Émilie Richard-Froozan and Rémy Bennett. Two magnetic and charismatically graceful young directors from New York, in conversation with actor and collaborator Evan Louison, straight from the set of their first feature, the New York/New Orleans hybrid “Buttercup Bill,” produced by Emma Comley and Sadie Frost for Blonde to Black Pictures.
BUTTERCUP BILL, movie trailer
(ring, ring, ring)
Émilie: Hey there
Evan: How’s everything ladies? Where are you all at right now?
Émilie: I’m in my apartment in Brooklyn. Rémy and I JUST got back from New Orleans about a day ago and feel like shells of human beings.
Émilie: I think what Rémy compared it to was coming back from Vietnam, which I agree with.
Evan: Coming home from the War. I understand.
Rémy: I’m in my kitchen.
Émilie: Interesting Bennett…Ancient Age?
Rémy: (hysterical laughter on the other line) Yeah, I was just picking up a bottle of whiskey as you said that. What about you?
Evan: Me? I’m in the Carolinas, on my way to Georgia… Yeah, the movie kind of took a lot out of me and I had to flee the City again just as soon as I got back. Running away to the South seems to be one theme that’s stuck with me from your movie…
(more laughter, all around)
Evan: So… You wanna start this off or should I?
Émilie: Go right ahead.
Evan: Let’s talk a little about the beginnings. Starting with how you guys first came into contact and how the partnership and collaborative work first was born.
(approx. 30 seconds of dead air)
Evan: Jesus, sorry. Don’t everyone all jump in at once.
Rémy: (maniacal laughter) I thought we had all day...Sorry…
Evan: Yeah, take your time Bennett.
Émilie: We met when we were 16, in Dublin. Rémy was doing an acting course at Trinity and I was directing. We worked on my first short then and she became my muse.
Evan: That’s high praise. Trinity? Is that how you remember it Rémy? That all a sudden you were a muse?
Rémy: Trinity College in Dublin through an NYU abroad program…No I don’t remember anything about a muse…
Evan: So this was high school but at a college level? I did something like that at SVA when I was a kid.
Émilie: Yeah it was through NYU Tisch summer abroad course. It was to get college credit in high school…
Evan: How do you remember it then Ms. Bennett?
Rémy: We bonded originally because we both had fathers that subjected us to disturbing films as children…
Rémy: …John Waters and David Lynch…
Evan: Tell me which films specifically.
Émilie: …”Pink Flamingos,” “Blue Velvet…”
Rémy: Well, all of Lynch’s movies to start with. Even “Fire Walk with Me…”
Émilie: Yeah, my mom didn’t really know my dad was letting me watch these movies but my dad didn’t really know what a dad was supposed to do so he just brought me to the movies with him…
Evan: And your father was a fan of “Pink Flamingos?”
Émilie: HUGE fan of John Waters and Divine…
Rémy: I learned about masturbation from Laura Palmer, and the foot fetishist from Polyester was my first crush…
Evan: You have some issues worth examining… we’ll discuss that later. I had a very similar experience myself. I remember my father saying all the time stuff like, “Hey Ev you wanna watch ‘Sudden Impact’?’ and my mother just flipping out. So wait, how old were you when you’d seen these films already?
Émilie and Rémy: Very young.
Evan: I think for some reason I was also aware of David Lynch’s stuff as a kid, maybe because I saw “Twin Peaks” on TV but didn’t realize who the man was or that it was all the same person creating it. But John Waters, I only knew “Crybaby” till I was in high school.
Rémy: Our dads helped us to develop a healthy relationship towards sex…
Evan: Sounds ultra-health to me. Very Village.
Émilie: Nothing was censored, well, except violence for me… but Bennett was ultra horror filmed out.
Rémy: Yeah, “The Shining,” I watched at 5 over and over…and “River’s Edge” was a favorite family film…
Evan: That’s amazing. I also saw that when I was very young.
Émilie: Yeah, my dad made me watch Kieslowski’s “The Decalogue” over and over again. That was our family film.
Evan: Mine was “Return to Oz” by Walter Murch.
Émilie: RETURN TO OZ? YES! Fairuza [Balk, in her debut as Dorothy Gale]! The heads, The Wheelers.
Rémy: I love RETURN TO OZ.
Evan: I was afraid of The Wheelers at first….So you guys did have a lot in common but also different takes on a lot of the same material?
Rémy: Not sure…Émilie what do you think? Different takes?
Émilie: I think as people, Rémy and I were (and are) polar opposites.
Rémy: Yeah, Émilie was really chipper.
Émilie: Remy was also on the floor a lot…
Evan: (laughter) On the floor? Like the Stock Exchange?
Émilie: …Whether it was from laughing or just being wasted…You’d turn around and she’d be clutching her stomach laughing hysterically on the ground in some Dublin street…
Rémy: I’m trying to answer seriously here Émilie.
