Catherine Hardwicke at the Helm of Twilight

Posted on 23. Nov, 2008 by in Profiles

words by Jason Dean,  photos by Robert Todd Williamson

Catherine Hardwicke stands her ground as the Indian summer sun washes over her. Her eyes squint from the glare, but she never loses her spirited demeanor. Chatting at her Venice Beach home a block from the ocean, she doesn’t strike me as someone who spent the last year directing a movie about vampires in the misty, moss-covered terrain of the 

Pacific Northwest. 

Twilight, based on the popular book series, opens Nov. 21, and Hardwicke is quite pleased with the translation from page to screen. “It has a lot of heart, a lot of soul,” she beams. As a former production designer with an architecture background, Hardwicke was concerned with bringing a visual, cinematic quality to the story. She traveled to Forks, Washington, where the story takes place, and familiarized herself with the community. 

“I tried to add stuff that wasn’t in the book to get to the details in Bella’s mind,” she says, referring to the main character. Author Stephenie Meyer was very supportive of Hardwicke’s vision. “She said [the added details in screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg’s draft] were like bonuses.” 

Hardwicke dismisses any comparison between the supernatural worlds of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter”. Other than the fact that both book series are penned by previously unknown female writers with modest backgrounds, the two are completely different. “Harry Potter is very much rooted in fantasy,” she explains. “[Twilight] is more romance-based, more character-driven. We created moments to make it as visceral an experience as possible.” 

Twilight is a clear departure from the stereotypical vampire ethos. When Meyer’s characters go into the sun, they don’t burn, they sparkle. The principal vampires in Twilight who don’t hunt humans are referred to as “vegetarians”. And each has a unique “gift” or superhuman power. 

“So many vampire movies rely heavily on symbolism,” says Hardwicke. “This film doesn’t do that. We don’t use the cross.” She describes the popular legend of vampire bloodlust and the constant battle to control it as a metaphor for abstinence. “You have to control the urge because if you cross the line with your girlfriend you could kill her,” she says sardonically. 

Originally from Texas, Hardwicke had a thriving architecture career before migrating to Los Angeles. “I’m probably the only film director who has built over a hundred buildings,” she laughs. As a production designer, she created sets for more than a dozen movies, including Tombstone, Tank Girl, Three Kings, and Vanilla Sky

Her directorial debut was Thirteen, which she co-wrote with Nikki Reed. Hardwicke was close to Reed’s parents, and she took the rebellious teen under her wing. She taught her how to surf, took her to museums, and tried to interest her in drawing. But Reed wanted to act. Hardwicke suggested they write a screenplay in which Reed could star and Hardwicke direct. The film won her a best director award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and launched Reed’s burgeoning career. Hardwicke has enjoyed a steady working relationship with Reed. The young actress appears in Twilight and also starred in 2005’s Lords of Dogtown

I dutifully follow as Hardwicke guides me through the maze of hallways in her home, past walls adorned with paintings (most by her sister), her own drawings, and posters and memorabilia from her films. In the bathroom, there’s a photo from a scene in Lords of Dogtown, in which Emile Hirsch is cutting off his shoulder-length hair. The scene was shot in that same bathroom, and the framed photo includes an actual lock of his hair. 

Back on her sun-soaked patio, Hardwicke muses on what superpower she would want if she had her choice. “I’d want to be able to knock people out with one breath,” she says, demonstrating with a silent roar. “All the people who are mean to me. There’d be a lot of corpses lying around.”

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