CARLA GUGINO and SEBASTIAN GUTIERREZ
on 'WOMEN IN TROUBLE'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
November 9, 2009
In writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez's dark comedy Women in Trouble, an unusually eventful day leads to a series of misadventures for a group of women whose seemingly disparate lives become intricately connected. Amongst these troubled souls are newly impregnated pornstar Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino); her confused and heartbroken co-worker Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki); a call girl associate apparently oblivious to Holly's true feelings (Emmanuelle Chriqui); a pair of flight attendants with a postcoitus corpse on their hands (Marley Shelton and Garcelle Beauvais); a masseuse who is unexpectedly paid with her own happy ending (Cameron Richardson); a woman trapped in a hot, sweaty elevator with Elektra (Connie Britton); and a precocious teen wrestling with her own emotional baggage (Isabella Gutierrez). Simon Baker, Josh Brolin, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt round out the ensemble.
Women in Trouble is the first part of a trilogy, followed by Elektra Luxx and Women in Ecstasy. On a superficial level, the movie scores by boasting an insane assortment of beautiful women, most of whom end up in their underwear for one reason or another. But backing up the eye candy is a quirky sense of humor, most noticeable in the deadpan sarcasm of Elektra and the lovable cluelessness of Holly, who still manages flashes of insightful clarity, even after being hit repeatedly by moving vehicles.
In this interview, Carla Gugino and Sebastian Gutierrez (who also happen to be a couple in that thing called "real life") talk about gathering their friends, colleagues, and resources to make this independent film. Carla also gives a brief preview of her role in Sucker Punch, which reunites her with Watchmen director Zack Snyder. It's a job that also reunites her with action choreography, which is readily apparent by the gnarly bruise she is sporting on her arm.
MEDIA: At what point did you realize this story had enough material to warrant a pair of sequels?
SEBASTIAN: It was when we finished the movie. We had such a good time making the movie, within our very short amount of time. And it was such a burst of energy, and it was such a small group of people making the movie that we thought, "You know, between real jobs once a year, we should do one of these." And I always like [what] they do more in novels, where you can grab one character from one story and put it in a different book. And you can't do that with movies, and it's so frustrating to me because there's all these copyright issues...You know, I would love to grab this Don Cheadle character from this movie and make him the lead of another movie. But you can't do that because of copyrights. So I thought, "Well, I'll do my own version of that. I'll grab some of these same characters, put them in a different story." And so it became this trilogy. The second one is called Elektra Luxx, which is Carla's character's name, and it picks up a couple months later. It's another day in the life of some of these characters.
We understand this was a short ten or twelve day shoot...
SEBASTIAN: Twelve day. And those extra two days made a big difference.
We're also told you shot much of this in your own house. What was it like making this labor of love project on a relatively small budget? Because it looks like you had much more time and money to put into it than you actually did...
CARLA: That's nice to hear.
SEBASTIAN: Yeah, thank you. It was really liberating. It was a good reminder that making a movie is supposed to be a game. So this was done with friends, with a very small crew, at our house and at friends' houses. And when we had to rent an airplane set, we went out to the Valley to an airplane set. But it was done very much like a student film, and I think it's so liberating now that Hollywood is really only set up to make these $100, $200 million movies, that technology has caught up, and you can borrow stuff, and you can go make a movie for very little money. So it was mostly exhilarating. It's a little rough around the edges and I wish that we had a couple extra days to do a couple of fancier shots, but the spirit of the thing definitely is there. And what I cared about--which was the characters and the acting--is what we spent time on.
CARLA: And I think, also, the interesting thing is that a lot of times when you have a situation where you have friends getting together to "let's do this, this is a great idea," there's a certain haphazard nature to it. And this one, I think what really made a difference was the fact that the script was really strong, the characters are really strong--so that part of it was very defined...And the actors all loved our characters so much, and are all obviously professionals who have been doing this for a long time, so there was a kind of work ethic while having fun. And even our costume designer--Denise Wingate, who I've worked on several movies with--one day looked around and went, "This is why I started to do this!" Like she was going off to do this huge movie afterwards, and she was like, "I don't want to leave, this is so much fun. I don't want to leave set." Mostly, costume designers come in, they establish your wardrobe, leave you with somebody else, and go. And she was like, "I want to stay." Twelve hours later, she's watching the scene, laughing. So it's so nice to have that, and also have the material itself be strong enough. Because that [alone] doesn't make for a good movie--it makes for a good experience, but then you have to actually make a good movie, too.
