Professional contemporary women often strive to show and prove their talent and worth in their respective job to their bosses, hoping to prove that they’re indeed worthy to take on a high-profile and important workload. This is certainly the case with the two lead female characters in esteemed writer-director Brian De Palma’s new crime drama mystery, ‘Passion.’ While the two women initially form a strong professional bond in their company, their mutual longings to further prove their worth suspensefully exposes a realm where their wildest passions fiercely rage.
‘Passion,’ which is a remake of the 2010 Alain Corneau-helmed French psychological suspense thriller ‘Love Crime,’ follows Christine (Rachel McAdams), a powerful executive at an international ad agency in Berlin. She’s diligently searching for a creative idea to impress her bosses. She’s helped by her clever by naive protege, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), who admires Christine’s devotion to her work. Christine feeds on Isabelle’s admiration, and quickly takes credit for her assistant’s brilliant viral marketing idea that amazes a client.
This begins a typical rivalry between Christine and Isabelle at the office, which quickly turns into primal revenge. As the two women fight for power, a cat-and-mouse game of professional, sexual and ultimately homicidal scheming erupts between the two. As Christine and Isabelle become more entangled between each other’s ambitions, desires and dreams, the question of who will be the great manipulator, and will have the final revenge, ultimately surfaces.
De Palma generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Passion,’ which opens on VOD on Thursday and theatrically on August 30, over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he prefers writing the scripts for the films he directs, because he can clearly envision the way he’s going to shoot them; how he decided to cast Rapace as Isabelle after seeing her in the original Swedish film adaptations of ‘The Millennium’ trilogy, and how she suggested he hire McAdams for Christine, as she enjoyed working with her on ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows;’ and how he enjoyed reuniting with music composer Pino Donaggio for their seventh film together, as the composer understands the inspiration for his films’ various sequences.
ShockYa (SY): You co-write the script for ‘Passion’ with Natalie Carter. How did you decide to work together as scribes on the film, and what was the overall process of working with her like as you wrote together?
Brian De Palma (BDP): Well, Natalie worked on the first film, the Alain Corneau film, and I worked on the version that became ‘Passion.’ When we got into rehearsals and we were changing stuff around, to adapt to the way the girls wanted to play their parts, Natalie came and worked with me. We worked another week on the final script.
SY: Like with several of your previous projects, such as ‘Dressed to Kill,’ ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘Raising Cain,’ you co-wrote and directed the film. How did penning the script for ‘Passion’ influence the way you helmed the film, and do you generally prefer writing the screenplay for the movies you direct?
BDP: Well, yes, because when you write the script, you have already envisioned the way you’re going to shoot it. That’s quite a different process from reading someone else’s script, and then figuring out what they had in mind, in order to realize the intention of the material.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘Passion’ is based on the 2010 French thriller ‘Love Crime,’ on which Natalie also worked on as a co-writer. What was the process that Natalie and you took to make ‘Passion’ loyal to the story of ‘Love Crime,’ but also serve as its own distinct film?
BDP: Well, I kept the relationship between the two girls pretty much the way it was in the original film. But I changed the mystery part quite a bit.
**SPOILER ALERT** In the Corneau film, I felt that he revealed the fact that Christine is killed by Isabelle (too soon), and you see Isabelle kill her. Then the rest of the movie is how she fools the police. I wanted to keep that mystery right to the end of the movie, so you’re never quite sure if Isabelle did it or not. I pointed to many other people who are possible suspects in the murder. **END SPOILER ALERT**
SY: Rachel McAdams played Christine, and Noomi Rapace played Isabelle James, in ‘Passion.’ What was the casting process like for both actresses?
BDP: Well, that was a fortune circumstance. When I was in New York, I ran into another director who talked to Noomi about another film. He showed me her three Swedish pictures (‘The Millennium’ series, including ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ and ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,’ all of which were released in 2009), and I looked at those. I thought, she would make a terrific Isabelle.
Fortunately, Noomi had just worked with Rachel on ‘Sherlock Holmes 2 (A Game of Shadows),’ and the girls liked working together. She kind of introduced the idea to Rachel. Rachel liked the idea of playing the part and working with Noomi again, and they both came to the movie.
SY: Since the two actresses had previously acted together, liked you mentioned, what was the working relationship between Rachel and Noomi like on the ‘Passion’ set?
BDP: It was fantastic, because they had worked out a whole way of manipulating each other. They could take the material as far and wide as they wanted to. I would just watch what they did, and try to keep it on track in relation to the structure of the mystery. But they had great fun with each other.
