Sundance breakthrough “Secretary” kickstarted a career with a lot of potential for its writer-director Steven Shainberg, who followed up the kinky comedy/drama with the Nicole Kidman– and Robert Downey Jr.-starring biopic “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus.” That film, just like “Secretary,” built up a cult fanbase over the years, but then Shainberg left the spotlight.
It has taken 10 years for him to release a new movie, “Rupture,” but it marks an interesting turn for the filmmaker. Unlike “Fur” and “Secretary,” “Rupture” finds Shainberg going down the path of horror and thriller films. It stars Noomi Rapace as Renee, a single mother who gets abducted for a reason unbeknownst to her. In a remote underground lab, she undergoes severe and traumatic experimentation from a mysterious bunch of lab-coated “doctors.” Their goal? To make her defeat her worst fears. But why? Of course, Renee doesn’t submit easily and begins to plot her escape from captivity. It’s a transformative journey that, deep down, Renee actually needs.
We spoke to Shainberg about his latest film, the influence of Krzysztof Kieslowski, and whether we’ll have to wait another 10 years for his next movie.
My first question would be the obvious one: It’s been 10 years since “Fur.” Why the delay?
The short answer is that when my daughters were born, I decided to concentrate on their lives, focus entirely on them, and then the next five years tried to make this movie called “The Big Shoe.” We spent a good amount of time trying to get it made, and we still are, but that movie basically consumed me in all different ways, particularly the trying-to-find-the-money part. That’s the short version. It’s very hard to get a movie made these days [laughs].
“Rupture” is your first foray into genre filmmaking.
For me, this movie is a psychological and spiritual story that is in scary form. The thing that interest[s] me most about it is what Noomi’s character goes through in her bones, but also the actual stylistic elements were an incredible amount of fun to work with. The DP [Karim Hussain] is a Canadian guy, and he had fantastic decisions about how it should look and feel, and we were working with an actress whom I adore, and so all of it was operating simultaneously in a really great way. I fell in love with the genre, to be honest.
And this movie does retain some of the themes that you’ve worked on in your other films, most notably self-discovery happening through pain.
Yeah, most of the movies I make are stories about personal transformation whether and, in some sense, through difficulty and suffering and some swamp of opposition, but the thing that is interesting is what makes it possible for somebody to change and how they do change and how they are able to surmount what their inner obstacles are as well as outer obstacles by the finale. Filmmakers in the end have certain things that keep reappearing, and that is certainly my story with the films that I’ve made.
You also seem to really like dealing with stories that involve strong female characters.
Kieslowski made “Red,” “White,” and “Blue” and then was asked, “How come these are three stories about women?” And he said something to the effect of, “they’re better to look at than men.” [Laughs] “They’re more interesting than men, more complicated, subtler, they make for more complex and nuanced characters.” And I remember reading that and thinking, “Yeah, I kind of agree with that.” However, “The Big Shoe” is entirely about this guy, and I’m trying to make another movie about two men in the woods. After making “Rupture,” I told myself, “OK, I can’t do this again, I have to make movies about men as well.” So the planet has shifted genders [laughs].
I recently re-watched the Kieslowski trilogy and it still feels fresh to this day. We’ve rarely had female depictions such as those movies.
Well, they’re so fantastic and they’re so beautiful. I mean, those movies will never, ever be dated in any way, [or be] anything other than great.
You decided to focus on a single mom. Was that specifically chosen?
It’s more for in order for the rupture to occur, somebody has to be, at least to some extent, somewhat destabilized in their life. They have to be open to the change, and the most important thing is that she recently separated from her husband and you can see at the beginning there is a certain amount of chaos in her life and she is barely holding things together. She’s even open to going skydiving with a friend. Usually, a person wanting to go skydiving wants change, they want something to happen that will shock them into something new, you want to have an exhilarating moment so that you feel different when you hit the ground. She’s had her family pulled out from under her and looking for something else. The people that take her to the extremes know that about her.
So, it’s sheer terror making her transform into a more mentally confident person…
I think that anybody who is going to genuinely change their life in a big way has to go through terror in one way or another, maybe not the kind she goes through. A resistance to seeing yourself for who you are, and that’s what she’s experiencing in the movie. It can be the scariest thing a person can do. Without terror, there would be no change. On that level, what’s happening to her is a good thing. It needs to happen, and it should happen, and she’s lucky it did.
What are your thoughts on the 15th anniversary of what I believe to be your best movie, and which has become a considerable cult classic: “Secretary”?
Well, you know, it’s just one of my kids…I still love the movie, I still love Maggie [Gyllenhaal], it was just a real long time ago. What can I tell you?
It’s aged like fine wine.
I appreciate you saying that… Very kind of you to say.
Any other projects coming up?
Trying to make “The Big Shoe”…and I’m trying to make a movie called “Naked,”…about a family of nudists. I’m also trying to make a movie called “Distriburial.” A lot of scripts that came out of me the last decade, believe me.
“Rupture” is now available via DirecTV and lands in theaters, VOD and Digital HD on April 28th.