Evan: Oh I see, that’s just a general statement, she was always on the floor. Got it. So how does that work out, if you guys feel so different to each other?
Rémy: I don’t know actually. We have real personality differences, but our vision in terms of the kind of art we loved and wanted to make was always the same…
Émilie: …We always understood the same genre…
Rémy: Yeah. Art & reality that was heightened…
Evan: I mean, you guys were 16. Did you ever think that over 12 years later you’d be working on your first feature? Or were you surprised it took that long?
Émilie: We had almost 10 years of being across an ocean from one another, so it wasn’t surprising that it took so long for us to start collaborating again.
Evan: After all that time, were you the same people you bonded with so much earlier in life?
Rémy: Our lives went in different directions. I moved away to London for 5 years so we were disconnected I guess for a while personally, but we would always collide in strange ways throughout life.
Evan: Did it feel like some kind of psychic connection between the two of you or did you just end up back in each other’s lives by accident?
Émilie: I went to school in Los Angeles, but somehow we would always collide…Ha! Yes, collide…I was washing my hair in Italy once and she called me randomly and ended up being a block away.
Rémy: We would bump into each other in different countries. I would kind of float around and pop up places, and Émilie was always hyper connected to people…Anyway…our differences in that sense make us a good team…
Evan: Okay, that’s enough… I’m getting a palpitation. So tell me about the film – “Buttercup Bill,” that you both directed, and that Rémy acted in as the character Pernilla.
Émilie: Why don’t you tell us a little about the film?
Rémy: Yeah, tell us about it.
Evan: What? Are you insane?
Émilie: I thought we’d already established that Louison.
Evan: Really? This is your department. What would you like to know about it?
Rémy: Well, the movie is a dream of our lives combined. But I don’t think it’s a female movie really at all… It’s more the anti-female…
Émilie: It’s just a story where the female is the anti-hero… you don’t see that that much.
Evan: Were you inspired by any other films’ anti-heroes? Barbara Loden’s “Wanda” comes to mind for one…Talk about when you started writing it, how that came about, the experiences that informed it, and the commitment to making it.
Émilie: It started with my first trip to New Orleans. I fell in love, I came home and watched Bunny Lake is Missing with my mother, this was just before Christmas 2010, and at the end of it I said, “Gosh it’s so weird that people really have imaginary friends,” and she yawned, and right before she fell asleep she said, “Well, you did.”
Evan: Ah. Bunny Lake is Missing. I saw that book on your bedside table while we were shooting…Okay, okay... Now we’re getting somewhere...Did you not remember [that you had an imaginary friend]?
Émilie: I didn’t know about any of that. I didn’t remember any childhood imaginary friend. Not at all. Then my older cousin was pretty drunk at Christmas dinner and I asked him about it (he sort of raised me)… he started laughing and whipped out these Hi-8 videos from the late ‘80s of my mom and her friends in central park, and if you looked in the background, there I was - talking to myself. Talking to an imaginary friend. And he told me my friend was Buttercup Bill. So I brought this idea to Remy and we took both our lives and melded it into this world.
Evan: Wait, so Buttercup Bill is real?
Rémy: The script is very autobiographical for me, so I wasn’t really looking towards outward influences in terms of the character. I was looking towards my own life.
Evan: Talk about that. How is it autobiographical? And Émilie, how does it happen that you can have so much insight into a story that Rémy describes as a story born of her own experiences?
Rémy: Well, it’s a story based on a relationship I had had, and we combined it stylistically with other ideas we both had…We took this concept of imaginary friend and childhood ghosts and mysteries and combined it with a very personal story, and melded experiences from both of our lives together.
Evan: Is that something that you’re inherently interested in? The amalgamated experience becoming a bond between two people in real life and in a story?
Rémy: Yes, an amalgamated experience, but also a collective consciousness thing, like our lives becoming this shared dream that takes on its own form…
Evan: Let’s talk about this story. What is the film about?
Rémy: Okay, I’ll talk about the movie...
Evan: Yes, please...
Rémy: So, the story is about two people; a boy and a girl who grow up together who only have each other, who don’t have any supervision or a moral compass in a way, and aren’t taught to suppress their early sexual instincts…
Evan: Keep it coming.
Evan: (laughs) She’s in the water! On the floor again!
Rémy: Sorry… ÉMILIE… I just don’t feel like talking about the plot at this point…
Evan: Ms. Richard, you might step in. There’s just a puddle there and she slipped in it...
Émilie: Patrick & Pernilla became estranged after childhood, but when their friend Flora suddenly commits suicide something changes…We see Pernilla’s life and she’s spiraling in a cityscape all on her own and she begins hallucinating this little cowboy, her imaginary friend Buttercup Bill…
Evan: So, she sees Bill for the first time in a long time? And what, this signifies her own life catching up with her?
