Genetic Modifications

After four features – Lovely Rita, Hotel, Lourdes and Amour Fou – Austrian director Jessica Hausner is one of Europe’s most celebrated filmmakers. She returns with her debut English language movie, Little Joe. Winner of Cannes’ Best Actress last year for her work, Emily Beecham plays Alice, a scientist who develops a strain of plant which spreads happiness, until it begins to radically modify behaviour.

ASFF: How did Little Joe begin life?
JH: I was thinking about the Frankenstein story, where a scientist creates a human being and that human being is like his son in the Frankenstein story. It’s his son that comes to life and then this monster goes out into the world and does bad things, and I find it a great metaphor. Women that become mothers do that all the time; they create monsters, they bring to life human beings that then go out of their control. And I find it high time to set the Frankenstein story in a female context, to change the gender of the scientist and to say the mother is the creator.

ASFF: Did you visit a real working laboratory?
JH: I spent a lot of time and energy on research, but in the end I created a world of its own – I’m not working in a naturalist style and I don’t want to. Take the orderliness of my frames – I want it to be like that and not necessarily because it is like that. On the contrary, I found labs very messy, in reality.

ASFF: What made you choose Emily Beecham?
JH: I think what I’m looking for in an actor – and what I love about Emily – is mystery. Even in private, but also when she’s acting…she doesn’t give away everything she thinks or feels to an audience. But it’s the other way around. She makes me curious: what does she really think and what does this person feel inside? She’s hiding herself a little bit and I find that highly interesting; it creates a lot of interest in the character and a lot of tension, suspense.

ASFF: Do you see the likes of Emily and her co-star Ben Whishaw as risk-takers?
JH: This I don’t really know, because I don’t see it as a risk – as I know what I’m doing! I think from their point of view it’s a risk. I had troubles with other actors in previous films who thought they don’t have enough close-ups! Emily did have close-ups! Maybe my style was more distant before. Some actors think it’s a risk but I don’t think it is, because if the film altogether is achieved, then you’re safe as an actor, no matter how many close-ups you have.

ASFF: Emily won Best Actress in Cannes for her work. How did that make you feel?
JH: I was really very happy. Especially because my film is not a typical actor’s film. It’s not the huge, highly emotional scenes where you have to cry. It’s a very styled directing and cinematography. And the work of an actor in such a mise-en-scène is different to the work of an actor in a film that is focused on identifying and emoting.

Little Joe is in cinemas on 21 February. For more details, click here.

James Mottram