Alex Ross Perry

Alex Ross Perry Alex Ross Perry on his collaboration with Joe Swanberg, his cinematic reunion with Elisabeth Moss, the role of women in film, and the appeal of the indie.

by Joanna Orland

American independent filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has brought his latest film Queen of Earth to the 65th Berlinale Film Festival.  As a follow up to his critically acclaimed Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth sees director Perry collaborating with Joe Swanberg as producer, and once again actress Elisabeth Moss in a starring role.

Catherine (Moss) and Ginny (Katherine Waterston) have been lifelong friends, but their complex friendship is put to the test as they retreat to Ginny’s family cabin for a week of refuge.  The holiday is intended to help Catherine recuperate from the stress of her boyfriend breaking up with her, and the death of her father who recently committed suicide.  This retreat is anything but a holiday as Catherine’s state of mind descends into madness, in this psychological thriller about hysteria and the complexities of a female friendship.

Perry is a writer and filmmaker who focuses on complex characters, in particular strong female characters who he himself identifies with.  “In Listen Up Philip and this, Elisabeth is playing a character who’s closer to me than any other character in the movie,” explains Perry.  “In Listen Up Philip she’s playing a photographer who’s focused on her work and sort of begrudgingly just accepts what she has to do in order to be as productive and professional as possible. And then just wants to go home and unwind and just sit around with her cat.  And of all the characters in the movie, that’s the closest to me.”

Unlike most Hollywood roles for women, Perry’s female characters are fully developed as humans, three dimensional, believable and empathetic.  “You just have a woman who shares my own ideas on dedication and ambition which maybe is not the way that most people would write a woman in  a movie where the focus is on a decaying relationship.  But for that, it was important that she not just be the girlfriend who gets her life torn apart, because that’s not really a complete enough character.”

Perry has built on his work in Listen Up Philip to create two very strong women characters in the female fronted film Queen of Earth.  “For this it was again just like a handful of questions and concerns that I’d been struggling with, being put into a character that I wanted to be a woman so that the film could fit into the really proud tradition of broken women films.”

While the complex relationship between Catherine and Ginny could have been approached in multiple cinematic ways, Perry chose to create a genre film, using stylized techniques to turn the story into a psychological thriller.  “That was sort of the fun to me, to challenge myself to make an entirely different kind of movie, and more importantly the kind of movie I really like”, says Perry.  “I like genre cinema more than I like independent dramas.”

Once again working with Elisabeth Moss, this time Perry knew what to expect of the actress, and trusted her to develop much of the character for herself.  “This script does not have a lot of specifics in it, but if you were to do this, I know that you would fill them in with things I can’t imagine”, he said to the actress.  “It’s the sort of performance you don’t really get unless you feel like you’re completely trusting the person that you’re working with,” he explains.

It’s not a new concept, but often Hollywood stars such as Elisabeth Moss are finding themselves more and more drawn to roles in independent films outside of their mainstream Hollywood work.  “I just think that there’s something liberating about going somewhere where there’s kind of no rules, and if you want to try something you can try something. And it’s just more of an organic process”, says Perry. “In the case of Elisabeth and myself – Find someone you want to keep collaborating with, which for actors is probably as good as it gets, because then you’re generating your own material, you’re not fighting for roles.”

 

Read our review of Queen of Earth.

Read our review of Listen Up Philip.

 

 

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