The nights have drawn in here in the UK, but in Venice Beach, California, the sun is ablaze as I talk to director Catherine Hardwicke via Zoom. Speaking to her ahead of Twilight’s 15-year anniversary felt like a dream, a full circle-moment for a fan such as myself.
Teenage angst had never been so alive as when Twilight was first released in 2008. Grossing more than ten times its budget, surprisingly to its distributors and financers, the film became an overnight sensation. Frenzies were generated at every event its leading stars Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson attended, whether it be film premieres or Comic-Con appearances and fans became equally fascinated with their relationship off-screen. Based on Stephenie Meyer’s internationally best-selling book series about teenage vampires in Forks, Washington, the franchise took over the mind, body and souls of young viewers all over the world.
15 years later, Twilight still holds a very special place in people’s hearts. Some may argue that Netflix were the creative geniuses behind the Twilight renaissance during the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020, profiting on all that extra time we were spending on the couch. But the franchise’s original fanbase never went away. Social media, despite being relatively new and exciting in 2008, played a big part in connecting people all over the world who shared their common obsession. Even in this modern era of TikTok and Instagram, a cult following of the film has continued. From showcasing what merchandise they have bought from Depop or Vinted, to people enjoying Twilight watching parties and making vampy cocktails. This is simply evidence to remind all that the film is as popular as it was more than a decade ago.
A large amount of the film’s success is thanks to Hardwicke. Her independent edge distanced the film from its own franchise thanks to qualities such as artful tints and its iconic soundtrack: The Black Ghost’s track Full Moon during the film’s opening scene, or even Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole in the iconic basketball scene with Bella Swan and the Cullens. Whilst celebrating her upcoming action thriller Mafia Mamma, Hardwicke is exploring new creative avenues, but even 15 years on, the director is still in awe of the film that changed it all for her.
ARF: Congratulations on Mafia Mamma. It was such a wild ride, with a lot of unexpected gore at times – I loved the surprise element of that. What drew you to the project?
Catherine Hardwicke: I had worked with Toni Collette on a movie in London called Miss You Already starring Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine – a wonderful cast. Toni and I had an absolute blast together. She’s so creative, encouraging and joyful. And then, she sent me this script and was like: “hey, do you want to go to Rome and make this crazy movie about female empowerment?” I said ‘Oh hell yeah with you Toni I’d love to go’. Toni is so good at comedy. She’s so good at drama too, but she can really get in there and just make you laugh – effortlessly, it seems like. I was excited to do it. I liked the message of this woman who’s really unseen and unheard by her family, her husband and everybody at work and she really does find a way to get her voice out there.
ARF: What was it like filming in Italy?
CH: That was a dream come true. I’m an architect by trade and so of course everywhere you could turn my eyes were just like popping out you know? Oh my God another drop dead gorgeous building with textures and colour. e got to film in those gorgeous villas that have been there for 500 years and the Pope slept in that bedroom. You’re like, oh, my God, you know? And then of course, the food is outrageous. Dolce and Gabanna gave this dress to Monica Bellucci, we were kind of living the Dolce Vita.
ARF: Twilight turns 15 this month which is insane to even say. I’ve been a Twi-hard since I was 11, and now at 26 I feel even more connected to the film because of its nostalgia. How does it feel after all these years that audiences are still connected to the film on such a big level?
CH: It’s really a lot of fun. I mean, for me, I love it. People really know the details and they go deep into it. They’ve seen it, you know, dozens of times, if not hundreds of times. But I think what was so fun for me is [people] working on TikToks, crazy things that people do like putting wigs on and doing the baseball scene, and ‘how long have I been 17 for’. People are still just kind of living it in a way which is really fun. Things like ‘spider monkey’ are now things that are just part of the culture. I loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show where people would go to the movies and dress up so I love that I’m part of a movie for which people do something similar.
ARF: ‘Hold on tight, spider monkey’ is actually my favourite line in the film, and it’s not a line in the book. I wondered how it came about?
CH: I was relying on them (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart) to just do a lot with looks. I thought ‘maybe we got too many looks, I should give Rob some options to say things.’ So the night before we filmed that scene, I wrote out two lines and I gave him a list and I said ‘see if you feel like saying any of these lines’. And he goes ‘I like this one: “hold on tight spider monkey”’, which has become a classic.
ARF: I recently re-read all of the books for the first time in years and it made me realise exactly how big the franchise was. At what point whether it be during the film process, or prior to its release did you realise that Twilight was not just going to be the average film per say, but this much wider phenomenon?
CH: Well, I kept asking while we were filming if could I have a little more money to make this scene a little bigger? Could I have a little bit more money to make it snow? Because it says so in the book. They said no, no, no, we don’t think this movie is going to make much money. Maybe it’ll only make what Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants made, which was another popular book with young girls. They thought maybe we’ll only make like $29 million. But no. So people were shocked. I think that opening weekend in the US, we made $69 million, which is bigger than even a Bond film had made at the time. Everyone had their mind blown. We did have this time when we went to the Rome Film Festival and Rob, Kristen and I and we were signing books in bookstores. We were kind of naive, and when we came out we got rushed by like a thousand fans. We didn’t have any security or anything. I’m like trying to protect Kristen and Rob trying to open the door. Like, oh my God, we couldn’t even escape. Then after that they had bodyguards.
ARF: The blue tint of the film is adored by fans, just like its soundtrack, or things like Alice Cullen’s choker etc. It’s something that people really resonate with, and makes the film standout. What was the thought process behind that decision?
CH: Twilight was filmed around Portland, Oregon, and I have family there. I’ve been so many times, I love Oregon. So I was in the middle of the trees, taking a lot of photographs as the light came in. It just felt like a special world.So we wanted to make it feel like that uniqueness, like you’ve gone into this magical world. So of course we found the most beautiful forest and we put fog in there and then we would never film when the sun was out because then you would see like a bright head of sunlight. Of course, if the sun was out Edward was supposed to sparkle, so we really just kind of did it to create that magical world.
ARF: As a fan, I’d like to thank you for making this film. Twilight is my comfort blanket film, as it is to many others. I wondered if you have a message for Twi-hard’s 15 years later?
CH: I’m so happy that you guys still love it, still relate to it and everything that you do to appreciate it.. I mean, one of the reasons I made it is to help people love the planet, and love trees and nature. It was my idea to have Bella be a vegetarian and we go to the greenhouse where you see the recycling compost. I was just kind of putting in messages about loving our planet. I’m just so happy that people are caring about the planet more, the new generations and more people are vegetarian or vegan. They love the idea of finding somebody that loves us unconditionally.
ARF: You’ve just done Mafia Mamma, do you think you’ll do a sequel? What’s next for you?
CH: I have on my wall different projects that I’m working on [she flips the screen and shows me]. I do all these different ideas. There’s one project that will be [set] in Italy about the first female serial killer. A true story which would be very exciting. There were many really cool projects that I was working on but then the writer’s strikes. Well, we’re out of the writers strike now, we’re hopefully today going to finish the actor’s strike. Then we can start making movies again.
Mafia Mamma streaming on Prime Video 24th November