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Red Riding Hood – Director Catherine Hardwicke on how the stakes kept getting higher

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Red Riding Hood - Amanda Seyfried and director Catherine Hardwicke
Amanda Seyfried and director Catherine Hardwicke on set during the filming © 2011 Warner Bros

Catherine Hardwicke made her directorial debut with the acclaimed 2003 movie Thirteen, and went on to helm Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which launched the film franchise and earned $69.6 million in its opening weekend, the highest ever opening for a female director. It went on to gross almost $400 million worldwide.

Her new movie Red Riding Hood takes the fairy tale and refashions it for a contemporary audience. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, whose sister has been killed by a local werewolf, prompting her and the village to employ a famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon, to come and destroy it. Through all her angst, Valerie is being wooed by two young men, Henry (Max Irons), the son of rich parents, and Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a poor woodcutter who has loved her all of her life.

Hardwicke spoke of her new movie and her uncanny ability to cast the perfect young actors for the roles in her films.

Is it true that Leonardo DiCaprio had something to do with the vision of this movie?

Red Riding Hood - Director Catherine Hardwicke, director of photography Mandy Walker, Amanda Seyfried and Shiloh Fernandez
Director Catherine Hardwicke, director of photography Mandy Walker, Amanda Seyfried and Shiloh Fernandez © 2011 Warner Bros

Exactly, he and his company cooked up this idea. It went back to the original tales of Red Riding Hood, even before the Brothers Grimm, where people suspected the werewolf, because people have believed in werewolves for a thousand years. It’s such an intriguing animal. When I got the script, I was just drawn into this world, there was this whole mystery, everything has been enhanced from the original tale.

As I read the script, I got very excited because it took place in a fantasy world but had a dark side. It was a thriller with unexpected turns as well as a compelling love story, which also held some surprises for me. I was really pulled in as the stakes kept getting higher, and more and more secrets and lies were unraveled.

Do you think it’s important to update a fairy tale for modern audiences?

Yeah, I think that’s what is great about fairy tales, why they have endured. Each generation will update them, they’ll put their own spin on them. Sometimes they’ll make the fairy tale with more of a moral, instead of more visceral, where the wolf could really be bad, or there could be sexual undertones.

That’s why they are interesting that you can keep refashioning them with your feelings, so we like the fact that Amanda’s character is strong. She’s not really scared of the wolf, she doesn’t back down. She’s scared, but she maintains her strength.

What is your favorite fairy tale growing up?

Red Riding Hood - Director Catherine Hardwicke, Virginia Madsen, Amanda Seyfried and Billy Burke
Director Catherine Hardwicke, Virginia Madsen, Amanda Seyfried and Billy Burke on set during the filming © 2011 Warner Bros

I did kind of like this one, I’ve got to admit. And my mom did tell me that two Halloweens in a row I had to be Red Riding Hood.

You always have such a wonderful vision, especially when it comes to casting young actors. What’s your secret?

I do spend some time with them, more than just one casting session. Usually people come to my house in Venice, we go right on the beach, we hang out, we do different scenes together. I try to be sure that we are not in a sterile room and that I can actually relate to this person and they can relate to the other cast members, and find out is there some chemistry, can we work together.

Why did you feel Amanda would be good in the role?

From the first time I saw Amanda, I knew she was something special. She had everything we needed for the character, especially because Valerie is not a classic damsel in distress. Amanda is tough, she’s sexy, she’s funny, she’s vulnerable – she has it all.

I’d seen her speak at a benefit and she was very touching and I felt like she had a lot of heart, and she had the biggest eyes and she looks like she’s straight out of a fairy tale. But then you watch her in all her other movies and she can be sexy in Chloe, funny in Mean Girls and charming in Mamma Mia! so this girl has no limits, she can do anything.

Is it true you almost cast Shiloh Fernandez at Edward Cullen in Twilight?

Red Riding Hood - Max Irons and Amanda Seyfried
Henry (Max Irons) and Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) © 2011 Warner Bros

That’s right. And then I was working on trying to make Hamlet and he came in and auditioned for that and he was excellent in that. It was great when he and Amanda did have that chemistry, sparks did fly. He also brought some mystery to his character that leads you to wonder what might be going on beneath the surface.

And you have the wonderful Julie Christie as the grandmother.

One of the first things I said was there was no way our Grandmother would be a craggy, old crone. She’s very bohemian – wearing long dreadlocks, she lives outside of the main village, deep in the woods, and there is an air of mystery surrounding her.

We were thrilled when we got Julie Christie for the role. She’s so amazing and so beautiful – she took my breath way. And Julie appreciated that her character was not going to be some stuffy old grandmother.

What was it like working with Gary Oldman?

Red Riding Hood - Gary Oldman and director Catherine Hardwick
Gary Oldman and director Catherine Hardwicke, on set during the filming © 2011 Warner Bros

Working with Gary Oldman was a dream come true. He never ceased to astound me. He is not only a fearless actor, he’s generous, collaborative and hysterically funny. Everybody on the set had mad crushes on both Gary and Julie.

Why do you feel fairy tales last from generation to generation?

I think one reason fairy tales like Red Riding Hood have endured for so long is that they allow us to explore and understand our dark sides, even as children. They portray jealousy and fear and even death, and allow us to deal with them in a very visceral way.