Watch the Trailer For Teen Crime Film ‘Violet & Daisy’

Between Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, 2013 is already shaping up to be a year of films about young women portrayed by popular actresses turning to a life of crime. But if neither the Skrillex-soundtracked haze of the former nor the based-on-a-true-story appeal of the latter tickle your fancy, there’s the more traditional life on the dark side story of Violet & Daisy, the long-germinating crime action-comedy-drama from Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire writer Geoffrey S. Fletcher. The film premiered back in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival to favorable reviews, and is now finally ready for the big time.

Violet & Daisy’s florally-named characters, played by Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel, most recently of Mad Men, are two teens who take on assassin jobs. When an enigmatic man named Michael (James Gandolfini) becomes their target, he seems like an easy mark, but as tends to happen in these kinds of movies, things aren’t always what they seem. And summer action movies may be a dime a dozen, but this one has quite a cast—in addition to Ronan, Bledel and Gandolfini, we have the fantastic Marianne Jean-Baptiste and, because he should be in everything, Danny Trejo. Watch the trailer below.

Rachel Shukert’s Blissful ‘Starstruck’ Brings Back the Golden Age of Hollywood

I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but when I found out my friend Rachel Shukert was penning a trilogy of novels about young Hollywood starlets in the 1930s, I knew it was right up my alley. Known for her two hilarious memoirs, Have You No Shame and Everything Is Going to Be Great, as well as the fantastic recaps of the ill-fated Smash on Vulture, Shukert brings an astounding voice to her writing, one that is both irreverently raucous and sweetly endearing. Starstruck, Shukert’s first foray into fiction, embodies all of her traits, and it’s a fantastic look at the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Focusing on a trio of young women (Margo Sterling, Amanda Farraday, and Gabby Preston), Starstruck brings alive those now-mythical years of movie-making with a campy behind-the-scenes look at the stars that caught the attention of the average American as well as the studio heads who capitalized on them. Think of it as Valley of the Dolls starring Shirley Temple—it mixes the seediness of showbiz drama with the melodiousness chase of stardom.

This week, Rachel Shukert and I corresponded via email to talk about her obsession with old Hollywood, her ideal audience, and how the nature of celebrity has changed over the last century.

What about this time period inspired you to write about it?
Well, look, since I was a startlingly small child, I’ve been moderately to massively obsessed with old movies and the idea of Golden Age Hollywood, the stars, all of that stuff–the glamor of it, the secrets, and the incredible confluence of insanely talented people working in Hollywood at the time. I love stories about show biz back when it was show biz, you know, and people lived out these huge larger than life stories, and all this seamy stuff happened behind the scenes. It was something I always wanted to be a part of. 

But in a more general sense, I think the ’30s are my favorite era. You can kind of see most of the 20th century as series of reactions to various disasters. The frivolity and the decadence of the ’20s was a direct reaction to World War I and the Spanish flu and all this death and destruction; it was like, honey badgers no longer gave a shit. And then you can also look at the kind of proscribed suburbanism and conformity of the ’50s and early ’60s as this direct response to the horrors of World War II, where the world looked straight into the heart of darkness and responded by regressing into this weird, repressed, idealized kind of childhood where nothing bad could ever happen again as long as you had the right vacuum cleaner and Mother didn’t work and everybody forgot that sexual intercourse of any sort existed (or at least never acknowledged so verbally.) But in the ’30s, everyone was dealing with the Depression, and just didn’t have the time for self-delusion, so everything was very self-consciously sophisticated and witty and cynical and hard-boiled. There was a frankness in the culture that appeals to me. Unless, of course, you were one of the increasing number of people seeking refuge in one of the ascendant ‘isms’—you know, like fascism. Which is also one of my favorite things about this period, as you know, and as I’ve written about. I never get tired of Nazi stuff. Hollywood and Hitler were my two favorite things to read about/think about when I was a kid. They remain so to this day. I don’t think the fact that they were both ascendant at the same time is exactly incidental to my interest in either. 