SY: Did you have any rehearsal period with Rachel and Noomi before you began shooting, so that they could build their relationship?
BDP: Absolutely. They’re both working quite a lot, but we had a week with them. That’s when Natalie came in, and we watched what they were doing. They were working things to change their particular relationship, because in the original film, it’s an older woman against a younger woman. But Rachel and Noomi’s characters were two contemporaries. So we watched how they rehearsed and changed the material to fit what they were doing.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘Love Crime’ sets the power struggle between a middle-aged mentor and her young assistant, while ‘Passion’ features a young and her protégé, who are the same age. What was your motivation in making Christine and Isabelle the same age in the story?
BDP: Again, that has a lot to do with casting. When you get a certain actor, and you see what they’re really good at, you adapt the material to them. These two came in as a dynamic combination. So we adapted the material to what they were doing.
SY: The film features several plot twists that make the audience believe one thing is happening when something else is actually occurring, and with many of your films, the characters hold secrets that only emerge when they’re under pressure. How did you build the backstories for Christine and Isabelle, and make sure their secrets help move the action forward?
BDP: It’s like good mystery writing-you withhold a lot of information. I put a lot of what’s happening to Noomi into a surrealist dream, so you’re not quite sure if she’s dreaming things, or if they’re actually happening. I tried to deflect her confusion, so the police buy the fact that she’s not quite sure what she did. But in fact she’s fooling them and the audience.
SY: Speaking of those dreams, fantasies are a constant theme in ‘Passion,’ and you wove the crime procedural elements of the story in a stylized visual world. What was the inspiration for incorporating the dream elements into the story, and how did you balance that element with the visual tone of the film?
BDP: Well, it’s the kind of stylization that you see in noir a lot. When we went into when she takes the pills and falls asleep. The lighting gets very noirish, and we tilted the camera and used the Venetian blinds for effects. She’s constantly waking up from this nightmare, so you’re not quite sure if it happened or didn’t happen, like she is supposed to feel.
SY: Speaking of the camera and lighting, what was the process of working with cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine to visually capture the intensity of the rivalry between Christine and Isabelle?
BDP: Well, Jose’s a fantastic cinematographer. He’s worked with (Spanish film director, screenwriter and producer) Pedro Almodovar for years. Almodovar really shots women beautifully, and Jose is his cinematographer. I’m very happy to have had him.
When you’re making a movie like this, you want the lighting to be very stylized, and you want the women to be very carefully lit.A lot of it is a beautiful, sensual fantasy, so it’s got to look really good.
SY: One of the film’s most ambitious sequences is when a murder is carried out while dancers perform Jerome Robbins’ modern staging of the classic Nijinsky-Debussy ballet ‘Afternoon of a Faun,’ which is based on the Mallarmé poem about dreams and desire. What was the inspiration in showing the murder and the ballet at the same time on a split screen?
BDP: Well, that’s a ballet I particularly like. I saw the Jerome Robbins choreography on the Internet, and it’s a black and white video that had to be taken in the ’50s. I thought it was a fantastic reimaging of this particular Debussy piece, ‘Afternoon of a Faun,’ and I’ve always wanted to put it in a movie. This gave me a perfect place to do it.
In the original film, she goes to the movies and slips out. **SPOILER ALERT** In this case, I wanted to put her in a ballet, so I could place the ballet against the murder at Christine’s house. By using that big close-up, you always think that Isabelle is at the ballet, and she couldn’t possibly be at the house. **END SPOILER ALERT**
SY: ‘Passion’ marks the seventh that you’ve worked on with music composer Pino Donaggio. Since the film is a crime mystery drama, what was the process of working with Pino to create the perfect score for the film, and capture the rivalry between Christine and Isabelle?
BDP: Well, I’ve worked with Pino on seven films together. He knows how to do these long violent sequences that I create. The last cue at the end of the film, when the last nightmare takes place, no one writes music like that but him. It’s exciting and suspenseful and scary and dramatic, and it’s completely unique to his talent.
SY: ‘Passion’ is set to be released on Thursday on VOD, with a theatrical rollout set to follow on August 30. What are your thoughts on VOD-do you think it’s the new release precedent for smaller, independent films?
BDP: Well, I’ve never done it this way before, and I’m interested to see how it plays. It was the choice of the distributor, and I’ve never had a movie released first On Demand, and then theatrically in a theater. But we’re looking at films all the time on smaller screens, so that’s the way it seems to be going.
Written by: Karen Benardello