At first glance, LaGravenese is not the most obvious choice to direct the inaugural entry in a hoped-for fantasy-romance franchise, but both young actors lauded the writer-director for bringing an unexpectedly light touch to the material, emphasizing comedy and avoiding the obvious tone. "Richard started as a stand-up comedian, and he has such a great ear and hand for dialogue and for comedy," Ehrenreich said. "When I met with him, one of the things that really impressed me and made me want to do this movie was he said, 'I want to do something that's in this genre but has a lot of wit and humor to it,' and you don't really see that. You really don't see that often. And so I loved that. To me it prevents the film from ever falling into cliché because it's able to laugh at itself, and certainly my character's like a source of comedy because all these crazy things are happening to him.
Englert agreed, saying, "Richard was able to move in and out of what is mainstream and what is cliché and always be playful and take you to places that are slightly left-of-center on a familiar mapping of this genre. And I love that. It meant that we could constantly be playing whilst making the movie and finding new things. It was great. It's not often that you can do a big movie and not have your creative spirit bound to that formula."
Warner Bros. is distributing Beautiful Creatures, but the film was overseen by production company Alcon Entertainment, and Ehrenreich singled out Alcon for enabling the director to maintain creative control, explaining, "Working on a film like this, it is a studio film but we were really fortunate. I've done other movies where the studio is making phone calls from these rooms full of 10 people. This is Alcon, so Alcon has complete control, and Alcon is three people on set. And those three people are the only people you hear from, and even those three people are incredibly, [they] give Richard complete creative control, and it's his movie. And so that was really pleasurable, to be able to be in a huge movie but also where there was respect for the story and the director and not a bunch of people making very strange decisions about what color your underwear is. Because that literally is what happens. I had that experience. The studio called because you saw my boxers, and they wanted to call and talk about what color the boxers were because they didn't think.. And then what you do is basically strip the film from its personal signature."
Neither actor was initially keen on signing up for the film, perhaps drawing connections to other novel adaptations targeted at a similar demographic. Asked what changed her mind about playing Lena, Englert replied simply, "Reading the script."
"I mean, the reason I didn't want to be a part of it was the way that it had been pitched to me made it sound like, it didn't sound like its own movie," Ehrenreich said. "It sounded like they were just trying to capitalize on this genre, and because of that it wouldn't be something that was personal. When I read the script — and luckily for me it came around to me again, which I'm really thankful for — within two pages I knew that that wasn't the case and that the movie had its own DNA and that the characters — out of all the scripts I was reading at that time, big and small — this was the best character, the best story, the best relationships and the most to do as an actor. And then when I met with Richard, he kind of explained to me that everyone he had assembled at that point with the cast and the crew, everyone was intent on making a movie like this but in a way that you hadn't seen before and with more intelligence and humor than you usually see. So that really appealed to me, and then I was just so grateful that I was still able to get in the film."
Englert is an accomplished poet and musician, with a song featured on the soundtrack, but the actress downplayed her artistic endeavors, saying, "Yeah, I do have a song in the movie, but you know, I scribble in a notebook. I'm just like a normal eighteen-year-old girl."
The song, entitled "Needle and Thread," wasn't written for Beautiful Creatures. Englert explained how it ended up in the film, saying, "It was amazing. I mean, just like one of those things that you can't really hope for. Because I recorded it in the bathroom of the apartment I was staying in in the warehouse district of New Orleans on Garage Band on a computer. And then Richard heard it and liked it and we re-recorded it, but then he wanted to use my terrible bathroom version. So that's in the film."
The posters for the movie showcase the sprawling cast, and according to Englert, the variety of different backgrounds and styles among the actors was a tremendous asset. "The casting director did an amazing job of casting people who are from different backgrounds," she said. "They are known, but some unknown. There are the British actors and Viola, who come from a theatrical background, and well all came from different areas that may not have crossed necessarily at this point. It was really interesting and all wonderful."
"It’s hard to say what you’ve learned," she continued, explaining the experience of working with Oscar-winners like Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson. "Because they show you by example the way they carry themselves and the way they do their work. That’s the greatest thing you can ever get from an actor like that is being able to see them doing their thing."
"I’d go watch Jeremy on the monitors when he was doing a scene with Viola because it’s like free acting class," Ehrenreich chimed in. "He has such the voice and the power, and I remember his first day, he was doing this scene, we were settling in, and we came back to it again because he felt something could be better in the whole scene. He came in with this resolve and determination. He decided that there was enough pussy-footing around on the first day with jitters and just came in with this bravery, strength and will that was really admirable."
As with any adaptation of a popular novel, Beautiful Creatures comes with the freighted with very specific expectations that inevitably give way to exacting comparisons between the film and the source material. Both actors were thoughtful on the subject, with Ehrenreich explaining, "It’s different now, because the conversation is about a lot more than this movie. It’s about the context in which this happens. The expectation or the illusion of the expectation – which I don’t think is necessarily real – there’s hype and stuff like that. But, while we were making the film, even the fanbase, we were completely unaware of it. We felt that the best way to serve the people who love this book is to do our best. And doing our best means doing it in a first person mentality about what you’re doing and not thinking about pressure."
"Also, I think the fans have a right to have their opinions and hate us or love us, or whatever they want to do," Englert added. "It’s their right to have their forum, and for us to get involved in it, there’s something wrong with that. It’s etiquette. It’s manners, they should do this, they’re not expecting we take to heart every single comment… that would be a huge pressure. I actually almost think of it as allowing them to be able to do this without the pressure of thinking we’re going to do, 'Ah!'"
Ehrenreich concluded on a note of perspective, saying, "I also think the knee-jerk reaction to a movie, any movie, is not what its legacy is. It’s not what it ends up being. If you read reviews of movies from the past that are thought of as great movies, that doesn’t happen until it soaks into the lives of the people who saw it and it gestates for a while."
Check out Jami Philbrick's interview with Jeremy Irons regarding Beautiful Creatures and his uniquely accomplished career by clicking here.
Beautiful Creatures arrives in theaters nationwide this Thursday, February 14, 2013.