Émilie: She ends up going to a hypnotist and it just reinforces this emptiness she feels inside…
Rémy: Buttercup Bill is forcing her to confront her past. Yes.
Evan: And what follows?
Émilie: Well, She knows that in order to quit fighting her past she must find Patrick - and Buttercup Bill leads her to him…
Rémy: …sensory projection…
Émilie: He lives in this house on a river in the South, and he’s involved himself in this community of ex-circus clowns and Jesus loving sinners…
Evan: I’m all ears. This Patrick sounds intriguing.
Émilie: When you see Pernilla with Patrick for first time you realize what’s been missing. They are more than best friends, more than brother sister, more than lovers.
Evan: And is the experience of contact & proximity to darkness in a child’s years something that you guys experienced or is that a fixation you developed because of the corruption of adults you guys witnessed first hand?
Rémy: We experienced it in different ways, and brought those recollections together to form a sort of shared experience…
Émilie: We were both latchkey kids.
Evan: I’m not surprised. Myself as well…So the film is about a friendship so deep that it harbors secrets along with its gentle, tender qualities?
Rémy: Yeah it’s a love story…
Émilie: They have this intense beautiful and utterly tragic connection that as pure as it is just cannot sustain itself in the world, a truly tragic love story…
Rémy: …flawed, but still love…
Evan: Is there something of truth to that? Do you think there’s a certain type of love which can never be free, never be embraced or fulfilled, less it destroys itself in the process?
Rémy: It’s not just about the secrets. It’s knowing that their love just can’t seem to fit.
Evan: Fit with each other? Or with the laws and ideas of the rest of the people in the world?
Rémy: Fit with everything else that surrounds them, with each other it’s perfect. It’s just all the other stuff that gets in the way…
Evan: So what’s the answer? Give up or drive ahead down the road of fate even though it could mean the death of it?
Émilie: No one knows, that’s how it always is.
Evan: Do we know at the end of the story?
Émilie: No. We don’t. You’ll go down one path or the other.
Evan: Do we know more than when we began?
Rémy: I think the only way it really works is in a dream in a way, so they try to create their own dream to live in… But no, we don’t know anymore at the end than the beginning really about whether or not it’s going to work.
Evan: Right. You think that dream can work in real life?
Émilie: Maybe in a “Blue Lagoon” kind of situation…
Rémy: …and only if they kind of start from scratch I guess and create their own world to live in. I think that’s why running away is such a theme for them, cause this life is really not enough…
Evan: Maybe it’s worth it to try anyway. (laughs) “Blue Lagoon!” So happy we’re on the same page.
Rémy: Yeah you can always try, but it seems to be a vicious cycle.
Émilie: For Rémy and I this movie has always been about one thing. Something that you want so bad, more than anything in the entire world, but that will never work – will never be.
Evan: Hopefully that won’t be true forever. So talk now about the production --- the players, movers, shakers involved, your crew, where you got your money from, what the experience was like, what your plans are now, etc…
Émilie: We’ve got Sadie Frost & Emma Comely as our producers. They believed in us from day one, which was insane, but they’ve stuck with us and are the main reason we were able to make this beautiful movie.
Rémy: The players? Just friends…It was a feast of friends…
Émilie: …family and friends…
Evan: Any notables?
Émilie: Well, we got this one dude in our movie…
Rémy: …Evan Louison…
Émilie: Yeah, do you know him? He’s a wild one, but in the end always comes through...
Evan: I’m not familiar.... Oh, wait... It’s some guy who used to be homeless? Yeah, I’ve only heard horrible things about this person. Wait... Wild? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
Rémy: I’m not engaging.
Evan: Okay, okay... You don’t wanna play, so go ahead & talk about the work some more or I’m gonna hang up.
Rémy: I want you to talk about it also.
Evan: What can I say? You wanna ask me questions?
Émilie: Yeah Evan, what was your experience with the character of Patrick like?
Evan: Hmmm… I guess this is supposed to be a conversation between the three of us so it’s not that untoward, but still… highly irregular….
Rémy: Well I think the majority of the work was our process, yours and mine together…
Evan: My experience with the character of Patrick is difficult to describe, as I don’t feel that it’s concluded yet.
Rémy:The relationship between me and you was kind of the crux of it, right? What was that like for you? The lead up to us shooting? In my mind everything was hanging on that relationship, developing that bond, and I felt like we shared a similar process, which made me really happy…
Émilie: This movie was really interesting because most actors just meet on set, but you two had started your character development 8 months prior.
