Miss Bala: Director Catherine Hardwicke on Gina Rodriguez As An Action Star [Exclusive Interview]

Gina Rodriguez is no longer Jane the Virgin anymore. She’s all grown up.

After the physical transformation of Deepwater Horizon and Annihilation, Miss Bala will certainly put Gina Rodriguez into a female action star status.

Miss Bala is the American remake of the well-known Mexican independent movie that follows a beauty pageant winner coerced into nefarious activities by the drug cartel. In the remake, the story follows Gloria, a makeup artist from California. She visits her best friend in Tijuana, but due to an unfortunate incident that her friend disappears. A local drug kingpin forces into the dangerous world of cross-border crime and her survival will require all of her cunning, inventiveness and strength.

The film also stars Anthony Mackie, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Matt Lauria and Aislinn Derbez. This screenplay is written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and directed by Catherine Hardwicke.

LRM Online sat down with director Catherine Hardwicke for Miss Bala. We talked about the transformation of Gina Rodriguez for this film. We also talked about the culture, language and challenges of filming the entire production in Tijuana.

Hardwicke is best known for being the director of the fantasy vampire film Twilight. Her career was launched with indie favorite Thirteen and followed by the skateboarding film Lords of Dogtown.

Miss Bala is playing in theaters nationwide this Friday, February 1st.

Read our exclusive interview below.

LRM: Congratulations on this film for Miss Bala. What initially attracted you to do a project like Miss Bala?

Catherine Hardwicke: I like action, because in my real life I just came back from a big trek in the Andes mountains to Machu Picchu. I do mountain biking. I like active women. [Chuckles] I’m from the Mexican border, South Texas. I love that rich, two cultures coming together on how they mix. When I read this I was like, “Okay, man. That’s a cool combo.” [Laughs]

LRM: It was a on Instagram and I think I saw pictures of you with llamas in Peru.

Catherine Hardwicke: You did? [Laughs] I made the llamas wear the Miss Bala hats. [Laughs]

LRM: You’re promoting the film into South America and everywhere.

Catherine Hardwicke: Did you see that? I went there since there’s a huge fun, Latinix community. I think they would love it. I hope.

LRM: For this project, for Miss Bala, what did you know about the original story, the true story and or with the movie?

Catherine Hardwicke: Yes, I had seen the movie. I had also read a lot about the Narco Novias. It’s not only just the one that the original one was based on Miss Sinaloa, but there’s been many other stories since then. Even Pablo Escobar’s wife was a beauty queen. It’s common that people that the cartels would kind of do the Patty Hearst thing. They would kidnap a beautiful girl, threatened the family, hang out with them and then they lavish you with things that the girl will kind of get into. It’s a fascinating world. Immediately, that is interesting and dramatic.

I thought the original film was really cool and the cinematography awesome. The character is very passive. You’re sitting there at home at the screen watching. You’ll be screaming, “Don’t let them do that!” I wanted to figure [it out differently]. Our whole movie is much more active, she’s clever and figures out what to do.

LRM: What would you say to people who would watch this Miss Bala expecting something else from what they previously watched before?

Catherine Hardwicke: I would say that you’re going to see two things. You’re going to see a character that’s more active, takes charge, more empowered and discovers that inside herself through the film. What can I do? How can I get out of the situation? The stakes are even higher, because the DEA comes in and makes her a double agent.

It’s also about another level. In the original, it’s all about Mexican and all the characters are from Mexico. This is a bit more international and more relatable a way, because you have two characters that have grown up on both sides of the border. She grew up in Tijuana and the US. So did Lino. Now they have this kind of identity that a lot of people have. Like a friend of mine, her parents from Vietnam, but she doesn’t speak Vietnamese fluently. When she goes to Vietnam, she doesn’t really fit in. She looks at Vietnamese and can kind of speak it, but she still feels like an outsider there. Over here, she feels a bit like an outsider too, because she not gringo enough.

It’s that kind of identity. That many cultures face right now like trying to fit in and find who they are. I thought was very interesting that Gina [Rodriguez] has in her character and so does Lina.

LRM: For yourself, who grew up on a border town, did directing something like this make it easier?

Catherine Hardwicke: Well, yeah. I mean that is my life. Literally, our farm is right on the Rio Grande River. I used to swim across the Rio Grande River into Mexico. Into Mexico illegally. [Laughs] Did it like 40 times by swimming across the river. I also traveled a lot in Mexico. I lived in Mexico during the summer and going to art school. I love the Mexican culture already and I love the border culture. [Laughs] It’s how they kind of clash, twist and turn around each other.

That’s one reason I was really excited to do this project and wanted to film it all in [Tijuana], which we got to film it all there. It’s not like filming in Atlanta for Mexico. [Laughs] We filmed really in Mexico with a real crew and cast from Mexico.

LRM: We’re under the assumption you’re fluent in Spanish?

Catherine Hardwicke: Fluent. I would not say that. Are you fluent in Spanish?

LRM: No, not at all.

Catherine Hardwicke: No, I’m not fluent. I do my best [Laughs] People are pretty forgiving. Like you see in the movie, what’s kind of cool is that we kind of switched back and forth from Spanish to English. A lot of people do that on my start with in my Spanish, which is not the best. Then somebody else will help me along or they’ll just switch to English if they’re better in English. Whoever’s better and whatever language you just switch to that language. That’s kind of cool about the border. It kind of flows.

