Emmy Rossum is happy to play the bad girl. Her character in Richard LaGravenese‘s adaptation of the novel Beautiful Creatures is a wickedly attractive, but dangerous gal from the South who’s inspired by actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. She makes a striking grand entrance, and steals every scene she’s in. ScreenCrave recently got the chance to talk to her about about playing the villain and why Beautiful Creatures is appealing to young girls.
In the book, Ridley wears daisy duke shorts, has blonde hair and sucks on a lollypop. She’s quite different in the movie.
Emmy Rossum: I kind of envisioned her as [one of] Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girls.
Did you have a say in her look?
Emmy Rossum: That was not me at all. I thought we were going to do blonde with a pink streak and lollipops and daisy dukes. That’s how I auditioned in fact. I was wearing daisy dukes and boots because I had read the book too. But Richard LaGravenese had this idea that if she’s a siren, she would be kind of more Old Hollywood. He’s personally a fan of a lot of old movies. So, we went more channeling Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return and Rita Hayworth in Gilda. It’s all these kind of subliminal references to old Hollywood which I loved. It was a lot of fun for me to dress up.
Your character got more development in the movie, than in the book. She feels wounded about being rejected by her family. Did you and Richard work on that?
Emmy Rossum: Yeah. I think we tried to flesh her out a little bit. In the book, you get an understanding of her being chosen for the dark side and she has fully embraced being bad. But underneath all this sexy bravado, in your face, attention-seeking craziness and glam that she projects, she’s kind of like this bratty teenager. She’s grown up but she’s pushed out by her family and not sheparded through the adolescent period like the way they are taking care of Lena. Obviously, every actor thinks they’re in their own movie so I fleshed her out completely and lived that but it was really fun for me to play with the dynamic of a character that’s not completely evil but seems that way.
Can you talk about working with the younger actors Alden Ehrenreich and Thomas Mann?
Emmy Rossum: They’re very different people. Alden is a total bookworm and Thomas is just too cool for school. He’ll seem a little dorky but he’s not at all. He’s very cool. He knows every word to every Drake song. They’re both terrifically sophisticated. Alden is so well-read that he and Richard would play this trivia game that they made up based on naming old movie stars and naming a movie they were in. Then name another actor who was in it and a movie they were in. They’re in the Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo world. They’re throwing with Olivia de Havilland, and I’m like, ‘I only know one Olivia de Havilland movie!’ I didn’t even try to play. They’re so smart. I don’t think I was that cool or smart when I was a 17 or 18-year-old actor.
What was it like working with Jeremy Irons?
Emmy Rossum: Terrible [Laughs]. He’s fantastically entertaining. He is hyper-intelligent and very dapper as I’m sure you’ll see from his many scarf looks. And he was very passionate about working on the look of the character as well as the internal mechanisms and workings of his character. We obviously had a lot of fun because we’re kind of enemies. So, thank God I had Emma Thompson on my side.
Did you learn things from watching him and Emma that you can take away for your own craft?
Emmy Rossum: Yes, but because they’re both non-Americans I think they bring a sense of humor to their acting that I hadn’t seen before. They always find the humor in the dialogue, the funny part of the scene or they find something to make fun of about their character or add a levity to their character that’s not all straight. They find moments that are more humorous where some other people might just play the whole thing straight.
This is an elevated, supernatural world so let’s find the funny in that. I think our film has so much humor and with the addition of our secondary characters who aren’t going through the same intense, emotional struggles as our leads, from the Link character (Mann) and the bitchy southern girl character (Zoey Deutch) and even the Emma Thompson character who is so ludicrous at times in her bravado and enjoying of her own power, there’s a lot of comedy to be found.
What’s Richard like on set? What was his vision for the project?
Emmy Rossum: He’s a writer, first and foremost. So he’s smart and he knows the material really, really well. He’s open to your suggestions. Our script went through a lot of different drafts. Each scene would be re-written. Dialogue would change. It was really fun to be part of that process. It was a fun collaborative process. He was very encouraging of us working with the dialect coach that was provided for us down there, especially for me and Emma (Thompson) to consolidate our way of speaking because our two characters had been working and living together for a long time so we would have a similar way of talking.
What do you think about the comparisons Beautiful Creatures is getting to Twilight?
Emmy Rossum: I think the comparisons are going to happen because we’re both based on Young Adult novels and we are love stories but I kind of think that’s where the similarities end. Besides the fact that you have a coming of age story, there have always been supernatural stories and love stories since Adam and Eve, since Biblical times.
