An Interview with Amy Hesketh, Director and Writer,
and Jac Avila, Star of Barbazul
by Mike Haberfelner
Your new movie Barbazul – in a few words, what is it about?
It’s about a psycho with a blue beard who kills his lady friends in brutal, violent ways.
Amy, what were your inspirations when writing Barbazul? Any how big an inspiration was Charles Perrault’s children’s story La Barbe Bleue, actually?
Amy – The movie is based on/adapted from the original story by Charles Perrault, I read it when I was a little girl and it made a big impression on me. I was also inspired by reading about other serial killers, real life ones as well.
How would both of you describe Amy’s directorial approach to the story at hand?
Jac – Amy likes to pace herself when telling a story, like in Sirwiñakuy where things move along in a rather calm way. In Barbazul there are a lot of nice, romantic, even domestic, almost normal situations as the story builds. Amy wanted Barbazul, the character, to be charming without really showing too much charm – a mysterious charm I would say, so when he finally goes off, it comes as a complete surprise to the victim. No warnings.
After Sirwiñakuy I learned my lesson and tried, very hard, not to interfere with the direction, or the production even. I kept a good distance from the set and everything else. It was good because all I had to think about during the production was my role. It was a relief. In Sirwiñakuy I did the cinematography, so my mind was constantly jumping between the character and the image. That made things difficult for me as an actor. In Barbazul I didn’t have to worry about anything except my character and it was great.
I think Amy felt free to push and do what she wanted. In fact, we scheduled 12 to 14 days to shoot the movie in the amazingly appropriate and far away location, but we completed that part of the production in 10 days. Amy was a slave driver, pushing us to go on and on, getting up early in the morning and finishing the day shoot in the evening. She ran a tight ship and pushed all the way.
Amy – Jac is accurate about my being a slave driver on this production. I woke up at 6AM every morning and began knocking on doors. We were all trapped in this remote location, so I worked everyone all day long, until about midnight.
With this movie I had more actors to deal with, and I needed a different approach for each of them in order to vary the characters. It was so fun to see more characters come to life.
There have been a handful of (loose) adaptations of La Barbe Bleue over the years, most notably Bluebeard from 1944 with John Carradine in the title role [John Carradine bio – click here], and the Richard Burton starrer Bluebeard from 1972. How does your movie compare to the others, and were any former adaptations an inspiration for you in any way?
Amy – I have seen the Richard Burton version, which I find to be campy and funny. It didn’t influence me, because I had my own strong images from reading the story as a child already there in my imagination.
Jac – For me the major challenge was to make a movie about a story that has been made for the big screen many times over, most of the time with large resources and major film stars. So, to play a role that Richard Burton and John Carradine played before – it was challenging. I felt that the comparisons would be there. The trick was to make a totally different story, in a totally different context and doing the best with the resources available. One recent review, that appears on IMDb says: If you happen to have seen Richard Burton’s portrayal of Bluebeard in that famous old film, Jac Avila will finally make Burton’s face stop flashing into your mind at the mention of the name “Bluebeard” – that’s a very nice compliment to my effort.
Another challenge, for me, was to have all those sex and killing scenes with those wonderful ladies.
How did the project get off the ground, and what were some of the challenges putting it into production?
Amy – The project really got off the ground when we secured the main location, the hacienda in Chivisivi. As in Sirwiñakuy, the location is a character unto itself. I tend to follow Gothic archetypes like that.
It’s always a challenge to make a movie in Bolivia, especially one in which you have a remote location, no phones, no cell phone service (more on that later).
In addition, I was nervous before I began casting this movie. There aren’t a huge amount of women willing to do these kinds of scenes here. But I was really lucky and the actresses just fell into place on this one.
Amy, in the title role of your movie, you have cast your long-time collaborator Jac Avila – why him? And what was your collaboration like on this particular project?
Amy – I knew he could bring the role to life – and if I hadn’t cast him I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be on speaking terms right now. He was eager to play the role of a serial killer. Especially because he got to act with a bunch of lovely ladies.
He went into character when we arrived at the location, so he was difficult to be around most of the time. I really had to terrorize him to get him to play the role the way I wanted. We both have strong personalities.
Jac, how did you approach your role? And how much of your character is actually based on yourself (not the wife-killing part I hope)?
Jac – We were shooting Maleficarum, I had grown my beard for the role, it was mostly white, and up to that point I hadn’t given a thought to the character. I had some references, of course, but overall, I wasn’t thinking about Barbazul until a couple of days before we started production. We went to the hair salon, to get a haircut and dye my beard… blue. Well, not screaming blue, of course, just a dark bluish tone.
When I was transformed into that new me, we headed to a TV interview for Sirwiñakuy, which was still playing in its 5th month. There was something in the way I was behaving that made people take notice. I was wearing my new outrageous dark glasses during the interview. I never do that.
That evening I went to the supermarket and I found myself mistreating people, in subtle ways. Amy asked me “what’s wrong with you, why are you acting like an asshole? That’s when I noticed that I was modifying my behavior. Normally I’m a sweetheart, I let people walk all over me. On the set of the movie, I was no longer me, I was Barbazul.
