Amy Heckerling knows a thing or two about adolescents in movies. Having directed such classics as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Clueless,” the filmmaker not only has a pulse on teen angst and humor, she also has a preternatural ability to spot young talent (she’s helped launch the careers of actors such as Alicia Silverstone, Sean Penn, Forrest Whitaker, Paul Rudd and many, many others).
In her new movie, “Vamps,” out in limited release and VOD today, she’s exploring the tennets of youth once again. But this time, she’s moving up a few age groups. Here we meet Goody (Silverstone, teaming up with Heckerling for the first time since “Clueless) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter), two college-going, party-hopping vampires living in New York City. Granted, they aren’t really in their college years; while they may look young, Stacy is actually in her 40s, and Goody is almost 200 years old. Nevertheless, the film follows our blood-sucking duo as they attempt to navigate a world of changing technology, night classes and Van Helsing descendants.
Moviefone spoke with Heckerling about her new film, teaming up with Silverstone again, what it was like reuniting with the cast of “Fast Times” at last year’s Spike Guy’s Choice Awards, and the noticeable lack of female directors in Hollywood today.
There are lots of vampire books/movies/TV shows out right now. Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle the subject?
Well actually when I wrote it, it was before the “Twilight” movies came out. I of course was aware of vampire things before that, but I didn’t know it was going to come out and be so many things at one time. So it wasn’t like, Oh there’s this huge trend and I am going to do it too.
Was there a moment when “Twilight” and “True Blood” and other properties started to catch on, where you were like “This is too much vampire stuff. I should probably stop”?
Well I had my own ideas and my own reasons for wanting to do this. In Hollywood, whenever you do anything, it seems like there’s going to be 30 of them. When I did “Look Who’s Talking,” people went: “Oh but there’s going to be this baby movie and that baby movie.” I can’t worry about that. I can only do what I want to do.
This movie definitely looks at vampires from a different viewpoint — essentially, how vampires function in today’s world.
My parents were living with me [at one point], and I also have a very older great aunt. So I know from hanging around with people in their 70s and 80s and 100s, the way they talk and complain about things has nothing to do with most of the vampire movies I see. When time goes by and you grow up in a certain time period, you’re not going to have the same “Oh boy the new iPhone is coming out” [reaction]. You’re going to be, “Ugh, another thing I have to learn to use?” And nobody has tapped upon that old-person-trapped-in-a-young-person’s-body aspect and how they’re looking at the world.
You’re teaming up with Alicia again for the first time since “Clueless.” Did you have her in mind from the get-go?
I had her in mind for Stacey actually, because I wanted that sort of a happy sunny person, and the other vampire would be more of an actress of the past — somebody that had the look that you would associate with older movies. And I kind of wasn’t finding that person. There were a few people I was interested in, but it wasn’t going to work out with them and the scheduling and the money. But when Krysten Ritter came along, it seemed she would be better for the happy more modern vampire, and Alicia would be better suited to play the sadder-but-wiser one.
Had you been trying to work with Alicia since “Clueless”? Was this the first project that came up?
It’s funny. It’s not like I said, “OK, let’s sit down and come up with things to work on.” It was always, “We love each other and we’re going to find a way to work again.” But this was the first thing where I was like, “Oh, I could use Alicia!” We’ve stayed in touch [since “Clueless]. I’ve seen all her plays, she’s come to all my films. We’re close. I just saw her last night because we went to her play and hung out. She’s just such a wonderful person.
You both recently did an interview in Bullet magazine where you were talking about the pressure that Alicia was under after “Clueless.” Is it nice being able to see that she’s sort of broken through that and continued to have a successful career?
I am so happy for her. But a lot of that, it’s not luck, it’s that she made it come back together for herself. It’s through her own efforts. She was so incredibly young on “Clueless”; she was 18 when the people around her were saying “Ooh we’re going to have a company and you’re going to be a producer and I’m your partner.” She was a teenager! She wanted to go study Shakespeare. And she was right about what she should’ve been doing. But other people were putting so much pressure on her. There was the cover of a magazine that said “Can Alicia Silverstone Save Sony?” She wasn’t even 19 yet! What kind of nonsense.
Was there anything you were doing at the time to try and stop that from happening?
I introduced her to some people that I thought may have been able to be better at guiding her. But, she was sort of in a world of people that had taken care of her career, who she was dependant on, and they were very excited to be doing other things.
You’ve been a champion for so many young actors who’ve gone on to extremely successful careers — Alicia, Sean Penn, Paul Rudd. Is there one particular thing that you look for when casting younger actors? Does it just depend on the person?
It totally depends. My pride and joy most recently was Saoirse Ronan [in “I Could Never Be Your Woman”]. She won a contest in Ireland and came into read for me and I put her in this movie and people asked to see some footage and I showed them. Now she’s off and running and she’s got an Oscar nomination. She’s just the sweetest little girl, and now I watch her on red carpets and it’s like “Oh my god, that’s my baby!”
You’ve written plenty about adolescents and teenagers over the years. What about that subject still interests you?
Well that’s one of the fun aspects of doing movies with young people, is finding the new [actors]. One of the most fun ones for me was Forrest Whitaker. He had two lines in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” I saw on his list that he had all these theater credits, but he had never been on film. So I said, instead of doing this one line, you want to do a little monologue from something you did? And he did and it blew me away. I said “Oh my god, you’re in!” The producers afterward said, “That’s not how you do it. You have to say thank you and then we talk to the agent” [laughs]. I was young and stupid. But I looked out the window and I saw him going to his car and sort of jumping and skipping. It was just one of those joyous moments in your life that you never forget.
Was it great being able to reunite with the entire “Fast Times” cast last year at the Spike Awards?
Oh my god, that was so fun. To have us all together all at once is a lot of fun. I love those guys. It was just a real trip to be up there with Robert De Niro.
And it was great seeing Sean drop some Jeff Spicoli lines, especially since he hasn’t done much comedy since then.
I know! I can’t believe he did that! But you know, as much as “Milk” was a serious movie, when I was watching it I had glimmers of Spicoli. And then he gets an Oscar. I was like, “Perfect.”
You’ve been directing for quite some time, yet there still seems to be a noticeable lack of female directors today. Do you think Hollywood can do (or is doing) anything about it?
You know, I always feel obligated to trot out the names of people, like Lena [Dunham] who does “Girls.” There’s always a new crop. But percentage-wise, compared to other businesses, it’s pretty pathetic. I don’t know why that is. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know if it’s the same in television, if the numbers are different, if the movies they want to make are considered boy-oriented. I don’t know. I’ve been asked this question for 30 years.
And at this point, you probably wish you had an answer for it?
Well, at first it would be like “What’s it like to be a girl director?” And I said “How can I answer that? What do I say?” Well, I say it’s like a man director but you get your period. [Laughs]
TV seems to be a little better these days. You mentioned Lena Dunham, and then there’s Mindy Kaling.
I think they used to think that TV was run by women, and that’s why all the cleaning products were [advertised] on there. And movies were where boys went on dates or with each other, so a guy was the one that decided. So if it was space aliens fighting each other, that’s where they would spend their money.
Well, space aliens are still fighting each other.
And women are still cleaning! [Laughs]
EARLIER: 24 Reasons Why “Clueless” Is Still The Best
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