“It's a spiritual journey, it just so happens to be about a vampire...” hmv.com talks to Abel Ferrara
For a period in the 1970s and 1980s, Abel Ferrara was one of America's most unique filmmakers, and often one of its most controversial.
His low-budget 1979 slasher flick The Driller Killer was, according to the then-head of the BBFC, “almost single-handedly responsible for the Video Recordings Act of 1984” which saw the film, and several others branded 'video nasties' by the censors, banned in the UK on its initial release.
By the 1990s, however, Ferrara's films were beginning to find an audience and after a series of acclaimed films such as King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, Ferrara set about making a vampire movie with a twist, framing its protagonist's vampiric blood lust as an addiction like any other.
This week sees The Addiction become the latest of Ferrara's films to receive the remaster and reissue treatment from the folks at Arrow Video, and with newly reissued Blu-ray in stores this week we caught up with the director for a chat...
Can we talk a little bit about the context in which The Addiction was made? You'd spent most of your career up until that point as an independent filmmaker, then after Bad Lieutenant you did your first films for big Hollywood studios – Body Snatchers for Warner Bros, then Dangerous Game for MGM...
“Well, we did a Hollywood movie before that. Fear City was a Hollywood movie, and I shot some big TV stuff. It wasn't just Bad Lieutenant that got us into that game, we were already in the Hollywood game, you know?”
Right, but was there something about those experiences that made you want to go back to doing things independently when you made The Addiction?
“It comes down to the material. Dangerous Game was just as much of a guerilla, street movie as this, it was more that we were able to finance that, but it's basically the same group of filmmakers. With this, it was this kind of black & white, junkie vampire shit and Lili (Taylor) wasn't a big star at the time, so it was just one of those things where we couldn't find the right guy [to fund it]. And then we did find the right guy and it was Russell Simmons, and he came through with the money. It was not a lot of money, but it was enough to make the film, so I'll forever be indebted to Russell for doing that. This film came close to not being made.”
Just to be clear, this is Def Jam founder Russell Simmons we're talking about?
“Yeah, yeah. He found the money, let me put it that way. He funded it somehow, he made sure it happened.”
In terms of the way you shot the movie - single-camera for the most part – was that a conscious attempt to make something that felt very unlike a big Hollywood studio film? A reaction to what you'd done before?
“I don't think it was a reaction, I think it was just a practical way of making that film. You know, you're mostly shooting one person, we didn't have a lot of money and the second camera comes with a second cameraman and a second assistant and blah blah blah, then you're shooting that much more film. So I think we went back to what was more our classic way of shooting, more of a Bad Lieutenant style.”
Where did the central idea for the film come from?
“I don't know, Nicky [St. John, screenwriter) wrote it and I got the script. I don't know where he got the idea from, I didn't ask him.”
Did Nick pitch the idea to you?
“He didn't pitch it, he just sent me the script, it was all done, it blew my mind. It was like you were watching the movie, I was like 'wow, we gotta make this'.”
Did you see it as a 'vampire movie', or was that just the vehicle for telling a story about addiction?
“Well, obviously it's a vampire movie, but it's no different to any other film, you know. You've got the character and you're following her, and you're with her every deed of the way on her complete spiritual journey. So that's what it is, it's a spiritual journey, it just so happens to be about a vampire instead of the woman next door, or as opposed to a woman who works in a beauty parlour.
“Like I told you, I got the script and it was done, this wasn't one of those scripts that was discussed around a table and blah blah blah. He had the vision, he'd completed the vision, he handed it to me and I said 'let's go'.”
When it came to casting the film, where did you come across Lili Taylor?
“Fernando [Sulichin, producer] brought her to us. You know, with all that kind of clientele, it's a community, a filmmaking community, and acting community. People know who's special, quick. I can't really remember if I saw her on stage first, maybe I did, I'm not sure.
“But we met, she had read the script and she had a really good grasp of the character and I go by instinct in those situations.”
You'd worked with Christopher Walken before obviously, how did he get involved this film?
“Yeah, we worked with him. You know, he was an actor when we needed an actor. He's the first person we'd call, or if not he's the second! He's up there on top of the list if we need an actor.”
Is it true that his character, Peina, was originally written as female?
“Yeah, that's right. That was the crazy part about it. When we were at the stage of, I guess, the first rehearsal, or the first discussion even, I'm thinking he's gonna start talking about Cassanova and he's talking about the other one. I didn't want to disappoint him so we just switched it up.”
Did you tell him he was reading a character that was meant to be female?
“I didn't think it was worth talking about.”
You also cast Fredro Starr from Onyx - a first feature film for him...
“Yeah. How's he doing? Is he still rocking or what?”
He's still acting, yes.
“Yeah but I mean these days is he still making records?”
Not so much. They put out an album in 2014, but he's been mostly acting. He's done quite a few movies, some TV shows. He had parts in a couple of police procedurals, NYPD Blue, CSI something or other...
“Are you kidding me? Really??”
Onyx are one of various hip-hop artists on the soundtrack - how did you go about putting all that together?
“Well, Russell and Def Jam were the producers, and we got that great song from Rick Rubin.”
Were you into that whole scene? You're from the Bronx, which is pretty much the birthplace of all that stuff...
“Yeah, I'm a big rap fan, but I was coming from a different kind of rap style. These were all guys that Russell was connected with, so that's how that came together. But yeah, that's where it began, right? The Bronx, Philly... I mean Schoolly D is a friend of mine, they was all the original gangsters, you know?”
You did a video for him around that time, didn't you?
“Yeah, well he's done a lot of our films, he's scored a lot of our films. We're still friends.”
So what are you up to these days? Are you still living in Rome?
“I live in Rome, and we're making movies.”
You've made a couple of documentaries recently, are there any more projects in the pipeline at the moment?
“Well we did Pasolini, we did Welcome to New York, we're starting a new movie next month and we're doing another film in February. The documentaries, I kind of think of them as research for the features, you know?
“We're gonna do a film called Siberia in the wintertime, with Willem Dafoe. You can look it up online. Then we're doing an experimental feature that we start shooting next month. Did you see my film 4:44: Last Day on Earth? Well, check it out. We're doing an Italian version of that.”
The Addiction is available on blu-ray in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store...