Who were some of the real-life starlets you used as inspiration for your cast of characters? 
Well, the obvious one is Judy Garland, who is almost entirely the basis for Gabby Preston, and who is my favorite actress of all time. Margo Sterling has a little bit of Lana Turner in her, particularly in the way she is discovered [at Schwab’s Pharmacy in Hollywood], but she also has some of that classic society girl thing, like a Gene Tierney or a Dina Merrill. Amanda Farraday is a little bit Rita Hayworth, a little Hedy Lamarr, mixed with a lot of shadowy rumors that there were about a lot of stars at this time, that they had these kind of scandalous pasts the studios would try to cover up. But except for Gabby, none of them are really based on any one person, it’s sort of lots of little bits of things. And no matter how you try to base a character on someone, they take on a life of their own, and that life is almost always reflective of you in some way. So they’re all loosely based on the real-life starlet Rachel Shukert. 

I know you started acting in Omaha as a girl—did any of those experiences make their way into the novel? Did you base any of your characters on your young adult self?
Ha, see above! I mean, yes, of course they did. Not in a hugely literal way, but that feeling of desperately wanting more, of being sure you’re destined for great things, that has a lot to do with me as a young (or younger!) adult. And Margo’s fantasy life, the way she is constantly referencing these movies in her head, and how they inform her behavior, that has a lot to do with me as well. And obviously, I know the feeling of auditioning, of that incredible anxiety that I think actors—especially younger actors—have that they’re falling behind, that it’s not happening for them, that it’s never going to happen, that everybody else has what they want (and should rightfully be theirs): that’s all very personal. But for me, the most painful realization in my acting was getting out of drama school and realizing that I had zero interest in being an actual actress in New York in the 2000s, that all I had ever really wanted was to be a movie star in Hollywood in the 1930s. So the book was therapeutic in that way.  

Starstruck is the first part of a series—how far have you written, and can you give us any details for where these characters are headed?
I’ve finished the second book, and am working on the third now. I don’t know how much I can tell you without totally giving away the ending of Starstruck, but I will say, the overarching theme of the whole series is really about finding yourself as an artist. So all of the characters are going to go through a kind of a period of refining, of figuring out that what they’re good at isn’t necessarily what they thought they wanted—and that goes for love as well. Margo has had this dizzying rise—now what? Can she sustain it? And more importantly, does she want to? Gabby is going to push more boundaries, trying to prove to everyone that she’s a grown-up, and we’ll see how that conflicts with her talent and potential. Amanda is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and move forward with some dignity, but it’s not working that well. I’ll tell you this, it’s all very juicy. We’ve only peeled back the first few layers of the onion–there are still a lot of secrets to be revealed. There’s more sex, more drugs, more jazz. Things are about to get very "Hollywood Babylon" up in this shit. Minus the Black Dahlia murders and speculation about lesbian incest between the Gish sisters. You know what I mean. 

What was it like to write a novel, since your first two books were memoirs? Was it a challenge to write for a younger audience? 
Honestly, the biggest thing was having to continually remind myself that I could make stuff up. That sounds stupid, but when you’re writing a memoir, the challenge is that all the pieces are there, and it’s your job to figure out the most pleasing, most effective way to arrange them. If something doesn’t fit, you can leave it out, but you can’t change it, you know? And with this, sometimes I would get to a point in the story where I’d be like, this isn’t working, and I would actually have to say out loud: "Fine, so make them do something else!" The other thing, which I didn’t expect, is how protective I would become of these characters, in a way that I never was about myself when I was the main character. It’s weird, it’s very maternal, sort of helicopter-mom like. Are they getting enough attention? Do people love them enough? DON’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT MY BABIES! If someone doesn’t like the book—and this, thankfully, hasn’t really happened much—I am furious on their behalf, not mine. It’s insane. 

As for a young audience, I mean yes. There are many fewer dick jokes in this book than there have been in my past works. There are, however, a lot more super-queeny Joan Crawford jokes, which I know are VERY relevant to this generation. Let’s just be honest: I wrote this book for members of the drama club and middle-aged gay men. Fin. 

Back to the Old Hollywood setting of Starstruck: do you see a lot of similarities in the way stars were manufactured in the past as they are now?
I think it’s totally different, actually, which is part of what I like about the old studio system. You would go into this sparkle-factory, and come out an entirely different person—new name, new look, whatever they needed you to be, that’s what they’d make you. There’s this inherent unreality to that culture, with these larger-than-life stars, that feels so foreign now to what the fame-industrial complex has become. Now, it’s all about "authenticity." We want stars to be "just like us." They have to be relatable, and if they’re not, they have to be punished. In a certain way (and a very tacky way) I actually think reality stars have become more like what old Hollywood stars were—these personalities that people gossip about, who are basically actors playing some bigger, more dramatic version of themselves. The whole Bravolebrity concept, where we obsess about these characters like they’re real, their relationships with each other–that has really replaced the daytime soap world, which I think was the closest corollary to the old Hollywood star system. But each iteration becomes somehow less than—it’s like Xeroxing a Xerox. You go from real stars to soap opera characters to like, Kyle Richards, and it’s all because of our obsession with the "real," which I think is really a kind of cultural sickness. We’ve become so unimaginative. 

