By: Kayla Caldwell
I have to be honest. I'm more of a movie person than a music person. That's not to say I don't like music, but a movie about music is not necessarily going to be my favorite choice. But that means I severely underestimated how much I would love MY VALENTINE. I can't stop talking about it.
As soon as I finished the first screening, I knew I had to talk to Maggie Levin. She's a rising, female director and oh yeah, her movie MY VALENTINE is amazing. I'm happy to report that I got the chance to chat with Levin about manipulative personalities, the current horror Renaissance, and how much dating in LA sucks.
First of all, this movie was so good! It was different than I was anticipating, and I’ve had “The Knife” stuck in my head for days now.
Maggie Levin: Yes! That’s what I want. That’s what I love to hear!
Could you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for this?
Levin: Well, I grew up around the music and the entertainment world, and I’ve always been fascinated by the plight of the pop star. So that combined with this theme of overcoming codependency, learning how to love yourself, and then a number of real-life pop scandals that have been headline news for the past 10 years, all those combined in a brew, and seeded the idea for MY VALENTINE.
You mentioned the codependency - the podcast that she listens to is, on one hand, kind of jokey, since self-help can be looked down on, but then on the other hand, what it’s actually saying is so great. There’s a part about boundaries, and I wrote it down while I was watching it.
Levin: Oh my gosh! Right now, I think we are also in a bit of a cultural moment surrounding a new kind of therapy, a new kind of understanding of self and learning how to separate yourself from the people that you love, and still be loving. And I know that I’m learning all about that right now. So you’re seeing sort of my own therapeutic process happening in real time in this movie.
The three fans who are harassing Val and stan-ing Trezzure are really funny, but also kind of a good example of toxic fan culture.
Levin: Absolutely. I think there are a lot of things that happen in MY VALENTINE that are, of course, a heightened, fantastical version of reality. I think the key difference between the fans in the movie and what I would say would be stans in real life, is most people in an actual human interaction wouldn’t do half of the stuff that we do everyday online - wouldn’t make half of the vitriolic comments.
Because when you’re face to face with somebody, it’s so much harder to look at a real person and go, “I freaking hate you.” But, I definitely was excited to use this opportunity to kind of talk about a lot of different kinds of toxicity that we have going on in our culture right now.
Speaking of toxicity, Benedict Samuel was so good in that role. I was joking with my friends that the movie was good, because he made me so mad! Can you talk a little bit about working with him, and developing that role?
Levin: Benedict is an incredible actor, and was a surprise gift to this whole process. I saw one tape. He was in New York, so he wasn’t even able to come in for a callback or anything. But we all saw that tape - myself, the producers, Hulu - and there was something about it. There was a quality of chaotic madness and unpredictability in just the audition that he recorded, that I felt was really essential to the character. Because he goes to some very high, wild places.
It takes a precision actor to be able to do all of those levels, and not have them come off as cartoon-y. I know that some people will probably watch that performance, and go, “This is over the top.” But I’ve encountered that behavior in real life. I’ve encountered a person just like that - persons just like that in real life.
That element of psychosis, the edge of sociopathy next to psychosis, is so specifically dangerous, and so specifically manipulative. And I think Benedict did a beautiful job of going to all of those places in a really convincing manner.
The first shot of the first day that we did was a push in on his face, where he was turning and clapping, going, “Oh, Valentine Fawkes.” And my stomach dropped when it happened. I was like, “Oh man, we are in for a ride here.”
The way he switches from terrorizing Valentine, to, if she at all challenges him, whining, “Why are you being so mean to me?"
Levin: Yeah! The reverse into childishness is so essential to that character.
One line I wrote down is when Valentine laughs at him, and he yells, “Don’t f**king laugh at me. I’ll f**king kill you. No - I love you!”
Levin: I have to tell you - he [is a] very precise and thoughtful actor - not a lot of ad-libbing from this cast. They’re very faithful to the script. That line, it was just, “Don’t laugh at me,” when he jumped up on the stage, “I love you.” And he added the “I’ll kill you. No - I love you.” And it was so brilliant, and we said, “Keep it. Do it every time.”
