Interview: Rachel Miner

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and conducted in 2002]

My First Interview: with the star of Bully, Larry Clark’s predictably controversial new feature. I remember Rachel Miner talking around Larry Clark’s assertion that the USA is now affluent enough for even the children of its middle classes to remain in decadence. I remember because I get home to find on my tape little but crackles and hums for the first six minutes. She talks mainly, I can assure you, about the difference between “lack of money, lack of information, and lack of purpose”. If you have all the information in the world at your fingertips, but don’t know how to choose… We definitely talk about the “paralysis of choice”, broken by Lisa, the character Rachel plays. There was no single factor, she said, that could be blamed for the situation depicted in the film. Among the many factors, though, was boredom – at which point I plug the microphone in…

RM: It’s interesting, I mean, I think that that was one of the things, they were so bored that [the murder] became something interesting to do. It was something to do, period.

SP: And something disengaged from a moral centre?

RM: Well yeah, I think one of the things, aspects to Lisa was that she was very isolated and very uncomfortable, and kind of had her own sense of morals [laughs] and justice and whatnot. I think that the things that she felt were right and the things she felt were wrong were very different. She seemed to have very little understanding that what she had done could be even considered wrong. She was very separated from, maybe, erm, [laughs] the rest of the world’s moral code… You know, I think, to her, this was the right thing to do.

SP: How did you get the part?

RM: I met with Larry, and we had a discussion about the part and about the film and stuff like that, and we got along very well, and were in agreement about the film and we met again, and we just kept talking about it, and that’s how I ended up doing it.

SP: How did you prepare for the role? You’ve been acting since you were 8 or 9, and you’ve mainly done stage stuff, right? Although you had a part in Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool

RM: That was a small, small part. This [Lisa, in Bully] was essentially my first major part.

SP: Was that something that you felt confident about, you grew into it, and so on?

RM: I felt pretty confident about it, ’cause for me, I try not to think about whether I am making a film, or doing a play, or whatever, I just try as far as possible to make it real. So, you know there are certain technical things that are different, but I’ve done a few sort of little films, low-budget little films, and things like that in New York. So I’ve had enough experience that I wasn’t uncomfortable with the process, and it was different doing a full-length feature and a major role, but I guess I try not to think about… to me, you shouldn’t be aware that there’s a camera there. I mean everyone works differently, but when I’m acting I try not to be aware there’s a camera there, that we’re shooting a film, you know what I mean?

SP: One of the comparisons critics have made regarding Lisa’s role in the film is to Lady Macbeth. Were you thinking about this, or other sources when you were preparing the character?

RM: It’s interesting, because when I am preparing for a role, I know I’m factoring in so many things, but I’m not always hyper-aware of it. You kind of piece together all the… you have in storage, in your head, a lot of things, and when you’re doing it, you’re obviously drawing on those things, but I didn’t think about it too much, in terms of pulling it from other parts. I try as much as possible to think about people I know or I watch people a lot, I’ve always been an observer of human behaviour. So I tend to raw more on that than another character that I’ve seen or another performance.

SP: When you were down in Florida, shooting in the locations where the kids actually lived, hung out and committed the crime, did you get a chance to meet people involved in the case?

RM: We all did, we all got a chance to talk to some people and we spent some time in the area, so you got a sense of what life was like, and we shot in a lot of the actual places they actually lived and whatnot.

SP: And did you pick up the rhythm of the life they were living?

RM: Absolutely. Lisa had a very different voice and whatnot, and the kids down there, I mean it was a totally different way of looking at life – just everything: speech pattern, , movement, I just let myself fall into it, talked, hung out round there – but there are many factors… the heat…, you know, the boredom, the fact that everything seemed to look the same, everyone seemed to look the same, you know what I mean, it was really fascinating…

SP: The parents in the film, they seem to have this framework of apparent control

RM: False control…

SP: … as long as the kids are in their rooms, it’s OK…

RM: It’s interesting because it’s really that human ability to not… if you don’t want something to exist, just pretend. Or if you don’t want to have to work at something, don’t want to try to fix something, just pretend it isn’t there, and to me that’s really dangerous. A lot of the people who’ve attacked the film have said it’s going to make their kids do these things. I think they’re the very parents of the kids who are doing these things. A film is not going to make you… it’s the fact that the parents aren’t there to speak with their kids, they’re not checking in on what’s going on, they’re putting the responsibility on other people – that will be the deciding factor on what road the child takes. It was so disturbing that the parents [in the caseBully is based on] were there the entire time, and literally knew what was going on, but just refused to admit it. It was OK because they could get their kid to sit down for dinner, and pretend that it was all good.

