“I understand that it’s going to be divisive”: Director Sean Baker and cast at Red Rocket press conference
Director Sean Baker and the cast of Red Rocket sat in front of the press to discuss Texas, porn and whether Simon Rex was wearing a prosthetic or not. The conversation kicks off and the first question is, “Why Texas?”.
“I always take my locations extremely seriously … I was very drawn to the gulf coast”. When exploring the state, they found Texas City, which he describes as a “heavy industrial” place. He was also intrigued by the city’s resilience, being referred to as “the city that cannot die” due to its handful of disasters such as the 1947 industrial accident and Hurricane Ike. Location is of central importance to Baker, who says the city “became a character in the film” and that “it was one of my favourite locations I’ve worked on”.
A question was posed to Baker about why he chose to set the film before the 2016 presidential election. In Red Rocket, the audiences passively watch coverage of the election on the television, drawing laughs from the audience by the sounds of the outrageous words from Donald Trump, whilst the characters seem indifferent. “The way that people spoke about the upcoming election in hindsight is fascinating” says Baker; he calls Trump winning “a cinematic twist”, noting how confident people were of Clinton’s win, and how looking at that in retrospect was “a fascinating way to place my film.”
Onto the script and acting, star Simon Rex notes that his experience was “responding and reacting”, and that Baker would constantly ask them how they, the actors, would respond if they were in this situation. Baker says it was a case of “allowing happy accidents”, and improvisation is crucial in the filmmaking process, drawing out authenticity in the characters: “I’ve been blessed with incredible actors who have the gift of improv.” The character of Strawberry is even based on the actress Susanna Son’s online username.
The conversation moves on to the topic of sex scenes and porn, and actress Bree Elrod is asked how she prepared for the role: “I took this role very seriously, I did a lot of research, I watched a lot of porn”. It was important that she and Rex displayed the familiarity of their characters in the sex scenes, as they were married for five years and did an array of adult films together. Rex reveals he didn’t have time to prepare as he was cast shortly before shooting began, but says he wanted to make Mikey “a likeable asshole” because, “You got to root for him or else you lose interest.” Rex is also asked whether he was wearing a prosthetic penis during his nude scenes but he leaves that open for the audience to figure out for themselves.
When asked whether Son identified with her character, she says, “I’ve been that 17-year-old girl” and that she was intrigued by posting pictures online and sexual content when she was that age. Brittaney Rodriguez, who plays June, credits Baker for allowing her creative freedom and says, “I drew a lot from my younger self, a more aggressive version.” Baker shows his appreciation for Rodriguez’s help with the local slang, and reminisces that he would go to her for advice on how to make a line funnier and incorporate local Texan words and phrases.
One of the most interesting points of the press conference is the sincerity of Baker’s appreciation of the opinion of sex workers and porn stars in the filmmaking process, particularly in the script: “We wanted to hear what they wanted us to do … they gave us notes, which was incredible” – particularly about Strawberry’s agency. On the topic of sex scenes, Baker ensures viewers that the scenes were scripted and he did not subject the actors to “awkward experimentation”. Baker had written the positions of the characters into the script, which Elrod reiterates are important of as they demonstrate the power dynamic of the two characters.
The ending of the film, similar to Baker’s last picture, The Florida Project, is quite ambiguous. “I like to be challenged when seeing a film” says Baker, “I liked the debate that came from The Florida Project. Recalling the hate mail he received for not giving a more concrete ending, he says, “But at least there was dialogue and discussion about it”. The press conference concludes with the director admitting that there will be backlash to the film due to its central relationship with a large age gap and the sexual content: “There are images that are triggering – I get it – I understand that it’s going to be divisive. It’s okay.”
Red Rocket does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Red Rocket here: