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Friday, October 20, 2017

(TWIST 2017) EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Trudie Styler makes directorial debut in Freak Show!

by MK Scott 

When you think of Trudie Styler, you might know that she is the wife of rock legend, Sting and you might also know her from her environmental causes and even as an actress and producer. When I heard that Styler was making her directorial debut in a queer film and that said film was the closing night film at TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival, I jumped at the chance to talk with her about seeing her new film. Freak Show, a coming of age story with an all-star cast including Bette Midler, Laverne Cox and rising star, Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game). If you like such classics as The Curiosity of Chance and GBF, you will love this film. I had a chance to chat with Styler by phone last Thursday (October 12th.)

MK Scott: Trudie, I just saw your film, Freak Show last night, and I thought it was fabulous. This is your first directorial debut. How did you get involved in the project?

Trudie Styler: Well, although it's my directorial debut, I was producing it for a year, I would say preparing it. I was producing and working with a director who took a leave of absence at the 11th hour and his other film, Mentoring, came up, and he went to go and do that. And so I was left holding the baby. And so I said to the producers I've done a lot of work on the movie, and on the script and I had some ideas for casting and all that, you know, how would you all feel if I would take the reigns as director? And they were wonderfully supportive, which is gratifying and surprising, and said yes, you know, jump on board and get on with the show. So that is what I did and there wasn't a lot of time in which to get on with the show because by then we were in July and we had to prep in September meaning we had to had have it fully cast by then. So I set about finding actors and getting the cast together. And then we started shooting. And wrapped just about the day before Thanksgiving. So it was a very short four-week prep and a 22-day shoot, which I really would not prefer to do ever again.

MK: Well, this is based on a best selling novel from nineties' club kid, James St. James. And I also noticed how you add a lot of modern touches to it. You know, it was very, very current and just the, not just the props itself, but also just if it's just a very important and current story.

Trudie: Yes, well, it is a current story, isn't it? Because of not allowing people to be who they are is prevalent and becoming more so in this administration, dialing back the reforms that have curtailed - and it's very worrisome. So I hope that Freak Show in some way can draw attention to not just bullying, but with a message to young people that are attractive to say that we have one life and life shouldn't be - we're all born free - we should be able to be the people that we are, and that should be reflective at all times. And this is set in a high school and I think a lot of the simple rotten sets in in the formative years as teenagers.

MK: The film has many themes about being your true self. You know, people still may call you a freak, or, you know, other terms. But it's up to you whether or not if you're going to be able to accept it in how you present yourself.

Trudie: Yes, totally.

MK: And what did you like best about the project?

Trudie: Oh, just about everything. It's simply a wonderful experience for me in every way, from gathering the amazing cast, and Bette Midler is such a dream to work with, so generous with her time in playing her cameo role, but a more important role as Billy's monstrous mother. You know, fearless and courageous, and just gave just a monumental performance. Such a dynamic actress! We're so lucky to have her. And then as Billy, Alex Lawther, I think this role, this made me more nervous than anything, but Billy is only not in two scenes, one of which he's listening to the door and the other is being talked about. Other than that he really is in every scene. And you need an actor of such dimension and depth, there's so many images, nuances of that performance, we needed somebody who could hold the screen for 90 minutes. And I think he really does do that. He's been getting reviews which are so deserved. And then we have the amazing Laverne Cox; she was so generous. She's such a great activist. Very supportive of the project, and I think just delivers this sort of hilarious performance when she's pitted against the mean girl that was played splendidly by Abigail Breslin.

MK: That was actually quite a great scene right there, of here she is responding to Lynette's nonsense and so forth, and just the expressions on their faces are just like, it just says it all.

Trudie: It's just been great to go to the LGBT Festival in Frameline, Outfest and - just to hear the last of that scene, when Felicia played by Laverne puts Lynette in her place. And then we have that comment, you know, 'Making America great again,' which we would absolutely have Donald Trump to be President of the United States when he was running as the representative of the Republican Party. So we caught that phrase and our writers put it in the script. Without any of us even dreaming that it would become this awful mantra.

MK: And also John McEnroe , also in the movie, my goodness, you were able to get him to be quite sensitive and tender for once.

Trudie: Yeah. I've known John for quite a lot of years and twisted his arm to play Coach Carter. It's the perfect role for him. But I was really impressed with the way that he wanted to be directed. He had no qualms with being directed, certainly. He didn't throw any tantrums or throw his racket down. [Laughs] But he had a ball, and everybody adored him. So he was very happy to be on board with it and we shot for a couple of days and I'm so grateful for him. I mean a lot of people really gave their time and talent to this project. And I think as a support to me, as the first time as a director, that largely people were very moved by the scenes of Freak Show and wanted to make their contribution.

MK: Now, Ian Nelson, he was quite a nice catch as well. He was able to portray someone who had absolutely no problem with his sexuality, I would say for most of the film, there's a couple of parts, but other than that I thought he was very well cast.