SEBASTIAN: Also, the nature of this movie--because it's mostly these series of heart-to-heart conversations between women, and they're very intimate, but there's a lot of dialogue and there's a lot of emotion--was helped by the fact that it was a very short amount of time. It would have been worse, I think, to split up these big scenes in three days. It was much better to do it in one day. But it entailed the actors being very prepared, and us rehearsing and knowing what we were going to do. And then there was a continuity to it where they were able to go off on a limb and act.
You've assembled an impressive cast of actors, many of whom have worked together in previous projects. Was the casting of this movie mostly a matter of inviting friends to be involved?
SEBASTIAN: Yeah, it was written specifically for either people that we had worked with, wanted to work with, or friends of friends. So for example, the character of the rock star originally was written for a different actor. And then when that actor fell out, Marley Shelton, who had done Grindhouse with Josh Brolin, said, "What about Josh?" So there were some people that came into the fold that we didn't know or hadn't worked with before, but a lot of it is one degree of separation of who had worked with who, who was friends with who, or who we wanted to work with.
CARLA: Definitely. I was just talking to someone, going through the lineage of all the connections, and it is actually pretty crazy. [laughs] Some people I've worked with on two different projects.
SEBASTIAN: And I've always liked that idea...A lot of directors that I like--Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar--have companies. It's great to work with people that you go, "Simon Baker...He played the Errol Flynn-esque kind of guy in Judas Kiss, but he can probably do this." And give people [the opportunity to do something different]. Josh Brolin hadn't done comedy since Flirting with Disaster, but he's so funny, and now he's getting to play this stoic guy. So it's fun to mix and match when you're not asking a lot of time from people. They're only coming in for a day or two.
CARLA: And I also think the thing that people have been talking about with this movie--and I think it is noticeable--is that there is a certain kind of sensibility that's specific. And I think all of these actors understand that sensibility, and that's an interesting thing, too. [to Sebastian] Because the more they know you and you know them, it just becomes an easier process, especially when we're shooting that quickly.
Sebastian, how was your experience of bringing your daughter Isabella into the mix for the role of troubled teenager Charlotte? And does your personal relationship with Carla impact your working relationship in any way?
SEBASTIAN: We've worked together before, and us being a couple has only helped with shorthand, but never gotten in the way. In fact, many crews have said, "I didn't know you guys were [a couple]."
CARLA: Yeah. I mean, it's like now four movies into our working together. I think we really succeeded in having that never even be something that comes up--not because of anything negative about it, but just more because you want the work itself to be regarded for that, not like, "Oh, he's so-and-so's girlfriend, or so-and-so's boyfriend." But at this point, clearly, once you start shooting in your house... [laughs]
SEBASTIAN: But the shortest answer to your question is it was all family. It was mostly people that are really good friends, or we know, or had worked with before. So bringing Isabella in was a very organic thing, in that I had written a part for a teenager, and she had said, "If you write a part for a teenager, can I be considered for it?" As a parent, if your kid tells you they want to do anything--be the President of the United States or be a spaceman--you say, "Great!" But if they want to be an actor, you're like, "I'm not sure about that..." But here, it seemed like she was the right person for the job, and it was very organic.
CARLA: Yeah. And several people have mentioned the scene in the hospital room, outside on the bench [with Isabella], and I think that that scene does have a certain kind of resonance, not only because it's just a well-written scene, but also because [of] having Isabella--who I know so well and love so much, and who's really, really great in her own right in the movie--asking those questions...I think [with] two adults, you know that you might end up showing up on a set and they're going to say, "And you'll be having the sex scene with your husband who you've been married to for ten years today. Day one." You know? And both of you have to kind of go, "Okay, let's figure out some backstory!" And with kids, [establishing a history] could be really difficult. So it was so great that we know each other so well, that we trust each other so much, and that we do have a shorthand in life. And that definitely really helped, I think, those scenes a lot.
One of the film's comedic highlights is a scene of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Bert Rodriguez conducting an awkward interview with Elektra Luxx and Holly Rocket, played after the closing credits. How did that exchange come about?
SEBASTIAN: Well, we should say this character ends up playing a much bigger part in the second movie. So this is sort of the set up for that character. The scene is there as a tag because, technically, the scene happens before the events of the movie, but it wasn't quite right the first scene of the movie. So it was something that we shot while we were making the movie, and we weren't sure exactly where it was going to fit. And then we all liked doing it so much that we thought, "We need to put this in there." And I think that the movie, because it goes from comedy to end on a more emotional tone, after the credits, could use a reminder that these characters live in a very over the top world, and that there's absurdity all around. [laughs] It kind of gives hope for the next one.
