Catherine Hardwicke

Thirteen

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

“We had no money, I was a first-time director, there was no distribution and the material was risky ”

A trained architect, Catherine Hardwicke has worked as a production designer on Hollywood films such as Laurel Canyon, Vanilla Sky, and Three Kings. She makes her directorial debut with Thirteen, a tale of teenage female rebellion in present-day Los Angeles.

Why do you think Thirteen has struck such a chord with audiences around the world?

Because of its timeliness. People are nervous about their kids, and they're worried about the disintegration of families and the type of media culture they're living in. It's affecting everybody's lives. I hope that people find creative solutions to the problems we raise in the film - hopefully there'll be more arts or sports programmes in schools so kids can do positive things instead of being destructive. There seems to be a lot more conservatism in England about the film. People are extremely shocked here, hilariously shocked, as if they never went through any of this as teenagers.

How did you come to collaborate with the then 13-year-old Nikki Reed on the screenplay?

I've known Nikki since she was five-years-old. When she turned 13, there was this tumultuous change in her. She used to be this fun, cool, great kid, and now she was trouble and she hated everybody. She was waking up at 4.30 in the morning to do two and half hours of hair and make-up before school. I thought I had to get her interested in something, so I found her an acting coach. I told her that good actors write their own material, and that we should write our own script together. We decided to write about the real stuff that was happening to her and her friends, not the fake, sugar-coated version. Nikki was originally going to play the lead part of Tracy, but nobody else was as sophisticated and sexy as Nikki - that's why we cast her in the role of Evie.

How important was getting Holly Hunter to play the mother?

Because of Holly, we got Evan Rachel Wood as Tracy. Before that no actress with an agent would be allowed to even think about Thirteen. We had no money, I was a first-time director, there was no distribution and the material was risky. When Holly Hunter signed on, people took the project seriously. Agents were happy that their clients would be working with Holly.

Why did you choose to concentrate on the best-friend dynamic between Tracy and Evie, rather than their relations with boys?

I was interested in how far people will go to fit in and to be popular. Tracy and Evie take that to an extreme. Boys for them are like trophies. The boys may be cute and sexy and stylish, but the girls don't care that much about them. That's why the emphasis is on their friendship.

Why did you pick this particular Southern Californian milieu for the film?

I live on Venice Beach and we shot most of the scenes around where I lived. That's where the story took place. We filmed in the same sort of school that Nikki went to and some of the boys are her real ex-boyfriends. We only had $1.5 million for the film, which is why we used handheld cameras - we didn't have time or money for tracks and dollies. And the style reflects the mood of the girls: they were so volatile and we were racing to keep up with them and what they were feeling.