Right around the time that I was getting ready to go to SXSW, I started getting publicity materials emailed to me about a movie called “Kiss of the Damned”. I watched the trailer, which had this really cool vintage feel to it, but I also realized it was a vampire movie. When I was down in Austin, even though I was interested in checking it out and interviewing writer/director Xan Cassavetes and actresses Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida, I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I ended up watching Kiss of the Damned a few weeks ago (you can read the review here) and my initial reaction was “Holy shit, Wolfman. You’re a fucking idiot.” The film just oozes this gothic tone and a felt like a throwback to old Hammer vampire movies, but also these actresses were incredibly talented and, well, gorgeous. WHAT THE HELL, WOLFMAN?! GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER! I don’t even want to think about what I was doing instead of hanging out with Xan, Joséphine, and Roxane, because it will probably bum me out, but I digress. Luckily, with Kiss of the Damned being released in theaters May 3rd, I got the opportunity to chat with the three of them about some of the films that helped inspire performances and tone, living in a house together for two months, and ketchup.
WolfMan: I generally don’t like vampire movies because it seems like, especially recently, everyone is trying to reinvent the concept of what being a vampire is and what a vampire society is. The reason I enjoyed Kiss of the Damned so much was that it reminded me a lot of vampire films, and non-vampire films, from the 60’s and 70’s in the more primal approach to the concept. While developing the film, what were some of the clichés that you were trying to avoid and what were some of the aspects you tried to emphasize on?
Xan Cassavetes: In all honesty, I never really think about what I’m trying to avoid. I’m just so infused with a geeky enthusiasm that’s almost obnoxious, I’m sure. I’m sort of a film nerd. I had a lot to learn and I’ve been learning a lot about horror films because I wasn’t as knowledgeable about those. I was knowledgeable about the Bavas and the Fulcis and the Vampyros Lesbos and Darios and all that, but what I loved about those European films was that they really stimulated the imagination. There’s something about positioning women as sort of mythic, as having this mystique, these qualities that were so beautiful and provocative to me when I was younger and watching these movies. Seeing these women who, were actually kind of objectified, but in a way that was really loving and, I don’t want to use a word as corny as “empowering”, but truly and legitimately fascinating so I loved those. That really did inspire me, I guess in my own rendering of this movie. Although this movie was really just about a story that I wrote and everything was kind of a slave to that. People say it’s homage-y and, for sure, it’s got tones and influences, but it isn’t really copying anything. I didn’t aim to copy or achieve the perfection in copying something. I like that these movies were also geared towards adults and I’m not really interested in things that are for kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just not what I’m interested in.
WM: There wasn’t a direct shot or line of dialogue or character that felt like it was copied, it felt like an updated version of some of those movies.
XC: At one point, I wanted to overdub the entire movie so that we’d have that disjointed feeling of those films that hypnotized me when I was in my teens, first seeing them. There’s something about overdubbing that really puts you in another frame of mind when you’re watching and listening to it. Then I fell in love with the actors and I’m probably the only weird person who would overdub my actors that speak with French accents with their same voices, instead of Americans trying to have a slight accent. Even that aspect of it, that it sounds overdubbed sometimes, was something I liked about it, something I wanted. Something I initially wanted to go even further with, except I really fell in love with the actors’ performances.
WM: Given the eventual 3 disc Blu-ray Collector’s Extended Edition, I’m sure that’ll be an option you can throw on there. The overdubbing of all of the actors.
XC: (laughs) I don’t know, I think I’ve fallen in love too passionately with the way it is now, so I can’t do that to them anymore. I’m not trying to steal anything, I’m just trying to use devices where your imagination can be stimulated.
Joséphine de La Baume
WM: Another thing that was really helpful was the music. Could you talk about the process of the music? Did you have music in mind as you were making this film or did that kind of come together in the editing room?
