When director Catherine Hardwicke tells you that she's not afraid of the big bad wolf, you better believe her.
After all, since the acclaimed "Twilight" filmmaker is the creative force behind "Red Riding Hood," it's up to her to make the legendary villain of her provocative update of the classic fairy tale as scary as she wants. And since the wolf is computer-generated, Hardwicke said she wasn't going to place any limits on what it could do.
"The more we worked on the CGI wolf, the scarier it got," Hardwicke said in a recent interview. "We wanted the wolf to be terrifying, so we had fun with it. I wanted it out of control, wild and unpredictable. I wanted the wolf jumping on the horse and grabbing its victim and breaking her spine. It was really fun to make such a mean character."
Since Hardwicke considers herself to be a fearless person willing to take on any project ("You have to remember that I've taken on the Bible with 'The Nativity Story' AND 'Twilight,' she cracked), she's always up for the scary challenges that haunt filmmakers throughout the production of a film -- and "Red Riding Hood" was full of them.
"Every movie I've ever done is scary, but that's the fun part of it," Hardwicke said. "This one scared me because of the size of the budget we got to do it on, and for the fact that I got to create a whole new world for it. I also had a very limited amount of time to do the CGI character and I'd never done one before. The challenge was, 'Can I pull this off? Do I know how to create this actual, sentient being that's supposed to be communicating with Amanda Seyfried's character?' Even though I spent two to three hours each day in post-production creating an emotional wolf, it was fun."
With a supernatural character in the fold, at least Hardwicke was familiar with the thriller genre thanks to her work on "Twilight." But at least in "Twilight," we knew who the villains were.
"I've never done a whodunit thriller where I really had to keep the mystery intact until the end," Hardwicke said. "Plus, I had a hand in deciding the soundtrack, which I wanted to feel ancient, edgy and modern at the same time. There were a lot of new, fun challenges. I figured, 'Yeah, this will keep me working.'"
Playing With Passion
While healthy fear has its advantages, something just as vital to Hardwicke during the filmmaking process is passion. In the case of "Red Riding Hood," her passion was driven by the film's red-hot possibilities, and not the green she could earn by doing it.
"As a director you have to commit a year and a half of your life -- and in the last couple-three months of the production, you're doing 100-hour work weeks -- so there better be something that excites you about the project," Hardwicke said. "There has to be something that you love about it. If you read the script and figure that you can do the film in your sleep, that's not an exciting enough film to do, no matter how much you are getting paid."
"Red Riding Hood" marks Hardwicke's first film in the director's chair since "Twilight" took a monster bite out of the movie box office in 2008. The move not to direct the first "Twilight" sequel, "New Moon," was surprising to many, except perhaps those who knew Hardwicke from her days as a production designer (she has 19 films to her credit including "Tombstone," "Three Kings" and "Vanilla Sky").
"Even when I was a production designer, people would ask me, 'Would you want to do the sequel for this or that?' and I'd quickly say, 'No, because somebody else has already done it,'" Hardwicke, 55, explained. "The fun thing for me doing the first 'Twilight' was finding the cast, and creating the look, feeling and the tone for the film. If I would have done another one I would have been bored."
While "Red Riding Hood" has been realized in several different ways, Hardwicke's version takes a decidedly different approach. To begin with, the red-cloaked protagonist isn't a little girl, but a beautiful young woman named Valerie (Seyfried) who lives in Daggerhorn, a village gripped by fear after Valerie's older sister is slain by a werewolf, and others fall victim to the beast under a blood red moon.
One of the biggest diversions from traditional fairy tale (most famously reinterpreted by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm) is that the beast takes human form during the day. Worse yet, as a revered werewolf hunter (Gary Oldman) warns the residents of the village, the suspect walks among them.
What Big Eyes She Has
While the werewolf's raw power commands your attention in the film, without question the character that is more integral to the success of "Red Riding Hood" is the title character herself.
Hardwicke said the only person she considered for the role was Seyfried, who has shown in past roles that she can be vulnerable ("Mamma Mia!" and "Letters to Juliet"), alluring and sexually powerful ("Chloe") and even funny ("Mean Girls"). Basically, Hardwicke said, Seyfried was perfect for Valerie not only because she was capable, but, most importantly, game for anything.
"I feel extremely blessed that I lured her into this project. She just looks like a fairytale character. She's got the sort of eyes and face that, when you put the camera on her, makes her so radiant," Hardwicke said. "Plus, she's fearless and doesn't come to a film with anxieties. She won't tell you, 'I can't do this.' There's no self consciousness -- she'll just go for it."
"The great thing is, she'll do it with playfulness and not have a diva mentality," Hardwicke added. "There's no attitude or arrogance there. She just has fun with it."