What do you think it is about the book that struck a chord with readers?
Emmy Rossum: I think the fact, especially among female readers, is that the protagonist is a young woman and that the girls have all the power. Another reason it’s different than Twilight is that the chicks have more power than the men in this movie and it’s told from a boy’s perspective. He idolizes the girl. She’s everything that he’s been dreaming of and wanting.
It’s very romantic and she is the tortured one with all the power. I think girls at a young age [would say] ‘I went through this,’ when you don’t know who you are and don’t feel powerful and you feel helpless in the world and school and everything you’re going through, to see this girl who has all the power in the world and that’s really amazing. I read it with that kind of escapist mentality when I enjoyed the books.
The movie was filmed in Louisiana. Had you worked in Louisiana before and do you think it lent something special to the film?
Emmy Rossum: I’d never worked in Louisiana before although I loved getting to know New Orleans. We were down there for a couple of months. I think it lent that kind of slow, southern, syrupy feel to the film as well as all the voodoo and witchcraft that is inherent in that area of the South. My mom’s from Louisiana too so it was fun to be in the territories she’d grown up in. She grew up in DeRidder. It’s like a dirt road and a Coca Cola sign.
Did anyone get to have fun in New Orleans while on the shoot?
Emmy Rossum: A lot of them are underage, dude.
Well, New Orleans sort of doesn’t care.
Emmy Rossum: I know! We did have a lot of fun, cast and crew dinners and hang out sessions even if we were just watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and eating a pizza in somebody’s hotel room. Especially when we went out to shoot at the plantations we stayed in a little town called St. Francisville, which is kind of well-known for its plantations but doesn’t have much else.
The accommodations we had were pretty much like a Holiday Inn Express so when we were staying there they didn’t give us transportation in our off hours. Me, Alden, Alice, Thomas and Zoey were like ‘Okay what do we do now for dinner?’ because those little places don’t have room service or a restaurant. So, the only thing within walking distance because we didn’t have a car was the Chevron station. So, we would literally walk across the highway in our pajamas to the Chevron and the kids would be like ‘Sunchips, Doritos’ and I’d be like ‘Is there a banana in here? Has anyone seen anything that has ever been living?’ So, we definitely bonded a lot during our weeks there.
Were you interested in only playing Ridley when you auditioned?
Emmy Rossum: I can’t believe people ask me this. I’m too old to play Lena. She’s 16. I’m 26! I was just reading the other day about that girl on a TV show [Revolution] and nobody knows if she’s 16 or 35. She hasn’t come out to say how old she is. I don’t get that. Just say how old you are. I digress. But I was sent the script for Ridley and read it and loved it a couple of months before they were going into production.
I think I was still on Shameless at the time, shooting Season 2. I was sent the script specifically for Ridley and loved the character, then read the books and did my audition and got the part. That was the only character I wanted to play. I did my time where I played the lead good girl like in Day After Tomorrow and Poseidon and Phantom. This is more fun for me, at least right now.
There are four books in this series, and at the end of this one Ridley just takes off. Are you signed for more films?
Emmy Rossum: Yeah. She’s in all the other books. She’s around especially in the second one. She loses all of her powers and she and Lena go on kind of a Thelma and Louise-trip to the underworld. So it’s pretty fun.
A love story’s at the center of this movie. Do you remember young love and feeling it was complicated or easy?
Emmy Rossum: I remember thinking it was the only thing that mattered. I was doing movies and living in that imaginary world. I don’t think I dated a guy who was nice until like last year. I remember thinking ‘Where are all these Prince Charmings? All these guys are douches.’ So, I was definitely escaping into books and movies and old movies thinking ‘Where are the gentlemen?’ But they were just too young. At 15 and 16 guys are just dumb and so are girls. We’re like, ‘Why don’t you take us to dinner and buy us flowers and buy us jewelry?’ and those are the 10-year-olds. I remember thinking eventually it would happen and be the best thing ever.
Fun question. If you could cast a spell, what would it be?
Emmy Rossum: I guess, on a superficial note, I would look for totally calorie-free ice cream or crème brulee. Then on an important note, something simple like equality and acceptance and some larger thing that I’m not sure any single person has the power to create.
You were singing on Broadway at a very young age. Any chance you’ll sing on stage again?
Emmy Rossum: I would love to do that yeah. If I can coordinate a Broadway show with my television show and this movie and another movie, and trying to maintain my sanity, I would love to do that. I’m not sure when it will be but it’ll happen.
Beautiful Creatures hits theaters February 14.