Trudie: Yeah. I think he's a terrific actor. And the flip role is very interesting because it takes a lot of people, you know, that was going to be Billy's love interest, or certainly Billy does really care a lot to flip, but to flip he's just a sexual person. And he loved Billy in a platonic way, and in a way that really matters with friendship. He had compassion when Billy was being beaten on and probably saved his life in the movie and then steps up as a decent human being. Of course, there is a portion in the movie where Billy gets betrayed by everybody - spoiler alert - but he comes back to make an apology. And I think that's very heartfelt and apologies are a very important thing when they're harder.

MK: Now, then also there was a possibility that the person you would least expect to be a potential romance just happens, you know, it's like - but nothing really comes from that.

Trudie: Oh, yeah. I mean it's a lot of people. There's been a lot of conversation about, you know, someone could really fall in love. Well, you know, it is in the story. But they, I imagine that they're going to be friends for life. I think that he sort of feels that when they go on to college years or whatever that they'll be in each others lives.

MK: Now, the music soundtrack was absolutely incredible. How involved were you in the picking the music for it?

Trudie: Oh, well, very involved! I love music, of course, and I wanted to be very specific with the kind of score that we had. So I asked Dan Romer if he would produce the music, and I love Dan's music. He did 'Beasts of No Nation' and the 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.' And I sort of feel that, I think I chose him because, to me, school, where I didn't have a very good time as a kid, I was bullied a lot, it's a very predatory place. And we set the school corridor, the shaming of one, and the kind of like the exaltation of another, so when the flip comes down harder you see pictures of him being a school hero, and when Billy comes out in one of his costumes and he gets heckled and spit balled and all of that. So Dan and me got together and I said, you know, it's sort of like a human zoo, this school. So I think we should think of something that is sort of animalistic. And so Dan went out and he bought a desk, a locker and used several pairs of his shoes and created this sort of very fantastic drive that you see, you hear rather, in all of the school scenes. And then obviously we have some great music. We use Boy George, I don't know if you know, he did a wonderful rendition of Viva Las Vegas. It's a really good version of it. And he said, oh, my gosh, I've been waiting all my life to do a cover of Viva Las Vegas. And David Foster also produced that. And who else have we got? Perfume Genius, an LBGT band, and gave us that wonderful track, Queen when Billy is getting made up and puts on his bride's costume. I won't tell you the rest of that; but that one song plays all the way through that sequence. And then my daughter, Elliot Sumner's titled song 'Information.'

MK: Now, are you planning on directing any more films in the future?

Trudie: You know, I'd really love to. I'm acting at the moment for a television series on Netflix ['Falling Water']. I'm actually enjoying that, but yeah, I've reviewed scripts and thinking about what to do next. And, of course, I'm quite busy with Freak Show because we're gearing up for quite a bit of festivals. We're excited about Seattle, and we have a New Fest in New York. And then we open January 9th; we're going to be opening in several cities on January 12th.

MK: Yours will actually be the closing night film for the Seattle festival.

Trudie: Oh, wow! That's really great. I didn't know that. That's fantastic!

MK: So that's a testament in how wonderful and perfectly and timely this film is.

Trudie: Oh, I'm thrilled!

MK: And, of course, I have to ask you about your Rainforest Foundation. How is that doing?

Trudie: Yeah. You know, I think that the whole planet is in such a crisis, systemically. We have wildfires everywhere, and hurricanes that are off the charts, and we have a whole sort of - we've exceeded all temperatures that we ever had in that region. We're up to 45 to 48 degrees [Celsius - i.e., 113 to 118.4 Fahrenheit] which is just so hot. And we're seeing these climate changes. And, you know, maybe you're not paying much attention, but certainly the administration is not investing in fossil fuels, with the work that we do in the Amazon, with all the hydroelectric dams that are being built around lakes, around indigenous people, their lands, their lands for centuries, just pushed off without a care in the world with how that will impact their life. And I just think we're seeing this trend of every man for himself, every like, there's no cohesiveness with how serious the climate is. It's really sickening, we need to all pull together. And I'm really quite depressed about it. But with that said we can't give up. We need to send a message to our younger generations to join in this battle for the planet to, you know, to spare it from it becoming worse and worse. And everybody can do something. We can all do our part in fossil fuel, we can all recycle, we can all do something to make a contribution.

MK: One last question, burning question, I want to know, that I personally want to know. Your husband, of course, is Sting. Is there any of his songbook that you, do you, is personally your favorite?

Trudie: Oh, is any one of his songs my personal favorite? I think Fields of Gold is a very personal song, and it makes me weep every time I hear it; well, not every time, but when I can settle in and hear it, sometimes it's just such a beautiful work that I think speaks very deeply to me. Yeah. I mean there are many.

MK: Your personal favorite?

Trudie: Maybe. Today it is. I am a girl. [Laughs]

MK: Oh, yes. Well, thank you. It was a joy! Please send our best to Sting.

Trudie: I will, MK. Thank you so much.

Freak Show screens at the TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival Closing Night Gala on Sunday, October 22 at 7pm at the AMC Pacific Place (600 Pine St, 4th floor) and will be followed by the After Party at Il Fornaio Café in the Pacific Place Atrium. For more information, visit https://www.threedollarbillcinema.org/

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