Evil is Sexy: An Interview with Agnieszka Holland
small, Evil is Sexy: An Interview with Agnieszka Holland, A still from the TV series Rosemary’s Baby, dir. Agnieszka Holland. On the photo: Zoe Saldana as Rosemary, photo: NBC, holland-dziecko-rosemary-6.jpg
"Evil comes in many masks, nowadays the devil is quite different, it’s sexy", said Agnieszka Holland after a screening of her miniseries Rosemary’s Baby. Holland’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel will be broadcast in Poland in May 2015.
The series has many Polish touches. It’s directed by Agnieszka Holland and her daughter Katarzyna Adamik (second director). The film crew also included, among others, a Polish cinematographer Jacek Petrycki. Music was composed by Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz, and the series also features Wojciech Pszoniak in the supporting role of a specialist of old manuscripts. The four episodes, each about an hour long, will be broadcast on the Lifetime channel on 1st, 8th, 15th and 22th May, 2015.
American writer Ira Levin's horror story about a woman who falls victim to a Satanic sect was published in the U.S. in 1967. Roman Polański brought it to cinemas a year later. The protagonist was played by Mia Farrow, with a cast including John Cassavetes, Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon.
After the press screening of Rosemary’s Baby, Holland was asked about her attitude towards Polański’s film:
This series is a great occasion to reinterpret Levin’s classic novel and to relate to Roman’s film as well, a great film, but at the same time not my favourite of this director's films. I didn’t feel like I had to do it “on my knees”, I was able to “unstick” from it.
The director stressed that Polański himself reacted well to her idea of a TV adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby, he gave them “carte blanche”.
In the TV series, Rosemary is portrayed by Zoe Saldana, known from James Cameron’s Avatar. Guy, Rosemary’s husband, is played by Patrick J. Adams. The “evil” married couple, the Castevets, is portrayed by Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet – former model and Bond girl from For Your Eyes Only.
The plot takes place in contemporary Paris. Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move to Paris from New York after the traumatic experience of losing a baby, looking for peace in their new city. In Paris they are “accidently” offered a place in a prestigious apartment building. They pay a high price for luxury, as the building has a sinister past.
At the beginning everything is fine. Rosemary is pregnant again and Guy’s career as a budding writer gains momentum – he becomes a lecturer at the Paris Sorbonne. The Woodhouses meet their new neighbours, a wealthy, slightly older couple, Mr Roman Castevet and his wife Margaux.
Sometime later, Guy begins to drift apart from Rosemary, so she spends more time with the Castevets. It soon turns out that Rosemary’s pregnancy is not going well. Disturbing signs begin to show, in the psyche of the mother-to-be as well. The Castevets, who symbolise diabolical powers, are a very attractive couple.
We wondered what the contemporary evil looks like, how it personifies itself. Roman Polański presented it differently: as old, sclerotic, saggy, unattractive. Contemporary evil is sexy. It might have not been such in the past, it had to wear a mask of ugliness. But today… it’s the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, to me narcissism seems to me the embodiment of evil. Nowadays evil has some kind of tinsel of beauty. Unpunished cynicism and narcissism are an immanent characteristic.
– Holland warned.
To a filmmaker, it’s easier to show evil than good, because evil “is more photogenic.” This can be seen in the most interesting cult series like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or House of Cards.
Evil is easier to photograph. Everyone who tried to show saintly, beautiful characters has struggled. The secret of good is much harder to capture. For sure. But I’m not only a director, I’m also a citizen. And I wonder, what does that mean – this fascination with evil and its attractiveness. What does it say about our times?
– the director wondered.
Asked whether the devil is attractive to Hollywood these days and whether the audience loves to watch evil, she said that this is not only the case of Hollywood, which addresses the needs of the viewers. Hollywood doesn’t create reality. She admitted that it was a bit different in the past.
I can remember when I began to propose some projects, in my studies or on the American TV, and most of my ideas were rejected with an argument that “this character is unfriendly”. But nowadays, trying to sell a nice character to any TV station: impossible.
– Holland said.
About House of Cards: what is most amazing is how politicians adore it. In the past, if you showed doctors in a bad way, the doctors would get upset. Nowadays, they would get upset if they were shown in a good way. Politicians, instead of getting upset that politics is shown in such a nasty, cynical way, argue amongst themselves about which one of them is like Frank Underwood; we should organise a competition.
– she added.
Speaking of the character played by Saldana, Holland stressed that she's a different type of persona than the Rosemary we know from Polański’s film – a “modern woman, more complex”, not a “victim icon”. She changes as the plot goes by, she learns to be responsible for herself, she learns to make choices.
The director was whimsically asked if she’s not afraid of the curse of Rosemary’s Baby. Holland replied “no”, but she admitted:
The shooting wasn’t nice, an enormous amount of people were fired. First, the studio kicked out the main producer, who developed this idea. (…) Suddenly I was left with no producer on the set. I personally fired one of the camera operators, who didn’t measure up. A second one went crazy and left. A whole crew of director’s co-workers – director’s assistants – was fired – all of them lost their jobs after three weeks. An editor was fired last-minute. It wasn’t easy.
Rosemary’s Baby (prod. USA/France/Canada) is not Holland's first TV series. Her earlier works include Gorejący Krzew / Burning Bush (created for HBO in 2013) and episodes of Cold Case, Treme and House of Cards.
Source: PAP, edit. AW, transl. Agata Dudek, 16/04/15.