Amy Heckerling Vamps It Up
If you ever wanted to know what Betty and Veronica would be like as vampires, filmmaker Amy Heckerling has your answer. Her latest film, Vamps, is her reunion with Alicia Silverstone, who starred in Heckerling's 1995 hit Clueless. Silverstone pairs up on-screen with Don't Trust The B_____ in Apartment 23's spunky Krysten Ritter as two cute girls in the big city trying to balance love, work, school, and saving the vampire population from extinction at the hands of a modern-day Van Helsing — without daylight, no less. Sigourney Weaver plays their deliciously evil boss, while Dan Stevens (yes, Cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey) plays Ritter's love interest. Heckerling talks to The Advocate about her favorite vampires, whether she would be on Team Jacob or Team Edward if she were a 12-year-old, and how gay characters add life to the worlds she creates.
The Advocate: How deep into vampire lore did you have to go to make this movie?
Amy Heckerling: Before this slew of vampire TV and movies, I was always a night person. So I've always gravitated toward that anyway. There's a whole vampire community online — those are some crazy people. Pre-Twilight. Like, donor club–type people. Like, "Let's go down to the club to meet people who will suck our blood." As far as movies from that genre, of course, there's Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi's version. I'm not big on the 1950s Hammer films. But I love the Dracula that [Francis Ford] Coppola did, and Gerard Butler was in an interesting one, Dracula 2000.
Yeah, he was hot. But I'm a night person, so hearing the birds and thinking, Oh, no, I didn't get anything done today. You live on the other side.
Goody and Stacy are sisterly in Vamps. How were you able to get Alicia and Krysten's chemistry to work so well?
They're both very sweet young girls. They're not bitchy actress types. They're just very game girls, and just giggling and talking and having a good time together. Krysten was trying out Alicia's food program for a while. I think it was a little bit too much for her, but they were into it. And Alicia was pregnant for much of the shoot, which I didn't know. They were just adorable. Sometimes I'd put them on their marks and look at them and think it was like we were shooting Betty and Veronica. They're so cute together.
Yeah, as I was watching, I remembered how Alicia is vegan, and in the film they're vampires who don't go after humans.
Yeah, that would be the equivalent of vegan for vampires — drinking blood of vermin that's going to get sprayed with toxins anyway. You're really not adding any harm to the world.
You went the indie route on this film, as opposed to your previous works, many of which were affiliated with a major studio. Did you prefer doing it this way?
In one respect, I like the freedom of using all the people that I love instead of being dictated by the studio to use the hot person of the moment. In other respects, if you have an idea with a scene but the only way you could shoot it would be such a cheap way that it wouldn't come out right, you might as well not do it. So there's trade-offs, but the best situation is when a studio leaves you alone and you have their resources.
When have you been in that situation?
It happened in Clueless. [Paramount] had bigger movies. One thing about being a smaller movie at a studio is that they'll have bigger fish to fry. And like in Fast Times, we've got a five-and-a-half-million-dollar movie. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was shooting at the same time, and their budget just to pay the actors and get the rights to make it was more than our entire budget.
No interview with a female director would be complete without a question about being a female director. Despite making so many iconic films, do you still, or have you ever, encountered sexism from within the industry?
I'm sure I have, but I kind of try to wear blinders. Everything you try to do in life, of any value, people are going to be saying "no, no, no." You have to have the ability to not see that or hear that. And also, I hate to say this, but some of the people who will do the most harm will be other women. I mean, you could be any ethnic type, or sometimes the people who are hurting you the most are the same religion as you. It's not like women are bitches to each other, but just that's the way it goes. You end up with people who help you and hurt you. Some women are great, and you wouldn't have been able to get to where you are without them, and others are doing what they can to undermine you.
Have you had to deal with that recently — other women doing things to undermine you?
There's a whole world of Hollywood that runs studios and agencies. I try not to think about what's in their heads and what they're saying and thinking and doing that could help or hurt me, because I'd probably go out of my mind.
Looking back over the course of your career, do you feel like you've been able to make the films that you set out to make?
Yeah, Clueless was very close to what was in my head as I was writing. One of the big people who helped me was this woman Elizabeth. She was one of the vice presidents of Fox, and she really, really wanted to make Clueless. When they passed on it, she was so sad. And then when it was doing well, she brought the numbers in to her boss as a sort of "ha ha." When I showed the script around, Amy Pascal [current cochairman of Sony Pictures] was the only person who said, "Have you ever read Emma?" In a world of studio executives who are judging stories, Amy and Elizabeth were aware of the Jane Austen book.
You always seem to have gay characters in your films. Do typically find yourself creating LGBT characters?
For me, the most fun was Christian in Clueless. I mean, yeah, you base characters on your friends. It doesn't occur to me that, oh, wait, the females need a gay friend. It's just silly. Here's their world and here's their friends and here's these people and here's the guy she likes, but it's not going to work out.
In Fast Times, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character gets an abortion. How do you feel about all of the talk on abortion during this past election cycle?
I can't believe this is still going on. I have pictures of me taking my baby to a pro-choice rally, and now she's a college graduate, and we're still like, "We're going to force you to do a vaginal probe if you want an abortion, but we won't pay for your [birth control] pills"? What kind of backwards world is this? Can't we just say, "This is over"?
There are so many renditions of vampires in pop culture, from Count Chocula to True Blood — do you have a favorite?
Well, as far as scary goes, I think Max Schreck [in Nosferatu] is the scariest. It's a German silent movie. And even the movie about making a movie was very fun. It was Shadow of a Vampire. Malkovich played [director F.W. Murnau], and it had Eddie Izzard in it. Gerard Butler was in Dracula 2000, which was uneven, but he was awesome. It had a funny, interesting take on it. It was as though Dracula was doomed or cursed because he was Judas, and that's why he doesn't like seeing crosses, and the curse is that he will never see the day again, because he double-crossed Jesus. That was a very different take on Dracula.
Of course everyone likes Bela Lugosi, and I think Ed Wood also. When you so see Bela Lugosi movies, you feel the heartbreak of it.
Oh, of course, Mel Brooks — Dracula: Dead and Loving It. When he has a nightmare, and she goes "Hey, do you want a drink?" And he says, "I never drink. But oh, what the hell, let me try it." But if I was like, 12, and I saw Twilight, I would probably be in love with Edward, because he's so darn cute.