A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the year’s more buzzed about movies, and rightly so. First-time feature director Ana Lily Amirpour has crafted a singular film, a genre-bending mashup of an Iranian vampire art film with Sergio Leone western overtones. The film is shot in black-and-white, with the cast—led by Sheila Vand as a chador-wearing, skateboarding vampire and Arash Marandi as her Persian James Dean paramour—speaking in Farsi with English subtitles.
Whether she likes it or not, Amirpour is the “it girl” of indie filmmaking. She’s a force to be reckoned with, both in her work and in person. Unlike other press junkets in which film directors and their stars are usually ensconced within the safe confines of a swanky Beverly Hills hotel, Amirpour chose a cafe near her L.A. home for her press day. She comes across as someone who pulls no punches and doesn’t stick to the rulebook of giving safe, pat answers during interviews.
For example, when we asked to clarify some facts on her bio, which states that she was born in London, then moved with her family as a child to Miami then Bakersfield, California, she clarifies that she was born in Margate, a “seaside industrial wasteland,” about 75 miles east of London. She also adds that she considers Bakersfield home because “I basically had puberty in Bakersfield. When people say, ‘Where are you from?’ It’s like to me, where did you have your period?’”
With those details out of the way, Paste talked with Amirpour about making A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, skateboarding, the importance of music in her work, directors that excite her and whether she ever considered making the film in English. [Spoiler alert: She didn’t.]
Paste Magazine: How did this film originate? Did it develop from a short film?
Ana Lily Amirpour: It came from that character (The Girl), and I thought of the character when I put on a chador. And when I put on a chador, I felt like a creature, like a supernatural, stingray-like creature and instantly, I thought, “Oh this is an Iranian vampire.” It’s a brilliant disguise. Nobody’s going to expect anything from this person, which is kind of like Spiderman’s got a disguise, Batman’s got his.”
Paste: One of my favorite scenes is when The Girl goes into her apartment for the first time, and she takes off her chador, and she’s wearing that striped shirt and sneakers … usually we don’t think, or see, past the black. Can you talk a little more about The Girl and her chador?
Amirpour: That’s really what’s interesting beyond the conversations about religion or politics or feminism or all those -isms. It’s not really about that. It’s about people, outwardly what we look like and how we present ourselves is a system to operate in society. The bumper stickers on your car, how your house is decorated, what your clothes are, what your hair is. All these things tell a story that you want to tell outwardly, but peel back the layers of people and they’re all full of very strange things and secrets and unexpected surprises. And what happens when you see those things, it makes you question the outward system, and that’s what’s interesting to me.
Paste: What is the heart of the film for you, as the filmmaker?
Amirpour: The heart of the film is: “How do you deal with loneliness?” For me, I have a very intimate and close relationship with my loneliness and solitude. I think loneliness and solitude are misunderstood and have gravely, grotesquely bad PR. People avoid solitude and loneliness by [doing] many, many things, but I think it’s probably one of the most valuable things for a human being because it’s really only in solitude where you can find yourself. Certainly for being an artist, for creating anything, it’s necessary. It’s an absolute, vital mandatory part of creativity.
I think a vampire is the loneliest mythical character of all because they see it all, and they’re exposed to it all, but are kind of disconnected from it all at the same time. And then there’s these times where some kind of magic happens, and you connect. It can be with music, an animal, person, family, psychedelic drugs, whatever it is, that you feel this real intimacy, then it goes away.
Paste: Let’s talk about logistics for making this film.
Amirpour: I talked to Sheila [Vand] first (The Girl), and I was like, “Look, I’m going to do this black-and-white Iranian vampire film and I want you to be the vampire, but you have to cut your hair really short.” Her hair was down to the middle of her back. It’s a really big deal for an actress to cut their hair. Her agents were pissed because it was the fall pilot season, and they’d send her on auditions. She did it, and that just shows her level of [commitment]—she was all in.
Paste: Did she know how to skateboard?
Amirpour: That’s me. I was a stunt double. She did learn. We did spend time together, and it’s her at the wall; but in the street, that was me.
Paste: When did you start writing A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
Amirpour: March 2012, I started writing it. I finished the script by May, so it was very fast, less than two months. I called everybody then. I called Dom [Rains], I called Marshall [Manesh], I Skyped Arash [Marandi] in Germany. I was like, “Look, I’m writing a part for you.”
Paste: So you were friends with all these actors?
Amirpour: I knew all of them. Mozhan [Marinó] I cast. I had a different hooker and her TV show got picked up, so I had to find a new prostitute. Who gets to say that? “I have to find a new hooker. My hooker got a job in Vancouver!”
Paste: You wanted to make a black-and-white Iranian vampire film in Farsi with English subtitles … did you ever think about doing this film in English?
Amirpour: Why would it be in English?
Paste: I don’t know. I’m asking you.
Amirpour: I’m curious about that question because I get asked it a lot.
Paste: Accessibility … there are certain people when they see anything that’s subtitled, they’re like, “I’m not watching that.”
