Since Barbara Crampton and I became real life friends at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of You’re Next, I try to cover every new movie she’s in. Sometimes it’s the only way we can catch up! She’s so busy. So when I saw she was in Replace at the Los Angeles Film Festival, I asked for an interview and got to meet Rebecca Forsythe (William’s daughter), writer/director Norbert Keil and producer Felix von Poser too.
Forsythe plays Kira, a woman who finds herself in an apartment with no memory and her skin peeling off. She realizes she can replace her skin with the skin of other women, whether they are willing donors or not. Crampton plays a scientist Kira visits about the phenomenon. Replace premiered on Friday, June 16 and plays again
WLE: What is the white stuff on her finger and eventually all over her body?
Norbert Keil: We spent a few months on tests, trying to figure out what would look best in terms of skin and did research of actual dry skin look. We ended up with a mixture of silicone and granulated wheat. It’s stuff you would use in your breakfast.
Rebecca Forsythe: I’ve never worked with any sort of special effects before. We talked a lot about before I saw what the skin was supposed to look like and he was describing it. It looks gross and when I was working on it, I just tried to understand if that was actually happening.
Rebecca Forsythe: No, not anymore. I feel like I can watch scary movies now and not get so grossed out. I’m weak when it comes to that kind of stuff but not as much anymore. It was kind of fun.
WLE: Is it a full body prosthetic when she starts peeling chunks of skin off?
Norbert Keil: The skin from the victims is all latex. Only her skin is a mixture of latex and the wheat.
WLE: Did you have to be careful peeling the big pieces? Were any takes ruined by ripping them too early?
Norbert Keil: Interestingly, no. Our special effects people were like, “You’ve got to be really, really careful.” There’s that one scene where she pulls off her pantyhose. The pantyhose covers all the leg which is dry. They said, “You will only be able to shoot this once. It’ll come off.” But we shot it seven times. It was perfect and those guys did such an amazing job to make it really durable. We got lucky. We got lucky a lot in the film.
Felix von Poser: What we did to make all that possible is we had two shooting units, one throughout the day and one throughout the night with the same location. We had doubles for Rebecca. She would be in all the special effects things because they take hours and hours to put them on and take them off. We basically had double the shooting days than we were able to pay for.
WLE: Barbara, have you been where Rebecca is now at the beginning of your horror career?
Barbara Crampton: Oh, absolutely. That’s very smart of you to make those comparisons. I was on a table in Re-Animator for a long time and working with the special effects and making that feel real and having to embrace that and use your character to work through all of the special effects and horrible things that happen to you as a character and making that realistic. It’s definitely a challenge more than just playing a straight movie with you with some other characters. You have another layer of skin to get underneath.
WLE: Was there any passing of the torch or mentorship?
Rebecca Forsythe: Totally. She’s such a professional and she’s been in the business for so long. She’s much more calm and settled, I feel like.
Barbara Crampton: We worked together very well. Whatever I brought to her in terms of being in the business for a longer period of time, she brought back to me in terms of a younger actress just starting and the inspiration that she gives to me and being so wonderful in the part as she was. So strikingly beautiful, with so much class. Really, I think you attacked the character so well that it was inspiring to me to continue on working knowing that the young people coming up today are just amazing. This was sort of her first role really, first really big role. It was just satisfying to work with somebody of her caliber out of the gate for her. I appreciated that too.
Rebecca Forsythe: Very challenging because the entire time, I always had in mind I wanted the audience to always understand where Kira’s coming from, that she’s not this cold blooded serial killer just killing for sport or something. She’s really doing it out of desperation. I always tried to keep that in mind. There’s a lot of other complicated factors that go along with the part, so I just always had to plan it out visually for myself in order to go through the whole arc.
WLE: Was body horror a genre you were always interested in?
Norbert Keil: Oh yes. I think the film oozes David Cronenberg. He’s been a major influence and one of the reasons why I got into movie making. The Fly is one of my all time favorite movies.
