Who was Xan Cassavetes before becoming a director?
All through my twenties I was a singer in a kind of metal band, actually with the composer of Kiss of the Damned, Steven Hufsteter playing guitar. It was my obsession for many years and a great time in my life. I met my former husband, Rick when he signed my band to his label. We had two children and I turned my creative outlet to writing so I could be close to them. I started writing screenplays, and realized I wanted to create film myself as a director because they were a little unusual and I thought I was the best one to understand what should be done with them.
Why did you choose this story for your debut film?
Well, I have been trying to make narrative films for many years now, all with different stories. But Kiss of the Damned turned out to be the first one I actually got made. It was different because all the other scripts I had were very serious and almost humorless, which is fine, I still like them very much. But at this point in my life I wanted to do something fun and be serious at the same time. I found the opportunity to shoot in this estate in Connecticut and walking through that house I thought of vampire sisters, romantic loneliness, the atmosphere of nature against it. So the story was inspired by the feeling I got from this house I had the chance to shoot in.
How was working for the first time on a feature lenght film?
I had dreamed of being able to shoot a film for so long I wondered if I was putting too much faith in the fact it would be as incredible as I had dreamed, but it was better. I loved prepping the film with the costume designer and production designer,etc.., I was very comfortable shooting it, I loved the actors and our D.P., Tobias Datum. And I really loved editing it with the both my L.A. and N.Y. editors, Taylor Gianotas and John Lyons, every single day, putting it together. That was the most intense part of making this film, finding what the film wanted to be, having the chance to be somewhat wild in those choices. Even fighting for everything that needed to be fought for was a pleasure. It was 100% involvement. I got to edit most of the film at my kitchen table with the kids running all around so for me it was a total dream.
How was the experience on the set? (Most satisfying and more difficult moment?)
Well it was great and it had it's hard moments. Being a first time director with a lot of supposedly strange ideas I did get some annoying skepticism once in a while but I didn't really care. I had great producers and a wonderful cast, a magnificent cinematographer and truly inspired creative people all around me. We shot most of the film in that house in Connecticut, so that made it easier logistically. I was a little concerned about Lyme disease and having the actors out there in the woods. It sounds kind of absurd but that was kind of what gave me the most anxiety during production!
At the moment, do you have any idea for future projects?
Yes. I have two screenplays completely written in my head, each very different. I officially finished Kiss of the Damned yesterday [the 24th of august - ed] and today I will be spending the day writing.
What kind of cinema and which directors had an influence on your work?
Well, I never set out in any way to emulate anyone but I did occasionally describe what I wanted to the cinematographer in terms like, "You know, like Nic Roeg" or a "Brian de Palma circle dolly" or "think Zulawkski!" So we were throwing those references around but I doubt anyone could tell because it all in such a different context. Fortunately the directors I love are also ones Tobias loves, but we mostly just naturally did our thing without thinking of anyone else, just the film. Later in editing we'd see Mike Rapaport's character in a certain scary scene in which we would just refer to him as Danny Torrence (from the Shining) or even in the sauna scene we would laugh because it was all these extreme close ups and we would say this was some kind of twisted reference to Faces (by John Cassavetes), but we would just laugh kidding about it – when you see the scene you'll know why we thought that was funny.
Why did you choose to focus your film around female characters? And how did you choose the actresses?
I suppose thinking of vampire films I think of women usually being the alluring and powerful predators. I am as enchanted by a beautiful woman as anyone and see them as mysterious creatures who often don't know their own power or how to navigate it which is so interesting and touching to me. A woman who is either distinctly moral or immoral is always fascinating to me and this film has characters who are both, although this does not mean one is the outright villain and one isn't. There is a fine line between integrity and righteousness just as there is between realism and cynicism and I liked exploring this through female characters, who never really are portrayed as having these dilemmas or qualities as much as male ones. I have long been an admirer of Roxane Mesquida from her work in the films of Catherine Breillat. I knew she'd be a perfect Mimi, so sexy and hardcore. Josephine de la Baume was brought to my attention by my producer Jen Gatien, and I saw that beautiful face and recognized the character of Djuna in it. Anna Mouglalis was someone my sister Zoe knew and told me I would love and I certainly did. She is epic and made Xenia the most empathetic, human and unusual of divas!