Justine Bateman is on a quest to explore the fears and to openly address the toxic, self-destructive voices in our heads that tell us we’re no good and unworthy of love and success. The actor’s directorial debut and new drama, “Violet,” debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, highlights the ideas she’s thought about and faced head-on in her own life: self-made insecurity, fear, and crippling self-doubt.
The film — starring actress Olivia Munn as the title character — is a psychologically incisive portrait of a woman at a crossroads about her struggles and self-inflicted mental duress (read our review). “Violet,” tells the story of a female film executive confronting that voice in her mind while challenging areas of her life ranging from work perils to romantic developments. Instead of using the same tried and true techniques, Bateman tries a formally bold creative choice: casting Justin Theroux as the voice actor of the uber-critical inner self, tearing her down at every moment. It all results in a project that is as introspective as it is cinematic and sometimes bruising to watch in its authentic portrait of self-sabotage and self-loathing.
The writer-director sat down with The Playlist to discuss the film, her aspirations for the future, and the authentic motivations behind this complex character study.
This is your first feature as a director and a writer. What made you decide to do this at this point in your career?
Well, I wanted to direct since I was 19, but the timing wasn’t right; I had to wait for the timing. The timing finally felt right when I was about 50.
It doesn’t matter when you get there. You just get there.
I think this is true for everyone, but I can only speak for myself, my life, and the things coming in my life that doesn’t give a shit how old I am or what gender I am or anything. It’s just like okay, now is the time for this. Let’s go. You just go okay, great. I’ve written a lot of scripts, so I have a lot of projects at the ready, and I was like, let’s do the two shorts, and I’ll raise money and do “Violet.” Now, you just start it all again; get the money for the next project.
Would you consider those scripts that you have sitting aside after “Violet,” or is it something like starting from scratch? Oh no, I would love to do them. I would love to do the scripts I’ve got for sure and, of course, write more. I’ve got a lot of scripts I want to write. I don’t know I’ll get through them all. I’d like to.
It’s an interesting project as it speaks to that inner voice telling you you’re not good enough or that fear you have. What inspired you to tell this story or talk about this subject?
Years ago, I made many fear-based decisions; the first clue I was doing this was that I didn’t feel like myself. I would look around and think I didn’t know what I felt off-balance about; everything seemed to be fine all around me. I have my health. Life’s going pretty well, but I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t feel myself somehow. I started doing some digging and realized that I was making decisions from self-doubt and fear. I went through unwinding all that to go from a life made of primarily fear-based decisions to a life made of instinct-based decisions.
I didn’t know you could cross that bridge from the first to the second kind of life. I thought you had to be one type of person or another way. “Violet” is a revenge film for me. Those decisions stole moments from me — stole days from me. Once I figured out how to cross that chasm between the two types of lives, I just wanted to hand it to everybody. If it’s useful to them, it’s the kind of film I wish I had seen at 19. I wanted to do that for anyone else wishing they could have a map to that bridge.
And I think, especially women, we’re given so many constructs. You have to be like this. You have to look like this. You have to think like this. You have to be perceived like this. It was fascinating to hear that male voice telling her all those feelings of fear and self-doubt. So very much that’s instilled in us from a very young age. We have to carry an extra burden; I guess you would say. You have that drive to be better. I can’t be on the level with my male peers; I’ve got to be better. It was something that really struck me as she heard that voice in her head. I know I’ve heard that voice. I’m sure you’ve heard it. We’ve all heard that voice.
Definitely, there are certain things, certain negative critical thoughts that women have that men may not have. Men have certain critical thoughts. If we were to hear some way of the voices attacking a guy and we’d think, oh really, that wouldn’t bother me if it was being said to me but because of how they were conditioned. You must be strong. You must be a provider. You must have a lofty position. It’s basically the human condition. We could have done that for a man, and the voice would be saying different things.
There is something about females that, as I said, is about the human condition. It’s interesting about females how I believe the theory that through evolution — evolutionary survival — is baked into the female DNA to be more in tune with other things going on. Body language, tone in somebody’s voice, the feel in a room, and so forth. I think we had to do that because this is just a theory because if the shit hit the fan on a tribal level, you’d have to be able to get yourself out of that situation. You may not, generally speaking, have the physical strength to accomplish that. Whereas men, again very generally speaking, and this is just a theory, perhaps have the physical strength to get out of a difficult situation, so they don’t have to do that calculus. Does that make sense?
We’ve developed this skill set that, again, very generally speaking, men may not have necessarily developed. Like when a woman says something to you at a party, and you’re standing there with your boyfriend or male friend or something. The woman goes away, and you go, “Can you believe the tone she used with me? She’s obviously X, Y, and Z.” And the guy would be like, “I don’t know. What do you mean? What do you mean, ‘her tone?’ What do you mean? You mean you didn’t notice?” Whereas another woman would go, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
Read on for more of this interview on page two…