As a somewhat trained actor I’m aware that I have to be able to distance myself from the character, to be able to see him and I was doing that. I was observing from the outside of Barbazul.
When Erika arrived in the set, she had a couple of days to shoot, she arrived when we were almost at the end of the production, I walked up to her, in character of course, and apologized in advance for all the nasty things I was going to do to her.
Long after we made the movie I was trying to identify what I used as the inspiration for the way I played Barbazul. It wasn’t Richard Burton or any other actor that played Bluebeard. There’s something in the way Barbazul kills, a cold detachment, the killing comes out of nowhere and it becomes instantly intense … I later realized that I was playing him in the way Tony Curtis played The Boston Strangler. That was a revelation to me. I saw that movie when I was a teenager and it made a big impression on me and I guess it was in my subconscious all this time. I was impressed by the way Tony Curtis transformed himself, even physically, to play the killer. Tony Curtis was known for his light, handsome hero roles, so to see him playing a killer was something amazing for that time.
I don’t see myself in Barbazul, not even at his most charming. The way he dresses … the way Amy dressed him, the way he walks, talks, makes love, kills… totally not me.
Amy, you have cast yourself in the most physically demanding and most revealing role in your own movie. Did you write the character for yourself from square one, or what made you choose this role exactly? And how did you approach the character?
Amy – I wrote the script without anyone in mind for any of the roles. It was later on that I realized it would be difficult to get someone to play the role of Jane in the movie, so I cast myself.
It was fun playing a character so different from myself, very feminine, aggressive and pink-wearing – I’m a lot geekier and don’t wear pink. Fun up until what I refer to as the “plastic burrito” scene. I didn’t think that one would be so awful. It was so much more awful than I ever could have imagined. When I look at that scene, I think, “I did that? Geez, I must be an idiot.” But it looks so great in the movie that it was worth being an idiot.
So, what does Amy Hesketh the actress think about Amy Hesketh the director (and vice versa)?
Amy – I think I did a pretty good job as an actress, people have told me they like my performance.
The actors must think I’m a crazy director. In fact, Paola (Teran) told me so. She said to me something like, “You have these crazy ideas, but we’re crazier, because we go along with you!” She compared me to the Pied Piper.
With Mila Joya and Veronica Paintoux, you have cast 2 Pachamama regulars in two key roles. Why them, and what was your collaboration like?
Amy – After I wrote the script I realized that they fit really nicely in those roles. They’re really easy to work with. I had worked with Veronica before and so that was great, she’s a professional through and through, as well as being a great friend.
This was Mila’s first time acting so it’s always a gamble as to how far you can push someone new. Such as, “So… in this scene we’re going to put a plastic bag over your head. Just let me know when you can’t breath. It’ll be fine, I promise!” – and yet, she still wants to collaborate with me in other movies, so it can’t have been that awful.
A few words about the rest of your cast and crew?
Amy – Paola Teran was very believable in her role, being a singer herself, and super helpful on the set. She always has great ideas about little things like set dressing or making food look good on screen.
Erika Saavedra was fantastic in her role, she really brought something to Agatha that I hadn’t imagined before we cast her. She thanked me after we were done with her scenes, for the experience, that it had helped her to get outside of herself. I was so touched by that.
Mariela Salaverry was great, she is such a nice person, and completely surprised me with how evil she can look!
Beto Lopez is another regular in our ensemble of actors. He told Jac way back, before he had ever acted, that it was his dream to play a butler. He really likes that film The Servant with Dirk Bogard. So, I made his dream come true, and I’m really pleased with what he brought to the role. He’s always full of little ideas for his characters.
Erik Antoine is a regular as well. When he read the script, he asked me, “Really, you want me to say it like that? That abusive? My character is a complete asshole!” – I think he liked it. He might have one of the most derogatory lines in cinema in this movie.
I think one key component of Barbazul is its rather impressive location – so how did you find it, and what was it like actually shooting there?
Amy – Beto has known the owners of the Hacienda Chivisivi, the Aramayo family, for many years, so we went to see it and I fell in love with the place.
It’s remote. Really remote. No cell phone service. There was one landline phone in the entire village and if the lady wasn’t there, you couldn’t make a phone call. I tried one time with Jac to go make a call, and ran into a crazy guy from the village who talked to us about how they punish people who do wrong in their village by beating them with sticks. I was not eager to go try again.
We also had to bring all of our food with us, there wasn’t anything really to buy anywhere, so we had to ration out everything.
Being virtually trapped in a location with a core group of actors and crew for 10 days makes people a little crazy. I think we all had some kind of syndrome at the end of shooting.
Any future projects you’d like to share?
Amy – My next film is called Olalla, an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, about a family of vampires. It has all kinds of good stuff, incest, vampires, a crazy family, and much more.
Your/your movie’s website, Facebook, whatever else?
Tweets by Amy_Hesketh
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Amy – There’s an audio commentary (MP3) for the movie with Jac and I at VermeerWorks:
Thanks for the interview!