LRM: For your crew that you had for production, did they mostly speak Spanish or Spanglish or English?

Catherine Hardwicke: Everybody was from Mexico. There were two guys from Uruguay, one guy from Argentina, but pretty much most people were from Mexico. I’d say three or four people came from the US total. Most people could speak both languages or somebody can. Everyone just did the best they could do.

LRM: Wow. You managed to make this work. This is awesome.

Catherine Hardwicke: It was fun. I learned, where I’m from in South Texas, there’s a certain kind of slang in ways of speaking in Texas or rather on the border of Texas. There’s a different one in TJ. We had to have a guy that kept as accurate to the TJ kind of slang. [Chuckles] It was really kind of fun to have.

LRM:I have a goddaughter, the family is from Ecuador. They told me when they speak to Mexicans–Mexicans speak Spanish too fast for them. [Laughs]

Catherine Hardwicke: There’s a whole different vibe and a little twist with different things. Yeah, absolutely.

LRM: Let’s talk about Tijuana. Personally, I haven’t been to Tijuana for more than two decades. How is Tijuana as a city? The reputation Tijuana goes in many different directions.

Catherine Hardwicke: It’s actually really fun. I went down there and stayed for five and half months and only came back to the US like one time. I was there the whole time, fully immersed and I never felt in any kind of danger. I mean there were a few wacky little close calls. Mostly, it’s a vibrant city. There’s food trucks. There’s a hip cuisine. There’s cool music. There’s modern architecture in which we put in the movie. I didn’t want to just show it that it’s pretty scary. I’m wanted to show you more vibrant and lively like it really is.

LRM: I noticed that when I was watching the movie. I didn’t know that there are beautiful buildings.

Catherine Hardwicke: It’s really cool. There are architects down there that are doing innovative stuff.

LRM: That’s pretty awesome. Let’s talk about Gina. Why was she perfect for this film?

Catherine Hardwicke: Oh, my God. She’s so good. In Gina’s heart, she understood that character very well. She also straddling two cultures being Puerto Rican and growing up in Chicago. She felt a little bit the odd ball there. You see her on Jane the Virgin. She’s very fun and different kind of character.

In this one, she had to go from what you could believe is the ordinary girl of this cool friend next door. She had to be able to get glammed up at a certain point with a beauty pageant, which Gina can do. [Laughs] She can look so many different ways. Then she had to be strong to find that inner strength. Well, that is Gina, a 100 million percent. I mean she is a bad ass. At anytime, if I would ever be getting a little bit discouraged like, “Oh, my God. The weather,” or “They cut the budget.” She’d be like, “No, let’s get down and solve the problem. Keep moving. No pity party. Let’s do it. Overcome that hurdle and go.”

LRM: I noticed that about Gina lately with her work with Annihilation and the film in the Gulf of Mexico. She’s starting to transform herself into an action star. By the time she did Miss Bala, you didn’t really have to prep for her for too much.

Catherine Hardwicke: Well, she did want to get her, you know, physically into a different kind of shape than her physicality on Jane The Virgin. [That character is] more of a writer. It’s not a super-active person. She really worked out hard for this and her fiance trained her. He’s very physical. They do all kind of fighting and boxing. She got in very good shape.

LRM: For yourself, you mentioned you love action, but you tend to do a lot of like dramas and fantasy. How did you prep her for something like this?

Catherine Hardwicke: Lords of Dogtown was a lot of action too with skateboarding. I go almost every weekend. I go mountain biking, I go do some kind of hike. I do surf. I liked the idea of being as physically, personally being active too. I also, of course, tried to study action sequences.

Like with one action sequence, I had these miniature cars. I had this whole map with my little cars. I said that this car is going to come in and that one’s going to come in. We did this preview thing, where I got my assistant to play Gina’s part. Then the drivers drive out there. It was super fun.

LRM: You want to steer your career more towards more action movies like this?

Catherine Hardwicke: Even in Twilight, when you read the book, it was very internal. It’s all thinking about the events. A lot of the action in the movie was something that I put in that’s actually not in the book. They talk about this fight at the ballet studio, but they don’t show it in the book. I’m going to show it, because I think cinema–it’s just not about talking heads. That can be a play. I want it to be more cinematic. I like action.

LRM: Let me wrap it up with one more question. I was debating with a friend on what is your greatest accomplishment in your career. A lot of people would say Twilight, but I like Thirteen.

Catherine Hardwicke: A lot of people would say Thirteen too. I love Thirteen. It was most radical, right from the heart. We didn’t have a studio or anybody telling us what to do. We made a tight budget and was very honest. Tough movie. I just thought it was just the 15th anniversary. It’s still about the performances with Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter and Nikki Reed. They’re so powerful when people really put their heart into a performance. It holds up. I’m very proud of that. I love that movie. I love Lords of Dogtown too with Heath Ledger. That it is very fun too. All my little babies, I love them. And I love this one too.

LRM: Thank you very much.

Catherine Hardwicke: Thank you.

Miss Bala is playing in theaters nationwide this Friday, February 1st.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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