If you were to cast actors to play these roles in a movie version of Starstruck, who would you pick?
Oooh, my favorite question!!! Who would you pick? 

Clever, lady! I could see a Taylor Swift-type (begrudgingly) as Margo, and part of me wanted to imagine Kirsten Dunst as Amanda Farraday (and a little bit with Diana Chesterfield). I could totally see Chloe Grace-Moretz as Gabby, too. 
I LOVE Chloe Grace Moretz for Gabby! She’s adorable and just very slightly evil, which is perfect. Can she sing? I demand to know if she can sing. I also like the idea of Kirsten Dunst as Diana Chesterfield, because she needs to be a bit older, and a little bit like, I’ve seen it, oh the things that I have seen. That’s perfect. For Margo, you know, you want this kind of lovely ingénue who can have a little bit of an edge and not be boring. I think Elle Fanning looks really right, but she’s still a few years too young. But by the time anyone makes this, she’ll be perfect. Or Saoirse Ronan, who has a kind of gawkiness that I like, and always seems smart. For Amanda, you need someone who is tough, but also vulnerable, sort of hard and soft at the same time. I like Emilia Clarke, Mother of Dragons. She’d be good, if she dyed her hair red. Or Juno Temple, who actually has red hair already! Budget saver!

That’s Quite A Cast There, ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’

So, today we learned a lot of new things about Wes Anderson’s early-20th-century European romp, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which now has a distributor (Anderson fans Fox Searchlight) and something of a plot. In addition to IMDb’s lone sentence about the tribulations of Mr. Gustave, "the hotel’s perfectly-composed concierge," Screen Daily has a bit more substantial information. 

 

"The Grand Budapest Hotel tells of a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars and his friendship with a young employee who becomes his trusted protégé. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, the battle for an enormous family fortune and the slow and then sudden upheavals that transformed Europe during the first half of the 20th century."

Wartime friendships? A dysfunctional family? Curious protégés of crazy rich white dudes? Stolen art? Did I mention a dysfunctional family? This is sounding pretty Wes-tacular. But even more characteristically Wes Anderson is the cast, which includes all his favorite pals, and a lot of other marquee names that will probably make this post read like it was done just for SEO purposes.

Returning Anderson-movie alumni include Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, as well as (deep breath) Jude Law, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, F. Murray Abraham and Tony Revolori. Whew. That’s a lot of people. That’s, like, more than are going to fit on one movie poster. Is there going to be some kind of Hunger Games to determine who gets marquee billing or are they going to try and fit everyone? Wow.

[via Indiewire]

Watch Trailer for ‘The Host,’ Stephenie Meyer’s New Movie

Apart from the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer has written just one other book: The Host, which is appropriately getting adapted for the big screen now that the Twilight engine is winding down. Starring Saoirse Ronan, it’s about a race of aliens who survive by taking over the bodies of human beings, and one of them who begins to get a little guilty about the whole body snatchers act. There’s a teaser trailer, via Yahoo!, and judging solely from the imagery it looks like a combination of The Ring, Melancholia and every Internet conspiracy about lizard people ruling the world.

Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show, Lord of War) is heading this one up, and Ronan will be joined by William Hurt and Diane Kruger in key roles. With such a solid creative pedigree, it should at least be presentable — that is, if the Meyer connection doesn’t throw you off. Some people have never gotten over what she did to vampires, but there are too many types of aliens in pop culture to get snitty about whether or not they should have feelings. The Host is out on March 29, 2013, which is quite some time away.