Did you cull Bert's outrageous questions from bad press interviews you've had over the years?
SEBASTIAN: Nothing you had said before, I can assure you. But yes, I read a lot of interviews, and I sort of know how absurd they can get. So yeah, it was a way of having fun with that. In fact, the scene we shot has a longer amount of questions, which will come out on the DVD. There's like a middle section that will be a more extended thing, where it gets even more absurd.
CARLA: But also, we must admit, I have never been asked [anything] remotely close to those kind of questions. He's crazy. I mean, the character is a little loopy.
SEBASTIAN: He also works for an adult site. Who knows what kind of polls those people are [conducting]? Yeah, there was confusion. Holly Rocket got confused, and the stuff that's not in the movie between a narcoleptic and a necrophiliac...There were things that went terribly wrong in the interview that will be on the DVD.
Carla, why do you think Sebastian is so in tune with writing emotionally developed female characters?
CARLA: It's funny, because Emmanuelle Chriqui said the other day, "Sebastian's the only guy who could get us all in our underwear and we're happy about it!" But I think the truth is, knowing his family and everything...I mean, his father died when he was very young, he was raised by all women, and I can attest to the fact that he's more comfortable at a table of women than a table of men, like at a game or something.
SEBASTIAN: It's true.
CARLA: From the very beginning, before we ever really knew each other well, I was a fan of his work because, exactly, of that--that all of his characters are really complex, but the women are just oddly insightful into us, you know? [to Sebastian] And you are oddly insightful into us, which is scary and great all at the same time.
SEBASTIAN: I better quit while I'm still ahead.
CARLA: So I don't know the answer, but I do [think] that it's something, first of all, we really need in this country, for sure. And I don't know about other women, but I'm not interested, really, in like a "woman's movie" or a "chick flick" for the sake of that. I just want to see a good movie. And I'd love to see it with some great female characters in it. You know, there was obviously Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall...I mean, we had a whole period of time in our cinematic history where the women were the ones drawing people into a theater, and they were never considered "women's movies." So if we can get back to having--or get forward to a place where we have--amazing, complex, equally interesting female characters in movies that everybody wants to go see, it would be amazing.
Sebastian, was your upbringing amongst women a source of inspiration in writing this movie?
SEBASTIAN: Yeah. For some reason, American movies don't seem to have much use for female characters as protagonists, and I don't know why. But I'm going to use it to my advantage, in that I find that women have emotions much more accessible than men. So in a story like this where you need them to go from zero to a hundred really fast, it's a very useful thing. But I've always been fascinated by women--you know, they go to the bathroom together, they talk all the time. They do all these intimate things together that men don't do, and I always wondered what's happening there. Like men are not that comfortable with each other, you know? So the bad, piggish version would be, like, "they always go to the bathroom together because they're all making out." I know that's not what's happening, but I was interested in putting them in all these situations: an elevator, a bathroom. Things where we get to hear what it is that they're saying. Because it's not always about men. And that's the most important thing to me about the movie--it's not that they're in trouble because of what the men are doing to them. They're in all sorts of trouble. Mostly sentimental and emotional and self-inflicted, or out of insecurities. But I was interested in those private moments that we don't usually [see]--in movies, we usually cut away when we get to that point. Now they get up and go to the bathroom--what are they talking about? [laughs] What's the secret that they're sharing? So probably growing up in a household of women--of lovely, neurotic, crazy women running around always in a rush, and I love them for it--made me interested in that.
Carla, you'll be playing a dual role in Sucker Punch, yes? And is the bruise on your arm from the stuntwork?
CARLA: [laughs] Yeah, and it's all my fault. I mean, we have very, very adept stunt people, but you don't know in the moment what you're doing. I play a dual character, yes. It takes place in the 1960s--that's why my hair is red for this particular character. She is Polish...
SEBASTIAN: [jokes] Because everybody had red hair in the 1960s...
CARLA: [laughs] I play Dr. Gorski, who is a psychiatrist in an insane asylum. And in an alternate world, I play Madam Gorski, who is a dominatrix choreographer/madam in a brothel. I sing and I dance and I'm Polish! That's all I have to say... [laughs]
Thank you both for your time.
CARLA: All right you guys, thank you.
SEBASTIAN: Thank you so much.