Ana Lily Amirpour may have created her own genre: new-wave dystopian noir—stylized horror freak-outs with exceptionally fierce females at their center. But there’s a romantic longing that runs through the veins of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and, now, The Bad Batch, and it’s imparted by not just the music that the filmmaker is so clearly drawn to: “post-punk in the key of Joy Division,” as Slant’s own Ed Gonzalez called it in his review of Amirpour’s feature-length debut. Unbelievably, given the violence that Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) endures in The Bad Batch and its ties to that which Miami Man (Jason Mamoa) dishes out, the film turns out to be something close to a love story—of two people discovering a rapport both in their shared cultural deprivation and fondness for a little girl who never knew a world before the one she calls home, the ironically dubbed Comfort community.
I had the chance to sit down with Amirpour following the premiere of The Bad Batch at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Unsurprisingly, our conversation turned out to be as diverse in its topics—from the common themes that unite her films to Momoa’s fondness for knives—as the cultural reference points that dot her films.
Would you say that loneliness is the dominant theme of both A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Bad Batch?
After I finished A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, I needed some time to even look at it again, critically. For me, showing a film to someone, especially a larger audience, is like taking my clothes off and being naked, waiting to be judged. I think both of my films are about feeling lonely, isolated, and separated, about finding ways to define yourself. A vampire is really the best possible example of loneliness. I’ve been lonely for quite a while, but not in a sad “women and chocolate” kind of way, but like in a free “Bruce Lee way,” when I finally had time and space to think and be. I really think that loneliness is underrated, because this is how you generate power!
Some have called this film “a savage pop fairy tale.” The “savage” part seems to be associated with Jason Momoa’s appearance.
That character came to life because of Momoa. I got to know him through his role in Game of Thrones, obviously. I’m a huge fan of the series, and Drogo is like one of the most epic characters on television ever. I should confess that when I’m thinking about an actor to cast, I refrain from watching films or series, but I try to find every interview, press junket, funny clip, and anything else they’ve done. I think that past roles somehow define the actor. It’s like defining sex that you’re going to have with someone based on sex this person has had with someone else, and it just doesn’t work that way.
I had a feeling about Momoa. He looked a certain way, kind of “juicy.” Apart from that, he has this “human teddy bear” charm and vulnerability which you certainly wouldn’t think of looking at him in public. He’s so good and loyal! He’s also a daddy, a brother, a lover. I truly adore him. He’d make you a house with just some sticks. And his kids are like a bad batch themselves. They both rip at skateboarding, and they can seriously climb rocks too.
To top it off, Momoa also has a massive collection of knives. Before we officially met, I went to Georgia, where he was shooting The Red Road. I hung out with him in Atlanta when he was with his crew of guys, playing guitar and drinking beer. I gave him the script, he read some parts of it, and then just asked: “So what, am I going to eat people now?” [Laughs] It was all just so casual, so normal. We simply talked and exchanged our thoughts. It felt right—me just casually walking in and seeing all these knives everywhere. Within three minutes I knew he was my Miami Man. Because that’s Momoa: an early, primeval man or, even better, a Renaissance cave man!
How was it like working with Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, and at least in Carrey’s case making him so unrecognizable?
When I thought about both of them for the film, my idea was to give them A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and see if they got excited about it. If so, I’d invite them onto the set of this one and see if they were up for this cinematic adventure. Then they read the script, and I just knew that they were going to do it. On set, I handed everyone their scripts and they all agreed to everything we were going to do with no reservations. Jim too. It’s not easy for someone like him to disappear in character anymore. It was a good opportunity to give him that. Also, philosophically speaking, it’s very on par with his 30 years in the movie business in Hollywood. No one really knows who he really is anymore. Because of the image of him that exists in the pop culture, he’s into character design, very interested in how all the characters work, from beginning to end, what are they wearing and so on. I’m the same way, there every step of the way, even choosing the shape of a nose for a character. Now that I think of it, I have a feeling that every character in The Bad Batch would just be a great action figure. [Laughs]
It doesn’t seem that your films are attached to any particular place in the world. They could be set anywhere under the clear blue skies.
I think it has to do with my ancestry, the fact that we moved a lot. Everyone is a sum of things, of places you’re attached to, of all the cultural influences that surround you—all the things that seduce you and romance you as a child. It’s a classic: an Iranian family of immigrants in America. It has its charm.
Are you a fan of magic created by White Lies?
Absolutely, clearly. [Laughs] I wanted to put “Fifty on our Foreheads” at the end of my last film. But the first cut of that film was like three hours, 40 minutes long, and it had as many as 20 songs in it! So long and boring! I had to cut a lot. I already knew that this track was not for that film, but that I’d put it at the end of my next one. It’s an epic nostalgic youth song, all about high school glory. It had to go at the end of The Bad Batch.
While watching The Bad Batch, a lot of other films came to mind, some more than others. Mad Max: Fury Road mainly—maybe because of the desert, or the prosthetic limbs. In Miller’s film, it was almost all CGI, I believe. Was it the case with Bad Batch as well?
In The Bad Batch it’s a mix. Pure CGI looks chemical-fake to me, it doesn’t look organic or romantic. And I want my films to look romantic. Here we worked with Tim Conway, who’s a wonderful VFX magician. To make fake limbs, we built a sort of a knob, a front-facing and back-facing one. Then Suki’s own arm was green-screened, which meant that she had to have her arm curled behind or in front of her all the time. I can only imagine how uncomfortable this must have been. That’s what I mean by saying that I want my films to be organic and real. We were also using vintage anamorphic lenses. When you have a romantic scene and you’re using something chemical, like a computer or a drone, it just looks shitty. Using vintage equipment requires more work, but later it pays off because the film looks softer, nicer. Anyway, the first time I saw the visual effects being done, when Suki’s hand was slowly disappearing, I just thought, “It’s a beautiful knob!” [Laughs]
I wonder, do you keep a notebook with ideas? I fear about you losing them, they would certainly make some more beautiful films!
Oh yes! I take tons of memo notes. I note on my phone all the time. I didn’t use to label ideas, but now I do. I also record ideas and put them on my iPod so that I can listen to them quite frequently. Sometimes I can’t believe my ears, because there’s some crazy, weird stuff recorded on there.