre, and that we’ll all have our most tedious fears re-confirmed by the film…but I’m also willing to bet that if any of these dime-a-dozen supernatural-teen-romance projects that are headed our way over the next few years has a chance to be a crossover hit, it’ll be Beautiful Creatures. Here’s 15 things I learned on-set that I think will change the minds of the disinterested…and confirm the interest of the true believers and already-faithful.
- First of all, the basic plot here sounds a lot more interesting than the average teen supernatural-romance project. In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan Wate (relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich) meets—and almost instantly falls in love with—Lena Duchannes (also-newcomer Alice Englert), a “Caster” (read: witch) on the verge of making an important decision regarding her allegiances to an age-old society of similarly empowered beings who live outside the public eye. The film deals with Ethan and Lena’s attempts to uncover the troubling history of her extended, supernatural family while juggling their burgeoning romance.
- The makeup and costumes are going to be impressive. When we first arrived on-set (which was about a 45-minute drive outside of Baton Rouge), we were told we’d arrived on a “very exciting” day, and that something big was being filmed. This turned out to be the “Claiming Party” for Alice Englert’s character, Lena, and we were all stunned to see how elaborate the costumes were for this sequence: dozens of actors milled about in intricately-designed clothing (some of which seemed to almost defy gravity), each more impressive than the last. It was a total spectacle.
- The sets are going to be even more impressive. The “Claiming Party” was being shot on a portion of property that also included a massive, sprawling gothic mansion. The production had covered this house—which we were told belonged to Jeremy Irons’ character, Macon Ravenwood—in vines and distressed shutters, all of which we were surprised to learn hadn’t been there before their arrival: it all looked like the real-deal, and was endlessly detailed.
- Alden Ehrenreich tells us his wardrobe is largely standard American-teen fare, but one particular wardrobe change indicates the scope of LaGravenese’s film. Says Ehrenreich: “Do I get to wear any cool costumes? No, not like that. Cool, but in a different way–sort of American like western shirts and jeans and sneaker, iconic looking American outfits. I do wear a Civil War uniform at a reenactment. There’s a Civil War reenactment. I wear a Confederate Civil War uniform.’
- How does the town of Gatlin view the film’s contingent of “Casters”? The screenwriters have thought through how the town might consider living amongst a group of powerful witches. Says Alice Englert: “The town is under the impression that we’re satanists, rich, plantation-owning satanists, the sort of stuff you hear ghost stories about. It’s only Ethan who discovers that, he’s the only human that becomes aware of it.”
- Emmy Rossum plays the intriguing, man-manipulating Ridley…and she’s dug deep in deciding how to play the character. When asked how she approached the role, Rossum told us: “I modeled her after a Norse goddess I read about”.
- Speaking of Emmy Rossum, if you’re a red-blooded American male who isn’t opposed to the sight of good-looking women on film, you’ll have a chance to see Rossum in a variety of hair-colors and provocative clothing styles. On the day we visited the set, Rossum was wearing what could best be described as a “Sexy Jackie O” outfit, and told us that she would appear as a blonde, brunette, and redhead at various points throughout the film.
- Jeremy Irons was an engaged presence on-set, even if that presence was also somewhat intimidating. We didn’t get a chance to speak with Irons at length: he kinda greeted us upon arrival, but immediately after he stayed glued to a monitor, watching LaGravenese film the action on the makeshift ballroom floor of the “Claiming Party” whenever he wasn’t being called before the camera. Everyone we spoke with expressed—to a greater or lesser degree—being somewhat intimidated by his presence, something it’s clear the production hopes translates into his role as Macon Ravenwood.
- There’s a good chance Margo Martindale’s badass real-life persona will translate on-camera into her character, and that alone is a reason to show up on opening day. If you’re at all familiar with character actors/actresses, you know of the award-winning Margo Martindale, and she was a blast to interview on-set. At one point, we asked her what she looks for in a role, and her answer typifies her unique energy: “I look for insanity and drunken behavior, pill pushers, doped slings and cowboys. I like it all kind of twisted.”