XC: The composer, Steve Hufsteter, is a guy I’ve known since I was 16. We were in a band together for many years so we know each other really well. Actually, in the three weeks I was writing the screenplay, I’d invite him over and read him pages and he’d say this or that or “no” or “that’s really great, you should do that” or “I love that” or “that’s not so cool”, which is what I basically did for him with the score. He also had a lot of things to say about the editing. He actually had a lot of things to say about the editing. Steve is a very creative person in my life and I like to think I am in his, too, so when it was time to do the music, one of the first things he came up with was the Morricone style love them. It was really the only sort of retro style music piece that he wrote for the film. The rest was sort of composed as the film took shape and sort of had to figure out what the character of the film was. There were a lot of crazy ways to get to some of those compositions. I was happy, and lucky enough, to be around for a lot of the inceptions for that stuff. Then there was Demdike Stare, this duo from Manchester, who does some of those colder, more hypnotic, soundscape-y music. They’re beautiful musical tracks, but they’re more of that hypnotic stuff. All that stuff worked really well with Steve’s score, because it was a colder, sort of different point of view, whereas Steve’s is more melodic. Our music supervisor, Dina, she found so much really great music. She found 90’s stuff and some jazzy stuff and some German punk rock. The whole thing didn’t sound like it was all shoved together, it somehow all sounded pretty organic for the movie and I was really happy with the music. Everyone who worked on the music was just aces as far as how committed and obsessed with what they do. Knowledgeable and curious about finding cool stuff.
WM: I think that was another way you were able to bring some originality. Most of the music was stuff people hadn’t heard before, but sounded familiar to a certain mood or feeling from the 60’s or the 70’s.
XC: Not to mention the 80’s and the 90’s. You have to figure that these vampires have lived through a lot of eras where all that music was at one point contemporary to them. It all seems legitimate, everything’s fair.
WM: Speaking of these characters being around for so long, I enjoyed the mythology of these vampires. The fact that they aren’t really trying to make themselves known to humans. Is there any sort of plan or do you have any stories or ideas of these people before the events of the movie or after the movie?
XC: I’ve had my thoughts on it, but the only really clear picture is the repetition. As far as the two sisters go, I feel like this scenario has been playing out over and over for centuries and in different countries and in slightly different scenarios. Djuna, the good sister, tries to get away, and Mimi will reappear and there might be some sort question of whether they can reconnect as sisters, but it’s very short-lived and mayhem ensues over and over again. Kind of like when a radical criminal or drug addict sibling comes back and is like, “My life is changed!” and then your house is robbed and burned to the floor and you’ve been mugged. It’s just like, “Get away from me, please. Do your thing somewhere else.” But you just can’t get away, it keeps following you everywhere you go. I think that’s the history with these two girls, which is sad because they both got bitten at the same time and both of them reacted in two different ways, which kind of made it impossible for the two of them to ever be friends again.
Joséphine de La Baume
WM: Lastly, between Paolo being a screenwriter and Djuna frequently watching movies, there’s a strong Hollywood influence over the characters in the film, despite the events of the film taking place in Connecticut and New York. Were you intentionally trying to comment on the vampiric state of the entertainment industry or was it just to move the story forward?
XC: I think Djuna’s obsession with movies is her obsession with watching humans and this is her way to have access and relate. She feels comfortable in the company of humans so she watches movies. With Paolo, yeah, for sure, to get him to the place where he’s ready to go kamikaze and transcend involves the backstory of him trying to be an artist, his “artsy fartsy loser stuff”, as his agent explains it, but now he’s a writer for hire and has given up on his dreams. When he sees this strange, dangerous woman, he’s all too excited to fantasize about her darkness and her beauty. It’s the opportunity to transcend in a way that he couldn’t before. He lets himself get turned because he’s ready to go there. He had almost given up on that transcendence being possible. Then you see his agent, and yes, his agent is definitely a representation of someone who doesn’t understand that need. The need to transcend on that basis. He understands making money and he understands a good bottle of wine and his friend, he’s happy for his friend, but he doesn’t understand that thing that would drive somebody. I would do the same thing. If I hadn’t have made this movie, if I was stunted like that, I’d probably let a vampire bite me too. Anything to get me out of that pedestrian, boring rules that someone else set to let me be something else.
WM: In Kiss of the Damned, you both play timeless archetypes of vampires, sexy, beautiful, seductive, sophisticated vampires. How did you tap into those more classic vampire qualities? What roles helped inspire that?
Joséphine de La Baume: Well I think that we understood that Xan wanted to go more in that direction, an homage to 60’s and 70’s horror films, and that she was bringing back the aesthetics of vampires that I found fascinating. The incredible romance and sensuality, the incredible soundtrack. The vampire movies today are minimalistic in a way. I think she brought back what those vampire movies of the time, so we knew that. I had watched some of Jean Rollin’s movies, but I watched more, because she really liked that director. I think she wanted us to act in that way as well. She made us watch That Most Important Thing: Love by Andrzej Zulawski, which is not that old of a vampire movie. I think she wanted us to be feel really free and act in the way that they did in those days. Not so attached to the realities of today. More freedom of the sentiment and the amplification of sensuality, the frustration, or love, whatever it was we were trying to relate, depending on the scene.
