Could you talk about who you play in the film?
Gugino: I play Doctor Gorski and Madam Gorski, as her alternate personality is. You know there are dual worlds, right? In the real world it’s the 1960s Lenox House Psychiatric Institute and I’m a psychiatrist who is Freudian in her ways – not a fan of the lobotomy. She’s Polish. I was doing research into the character and I found that in Russia lobotomies were made illegal in 1950, so I think from her perspective she’s come over to try and do this more progressive therapy with music and regression. I work with Oscar’s character who is sort of the… what do you consider your incarnation in the world?
Oscar: I do see it that the character I’m playing is Blue Jones, who is an orderly at the asylum and I think he’s someone who has been pretty powerless in his life, so he uses this position at this unorganized, slightly chaotic old asylum to have a position of power. I think he kind of hoards information and collects things and has a slightly OCD thing. He becomes the don of the institution, to a certain extent. We’ve even talked about that perhaps he helped Doctor Gorski get a position there – a visa thing.
Gugino: She’s an immigrant. There are so many levels of this story that we’re discovering, and when audiences see it I’m sure there will be many different interpretations. They’ve worked together for a period of time and they come from different places but there’s some kind of power…
Oscar: The fantasy world is, literally I guess, Baby Doll’s imagination creating this world. But for me I kind of imagined it as what the orderly wishes he was, which is this respected, charismatic…
Oscar: Boss. Who is this showman and well-liked as well. Throughout the movie for me the fun part has been showing the cracks in that when it goes back to this powerless, insecure, infected guy.
Carla: Madam Gorski definitely has… what is in Baby Doll’s fantasy is a heightened version of what she observes. Interestingly in both worlds I use music, both as a psychiatrist and as a dominatrix/choreographer/madame – never thought I’d say that, but it’s what I’m playing! – in a brothel. I’ve never done anything like this. It’s fascinating. You can keep endlessly digging deeper and finding more and more stuff.
Is it a sexy character?
Carla: Is the alternate character more sexy? Yes. But even Zack has Doctor Gorki in tight tweed suits, so it’s that sexy secretary situation, but yes, Madam Gorski is definitely much more… that whole world is much more unleashed. And because it’s a brothel, by its nature.
Oscar: It is strange to refer to the reality of it and the fantasy because even the reality is pretty heightened.
Carla: There’s very little that’s naturalistic – except for the emotions, which are being played for real. But the circumstances are incredibly heightened.
There are three levels of reality in the film. When playing characters in the levels it has to be the same person but different, right?
Carla: Yeah. It’s been interesting. For me because I have a strong Polish accent and that determines a lot when it comes to the gestures and the rhythms, it was a challenge for me to differentiate the two of them. I think by nature if you’re looking at it like when you have a dream and you go ‘You were in my dream, but it wasn’t really you, and it was ten years ago, and you were wearing something’ – so there’s that leeway in finding something that has to have a real… I didn’t want there to be in anything in Madam Gorski that didn’t come from the doctor because it has to come from what [Baby Doll] saw. But in playing it you have to play it as a real person. I think for sure Doctor Gorski lives in a much smaller space, she covers her tracks, is that kind of animal. Madam Gorski lives much larger.
We saw your dress downstairs for the musical number. Can you talk a little bit about the training you went through and the number?
Oscar: We’ve been rehearsing a lot. We’ve been almost daily trying to go over these steps. It’s an elaborate moment.
Carla: It’s also been very revealing for us for character.
Oscar: What happens at the front of the house for the customers. In the film I say, “I’m in the business of pleasure,” so it has this fun energy. But behind the scenes it gets dark and intense. In our relationship especially we’ve found this thing where it has this abusive, married feeling. It’s difficult to explain, but I think those things come out in the dance itself.
Carla: One of the key things we were trying to find in the dance, and the whole number, is this cat/mouse, push/pull dynamic between them – this power struggle that makes the relationship.
Oscar: What was important to us was continuing to make it very dangerous. It’s not suddenly this light, airy moment. It ends up being just as tense and revealing.
Carla: And a lot of the musical choices that are being made are inventive ane daring and timeless. Or I should say not of that period, so again there’s this kind of ‘Life is a stage,’ or ‘Reality is stranger than fiction.’
With your accent – because the film is such a heightened reality are you taking pains to have a realistic accent or are you playing it broader?
Carla: It’s pretty realistic actually. There was a point early on where Zack was playing with German, and then there was no accent. There was a whole process. With the Eastern European I think this woman has lived through much worse than these girls ever will, so she basically is like “I will teach you how to survive” in a tough love kind of way. It was about finding perspective, because an American woman didn’t seem like… There’s a lot of, she’s very theatrical as the choreographer in the use of language, so it seemed like someone who English is a second language. So the answer to that, though, is that the last thing I would want would be for it to be comical in any way. I think all the characters are played very real. Wouldn’t you say?
Oscar: I think so. It’s funny, when Zack first hired me he was like ‘It’s great, you’re so theatrical!’ But in my mind I was like, “Great, I’m trying to play it naturalistic.” But for me, I am trying to approach it like anything else, but because of the way it’s written and because it’s infused with it, there’s this…
Oscar: It’s a heightened reality.
Carla: Also it’s in such a short time frame, the movie. You’re hitting everybody at this critical mass. There are very few scenes that are transition scenes.
Oscar: It’s all very high energy. And even when it gets dark it’s in this like forward momentum.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Zack. Can you talk about what’s different and what’s the same?
