New Adaptation

John Cameron Mitchell is an actor and writer-director whose films include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus and Rabbit Hole. Adapted from the Neil Gaiman short story, his latest movie is the comedic How To Talk To Girl At Parties. Set in Croydon in 1977, at the time punk ruled the airwaves, Alex Sharp plays Enn, a teenager who meets Zan (Elle Fanning) at a party, only to discover she and her companions are all aliens.

ASFF: This is based on a Neil Gaiman short story. Did you know Neil’s work?
JCM: I didn’t know Neil that well except for Sandman. I’m a big comics fan. But I didn’t know this story and now we’re best buddies and we’re even maybe talking about doing another one of his stories! This is the first one, he said, that he really, really liked. The first one adapted from his. The others have had too much money involved.

ASFF: How did you and your co-writer Philippa Goslett adapt the Gaiman short? 
JCM: His work is just the first party scene where the boys meet the aliens. It’s a twelve-page story. It’s a DNA. Elle’s character wasn’t in it. There were no punks in it. Philippa started with that, and added a bit of Neil, because he was a punk in Croydon. He was in a band that was asked to be signed, and his Dad said “No” because he thought it was a bad deal!

ASFF: Did you ever think about changing the story’s very long title?
JCM: I always liked kooky long names and it sounds like a teenage comedy but it ends up being more of a metaphor for how to talk to a human and the party being life. To me, I want it to truly be entertainment for a lot of ages but I want there to be some heart and some simple messages about breaking down barriers and what kind of punk we need now.

ASFF: Nicole Kidman co-stars. How did you find her inner punk?
JCM: I forced her to be punk, a little bit against her will. She said: “I’m not punk, I’m country and western.” And I said: “Nicole you’re going to love it.” So, she got really excited. But I did push her a little bit. Someone hit her in the head with a guitar, in one scene!

ASFF: What attracted you to casting Elle Fanning?
JCM: I always like Elle back from Somewhere, the Sofia Coppola film, and then I met her at Ginger and Rosa premiere and she was so sweet. As soon as I saw that film I said she was the one I want. She came to see Hedwig, my musical that was on Broadway and she was overwhelmed and we just hit it off right away and it was a dream. I really believe she’s going to be one of the great film actresses of all time as she blossoms.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties opens in cinemas on 11 May. For more details, visit StudioCanal.

James Mottram

1. Still from How To Talk To Girls At Parties. Courtesy of StudioCanal.