There are certain movie sets where you get that intangible feel of a time and place just moments after arrival. When we pulled up to the sprawling Ravenwood Manor set used in Beautiful Creatures, that unmistakable feeling sunk in right away. As I mentioned in my set visit preview from August, I was invited down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to visit this amazing set on a sweltering summer day to check out this fantasy adaptation, based on the popular novel series written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
To be perfectly honest, the first thing that came to mind when I initially heard about this project was Twilight. They are both set in a sleepy town and feature a budding romance with supernatural aspects at the heart of the relationship. Largely, what I learned on the set is that, while Beautiful Creatures and Twilight may cater to the same demographic, they are both vastly different creatures, pun intended.
Beautiful Creatures is set in Gatlin, South Carolina, a very Gothic Southern town that might fall in line more with True Blood's Bon Temps, Louisiana, than Twilight's Forks, Washington. The story follows young Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), who moves into Ravenwood Manor with her long lost uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a recluse who most of Gatlin believes is crazy. Lena meets Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) at school, where they form a mysterious connection that may have been destined to happen all along. Ethan comes to learn that Lena is as "caster," who must choose whether she wants to be, essentially, a good or evil witch, while uncovering interconnected mysterious about her family and the town of Gatlin.
The day we visited the set, they were shooting Lena's "claiming party." While normal girls get Sweet 16 birthday parties, casters get claiming parties, where they must decide once and for all if they will join the light or dark sides. The house they had found, located on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, was absolutely perfect for this Southern abode. We walked around back to the party area, where several extras were dancing on this outdoor ballroom floor, in elegant attire... that must have been dreadful to wear on that humid day.
During a break in the filming, we got to speak with the lovely Emmy Rossum, who plays Ridley, Lena's cousin and her only relative on the dark side. Each caster has a specialty, and Ridley's is seductive in nature. She is essentially a siren, who has the innate ability to get men to do anything she wants. Ridley appears at Lena's bash to get her to go dark. Here's what the actress had to say about the particular scene we were watching.
"I know she has that in her. I mean, we grew up together. In this scene I'm basically coming to tell her that everyone's kind of put the fear of God into her about what's going to happen to her if she goes dark, and I'm telling her not to be scared. That it's going to be great and we're going to be together again. I'm not supposed to be at this party. These are all people who are pro-her, and I'm the one family member on the dark side who's like, 'Hehe, but you know you're coming over here!'"
In the book, Ridley is mentioned as always having a lollipop as one of her tools of seduction. Emmy Rossum explained the collaborative nature of working with director Richard LaGravenese, and how they came up with an alternative to the lollipop.
"If you have an idea, he'll run with it. Take it and run with it. Ridley's not always such a verbal character. In the book, the lollipop reference kind of feels very Lolita, in that Ridley wears sunglasses and sucks on a lollipop. I think both Richard and I talked about that just being a little too derivative, whereas it completely worked in the book. We kind of thought about fruit options. It's more like The Witches of Eastwick with the cherries."
When asked if they were shooting for a PG-13 rating, the actress had an intriguing response.
"Not if you look at my scenes! (Laughs) Yes. Yes, it is. It has every intent to be that. I'm not playing it like that! But I'm maybe making a different movie!"
Next up, we spoke with Margo Martindale, who took home an Emmy last year for her fascinating portrayal of Mags Bennett in the FX series Justified. Here, she plays Delphine, Lena's aunt who is known as a "palimpsest." Her magical gift is that she can read time, seeing the past, present, and future all at the same time. The gift does not come without its side effects though, as Aunt Del comes off as flighty most times, unable to determine whether something is happening right now or in another time.
Like everyone else in the scene being shot that day, Aunt Delphine is there to see which side Lena will choose. However, the actress also revealed that Lena's decision has more grand implications.
"She's trying to decide. This is the night, the 21st day of December in the 12th month of the 21st century. I say we must get on with this because the moon is about to appear. When the moon is about to appear, whatever her true nature will be will define the new age to come. The old age will be ended and the new age will begin. It's a big night. In this age the light and dark will merge. And all the world will be as one."
Delphine is also the mother of Ridley, which causes a unique dynamic in that the mother is on the light side, and the daughter favors the dark. The actress spoke a bit about how that came about.