Carla: He’s so extraordinary to work with and endlessly imaginative and really fun on set. I think a key thing about him I noticed on both movies, and it’s much huger than anyone knows, is that he assembles a group of people both on an acting front and as crew that are exceptional at what they do and really good people. Everyone is sort of – I’m such a perfectionist and my own worst enemy, but it’s great when you look around and the prop guy is like ‘I found this in Poland!’ My office, and I know you were feeling similarly about yours, when I walked into my office – and there are two different versions of my office – I think in all the time I’ve been an actor I’ve never walked on to a set and had it be more… usually when I walk on a set I think ‘This isn’t what I thought it would be, and maybe they can get this’ but this one I walked on and he had thought of everything. It really helps our scenes.
Oscar: And he had things I hadn’t even thought of. It was embarrassing because I walked on the set and he was like ‘Here’s the area where you collect things which you probably collect off people when they come in’ and I was like ‘Of course!’ It made me rethink things. He comes at it from such a character standpoint. Everybody does.
Carla: That’s something huge about him. Also that he has a really strong vision but is incredibly collaborative. That’s the sign of a really strong director. Usually it’s the directors who don’t want you to change anything who are insecure. He’s got a really strong sense, but we come in with ideas and he works with them. In terms of the difference between Watchmen and this, with Watchmen we had such a arsenal of research and background. We were all constantly referring to the graphic novel, but on this one we’re flying by the seat of our pants. But he has created this world, so it’s his vision 100%, and that’s exciting.
As actors I would imagine that you would dig into the real world characters, but when it comes to the imaginary characters does that force you to dig more into Baby Doll’s character to understand how she would see you?
Oscar: I don’t. I didn’t approach it that way. Even in a fantasy, it’s very specific. Even when you fantasize someone it should be a fully formed human being. I tried to figure out who was this guy; he’s running a business, he’s a small businessman, what does he have to do to remain in control over these girls and what tactics can he use.
Carla: For myself I had a similar question for myself – in what way do I enter that world. But I realized I have to think of myself as real, do you know what I mean? That’s what’s always so cool about working with other actors; I did end up with her being two different people. But we have more time in the brothel, so there’s been more time to explore that world. In a couple of weeks we have some important scenes to shoot in the real world, so it’ll be interesting to go to that with the information we have from the alternate thing. But I have learned more about her character through doing it anyway. It does end up being insightful into her psyche – even some of the things that The Wise Man says.
This is a period piece, but obviously Zack is not being fettered by the period. Oscar, are you sticking with the period or have you taken a more modern approach?
Oscar: I think I’ve taken a more modern approach to it. I think just because there are so many elements and there are so many of these fantastical things and difficult things to wrap your mind around that I wanted to make him as easy to approach as possible. I think there will be those questions of ‘Who is this guy? Is the same person or a different person?’ I feel like I went ahead and had a more modern approach. Although the costumes are of a period, like the music I wanted to not nail myself down to that.
Carla: It’s kind of out of time, which is cool. The costumes – Michael Wilkinson is just a genius. It’s been so amazing on one of those perfectionist, collaborationist notes, he’s been helping our characters. This corset made me understand my character more than anything! I was like, ‘Right, she likes to be in that. You can’t breathe, you have to eat very little, you have to stand very erect.’ It’s perfect for the dance teacher.
Can you talk a bit about the singing?
Carla: He has an amazing voice. I am not a singer, I’m not a trained singer in any way, but it’s been an incredible experience to do this. I’ve been pinching myself that I get to do a song and dance number. And that I get to do it with you! We’ll get to film ours in a week and a half, but it’s been about six weeks of pretty intensive working on it. Marius, who is our musical director, is amazing.
Oscar: He’s worked with Bjork.
Carla: PJ Harvey. Moulin Rouge.
Oscar: For me it’s interesting. I’ve sung and danced and sung on stage, but I’ve never done it for the camera. I don’t know if it should be different. It’s a challenge. Also, singing and dancing at the same time for the camera is a challenge. But I’ve watched some Ben Vereen.
Carla, maybe this is a weird question but are you a good guy, a bad guy or both? It seems like maybe in the real world your character is against lobotomy, which seems good, but in the fantasy world…
Carla: She’s complicit, yeah.
Oscar: You think she’s good! She doesn’t think she’s a bad guy.
Carla: I’d love to play a bad guy. I love that you guys ask the smart questions that have to be asked at the beginning. You don’t want her to be a wishy washy guy. And obviously people are complicated. But I think in the real world she’s turned a blind eye to some things. I don’t think she has any idea what’s really going on there. This is one of the reasons I needed to separate her, even though both characters feed each other. In the brothel world she is more… she knows what’s going on. She’s empowering the girls to turn the guys on.
She’s bringing The High Roller in.
Carla: She’s bringing the High Roller in. I don’t think the level of violence here has ever happened before.
Oscar: And she’s not bringing The High Roller in.
Carla: You’re bringing the High Roller in. But I am preparing a dance for him. I am a part of that institution, yes, but ultimately the girls – I am on their side, strange as that sounds. It has to be, for where it needs to go. That’s where the Eastern European thing was important to me. It’s a male dominated world, you’re lucky you have a roof over your head, but if you don’t do this right now… Your fight for survival starts right now is actually a line I say. It’s sort of like because you have no idea what happens if you’re not needed here – we don’t keep people who aren’t needed.