X is an interesting little crime flick from filmmaker Jon Hewitt, the tale of a prostitute at the beginning of her career joining one at the end of hers as they experience a horrible evening of sex, violence, and much more. It’s a moody film and one which completely hinges on the work of Viva Bianca (currently appearing as Ilithyia on Spartacus) and Hanna Mangan Lawrence as the two leads. Bianca portrays Holly, a woman who has plans to leave the business and start her life anew. Confident, in control, and sexy as hell when we meet her, she gets put through a battery of harrowing moments over the course of the film. I had a chance to catch up with her as she worked from the set of the Starz hit down in New Zealand.
Nick Nunziata: It’s very uncommon to see a role about a prostitute on the tail end of her career that doesn’t go through the expected motions. So often it’s a very tired and familiar arc. In X, the normal rules don’t apply and you’re given a chance to play a dimensional and rather interesting character. Was that on the page or did you discover her through the development process?
Viva Bianca: The given circumstances in which the character is operating as well as the rather heroic, self-sacrificial actions of the character were obviously written. When I first read the script I was intrigued by the role and was instantly compelled to pursue the project. The script however was written in the most traditionally minimalist way. Most of what is going on for Holly is subtext and all very unsaid. So I went really deep into Holly’s back-story and her very subtle and intricate thought processes. Also, I had a good amount of time before we began shooting to workshop some ideas with the writer, Belinda, and Jon, the director. It was all about nutting out who this woman actually is.
Nick Nunziata: There are so many crime films or films that showcase the dark underbelly of the world we live in. What was it about X that you felt elevated it and made it a worthwhile commitment?
Viva Bianca: I think rather than being a film about crime or the underbelly of society, X is a film about the parallel journeys of two women in search or the cusp of rediscovering themselves. The dark underbelly setting is simply the given circumstances in which they are traveling. Really they could both be nurses. But then I guess the intrigue factor would probably be lost..!
Nick Nunziata: It’s obviously an emotionally and sexually raw and frank film. How did you and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence prepare and get through that very intimate landscape and make it real?
Viva Bianca: I don’t know how that happens. I suppose you just commit to the truth of what your character is going through in that moment, what they need or want, and what they have to do in order to get it. And then you just hope that the final product reads with integrity and honesty.
Nick Nunziata: There’s a very different tone to the film whether due to budget or locale, but there’s something a little more confident and loose to X that isn’t often present in North American or even British films of the sort. A different swagger. Did you feel as you made the film that there was a different and rather fresh artistry at work?
Viva Bianca: We made the film in an almost ‘guerilla-style’. There were virtually no extras or constructed sets. We shot in the heart of Sydney’s Kings Cross into the wee hours of the morning using the real locations and people. From street hookers to door bitches, they’re all real. The scene I love most for this aspect in particular is The McDonalds scene between Shay and Cindy. None of those people were set up. That was shot on a Saturday night in-situ. There is something so candid, so immediate and accidental, yet highly stylized about that scene which I feel I’ve hardly ever seen before.
Nick Nunziata: The very suggestive marketing for the film and the logline for it paints the kind of movie people, primarily men, might pursue expecting a much different experience. While you certainly want to attract the widest possible audience you can, this film looks at sexuality on different terms than the typical ‘erotic thriller’ or ‘character study’. Where’s that balance, in your mind?
Viva Bianca: In many ways X subverts the notion of traditional female objectification. The women are the heroes and it is the men who are portrayed as either sexually explicit, emotionally undeveloped or pathetic. I’m not sure if the film strikes a balance or if it was even setting out to do so. But I think it’s safe to say that X is a film that’s dancing to it’s own tune, not obeying any rules and you’ll either love it or you really wont.
Nick Nunziata: The ‘oldest profession’ is a cinematic staple both because of the moral ambiguity and taboo nature of it, but it seems still today it is as mystifying how sex is handled both in the real world and in media. Do you have a take on why that is and perhaps why it’s still so scary a topic when violence is so prevalent?
Viva Bianca: Well yeah, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and I was amazed to discover just how very vast and lucrative the industry of high-end escorts and call-girl’s is all around the world. And supply meets demand right? So it seems that more people engage in it than speak up about it. I suppose the taboo factor remains because sex is so personal to all of us. We all do it but mostly in private. Violence is less so.
Nick Nunziata: Spartacus has obviously introduced you to a whole new audience. What kind of project have you not yet done that are still hoping to do?
Viva Bianca: What I really want is to keep working in as many diverse ways as possible. I’m shooting Season 2 Spartacus in New Zealand right now. After that I’d love to work on the other side of the globe in a genre so completely removed from the Spartacus world. I’d love to play a Russian spy. That’s the Eastern-Euro talking in me (I’m half Polish). But then again, I’d really like to shoot something in America. Something contemporary, intelligent and evocative. But of course the future is unknown.
X, an IFC Films production, can be seen On Demand now and soon across this fine nation.