Throughout her career, Amy Seimetz has displayed a consistent emotional intelligence, showing how characters are eaten up by obsessions that are informed by their habitats. Last summer, the writer, director, and actress casually stole Alien: Covenant out from under her more famous co-stars, displaying an achingly human sense of terror that allowed that film to fleetingly recapture the visceral highs of its legendary predecessor, Alien.
Now, Seimetz is back in the auteur’s chair with the second season of The Girlfriend Experience, which splits her and fellow filmmaker and co-creator Lodge Kerrigan off from one another, allowing them to each riff on the escort lifestyle in distinctive and eccentric fashions. Seimetz brings to her portion of the season, “Bria,” what she brings to her on-screen performances and to her first film as a director, Sun Don’t Shine: a humorous and tragic understanding of the fragility of relationships in extremis. I spoke with Seimetz last week about her methods of coaxing and achieving a “live wire” atmosphere.
“Bria” resists the tropes of the expensive-escort drama: the high rises and luxury and such. How did it come about?
In order to keep it interesting and new and really play around with the limited-series format, we wanted to approach season two in a totally different way. The format was key to keeping it new for audiences, splitting Lodge and I up and having us each do our own episodes. Being a person who doesn’t want to get stuck aping my own style, I wanted to get away from the corporate world that I explored last season. I wanted to shoot my story in a place that was a little wild and messy, and explore avenues of the working class. I wrote “Bria” for New Mexico, knowing that I could put this character in a place that felt very planetary, like she’s an alien on a new planet. I was inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, and I wanted to treat each character like they didn’t belong in this world.
That’s funny, because I thought about Walkabout while watching “Bria.”
Mm-hmm. That was definitely on our mood board. [laughs] I love Roeg’s movies. We also had a lot of photographs from Blade Runner, strangely. I’ve always been interested in blending genres and coming out with something new. Here, I wanted to blend the tropes and textures of an American western with sci-fi, and sort of defy genre in a way.
Hearing you discuss the alien-ness of settings reminds me of how you used Florida in Sun Don’t Shine. It’s difficult, and I love this, to describe your aesthetic. There’s an intangible creepiness to your work.
I have a strange sense of humor. I look at my movies and shows and think, “This is so darkly funny.” [laughs] I grew up in Florida, it’s weird there, and it’s a part of my sensibility. Location is such a huge player in atmosphere and the way I approach things. I went to New Mexico a month before production and did pre-scouting and rewrote the script to visually incorporate the textures of the setting: the wildness and seediness of everything there. Landscape is always a character to me.
When you rewrote the script to accommodate certain locations, were you planning specific images at that point, or is your process more intuitive?
It’s a mix of both. Again, I was really inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth and there are these great scenes of Bowie in the desert having a sort of picnic. I thought the desert would be so beautiful and weird and isolating in a different way than the first season’s setting, where we’re locked in these hermetically sealed rooms, you know? I have these visions, but the location will bring something new and interesting, giving a new perspective on a character’s home or work. I like to take advantage of what’s in front of me.
Your direction feels very spontaneous.
The show isn’t improvised, but I want things to feel unpredictable, and for viewers to feel the anxiety of watching these live wires. Filmmaking is a contrived medium. There’s a hundred people working on this thing, so trying to create the sensibility of a live wire is what I always aim for, and it requires an intense amount of pre-production. I feel like films are really made in pre-production. If you plan it really well, then you can be spontaneous.