Sarah Cook: What first attracted you to the story?
John Cameron Mitchell: It was my producer who worked on Shortbus with me. He thought it should be a film so he reached out to Neil Gaiman, who wanted it to be small, magical, and to concentrate on a day in Croydon. It became this oddball film about aliens in Croydon, evolving into a Romeo & Juliet film, created for a young punk. I make films for misfits.
SC: How did you create the alien aesthetic?
JCM: The chakras are a natural delineation, like a big body which they’re a part of. What they’re missing is the heart; they are not allowed to love outside the colony and they don’t have a future.
SC: There are a lot of themes in the film, but motherhood and parenthood are the most prevalent.
JCM: The strongest characters in terms of power are women. They try to pass down knowledge to Elle’s character Zan. The high queens, including Enn’s mum, all bond with Zan (or try to eat her which is a way of love for some parents.)
SC: How did you find the leads? Alex Sharpe is so compelling.
JCM: He is, isn’t he? It’s his first film. I searched the UK for that role and I couldn’t quite find people who were tough enough or nice enough. I was at a Tony Awards event and we were both introduced by a friend. We had both won Tony’s that year and I was like “hmm, he’s it.” He was very nervous as he hadn’t starred in a film, but he had a great experience and now he’s an insufferable movie star.
SC: And then there’s Elle Fanning…
JCM: Elle Fanning is a pro. You know, someone who has been doing it for as long as she has no pretence about it. It is just joy. She just loves it. And she gives it her all. She is right there in her mind and she sings so incredibly.
SC: The song Elle and Alex sing is great, was it an original?
JCM: It’s a song I wrote with a guy who has a band called Xiu Xiu. It’s based on their work – we also wrote the credit song together – it’s great and has a catchy beat.
SC: There are a few big names such as Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, and Matt Lucas, how did they come on board?
JCM: There were instantly on board! Matt and I have known each other for a while and we tried to work together before. I met Ruth Wilson in New York. Nicole had ten days that we needed her for and she was doing Paragraph 51 on the West End just before! She rehearsed during intervals. She had me rehearse her role and she said to me “ you do it and I’ll copy you.” So I just did this cockney Australian Hedwig loud person and she did it really well. She has this great moment where she shouts; “Punk is the fag end of the blues.”
SC: Oh, that is a great line.
JCM: Did you like it? It’s true. It was the end of a certain kind of rock and roll. It was an adaptation of something Joe Strummer said that “every generation has their own way of dealing with the blues.”
SC: What would you think our modern version of that is?
JCM: There needs to be a new punk. That’s not necessarily a style of music but more questioning authority. I would say Kendrick Lemar is punk in his own way. There is a kind of complacency to pop music, it’s become more escapist, which is fun – I’ve always loved escapist music.
We need something more. A lot of young people are scared about the world they are coming into which their parents fucked up. Punks were like that too. They felt as though everything had been done before, but everything hasn’t and it hasn’t been done if it comes out of you. Including your vomit. There’s never been vomit like that.
SC: There was some interesting puking on screen…
JCM: I wanted one more vomit in the mouth but couldn’t quite find it. Kidman wasn’t up for it. She does get spat in the face though…
How To Talk To Girls At Parties is in cinemas from Friday 11 May.Find your cinema and book now