"That happened because when her day came, I don't think she wanted to go dark but that's what came out. It's not what I wanted for her. I was very disappointed. I think most of them like us had not thought we had a choice. She's not really in my world much anymore. She's really gone down her own path. She comes to visit and it's, 'Oh dear! What kind of trouble is she going to bring?' She's like a child that went down the wrong path."
We also spoke with Alden Ehrenreich between takes on the set, to learn more about his character Ethan Wate. He first talked about the perception that others in Gatlin have about the mysterious Macon Ravenwood, played by Jeremy Irons.
"There's sort of a myth. The uncle that Lena comes to live with, played by Jeremy Irons, is like a shut in. No one ever sees him and he kind of has a mythic presence in the town where everyone thinks he's the haunted old man on the hill. Once the magical things start happening, then the town really responds."
Ethan is chomping at the bit to graduate from high school, so he can finally leave this town behind him. The actor also revealed some of his character's back story, involving his recently-deceased mother.
"My mother who is dead in the film, when the movie starts she has died recently, was sort of a historian about the Civil War. She was studying the plantations and there's a portion of the movie that has a vision for the small town having more to offer and there being these historical undercurrents that are very interesting. My perspective on the town definitely shifts as the film goes on. What I think it's really about is it doesn't matter where you are, it matters who you are with. That's something that I think emerges in the film. Having something that is some idea of home or understanding of someone you can relate to, that I think proves to be more important than your town."
When Ethan finally learns about Lena's casting ways, he tries to convey to Lena that she can make her own choices. Here's what Alden Ehrenreich said about how Ethan's ways are seen as a threat to Lena's family.
"I've tried to convince her that she has free will. I'm basically coming in and saying nothing is written and we can do whatever we want. I believe in this very first love way that nothing that we're experiencing could possibly turn dark. So I'm kind of the hopeful and idealistic in a sense. She's being told by her family that she has to stay away from me. She's being told that she has to be very reverent of this claiming and live in this sort of fearful way and cut herself off from things which might push her to one side or the other. They see me as a threat to that so she's being told by her parents these things and her family, but also her boyfriend is telling her another thing."
We concluded our day on the set by speaking with Lena herself, Alice Englert. The actress teased that the scene we had been watching all day actually leads into an epic Civil War battle scene, using some innovative flashback techniques.
"Well, it's the scene that the whole movie is, to a degree, leading up to, this and the next sequence, our big ending sequence. We've already shot some of that, at Honey Hill, where they're having a reenactment for the Civil War. It gets overtaken by this flashback, where it merges into the actual battle, so you have the reenactment, and then you have the actual soldiers dying. It's quite epic."
She also explored the differences between the casters and humans, and how these magical witches and wizards aren't quite as evolved as they may think.
"I would say what's so interesting about this story and the casters versus the humans, or in parallel to them, is the casters are presented as a highly evolved kind of species, in a way, and they believe themselves to be so. They believe the humans to be messy, because they're complicated and they have all these problems, they can't figure it out. But the casters have a very primitive idea, that you can only be good or bad, and that's just who you are. What Lena has to learn through the story, and what she learns through Ethan, is humanity, and the fact that it is complicated and that we do have both within us, which is why at the end of the claiming, she has that strength. They're just as primitive, in their own way, and I think the idea of good and evil is really just these rules they've given themselves, and they're never really examined. They've been living this way up until this moment."
Alice Englert also spoke about Lena's connection to Ethan that seems to be pre-determined.
"There's a sense of premonition, which is kind of what's so interesting about love, that thing where you just know them. For them, it's kind of literal, it's being in the dreams. What's interesting is, for myself, when I become really attracted to somebody, I find them in my dreams... conversations, nothing more (Laughter). It's true, I have conversations with these people and they're in my head now. It starts with this strange familiarity, but they don't know what it is. They're still in this normal world at that time. When they realize that they love each other, you start to see the magic, that Ethan becomes aware of it and he's welcomed into that world. It blossoms... blossoms, God that's a wanky word. It comes forth in that way, and from there, the complexities of the magic, the highs and the lows, come forth at the same time. Ethan is trying to find something else, and Lena is something else. What I think is great about their love story is it's not about, 'Oh, you need a girlfriend. Oh, you need a boyfriend.' It's actually about love, and sacrifice, loving someone and having to let them go for different reasons.
That about wraps it up from my visit to the Beautiful Creatures set in Baton Rogue, Louisiana. With the Twilight saga wrapping up later this month, this should fill that young adult void that fans keep clamoring for.