Amirpour: It’s like if you have a small restaurant. A small mom-and-pop restaurant where there’s a chef who’s raised on very specific kinds of different dining from all over the place, and [has a] certain way with certain ingredients. And people like to go there. And maybe everyone in the world doesn’t know about it, but the people that do, they love it. And they know that it’s delicious stuff, and it’s different from anything else and they go there. If you put that chef—gave him a job being the head chef at the cheesecake factory, it’s like—tragic, and not about that place.
I never thought, honestly, about appealing to anybody. Right at the beginning, I very much had a whole package. I had the soundtrack, I had the actors, I had the location, I had the car [her father’s ’57 Thunderbird], I had the cat, I had the cast. I had everything of putting this film together. I packaged it completely … the people that got it, got it. It has to be how it is. It wouldn’t be what it is. It’s an Iranian vampire.
Paste: You shot this film in Bakersfield (California)?
Amirpour: I shot it in Taft, a small town 40 miles away from Bakersfield. A very small town.
Paste: But was there an option to shoot—probably not in Iran—but closer to the geography?
Amirpour: It’s a fairy tale. It’s a small, desert outlaw town. It’s like Sergio Leone was an Italian guy making American westerns in Spain. I have no loyalty to the real world or to anything. I don’t live in Iran, and I have no interest in it. I’m doing a fairy tale. And when you make a fairy tale, when you make your own universe, you can say the sky was orange, and all the rabbits were looking up because they’re hungry. It’s the glory of making a film. Creating your own world. Tarantino does it. Lynch does it. Harmony Korine does it. Zemeckis does it. And you know, Lars von Trier does it. You create the physics, the laws, the rules, the flavor of your world.
Paste: I loved the music in the film. What did she put on when…
Amirpour: The White Lies … when he’s in the basement with her. That moment. Yeah, that song (“Death”) is so epic and nostalgic in a way and romantic in a way for me. I always felt like that’s just one of those songs, almost like in a John Hughes way, that you’d fall in love to. It was always that song.
I wrote the script with all that music [at the forefront]. Sometimes I have a song even before I even had a scene. I just know a scene is going to sound a certain way, or feel a certain way or sometimes it’s very specifically, “I’m going to use this song,” and I’ll design a sequence around it. Sometimes it’s just that a character feels like a certain music, and I’ll listen to it and go for walks and think about what would happen.
I knew like half of the bands, so I had them all onboard. The ones I didn’t know, I reached out to. I got everybody. You know, Federale, that awesome Ennio Morricone kind of spaghetti Western music? I knew Collin [Hegna]. He’s one of the guitarists for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Federale is this side project of his. And we were talking, and I’m, “Yeah I’m doing this vampire western,” and he’s like, “I have awesome Spaghetti western music.” And it ended up becoming the soul of the film in a way. Not the soul, but the [film’s] musical spine is that spaghetti western sound.
So everybody had that music. Every time a song was played in a scene, which is a lot, it was played on set. Every time. All eight times. Seven times. When we were at the power plant the night of their [The Girl and Arash] date, I played Lionel Richie’s “Hello” before when we were setting up the scene. Because he’s, “What was the last song you listened to?” And she says, “Hello.” So we played it.
Music is such a big part of things. I’m so proud of the soundtrack. I’m so excited for it to come out by Death Waltz Records.
Paste: When does the soundtrack come out?
Amirpour: Death Waltz Records will release it in January, I believe, or around then. They’re going to press it on vinyl. They do really niche cult movie soundtracks.
Paste: You have a graphic novel, too. Are you going to do a little package with the album?
Amirpour: We’re trying to put Issue 1 in the record. We’re at issue 2 now. It just came out like yesterday on comiXology, and we’ve got six. The first book is six issues.
[It’s] super collectible. And I love stuff like that. When the Blade Runner special anniversary 25 year came out. It’s like in a case, and it has all this stuff. It has an origami bird in it. I love Blade Runner. The director’s cut. It’s crazy. God, I wish people would just leave Ridley [Scott] alone and let him just have final cut. It’s like so dumb. They totally fucked up The Counselor.
Paste: What films or directors have gotten to you lately?
Amirpour: I love David Lynch. I’m so excited that he’s doing Twin Peaks again. That’s very exciting. I want to live in a world where David Lynch makes art. There’s some movies where I just want to see the movie, but it’s different when you love a director.
I’ll look forward to seeing what Harmony Korine is going to do, what Lars von Trier is going to do. What David Lynch is going to do. I did love Adam Wingard’s film The Guest. Wonderfully entertaining. It’s like the fun of Wes Craven in the ’90s. It’s fun to have fun in the movies, and still have it be tense and exciting.
I love Robert Zemeckis. I love Tarantino. I love the movies. I also love Road Warrior. I’m looking forward to the remake of Mad Max. All analog. They didn’t do any of the VFX. It’s all real.
Paste: What’s next for you?
Amirpour: I’m shooting my next film in the spring. It’s in color and English, and it’s a post-Apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texan wasteland in the desert with a really really dope soundtrack.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.