Help Natalie Portman Free the Children

My best friend, Leysa Cerswell, has been taking steps to make the world a better place since becoming, a few years ago, the communications coordinator for Free the Children, the “world’s largest network of children helping children through education.” In that time, I’ve done my part, too, by shining a light on oft-overlooked child celebrities, like then 15-year-old Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and onetime minor Jamie Campbell Bower. While Cerswell was helping build schoolhouses in Kenya, I was fighting for a table at the Chateau Marmont. While she was liaising with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, I was interviewing her holiness of hip-hop, Nicki Minaj, referred to in some circles as the Dolly Lama. We’ve both been soldiers for humanity, to be sure, but our professional paths had yet to cross. Until now.

This morning, Free the Children released a video featuring Academy Award frontrunner Natalie Portman, who announced the launch of their new initiative, The Power of a Girl. According to JustJared, “From now until May 1, young people aged 13-21 are encouraged to raise funds for Kisaruni, Free The Children’s new all-girls’ secondary school in Kenya. Finalists will be chosen in May and asked to share why they think it’s important to empower girls through education.” Watch the video below and get involved.

The New Chameleon: Saoirse Ronan

When Saoirse Ronan walks into the Old Poland Bakery in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, the 15-year-old actress looks every bit the schoolgirl. That is, if she went to school. Since her Oscar-nominated performance in Atonement two years ago, Ronan has been too busy to attend regular classes. “I tried to go back recently,” she says, “but I felt like I was in a zoo. I felt like there were 20 kids crowding me, teasing me.” Still, all things considered, Ronan’s life has been fairly normal. Her parents travel with her wherever she goes. She refuses to move to Hollywood and doesn’t much care for fame. “I try not to read much press about me,” she says in her sophisticated Irish brogue. “Most people are nice, but then you have really mean people who are like, ‘Who’s prettier: Saoirse or Dakota Fanning?’ I hate when they compare.”

This Christmas, Ronan co-stars in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel The Lovely Bones, as the film’s brutally raped and murdered narrator. Ronan, who will also appear with Colin Farrell in The Way Back, Peter Weir’s upcoming war drama about escapees from a Siberian gulag, says it was difficult to film the scenes in which Susie looks over her family from the afterlife. “I was surrounded by a blue-screen most of the time, so I had no idea what Peter’s heaven was going to look like. My family is Catholic, but I don’t know if I believe in a god.” Before Ronan has the chance to get into her personal theology, her lunch arrives, and her otherworldly eyes light up. “I’m so excited!” she says, finally sounding her age. “I’ve never tried chicken noodle soup before.”

What was your initial reaction when watching the film? Did you have any idea what it might look like? I knew that whatever happened, Pete was going to do something incredible with it, because he always does with all of his movies. The waiting process to see this movie has been almost two years. But since I hadn’t seen it until recently, I’d never really thought of it as a movie, as a finished film.

How do you try to understand a character like Susie Salmon, someone whose life experience is so vastly different from yours? When you put it like that, it actually sounds quite difficult. But I’m pretty good at understanding people in everyday life, and that’s one of the most important things about becoming someone else on camera. I also think it’s important to have a good relationship with your director. If you don’t have that then I don’t think you can portray the character in its entirety, the way it deserves to be played. Although Pete’s style of directing is different from any other director I’ve worked for, it just works. He talked to me about loss. It wasn’t exactly about death, but more about having something taken from you and never getting it back.

The Lovely Bones is an adaptation of a fictional story, but it’s also based, however loosely, on Alice Sebold’s life. Were you conscious of that during filming? I wasn’t really. For me, Susie was completely separate from Alice. I wanted to create for Susie her own identity. She became a part of me for two months, not in a method acting kind of way but as if became her friend. I knew everything about her, and how she would react to something.

Did you discuss the story or your character with Alice? I haven’t met Alice. I think they invited her on set, but she never came. I thought it was great that she didn’t want to get in the way of Pete’s interpretation of the story. It seemed to me, from what I heard, that she really respected him and his vision.

Were you able to leave the tragedy on set? Sometimes I’d come home from work and get really upset because I was so close to Susie. As a human, as someone with a heart, of course I got upset. But I tried my best to leave it there.

Tell me about your working relationship with Stanley Tucci, who plays your murderer in the film. Stanley is one of the sweetest guys. He is very kind and funny, really easy to be around. And it was important for us to be that comfortable with each other in order to go into those uncomfortable scenes. After we finished the cornfield scene [during which Stanley’s character murders Susie Salmon], I went over to him and gave him a hug. He had his arm around me and we walked off and had a chat.

