Catherine Hardwicke’s Advice for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ director Sam Taylor-Wood

The 'Twilight' director gets real about her new film, bringing a beloved book to screen, and Hollywood’s gender bias.

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Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke’s latest film, Plush, is about a rock star, Hayley (played by Emily Browning), who gets her music mojo back but almost loses everything else when she hooks up with her bisexual, BDSM-inclined guitarist (“He has issues, shall we say,” the director says with a laugh). Since Hardwicke, who underwent the highly scrutinized task of bringing a rabidly loved book to the screen, is in a unique position to understand exactly what Sam Taylor-Wood is going through with her own highly publicized BDSM-styled project, Fifty Shades of Grey, we also solicited her advice.

How did you first come up with the story for ‘Plush’?

I was in New York at a Beyoncé concert, I went backstage with my friend Diane Warren who wrote some of her songs, and then I jumped on a plane to come back. But the plane was stuck on the tarmac for six hours, and during that time, I had this idea, “How can you be an artist in the world today, with all the instant feedback?”—the idea of taking risks, when you might get slammed for it.

Such as the scene where Hayley performs her new song, and the audience is all, “Whatever.”

Now, in the days of the Internet, you can get a response so fast. One of my friends is on a TV show, and literally, he doesn’t even get to finish his line before somebody live tweets something about his line. You know? He’s like, “Can I just finish the sentence first?” But that’s always happened. Even in Shakespeare’s time, people would be armed with rotten tomatoes. But you do want to step out of your comfort zone and explore the outer edge.

‘Twilight’ was one of the most scrutinized films in the last few decades or so…

As soon as we cast Rob [Pattinson], the feedback was just vicious. People were like, “He’s ugly!” He said, “Look at this. It says I’m repulsive!” I told him, “Don’t worry. Don’t read this stuff.” “But my mother sent this one to me!” Ouch. You either just have to be happy that people care, or have a thick skin. Laugh. Take it with a grain of salt. At least you’re out there, trying stuff.

Can you relate to the criticism Sam Taylor-Wood is facing with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’? What should she do to counteract it?

[Laughs] Actually, Thomas Haden Church told me when he was cast as Sandman in Spider-Man 3, all the fans just freaked out that he wasn’t the right person. And Sam Raimi told him, “Just hang in there. We’re going to make you great.” So I told the same thing to Rob: “They’re going to love you when they see you.” And immediately, we took photographs of Rob in a different hairstyle, the one we would use in the movie, to show the look for the film. We put those out, people loved it, and the tide started turning.
So I think with [whoever replaces Charlie Hunnam], you have to do the same thing. Do a photo shoot, put out some cool photos at the right moment, show his look for the movie, and people will go, “Wow!” Their jaws will drop.

Despite the success you had with ‘Twilight,’ very few women-centric films have been directed by women, even if women wrote them. Do you think this might help?

That’s what we’re all hoping for! [Laughs] Why didn’t a female direct the other four ‘Twilight’s? Or all the ‘Sex and the City’ [movies]? I always laugh, because I’ll go out sometimes for projects that I love, and it’s kind of a gender bias. They might say it right to your face, “Oh, we really think a guy should direct it,” or it’s underneath, as subtext. Have you read Lean In yet? It just shows how much of it is built into the system, into our DNA, and how much we do need to work to change it. We just have to kick some more ass.

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