Roxane Mesquida: We had a screening room in the house where we were living, so we would watch a lot of movies. Zulawski movies that we’d watch for the 20th time, Jean Rollin movies, and all of these movies we watched while shooting the movie, but for me it was movies from the 20’s. Carl Dreyer movies, or Vampyr, and that was more of my inspiration. It was more theatrical. The way they move and their bodies and everything, it was more of an inspiration for Mimi because I wanted Mimi to feel free in the way she moved in the movie. Also a lot of things like expressionism.
Joséphine de La Baume and Milo Ventimiglia
WM: One of the biggest strengths of the film is that, at its core, it’s about the love/hate triangle going on between Paolo, Mimi, and Djuna, and all these people just happen to be vampires. If there wasn’t such a strong chemistry between the three of you, the movie wouldn’t have been a success. Could you guys talk a little bit about how you guys developed and established the relationship? What was the rehearsal process like?
RM: We lived in the same house. Xan, Milo (Ventimiglia), Josephine, and I, we lived in the house where we were shooting, so we became like a family. We were eating together, we were sleeping in the same house. We were spending 2 months, 24/7 together, so you get pretty close.
JdLB: With Roxane, we got along straight away, we fell in love with each other. It did benefit the sister relationship because however much conflict there was or fighting, it wouldn’t be interesting if you didn’t feel that there was still some unconditional love between them. I think because we had it in real life, it came out on the screen, which was wonderful. It’s true that we did, all of us, the three of us, Milo, Roxanne, and I, went through a lot in 2 months. You have ups and downs and–
RM: We were going to the supermarket together and doing domestic things together.
JdLB: We were living the lives of these vampires together.
WM: And did you ever run into trouble with that intense relationship? Maybe you guys would be having a good day going to the grocery store and then you have to fight and argue on set, or vice versa?
JdLB: We had problems, yes, we have had problems, but it would be stupid of me to NOT use that, where there’s so much frustration and trouble and sex. I think, sometimes when you do the same section over and over, or the same scene over and over, like the scene with a door was a very difficult thing. We’re attached to a door, having to kiss and bite.
RM: One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie.
JdLB: And it’s a difficult thing to shoot, and I think that when we were getting frustrated with each other, with Milo, the good thing that instead of just fighting that frustration, we turn it into something that looks like sexual tension between us. It’s a tension, you just have to change the anger level of the tension. I think every time we worked together, spending 2 months together, you use it for the scene.
RM: I never got along so well with someone on set. It was like a dream. We never fought, we never had a problem. We were there for each other, which is amazing to have because we were just fighting all the time in every scene. It was better and more interesting to bring what we have in real life into the movie.
Roxane Mesquida, Joséphine de La Baume and Milo Ventimiglia
WM: If you guys were vampires, do you think you’d be more of a primal vampire like Mimi or do you think you’d be more of a romantic like Djuna?
JdLB: I think I’d be like Djuna, but I think I’m not as nice as Djuna.
RM: I think you’re nicer than Djuna! What are you talking about?
JdLB: I’m not as careful as Djuna, I think. Djuna and I became one person, I missed her when it was over. She’s very much based on myself.
RM: I actually think you brought so much to Djuna, on the contrary.
JdLB: Thank you. I think I’d be more like Djuna, more of the hunger. I don’t know, I’m a romantic in real life.
RM: I’m actually really boring in real life. You have no idea how boring my life is. Being Mimi in the movie was exploring all the things that maybe somewhere I wish I could do but am not doing I don’t know, if I could be a vampire, I would be like her. If I was a vampire, I think I’d be exactly the way I am, which is boring. I’d be a boring vampire. I actually think Mimi and Djuna are the same person, they’re just two sides. Like maybe Mimi doesn’t exist and she’s just what Djuna dreams that she could be.
WM: Between the character of Paolo being a screenwriter and Djuna’s obsession with classic movies and the theater world of New York City, there’s a lot of the entertainment industry being shown in the film. Do you think vampires could exist in Hollywood?
JdLB: I think there are a lot of vampires in the industry trying to eat people alive. They can eat them from within.
RM: I hear there are vampire societies in New York, but they only drink tomato juice.
JdLB: They’re like special vampires. People eat too much ketchup in America so you can call them vampires.
Kiss of the Damned is currently available on VOD and will be in select theaters on May 3rd. I highly suggest you fucking see it.