SP: Larry Clark, with Kids and Bully, has gone into territory – of adolescent sexuality – that many people find uncomfortable viewing, if not disturbing or beyond the pale – and has also been accused of being exploitative and sensationalist. To me, it seems actually quite clear-eyed – how do you react to those responses?

RM: Well, it’s so interesting, because, yes, it was difficult to do, and yes, you know, I go back and forth sometimes about it, but you look at how much sex is sold in our society, and to me that’s more exploitative than [Bully] is. This was not something that was trying to turn on… I was not slowly taking my clothes off and trying to turn someone on or something, and you see like, even a music video, or on TV or in films, so much of the time, when girls are so much more exploited, they’re using their sexuality so much more, they’re being looked at sexual objects so much more – they may have their clothes on, but… It’s an interesting thing.

SP: It felt naked in more of a vulnerable way…

RM: Yes, more of a vulnerable kind of a way, than a sexual way. Some of the discomfort is because it was real, again with the murder too – how many times do you go see a film, and you see hundreds of people murdered within that film, and you don’t feel anything? But because [Larry Clark] did it in such a realistic way, and such a messy way, it was severely disturbing and uncomfortable. But that’s maybe the appropriate response when you see a murder… And I think the same with the sexuality and all – yes, it’s uncomfortable, but that’s how we’re supposed to… you know. The nudity and all that stuff – I think that it’s because it’s so real that it’s uncomfortable, not because it’s so exploitative or sexual.

SP: There’s a scene in which Ali (Bijou Philips) is having sex with Donnie, having the kind of sex that Lisa calls “experimental”. It seems to me that it feels more like someone imitating what they think sexual experimentation should be, gleaned from watching films, for example…

RM: Exactly. So much of their stuff was imitating – the murder too, the whole concept was imitating things that were glorified… And I think that the healthy thing about this film is that kids are not going to see this and say that this is an attractive thing to do, this is something we want to emulate. That’s why it is more moral in some ways. I totally understand what you’re saying – and that’s one of the things that I think is disturbing about the sex scenes and all, but also is truthful – there is a lack of feeling, a kind of going-through-the-motions, a kind of detachment and apathy, even to the sex, and that is one reason that having it in the film helps to tell the story.

SP: Did you find it a difficult process, to get into and then back out of the character – especially on such a short shoot (3 weeks)?

RM: To get into her head? It was hard in that… it was quite a head to get into [laughs]. Definitely it left me not feeling at my best, and because there was that whole bleakness and darkness to that world, that I definitely had to find my hope, and my beauty again – it wasn’t the easiest thing to let go of.

SP: What about other young people, say, Harmony Korine, who’s worked with Larry Clark before, and scripts his next film – is that the kind of slightly more edgy work that interests you?

RM: I’m always excited by something different – ’cause it seems rare these days. I love people being true to their… rather than trying to compromise themselves, or trying to sell something, anyone who’s being true to their vision, to me is exciting – even if it’s a different vision than I would have. You find a lot of things nowadays are made without any drive, without any artistic… – not one person’s need to express something, it’s kind of a company’s…. They’ll sit there and they’ll deduce what’s going to make the most money, and kind of have a bunch of people write, and that to me is different, and not something I’m as interested in. There’s a lot of young people doing interesting things right now, despite the fact that I might have a different vision, I’m always fascinated working with people like that.

SP: Did you prepare for this interview? When you have to do these media junkets, do you prepare?

RM: No, I don’t. it’s a choice I made just to try to… just be. Rather than, you know, put on anything – try just to be as honest as possible.

SP: And why do you think people are interested in reading interviews with people such as yourself?

RM: I don’t really know. It took me a while to kind of go “Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say, that’s not really important?” but, you know, I just try to, you know, if they’re interested, I’ll just answer the questions. Certainly, sometimes I’ll use it as an opportunity, when there’s something going on that I feel very strongly about or whatever – I don’t feel my opinion has any more value than someone else’s, but, hey, if you have the ability to speak out, then do. I just answer the questions, and if they’re interested, I guess they’re interested – I don’t really know why. But we all have that – to be honest, I think part of it’s ’cause the world has become… the way the world goes now, we don’t have small towns where we know everything about everyone, so we pick certain people to know a lot about, and it keeps us feeling like a small community. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

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