- LaGravenese has done his homework in finding other films that might inspire this one. For instance, Emmy Rossum told us that Ridley’s penchant for sucking on lollipops had been expanded to include an interest in fruit, in a nod to the cherries in The Witches of Eastwick, and she also told us that LaGravenese screened horror movies for the film’s two leads prior to the beginning of filming.
- As previously noted, the scope of the film is much bigger than one might expect based on the genre. When asked to discuss some of the bigger set pieces that had been filmed during production, Alice Englert described a Civil War re-enactment that had been filmed at one point: “We’ve already shot some of that, at Honey Hill, where they’re having a reenactment for the Civil War. It gets overtaken by this flashback, where it merges into the actual battle, so you have the reenactment, and then you have the actual soldiers dying. It’s quite epic.”
- Alden Ehrenreich’s first film was with Francis Ford Coppola, and while he relished getting to work on such an esteemed production, he’s happy to now be working on something he expects many more people will actually show up for when it opens. When we asked him about taking on this film after making that much smaller one, he said, “Typically genre films like this didn’t appeal to me because they just weren’t written with the same intelligence and sophisticated as this one is. Yet at the same time, I want to make movies that people see. I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied by that 10 people who liked it. I really think that movies are the most popular form of story telling ever and have such a huge impact on culture when they do. So I really want to be a part of those movies that say something good to a lot of people.”
- The film may be able to answer lingering questions fans had after reading the book. When we interviewed Margo Martindale, we asked how she compared the two, and she told us, “I think there are things about the book that I had questions about that are answered in the script.”
- Director Richard LaGravenese might not be quite a household name at the moment, but he’s been involved in two films that Collider.com readers are surely familiar with…and fans of. Pull up LaGravenese’s IMDB page, and you’ll learn that the director wrote both 1994’s The Ref (the funniest movie Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary ever made) and 1991’s The Fisher King (one of the best pieces of director Terry Gilliam’s filmography).
- And, finally, let’s let Emmy Rossum explain what sets Beautiful Creatures apart from some other films of its ilk. When asked to differentiate LaGravenese’s film from some other well-known teen supernatural-romance projects, Rossum offered the following: “…They’ve really created a world that looks different than any other world that’s out there. It doesn’t look like Twilight, it doesn’t look like Hunger Games, it doesn’t look like any of that stuff. It’s very much based in this Southern gothic world, but it has this sense of magic and also kind of a nod of the head to high couture fashion and also a nod of the head to old paintings and things that he’s pulling on in that way. So I think there’s really a sophistication and a way that he’s adapted the material that’s going to make it quite visually different. And film’s a visual medium, so I think it’ll be good.”
We spent as much time on the Beautiful Creatures set as we were permitted to (read: for as long as we could stand the sweltering heat) that afternoon, and those of us who weren’t amped about the film’s prospects upon arrival left feeling very intrigued by what we’d seen. From the badass costumes to the impressive set design and the pedigree of the uber-talented cast, Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures is shaping up to be something worth paying attention to when it opens on February 13th of 2013 (the day before Valentine’s Day, which is surely not a coincidence).
Special thanks to everyone on the Beautiful Creatures cast and crew that took the time to speak with us, the fine folks at Warner Bros., the excessively accommodating Orna Pickens, and everyone else who made this set visit such a pleasure.
For more on our Beautiful Creatures set visit:
- Alice Englert Talks Witch Bar Mitzvahs and Civil War Re-Enactments on the Set of Beautiful Creatures
- Alden Ehrenreich Talks Twilight Comparisons, Landing the Part, and Working with Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson on the Set of Beautiful Creatures
- Emmy Rossum Talks Playing the Evil Witch, Her Character’s Many Looks, and Oral Fixation on the Set of Beautiful Creatures
- Margot Martindale Talks Painful Costumes, Getting Acclimated with the World’s Mythology, and More on the Set of Beautiful Creatures