Dakota Fanning is an actor that we haven’t seen a great deal from in recent years. She started her career at a very young age, and for years was the go-to child if you needed a young cast member. As she’s gotten older she seems to have become a little more picky when it comes to projects that she wants to be a part of, and usually means that if she’s in it, the project is a good one. This is certainly true of her latest movie Brimstone.
The film also stars Guy Pearce, Kit Harrington, and Carice van Houten, and tells the disturbing tale of Fanning’s character Elizabeth’s life. Brimstone is a delightfully dark story told within the world of a Western. It jumps around the timeline in a way that makes the story really dynamic, and at its core is held together by a superb, faultless turn from Fanning whom spends most of the screen time mute.
Directed by Dutch director Martin Koolhoven, the film screened at last year’s London Film Festival, and is finally getting a cinema release this coming Friday (29th September). Releasing in cinemas almost a year after screening at LFF may sound like a long time, but the project itself took several years to get from script to screen. It was a long and arduous task, but we at team THN were very impressed with the result and sat down with Koolhoven to discuss the project in more detail.
THN: Where did the idea for Brimstone come from?
MK: I was wondering why the western genre was so appealing to me (and many other men) and came to the conclusion that it has to do with the sense of freedom and possibilities the old west seem to have. There is something very attractive about the lack of control from authorities. But I realized that this is quite a typical male point of view. That this freedom came with a cost; for women it was not so free at all. I was reading a book from the great James Carlos Blake and it stated that in the old days there were to choices for women: to marry or to become a prostitute. That got me thinking. I had never seen a movie with this perspective. Also I realized that the only way for me to write something in this genre (that has already gave us so many great films) was if I made it personal. So, I took my cultural background and that’s were the Calvinistic religion came from. Those two combined are the basis of Brimstone.
What made you decide to tell the story in a non-linear structure?
The story called for it. I wrote a year linear with flashbacks at the end of the screenplay. I couldn’t control the amount and I felt restrained. I realized the past was part of the story and could not be told in economically told flashbacks. So I had to find a structure that fitted the story better and would make it possible to write the past it deserved.
The production for the film, from script to screen, was a lengthy process, were there ever times you thought it might not make it?
There were moments it seemed completely dead. I have known happier moments.
Dakota Fanning has been acting practically since birth, what was she like to work with?
Unbelievable. I have never seen an actor who is so knowledgeable of what I am doing and therefore so easy to direct. She understands film-making perfectly and yet is still able to make things emotional and not just technical. I think she will become a director.
Brimstone covers some very dark and disturbing topics, how hard were they to shoot?
It is a misconception to think that the hardest stuff to watch are the hardest things to shoot. For instance, Emilia Jones’ favourite scene was the one where she was being dragged through the mud. She had a ball… And some of the toughest scenes are the scenes between Guy Pearce and Carice van Houten. Really abusive stuff. Yet, they fell I love and now they have a baby. I guess that proves it can’t have been too horrible…
Junkie XL provides the score, Brimstone isn’t the typical fit for his style of work, what made you decide that he was right for the job?
I knew him through a mutual friend and we had talked about soundtracks in general. He liked my ideas about scoring and when he heard I was doing a western he asked if he could read it. I gave him the script and he really, really wanted to do this. My editor Job ter Burg had worked with him before and said he and I would hit it off really well. So everything screamed at me I should ask him to do it and I’m glad I did. He is great.
How did you get into directing?
I was always in love with movies and at some point I dared to say it out loud. I went to an audio visual school, met with four other guys who were nuts about movies and we started to make them. Then I went to a real film school in Belgium and after a year I finally landed on the Film Academy in Amsterdam. I was 27 when I came off and I am working since.
What do you hope that audiences get from their experience with Brimstone?
Before anything else, Brimstone is an emotional experience. It is tense and at times even disturbing, but you can’t help but come out of it affected. It will crawl under your skin.
What are you working on next?
There are several ideas but currently I am working mostly on a noir thriller, set in post-war Jakarta.
Brimstone arrives in UK cinemas on Friday 29th September 2017.