Spring Breakers: interview with Ashley BensonVenice Film Festival 2012
The forthcoming release of Spring Breakers is causing scandal between the young fans of teenage idols Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson. Here is what Ashley has said about acting on Harmony Korine’s movie and working with Hollywood star James Franco:
Ashley, how did you first hear about this project?
I read about it online. Then I met with Selena and she said: “You have to read the script, you will love it!” So my agent gave me the script and it was so different to anything I had ever read. I immediately called my agent and said, “I have to get this part.” It came super-fast, I read the script in January and two weeks later I got it.
So you only read for that specific part?
Yeah, I only read for Brit. I mean every character in the script is amazing and Harmony is so talented. It’s a very dark and edgy part, which I never played before, so it was really fun.
Selena and yourself are already great friends and it seems you and the other girls have developed real friendships…
Yes, it’s awesome. We get along so well! Our chemistry really shows on screen because a lot of the movie is improv, which I’ve never done before and it’s new to all of us. After spending every day together for a few weeks, we were able to finish each other’s sentences.
How much did you know about Harmony Korine before you got attached to the project?
Not much. I knew Kids, but I had never seen his work. But when I mentioned his name everybody was like: “He’s amazing!” His films are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They’re so dark and just different. Everybody was super-excited about Harmony. It got me really excited. He’s so cool. I have never worked with a director like him. He’s so open to our suggestions and input.
Vanessa Hudgens spoke about the freedom she has on set and with the material. Do you feel this project comes at the right point in your career and it fits with the person you are?
When I got this project, Harmony and I kept texting back and forth and he was saying: “You’re going to have so much freedom and it’s not going to be like anything you’ve ever done before!” And I was telling him that in my show people have to repeat everything if they forget a word. It becomes frustrating if it’s something you would not be saying in real life, it feels very scripted and not real. So with Harmony at one point he said: “You don’t even have to talk in this scene, I just want to see what you do with your eyes.” The whole scene was scripted and we just sat there for three or four minutes and he just filmed everybody’s facial expressions and their eyes and you could tell the story just by doing that.
Do you feel your usual audience is going to get into the dynamic of the Harmony Korine atmosphere?
Some of them. I still have younger fans but the older ones, I think, will really like it. For me, it is difficult not to like the movie—it is so true to life, such an eye-opener, the whole script! None of us had ever been on spring break, so with some of the scenes we thought Wow, this really goes on! Before we started shooting the film, Harmony sent us a few pictures for reference of real people and college dorms, and I said: “No, this does not happen!” He said: “Yes, it does!” He didn’t want to tell a fake story. Whoever sees this movie will definitely be able to relate if they’ve ever been on spring break, and it’s awesome for people my age to be aware of a director like Harmony, because it’s so different. It’s about the art, not about making a movie for $50million just to get money at the box office.
What is the backstory of your character? Who is Brit?
I think she’s a girl who grew up in a small town and didn’t want to be like everybody else. Everybody in her town does the same thing and they never escape, and that’s why she is so tough. I think that’s why she gets herself into trouble. She wants an adrenaline rush from whatever it is. She does it for the fun of it. She feels stuck and she is willing to do whatever to be happy. When she meets Alien she is fascinated by him because he has all this money and everything she could ever dream of, and so going to spring break with him and seeing all the situations and all these weird people that you never hang out with, she just loves it. She’s never experienced anything like it. Her whole life she’s been trying to find out who she is, and now she’s really coming into her own and trying new things. She’s a really tough chick. I have never played anyone like her. She gets what she wants, she’s down for whatever and she is just really free.
A lot like you?
It’s funny, when I was reading the script, I found a lot of similarities between Brit and me. My agent said: “It’s literally you, just pushed more.” She is more amped up to a certain degree. She has this boldness. I don’t care what people think about me, I’m not afraid to tell anybody off. I’m just a really a fun girl, who lives life to the fullest. And I think that’s very much Brit.
What do you think about the friendships in this movie? How can all these girls be friends despite being so different?
I think Candy and Brit are very similar. Faith is the good Christian girl, totally opposite from everybody else, but they have this bond. With Faith, we all take care of her. We are like her older sisters. We just want her to experience life and be free, but she’s really tight. Going to spring break and doing the little that she does changes her a bit, but then she goes back to reality. Maybe she’s afraid to really open up. And Cotty is just super-fun. All of these three girls are very sexual. They’re fun girls and don’t care what people think about them, and that’s what makes them so intimidating. They stick together, they have this whole pact, and nobody can come into it.
Sometimes you sing in scenes, letting the little girl in you out. The surprisingly sweet, innocent side, considering what you get up to later in the movie.
The cool thing about these characters is that they can turn it on and off. They can be kids when they want to be kids, and they can be very mature and intimidating. Harmony always said that he wanted them to still be young—we wear Hello Kitty shirts without a lot of make-up so it’s even more shocking that these girls are able to go to this level and do all these things. They’re almost psychotic in a way. It’s so funny because Harmony would say,“dance weird” or “act like dogs”. We’d shout out an animal and then have to act like them. He wants them to be the weirdest people you have ever seen. And then they meet up with Alien who is even weirder. We’re just weird girls who don’t care about anything, except having fun.