What’s it like when you’re at home? The Irish are a proud group of people. I mean this in the most modest way, but everyone loves Ireland. We’ve got a very good reputation and even though we’ve had some trouble in the past, I think that’s made us more proud of who we are. We’ve really fought for our country and for freedom. I have to say that the stereotypes people have set for us kind of annoy me. Sure, there are a lot of people who drink in Ireland, but there are also a lot of people who drink in Britain and everywhere in the world.

But how normal is your life at home? Have you been affected by fame? It’s not as normal as it was before I started acting. I’m quite well known in Ireland, so people recognize me.

Does that happen when you walk down the street? Yeah.

Has that started to happen in America? It’s happened a few times, but America is a lot bigger than Ireland. A lot of people know me over there. It’s quite odd when you’re walking through the town you grew up in and people start to look at you differently, people that I know, people that I don’t know, or people that I’ve seen on the street before and recognize. I’m really happy that my acting career has taken off, but at the same time, I’m not doing it for fame.

How has your film success affected your school life? It’s changed quite a bit. When I was nominated for an Oscar, I was working on Lovely Bones and I couldn’t start secondary school with the rest of the kids. I had planned to go back to school after Easter but it didn’t really work out. I’m not going to delve too much into it, but it just didn’t work out at all, for me at least.

Because the other kids knew about the movies you were in? Yeah, I felt like I was in a zoo. I felt like there were 20 kids crowding me, teasing me. It was just a bit mean. There were some good kids, too.

Was a film career something to which you always aspired? I’ve read stories of child actors, the ones who start working at 3 years old, but I can’t see how acting is something you aspire to do at 3 years old. You’re playing with your dolls and you’re eating food. That’s all you care about and I think it’s silly to say otherwise. But I’ve always been an entertainer and my dad is an actor. When I was about 6 or 8, my dad said to his agent, “Maybe you could hook her up with a few things.” So she did and I got this part in an Irish Drama. And then I did another show that I liked even more. From there, I was in a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer [I Could Never Be Your Woman] and things just kind of took off.

Since you weren’t raised in Hollywood, can you recall your first introduction to a major celebrity? So far, it was probably at the Oscars. I was in the front row with all the nominees and Jack Nicholson came on stage to present some award or something, and I swear I looked up his nose. I was that close to Jack Nicholson! I don’t get star-struck—I’m not into that kind of thing and I don’t believe you should treat anyone as a superior—but to see someone like him, who you’ve grown up watching, who’s so good at what he does, it was a big slap in the face.

Young Hollywood is such an interesting demographic because it can bring out really great things in people, really creative things, but then it can also breed monsters. I see so many kids who get famous really fast, and even though sometimes I might get a little envious that someone is more well known than me, I like the way my career is going at the moment. It’s building slowly, which is kind of what happened to Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansen. My parents are with me everywhere I go and my dad is an actor, so he has insight into show business. They both keep me really grounded.

But this really does seem to be your breakout moment. You must be taking advantage of it, no? For someone my age, I’m getting paid really well. But compared to Miley Cyrus, I’m getting nothing. But she’s Miley Cyrus.

Now there’s a role model! You said before that Kiera Knightley was someone who you held in high esteem. I really like Kiera. She’s gotten a lot of poo from the press, about her image and stuff, which a lot of the girls do. I respect her because she doesn’t pay attention to any of that.

Have you ever read anything nasty about yourself online? Not from the press, no. But there are really mean people on IMDb message boards, who are like, “Do you think she’s pretty?” Or, “Who’s prettier: Saoirse or Dakota Fanning?” I hate when they compare.

Since you’re not looking, I read today on there today that you look like Chloë Sevigny. I have to say I don’t think I look like her at all. People compare me to so many different people. Why can’t I just be who I am? I don’t really think I look like anyone. Do these people have nothing better to do? If you’re not a journalist and you’re not actually sent to write about these people, why do it?

At the other end of things, you have a fan site, which seems kind of sweet, unless a 40-year-old man runs it—or Stanley Tucci! The people who run that site are quite genuine. And I think it’s very sweet what they’re doing. It’s not like their adults. They’re teenage girls… I think. I would never do that for anyone—if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d still prefer to do things that I’d benefit from.

Ronan wears top by D&G. Sequined top by Tory Burch. Photography by Billy Kidd. Styling by Bryan Levandowski. Hair by Charlie Taylor. Makeup by Lauren Whitworth using YSL Beaute.