Jake Mulligan talks with Gina Gershon, who in "Killer Joe" makes one of the most provocative movie entrances in some time. She apparently has not lost any of the boldness she displayed in "Showgirls."
Still a stunning beauty decades into her career, Gina Gershon is a sight to
behold in William Friedkin’s latest grand provocation, "Killer Joe." She starts
the movie with a tone-setting entrance – framed from the waist down,
domineering over Emile Hirsch from the heights of her trailer – and closes it
by featuring in a sexually perverted climax sure to live in midnight movie
infamy. Matthew McConaughey’s turn as the titular hitman Joe will no doubt earn
the majority of praise, but it’s Gershon who gets her hands dirtiest in the
film, which is nothing less than a trailer park twist between “Double
and Takashi Miike’s “Visitor Q”.
After a long day of press (involving a lot of questions about the film’s
focused use of fried chicken, surely,) Gershon sat down with the Phoenix to
talk about many iconic roles, working with Friedkin,and finding the 'wig' that best fit her character.
Q: So you make quite the entrance into this movie.
Gina Gershon: Right? First of all, I love it because I think it sets the
tone. It says who she is, who these people are. Listen, if I was playing Don
King, I’d have to wear a wig. You’ve got to wear the proper wig for the role.
And that was Sharla’s look.
Q: I hear there was an intensive process searching for the right wig.
GG: Friedkin, for some reason, is like: ‘Why are you talking about this so
much?’ Because people ask me! But we’re not supposed to talk about it anymore.
Billy teases me too much. He’s such a great director, and he’s fearless.
Sometimes you have to worry about the envelope. There’s no envelope with him.
You can’t go too far, as long as you’re being truthful. These characters are
Tracy Letts is an amazing writer. So anything you want to know about your
character, it’s all in there [in the script]. You just have to keep reading,
and reading, and all the answers are there. I think it’s because he’s such a
great actor as well. Maybe he can really figure out the psychology of these
people [thanks to that background.] And Billy is such a great director for this
because it is so visceral.
Q: How intensive was the shoot, was getting into character particularly
GG: My character especially. She’s so feral. She reminds me of this wild
animal. So you have to be spontaneous, in reaction mode. Most of these scenes
we did in one take. You’re in the moment. Billy wants spontaneity. He doesn’t
want perfection, as he says.
Q: So did that make for an uncomfortable shoot?
GH: I was comfortable as an actress because you have an amazing cast, and an
amazing crew, and an amazing director. So you really feel safe in that
environment. There’s a bubble, everyone’s doing the project for the right
reasons, you have high-level people who are really good at their jobs in
control…. I didn’t have to sit there and worry about “How are they shooting
this? Am I going to have to do five takes?”
Q: You’ve worked with some incredible filmmakers on some incredibly
audacious projects, for better for worse. John Woo, Paul Verhoevan, Michael
Mann, Friedkin – this is a who’s who of demanding filmmakers. Who, or what
project, do you think pushed you the hardest?
GG: It’s hard to say. I think Killer Joe
is the most intense material, certain scenes especially, that I
have ever dealt with. But was I pushed that far? I kinda chose to go there. But
Friedkin guides you. He allows you to really do it. You’re there to go there.
If you don’t you’re an idiot.
Q: So it’s at least tougher than "Cocktail"?
GG: Cocktail was very difficult, for certain other reasons. "Cocktail" was
the exact opposite. It was one of the first movies I had done, and there were a
zillion master shots, a zillion close-ups, a zillion medium shots… it was kind
of interesting, but on Joe we were lucky if we even got a second take.
We had 28 days to shoot it.
Q: Well we can hope "Joe" will distract people from asking you about that
and "Showgirls" for a while.
GG: I really hope so! That was one of the reasons I did it. Just kidding—but
it should be. I mean, I’d rather know about this movie than "Showgirls" if I were a person asking. Of
course, now, instead of "Showgirls,"
it will just be people asking about the chicken scene. ‘Do you still eat fried
chicken?’ Yes, I love fried chicken. Next question!
Q: I understand you were initially approached to play the Starla character
GG: I was approached years ago, and they asked me to consider it. But then I
got to that ending and thought, I don’t want to go there eight times a week. As
I’m sure you can understand.
Q: So you went and did "Cabaret," something “lighter”?
GG: That was pretty draining also, but at least I got to sing and dance.
Q: How do you feel about the NC-17 for "Killer Joe," and the controversy surrounding
GG: On one hand, I think the ratings system in America is ridiculous. It’s
so arbitrary when you see what’s an NC-17, what’s an R and what’s a PG. That
being said, I think out of all the movies I’ve done that have either been NC-17
or toyed with it, this is a hardcore movie. You should know what you’re going
Q: Seeing this movie with a crowd is an incredible experience. Half the
audience roars uproariously while the other half cringes and squirms. Where do
GG: I think it’s hysterical! It’s a black, black, super-dark, dark comedy. I
think going back to the first scene, my introduction really sets the tone. You
laugh because it’s outrageous. It always takes me a couple of times to really
see stuff, but by the third time, I was laughing a lot. I was also amazed, as I
am with Billy’s other films. I started seeing all sorts of symbolism, and he
uses sound in such a psychological way. I noticed all these little things here
and there I had never noticed on set, which is exciting. When you watch his
movies, they’re so layered, you can watch them again and again and see
Q: Before we go, as a fan, I just have to ask – so in "Face/Off," you and
Nick Cassavettes are brothers, and at the end of the big gun fight…. You two
start making out?!
GG: [laughing] I think that was Nick’s idea, he was like “we should do
this!” “OK!” You know? It’s so warped. I thought for sure John [Woo] would be
like “WHAT? No.” But for some reason he liked it! My whole part in that movie
was sort of made-up, and when they offered it to me I said “my roles going to
get cut out! She’s not that important.” I kept thinking I was going to end up
on the floor, but I really wanted to work with John Woo. And so I found as it
kept going along…. I saw certain chances to try something.