Is horror something you’ve always been drawn to?
Levin: Yes. Love thrillers, love musicals - this is a confluence of two of my favorite things. But I’ll admit that I was a scaredy cat as a young person and as a teenager. I saw Scream, and couldn’t sleep for weeks. So I am a late onset horror fan.
But I’m really happy to be a rising genre filmmaker at this moment in time, where I think so many different, exciting things are happening in horror. There’s so much to explore. There are so many amazing movies coming out all the time that tackle all kinds of raw topics in really fun, big risky ways. It’s a thrilling time to be in horror.
What are some of your favorite movies that were an inspiration? They don’t have to be horror.
Levin: Well, the style of editing and color, obviously takes a lot of cues from Scott Pilgrim, and one of my favorite movies of all time, Velvet Goldmine. There’s obviously a relationship to the movie Green Room.
Yes! I love that you said that, because when I was talking about the movie, I described it as Cam meets the Miley Cyrus episode of Black Mirror meets Green Room - with Scott Pilgrim flair.
Levin: Yes! I’m thrilled that you said Cam, because that’s one of my all-time favorite horror-thrillers. I love Cam… That is absolutely what I was going for - and that pink feeling to Cam of a particularly girlish - like a play on a girlish feel that turns nightmarish. I really wanted to hammer home the Valentine’s Day card feel of the whole thing, and then there’s a lot of music video influence in there.
The cinematographer and myself looked at a lot of Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, what are the queens of pop really doing? What are their looks like? So we can have that contemporary pop feel come into the whole thing. Also, at least in terms of style of the shooting, we looked a lot at Romeo + Juliet and Assassination Nation as well, for the blood.
The couple, who was kind of a side story, they are really interesting and the dialogue felt very authentic, and like you would actually know people having that conversation.
Levin: Thank you. Yeah, it’s none of my own life in those conversations. I’ve definitely had that argument, about the love languages book.
Levin: It’s just, you know, the moment we’re going through in relationships right now. I don’t mean to say that dating in Los Angeles is a freaking nightmare, but perhaps.
But it is.
Levin: Yeah. I think that could be a sub-tagline [for the movie]. Dating in LA is hell.
Trezzure was also hilarious, and her reactions - kind of slipping into the baby talk - or when Royal murders the second person and she’s freaking out, but just points animatedly and doesn’t really say anything - she was so funny.
Levin: Anna [Lore] did such a phenomenal job of threading that character, because so much of her calculating, ambitious, manipulative, you know, Trezzure’s own calculated strength, is really beautifully, subtly threaded through the entire movie.
And then, the moments where she’s really allowed to go all out, show her true colors, where she points at her face and goes, “You need some serious therapy!” - you know, really lets it go. I live for those moments. And that is so much the genius of that actress doing the very careful work to track her arc through the entire movie.
Because she’s kind of in the background for a lot of it, and on a less conscientious performer, it could have been a real throwaway, oh I’m just a vapid pop star, and then I’m a psycho - could’ve been a real breezy, throwaway kind of a character.
But Anna did a really careful, beautiful job of making sure that through line of what she’s really up to lasts from beginning to end. That “Who me?” kind of a voice is utilized to great affect when she needs it. It’s a weapon.
I also love that point and yell moment. Shooting that scene between her and Benedict in that freezer area, everyone behind camera was having a hard time not cracking up.
I was at a screening where the cast was sitting near me, and everyone was cheering and singing along to the songs. Can you talk a little bit about the culture on set?
Levin: It was a loving and friendly set, full of camaraderie. You know, you shoot for 16 days. It’s so fast. It’s so packed tight together, and these performers, and this crew took care of each other.
And I think, as a collective, what we came out of this with is something we’re all - if I can speak for the group - I think we’re all really very proud.
They certainly should be. I can't wait to watch MY VALENTINE again. Check it out on Hulu - streaming now. Then, check out our MY VALENTINE review here.
Photos courtesy of Hulu and Blumhouse.