You know when you are so excited by a director that your excitement oozes? Alice Waddington is that director. Being touched in my life with a fire that takes me out of the “norm” of what is expected as a woman, I can relate to films about women who are outliers, and kicking the shit out of the mold they’re forced into. Waddington’s 2019 film “Paradise Hills” takes you down a beautiful, prickly, dark, and fantastical journey through Uma’s (Emma Roberts) story, who finds herself forced into a sickeningly utopian and Oz-like psych ward. The visuals are stunning, whimsical, and full of fantasy, yet I felt a strange familiarity in this setting.
“Paradise Hills” reminded me of so many films I love, like “The Congress”, “The Stepford Wives” (1974), and “Picnic at Hanging Rock”(1975), yet the film is an utterly original work. It was a pleasure interviewing a director that I’m so excited about, and I appreciate her taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to seeing Waddington’s future projects, including “Scarlet”, which will be coming to Netflix.
Please note, I conducted the interview prior to the 2020 Oscar nominations.
What experiences did you have growing up that led you to filmmaking?
My parents are psychologists and teachers from Spanish families who had one connection in the film industry: a DOP they shared a flat with back in university. My dad hosted a film club, my mom played “Blade Runner” and “A Clockwork Orange” for me when I was about 14. I studied Advertising in the Public University of the Basque Country.
In 2015, while I was working two retail jobs and one advertising gig, I also began designing the visual treatment and first six pieces of conceptual art for “Paradise Hills” with screenwriter Sofía Cuenca. It would become my first feature film, after making one short and a few ads. We took the pitch to Austin’s Fantastic Fest, where we won second best project of the market, plus best directing! It was also there that I met Guillermo del Toro, who introduced me to my manager and agent. They then pitched me to Adrián Guerra and Núria Valls at Sitges, where “Disco Inferno” was in the New Visions section.
I brought Nacho Vigalondo into the project, whom I had known for seven years. Adrián and Núria suggested Brian DeLeeuw, writer of “Daniel isn’t Real.”
I really wanted to create something addressing the use that my 12- or 13-year-old cousins made of their social networks. I felt that we had put in their hands a window to the world that insisted they would never be beautiful, or popular enough – perfect, really.
I wanted to tell my cousins that their personal fears and anxieties were valid, how it was adults that had created and fed them… through an entertaining feature.
Were you thinking about “The Stepford Wives” when you created the film? If so, what inspired you to take the ending in a different direction? And– were you intending to homage any other features?
I have only seen 2004’s “The Stepford Wives” once. It was called “The Perfect Women” in Spain! I must have been 15 then, I am 29 now. For that reason, I honestly do not recall it well, just that Nicole did a terrific job… as usual.
This is something that has happened to me before. “Eyes Wide Shut” is the only Kubrick film I’ve never watched–it makes me sad there aren’t any others of his afterwards–but that’s the film everyone is the most excited to talk about once they leave the screening room after watching our first short, “Disco Inferno”!
Some shows and films that did inspire us a ton were hard sci-fi nods such as “The Prisoner” or “Logan’s Run”… seen through a softer, normatively feminine lens like the one in films like “Princess Bride”, or via the uneasy ode to female friendship in “Picnic at Hanging Rock”.
How did you go about your casting process? What brought Emma Roberts, Awkwafina, Eiza Gonzaléz, Danielle Macdonald and Milla Jovovich to the project? I liked how Milla portrayed the evil side of her character while also allowing the audience to feel empathy for her. What great casting choices by the way!
Thank you so much! It was really fascinating to me when Milla mentioned that she understood what the scope of her character was. But it was not until she heard Alberto Valcárcel talk about how she expressed perfection through her wardrobe choices that she fully got the sheer obsessiveness of her. She perfectly got the playful and self-conscious nature of The Duchess, just like that.
Emma Roberts showed a vulnerable side that I was very thankful for witnessing. I loved her performance in Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” and hoped to see more of that. And she never did disappoint!
Danielle MacDonald was fresh off of her Sundance success with “Patti Cake$”, but what I had no idea about is how she does these jaw-dropping action scenes and stunts herself–the same ones that can make the crew just applaud?!
Awkwafina is just genuinely naturally gifted for dramatic acting. We filmed while ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was in post production and before ‘The Farewell’, so she was kind of nervous.
Yet after seeing her on set, our jaws were on the floor, because until that day we only knew about her capacity for comedy. I hope she wins an Oscar for Lulu’s gorgeous film!
Eiza González brought so many original ideas to expand her role and make her character very memorable. She made lots of choices that expand the complexity of Amarna’s original inner world in the script.
The film is so colorful, it reminded me of “The Congress”– definitely a paradisiac environment! What I loved was the clash of Emma Roberts’ character within that world. How did you create a setting that was so utopian, and why did you choose to have everyone dressed in white?
“The Congress” has got some very interesting animated visuals! Regarding Uma’s character, growing up in the 90s and 2000s, I definitely was exposed to a ton of rightfully angry female characters that mostly seemed to inhabit those very animated worlds. I’m talking about leads such as San in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke”; or “Anastasia” in Don Bluth’s titular film, that were very inspiring to me when I was not a teenager yet.
Emma’s reel included, among others, Yuki from Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Anna Karina’s Angela in ‘A Woman is a Woman’.
The all-white is an open reference to oppression, and to entirely female mental institutions-especially mid-century ones; in which a lack of conventionalism would be annulled.
Much of the fun came from taking ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’-style characters and scenarios that are sometimes presented as ultimate life goals (eg: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “Funny Face”) and then turning them into actual nightmares!
What’s coming up for you?
I have a new feature in the works— “Scarlet”, a queer historical film produced by Roxie Rodríguez (“Before Midnight”) and Michael Costigan (“Girl, Interrupted”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Stoker”), written by awesome New Orleans screenwriter Kristen SaBerre (“Code Noir”).
The other show is the TV adaptation of an incredible fantasy book series, that will hopefully be announced soon!
Thank you for your time today–
Watch “Paradise Hills” streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play and Vudu.