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Exclusive Interview: Director Can Evrenol talks “HOUSEWIFE,” bad religion and almost casting a porn star

Friday, October 5, 2018 | Exclusive, Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Now available on DVD, VOD and digital platforms from RLJE Films, HOUSEWIFE marks a change of pace for director Can Evrenol from his blistering debut feature BASKIN. He talks that new direction and more in this exclusive chat.

Where BASKIN followed a group of macho cops into an underground occult hell, HOUSEWIFE, which Evrenol scripted with Cem Özüduru, focuses on Holly (Clémentine Poidatz), who has been traumatized by awful events in her childhood. In the present day, she is invited by her old friend Valerie (Alicia Kapudag) to a seminar held by Bruce O’Hara (David Sakurai), the charismatic leader of a cult called “Umbrella of Love and Mind.” Holly’s meetings with O’Hara only make her existence even more nightmarish, as she experiences waking nightmares tied to the horrors in her past, which point toward dreadful things in her future. See our review of the film here.

After telling a very male-oriented story in BASKIN, what led you to tackle a female-oriented narrative with HOUSEWIFE?

Well, although it’s very male-oriented, BASKIN is about the anti-male in Turkish society; that was my intention, at least. I tried to make those cops as macho and sexist and Turkish as possible, and the more I approached them like that, the more the evil they confronted became kind of sexually ambiguous and sexually deviant; it was a clash of those two things. So in a way, BASKIN is also about sexuality and a kind of anti-macho idea. That’s how I like to think about it. So transitioning from that to HOUSEWIFE was rather easy for me, but having a female in the center.

I’ve always wanted my movies to have something to do with beautiful girls and sexy stuff, but in all my short films and BASKIN, I ended up doing ugly men and monsters; I don’t know why it comes out that way [laughs]! In HOUSEWIFE, I wanted to center on the woman’s world, and see what happens inside her head when you mix it up with something, like I did in my short film TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER. It’s about eight minutes, and sort of lays the foundation for what I did on HOUSEWIFE. It’s about a little kid hiding in a closet, putting on a mask and seeing his parents having sex. Then a creature comes out, kind of like a hidden identity, and the parents are like, “Oh my God, our child is ruined, we’ve been trying to disguise ourselves as humans.” I’m not sure that’s what you’ll get from watching it, but this is how I intended it. That was kind of the basis for HOUSEWIFE.

Religious figures and cults have been the subject of quite a few horror films recently. Can you talk about how you used them in HOUSEWIFE?

I also think it’s there in BASKIN, where halfway through the movie, this male character enters, he preaches something, and then he traps the protagonist. That’s essentially what happens in HOUSEWIFE: this male character comes in, preaches and traps the protagonist—but with a twist. What’s scary to me about preachers is that I love dialogue; life is all about conversation, and when it’s a monologue and one guy preaching, that’s something I’ve always found frightening. My late father and I used to have these long, philosophical discussions, and he would say, “What’s the definition of death?”—like, from a theological or a philosophical or physical point of view. And we ended up saying that death is the end of communication, for better or for worse. Like, your body can die but your ghost remains, so you’re not dead yet because there’s still some communication happening. But if you’re not dead but are in, say, solitary confinement for the rest of your life, that’s kind of like death in a way, to your loved ones. Coming from that point of view, I find this kind of preaching very fascistic and aggressive, and if we’re seeing this more in other films, it might have something to do with the political atmosphere lately; I’m not sure.

Tell us about launching HOUSEWIFE, and casting your lead actress.

That’s a crazy story. When we pitched our project for the first time in Brussels, in the Frontières genre co-production market, I met these French producers, Vixens, who are super-cool guys. We were chatting in a club, and I said, “I would love to work with a porn star at some point,” because I’m fascinated with pornography, all kinds of it. You know, it’s not a coincidence that we’re seeing more and more porn actresses transitioning into mainstream media; there were several in GAME OF THRONES, Sasha Grey is doing horror films, and I believe they have this mentality they bring to the set that’s more liberal or experimental, and I would really like to experience that. So we were talking about this, and they said, “You know what? We can introduce you to Stoya.” I was like, “Really? OK!”

So I met with Stoya in New York, and she was super-sweet. I pitched the project to her, she said she really liked it and we shook hands, and I was thinking, “Oh my God, I have Stoya as my lead!” And that, along with this being an English-language project, got financiers interested. We could now get the money for our movie, and that was one of the main reasons. I was really happy about it, and Stoya came to Istanbul, to Cannes, and we were pretty set to go. Then, about a month before the shoot, suddenly she said she was not doing the movie. I was like, “What?” It was 1 a.m. in Istanbul, and I texted her, and she told me she was not doing the movie if Cthulhu was in it. I’m said, “First of all, whether Cthulhu is in it or not is up to your interpretation. Is this a religious thing?” I was just asking why, and she couldn’t give a proper answer. I mean, she seemed like such a sweet person, but…

So I called my French producers and they called her, and they told me she was crying on the phone for half an hour, saying things like, “They’re changing the script without asking me,” which was not the case. She finally mentioned some things that happened to her in her adult career that really upset her, and she said she really doesn’t like uncertainty. I’m not sure if that was the real reason or not, but whatever the explanation, she said she didn’t want to do it. And I was like, you know what, I’m not even going to try to make her change her mind, because obviously it’s not meant to be. Clearly she doesn’t want to do it, and I didn’t want to force her into anything.

At the time, I had already met with Clémentine Poidatz and really liked her, and I thought I had to work with her on another project sometime. I felt she would have been perfect for Valerie, but I had already cast Alicia Kapudag for that part and was very happy with her. But then, after Stoya left, why not Clémentine for the lead? So I called her, and she said OK.

Her character goes through a lot of intense and trying scenes. Did she have any qualms about performing those?

On the third day of filming, I think we were on our 14th hour, and my co-writer Cem Özüduru and I looked at each other and said, “If this was Stoya, we would have to cancel the shoot.” Seriously. Clémentine was such a trouper, both physically and mentally. I love that when she talks about the project, she comes at it from a different angle, and the way she embraced the whole thing was great. She didn’t 100 percent understand what was going on, but she trusted me and she liked my previous work, so we had this mutual respect. I could easily, safely tell her that I didn’t 100 percent understand what was going on as well, but we would try to find out. That was the game: “I want to find out through you.” She became a beautiful collaborator, and she was naked in the snow in the exterior scenes, and had all this goo and milk and disgusting stuff on her, rolling around, being scared and screaming and crying all the time. It was a very difficult role, and she did a perfect job.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.