Rebecca Forsythe: I’m a wuss when it comes to horror films. Someone showed me The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was maybe four and I was completely scarred. So I stayed away from most of it. Before we started filming, I went to Munich and Norbert made me watch some of David Cronenberg’s films and Suspiria. We watched the beginning of Suspiria. I’m slowly getting better with it. I think working on a gory film has helped me, like I said.
Rebecca Forsythe: I like how it’s very much psychological. I have a hard time focusing on the physical aspect of it but the way the physical and the psychological go together, that’s what really interests me. How does a person change as a result of these drastic changes in the physical plane? That’s the stuff I’m really fascinated by and that’s why I like Cronenberg because it’s very psychological thriller as well.
Barbara Crampton: And the mind and the body are so connected, and that’s what Cronenberg always tried to point out too. I think that’s true in science. We see that in life. When your body doesn’t feel good, it can really affect your mind or when your mind’s not good, it affects your body. He was a master at giving that a platform.
WLE: How did you want to put a new spin on body horror?
Norber Keil: What we set out to do, and I think that’s one of the major things you feel in the project as well, as much as I love David Cronenberg, in The Fly he’s very emotional. I think my goal with this film and the other films I’m trying to do after this which are in the body horror genre as well, is always to put the focus on the human story, not with the effects or the grossout stuff in the foreground. Treat it as part of a human journey.
WLE: What is Kira’s journey?
Norbert Keil: She starts out as a character who’s really yearning to be in control of her life, of herself, of her surroundings. As we get to know her, everything she controls is just gone. She has no memory, she walks into her apartment which she kind of recognizes. She’s totally not in control but she’s always looking for control, control, control. Then she realizes on top of everything else, she’s losing control over her own body. That’s when she, by accident, finds she can get some control back by taking the skin of the other girls. That’s kind of regaining some sort of control over her life. In the end, when we near act three, the logical journey would have been for Kira to accept she’ll never be in full control of her life, but she doesn’t go there. She just rejects that. This is horror and it’s tragedy of course. She makes a tragically wrong decision.
WLE: Barbara, do you consider any of your horror movies body horror? Maybe From Beyond?
Barbara Crampton: Jeffrey had the pineal gland coming out of his forehead. I guess that was definitely body horror for him. Not to such a big extent as what this film represents, I don’t think. I do think the body horror and the marriage of the beauty too is something I don’t know another movie that’s really explored that. I think that’s partly because it’s very much in our culture right now and what we’re thinking about. The science of being beautiful and being able to look beautiful has evolved so much that we can control it to a certain degree. How much more are we going to be able to control it as time goes on? I’ve done a little bit of research in this area and it’s amazing the advances that science has made in the past decade or so. We are just on the precipice of being able to see that through curing diseases and possibilities of curing diseases like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s, the byproduct of helping those genes and renewing those cells is going to actually affect the outside cells too. So that a byproduct of healing the body is that the facial cells are going to get rejuvenated and you will retain your beauty and your youth for a lot longer than we have in the time that’s come before us.
WLE: So you researched enough to really know what your character is talking about?
Barbara Crampton: I was really blown over because I went to the Buck Institute in Marin County. It’s an institute on aging. This is what the scientists were telling me. After I went there, I talked to Norbert about it and we added some things to the script because it’s true. Our life expectancy now is 85 or so, maybe up to 90. In the not too distant future, it’s going to be based in real science that we see people living to 150, 200 years old. It will be normal. It won’t be science fiction anymore.
WLE: Did you have a wardrobe department creating costumes for Barbara and Rebecca?
Norbert Keil: In part, we created stuff but most of the stuff was really selected based on the color schemes that we came up with, production design. We put a lot of effort into creating different worlds and looks. Some of your red coats were done actually for you. Certainly the red coat you wear at the beginning of the movie, I found an image online. Our costume designer just redid it and custom tailored it to Barbara.
WLE: Were you a writing team with Richard Stanley?
Norbert Keil: I wrote the first couple drafts. Since I’m not a native English speaker, we figured we need a polish. Karim Hussain, who was originally attached as DP, suggested Richard Stanley who I’ve been a fan of since I was a teenager. We’ve become a writing team after that and I continue to work with him. We’ve become friends.