How did you prepare for the role?
When I got the audition I literally stayed in my house for four days straight. I decided, “I have to get this role. I’m not going out, I’m not seeing anybody.” I literally did not turn my phone on, I was so into it. I was researching on the internet for robbery scenes because I had to pick three scenes from the script and one of them was this scene where we rob the restaurant. I also did character research on different girls and rappers, I wanted to see what I could pick and choose from everybody’s personalities. It was so much fun. I’ve never studied that much for an audition. I really, really wanted the role.
Do you think this movie could be an important step in your career?
Yes, I do! It’s crazy that I got this film because for two years I’ve wanted to do a feature film, and this is my first one. I wanted to do nothing else than something edgy and dark. My agent said: “When is that going to come about? Because that doesn’t just come about.” And it literally came at the right time and it was crazy. The fact that I got it and Harmony’s directing and everybody on this movie is what I’ve been wanting for over two years. It’s so exciting.
What was it like to experience real spring break on set?
We just filmed this huge scene and it was crazy. When you’re in the moment and you’re in the scene, it’s like whatever, go for it, because that’s what really happens. Afterwards I thought Wow, this is insane! I asked the extras: “So what are you guys doing?” And they would be like: “We go to college, but we wanted to be in a movie and it’s spring break so why not?” They were all on spring break and just doing everything they would do if they weren’t in the movie. Harmony literally put us into some random party and then brought out the camera. It was insane.
What was it like working with James Franco?
I’ve never been more excited about anything! Just watching him being a completely different person… When you see him, you’re like, That’s not James Franco! He has this weird accent, and obviously his look is very different, but he’s so amazing and he turns like half a page of dialogue into three pages, just by improvising. He gives so much. I am definitely learning a lot from him. It’s acting class every day just getting to watch him.
Are you looking forward to seeing the movie with an audience for the first time?
Yes, I want to see people’s reactions. They’re going to be shocked and terrified by it in parts, but I think they’re going to really, really enjoy it. It could become a cult movie that you would want to watch before you go on spring break. I think this movie will do so well in that market, because everybody will be able to relate to it. Most of the situations are pretty real. So far, we shot mostly with real people and everybody’s really excited to be in this movie. The way that Harmony does it is just putting us in situations and looking at our reactions and going off with that.
On set, it felt like you were living it for real…
That’s the thing. It feels like I am doing all of this for real. We filmed a scene that is supposed to be Vanessa’s and my dorm room and we shot it in a real dorm room shared by six boys, real spring breakers. We didn’t do any set decoration, it was disgusting. There was alcohol, beer, the carpet hadn’t been cleaned for years, the dishes were not washed, and I was sitting on the floor in underwear. It was just gross. And Harmony used the kids in the house and they played our friends. It’s cool because you meet real people and they end up having this amazing time on set.
Since you have an independent lifestyle, do you think that you don’t actually have to be absolutely wild, that you will be able to keep it together?
I’m obviously more mature now, I’ve grown up really fast. I don’t need certain things because my career is so important for me.
Growing up “on screen”, you have experienced life in a very different way to others. Now, shooting this film about youth culture in America, does it give you a perspective on your own country?
It has definitely been an eye-opener to what kids really do. It’s like with Harmony’s movie Kids, nothing is fake about it, it’s all real, no matter how horrible it is. He sticks to real life. He reminds us of that every day, in every scene. He tells us to stop and make this real. “Just be in the moment and what you feel like saying, say it. Whenever.“ He never wants us to seem like actors, like we’re in a movie. He wants this to be like a documentary. I think that’s why it’s so cool. I didn’t know half of the stuff that goes on during spring break. I was talking to all the kids in the motel and they told me, “This is normal, we do this all the time.” It’s just an everyday thing for college girls and college boys. I didn’t go to college. I went to elementary school and then I was homeschooled. I mean, I’ve heard crazy college stories but I’ve never seen them! And now in this movie I experience it all.
Harmony Korine once said: “I never cared so much about making perfect sense, I prefer making perfect nonsense.” Is Spring Breakers making “perfect nonsense” or does it make sense for you?
It’s both. I have never seen a director so passionate about his work. He just wants you to give your best and believes in you and keeps telling you that. I have never had that encouragement before, someone that believes in me that much. Just hearing those words from a director, and especially from him, felt unreal. He’s very truthful and just such an honest person, and he has your best interests at heart. Harmony and his wife Rachel are just awesome.
This movie is a lot about girls’ friendship. What do you think guys will take out of this movie?
(Laughs) I think they’re going to like it. Who wouldn’t like the four girls? But I also think they are going to like James’ character. He’s so interesting. It’s going to be great for everybody: there is action, girls, the whole time you watch the movie you feel, wow, this is awesome. And then you see the more serious parts of it. It just has so many different elements. It’s going to be amazing.
The editorial unit
Check out our review of Spring Breakers here.