Evan: Yeah, I remember taking the train to New Orleans and thinking about Rémy every day, every minute on that train from Los Angeles. I met a man from Waco, TX who told me late one night in the dining car about a little film called “Bad Lieutenant” that changed his life and made him become a Christian. At one point he started quoting Keitel in the movie and then cried. That’s my favorite film, so I knew I was on the right track. I remember walking around New Orleans the first few days I was there, not talking to anyone (especially production people), and trying to find some answer as to who I was. I remember finally collapsing after one epic walking day on my friend Daren’s couch in the Lower 9, and the heat, sweat, insects and sounds of trains made me sit up in my sleep and say out loud, like in a dream, “Jesus Christ I’m Patrick.” It makes sense that it’s hard for me to escape it now.
Émilie: You were Patrick. Talk about when we met you at the casting.
Evan: Yeah. I got the script from my friend Susan Shopmaker after coming back from Mexico with Nadia (Szold) and she told me to “check it out,” which I did, and immediately called her back and said “I want this. This is my story…”
Émilie: That was undeniable. When Susan showed us a photo of you. I freaked. Well, first because you and Bennett look like twins (which was what we wanted for the film) and second because YOU WERE PATRICK.
Evan: I became obsessed with the story, with the characters, before meeting you ladies, and eventually became obsessed with you two as well, imagining what you would look like, seem like, how you would talk, how you would look at me...
Émilie: Then when you walked in, it was like we were all in middle school.
Rémy: The entire success of this film hinged on finding someone who was this character so it was magic when you showed up…
Émilie: I dropped my pen and was grinning from ear to ear and Bennett dropped her script.
Rémy: Oh god, don’t tell him this…
Émilie: We were all so flustered and excited.
Evan: Middle school? I remember when I walked into that room for the audition and saw Rémy standing there, my heart stopped a little.
Émilie: …like that teenage heart flutter…
Evan: I definitely felt a really intense connection with Rémy and you and that it wasn’t going to stop, that it wasn’t even beginning there, but as if it had been extant for some time.
Rémy: Exactly, it was part of the dream we had created.
Émilie: Rémy and I walked out of there in a total haze… We were very much affected by you and your audition.
Rémy: And it was like the dream just continued into the making of the film…It was a living thing [for the first time] I think.
Émilie: …this whole film has become a world of it’s own in that way…
Evan: I also felt strong because it seemed like I came from a completely different world than you ladies now, but that we had shared a world before somewhere in the past and that life’s experiences were what I reached to access for the character work.
Remy: Yes I agree. I felt the same way…
Evan: At the same time, the entire process became very painful for me once that access was granted, on the inside... Because a lot of that closeness and connection I was not prepared to allow. It brings a certain vulnerability that I have trouble trusting.
Rémy: …and that was really the feeling on set and during production as well…
Émilie: Well, this whole production was about trust.
Rémy: …it can be hard to accept because it feels otherworldly…
Émilie: We were dealing with such sensitive material that we all had to trust each other.
Evan: Yeah I don’t agree with that all the time. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same after it.
Émilie: Well, if we hadn’t [had trust] I don’t think any of us could have done it.
Evan: It wasn’t really trust for me. It was blind faith.
Émilie: it was a leap regardless…
Evan: A leap of faith.
Rémy: Maybe as actors it was a different experience…What about you Émilie? I mean, from strictly a director’s standpoint?
Evan: Yeah, as a performer I know I have to do things differently after this one.
Rémy: Right, I’ve ruined myself, but Émilie had to keep it together, she had to hold it all together…
Evan: Émilie, did you have the experience of being fulfilled in your expectations and dreams of what the images would be, how the scenes would play out, or did you have to recreate and recapitulate concepts on the fly? I find that struggle very much the most difficult thing in shooting, for any director.
Émilie: I was fulfilled! And the images for the most part exceeded what I had previously seen in my mind, due to my actors’ performances, Akin McKenzie’s mind blowing production design and Ryan Foregger’s intuitive cinematography… I mean, the film changed but the film did not become lesser than, not at any point for me.
Rémy:I think you were very accepting of letting things take on a life of their own, and not trying to force things.
Émilie: We started seeing this film in our minds 3 years ago, so it’s changed a lot anyway, but seeing it, ACTUALLY seeing it change and become tangible, it’s a trip. For sure.
Evan: At times it seemed as if you were very quietly observing, and then at others it seemed like if you didn’t say what you had to say, you would explode. (pause) I like that.
Émilie: I felt like a lot of things that were being produced organically just proved most affective anyway, so why fight that ever?
Evan: I feel you. So… What’s next?
Émilie: We’re running away
Evan: Like me? Where to?
Rémy: Yeah, just like you… Jesus…OZ?
Émilie: Anywhere without fleas.
Evan: I’d say see you soon, but…Maybe in the next life?
Rémy: Yeah in the next one.
Émilie: See you again Louison.
Photography by Sarrah Danziger