Julia, a unique revenge film, opened this weekend. Ashley C. Williams plays a woman who is raped and recovers via an unorthodox therapy. The therapy consists of luring men from a bar, but she is never allowed to seek revenge against her own attackers. Naturally, Julia feels conflicted about this when she is faced with the man who delivered her to the attackers.
I met Williams and director Matthew A. Brown at Screamfest last year where I moderated their Q&A. We remained friends and I did a new interview with Brown for the film’s release. Julia is now playing in theaters.
Nerd Report: There’s sort of a conundrum whenever you do a revenge movie, let alone a rape revenge movie, that there’s really no revenge that can undo the trauma the hero has suffered. Was that something you thought about when you developed Julia?
Matthew A. Brown: Yeah, the thing is my focus and my passion for the story was really connected to this radical transformation of this woman and this journey of going from complete darkness towards light. Of course, she awakes what I think of as a holy kind of evil, that is twisted but at the end I see her being this being of light. My interest was less about the revenge aspect. That was more just a vehicle towards her awakening to this angel of vengeance. To me, I couldn’t really think of anything worse happening to someone other than rape. I just don’t think there’s anything more extreme to tear at your soul, anybody’s soul. In other stories, I’m thinking of that movie I Saw the Devil, which I think is just absolutely brilliant. In that film it’s very much about the fact that his choice to go on revenge actually just makes everything that much worse. By the end, he loses not only his wife but his wife’s family and everything. I think that was the moral in that story, that revenge is just not worth it. In Julia for me, it really is because it sets her on this path of full blown transformation into a holy being.
Nerd Report: It’s part of the treatment too, that you’re not allowed to seek your own revenge because that keeps you as a victim. Was that a way to make it more transforming into something positive?
Matthew A. Brown: The irony of course is that in fact, even though the psychiatrist has come up with this therapy to lure the women, he’s seducing them into carrying out his will which is very much his own revenge against man, his father, for having done what was done to him. The irony is that this whole thing of transcending ego actually works with Julia. I think she’s almost his first successful patient. The whole thing about the transcendence of the ego and not making it personal comes out of my own experience with meditation and having learned to just observe things and not attach. To essentially observe everything from a higher perspective. As soon as you start to be able to observe the things happening to you and not take it personally and not attach to them, the suffering just kind of naturally dissolves. It just falls away.
Nerd Report: Does that help you in Hollywood when deals fall through?
Matthew A. Brown: [Laughs] You have no idea. It was a big thing because actually what happened was before I made Julia, I’d had two feature films. One of them was in pre-production, was cast across the board. It was a South African coproduction with most of our funding coming actually from South African Broadcast, the SABC. All this corruption came out in the newspapers overnight one night and next thing you know, 2/3 of our budget was slashed. It happened at the same time as another of my films, that I’d also been in development for for something like five years. Of course I’d received payments for some of these films, option payments and in the case of the South African Broadcast one, they paid fully for the script so I could live as a filmmaker. When I saw these two things collapse at literally almost the same time, it was at that time that I went into meditation because all this anxiety had come up. Since then, any time if somebody doesn’t like what you do or you get a bad review, it’s just like, “Okay, that’s just how it is.”
Nerd Report: How long was Julia in development?
Matthew A. Brown: It happened really quickly. After I’d had those two films collapsed, I just felt inside of me I just have to make my first film. It was actually done the old school way of took out 10 or 12 credit cards, quite a substantial amount of credit, and I was ready to go off to South Africa. I was going to shoot a South African gangster film that I was totally pulling together and I had a lot of the team in place and a lot of pieces in place. I was probably a month away from getting on a plane when one of my executive producers on Julia, Reyad Farraj, saw a short film that I’d done called Victim. Victim is essentially the one sequence in Julia when she traps the guy in the bar and lures him back to his apartment and the crazy scene that goes down there. He approached me and asked how I’d feel about developing it into a feature. As soon as he said it, a lot of people who had seen Victim had commented on thinking it would make a feature film and I’d thought about it, but it just wasn’t where I was at. When he mentioned it to me at that point, this explosion went off inside of me. From that day that I sat down with him and his business partner and told him how I would like to envision the feature, like in December 2011, it was literally a year from that day that we were already in preproduction. I didn’t even have a feature script when we sat down at that meeting. The third or fourth draft was around April of 2012. We were in casting three or four months later. The turnaround was kind of insanely quick.
Nerd Report: Was the character named Julia in Victim?
Matthew A. Brown: Yes. In the short, the actual actress’s name was Julia in German.
Nerd Report: Did you ever approach her to be in the feature?
Matthew A. Brown: No, because I shot this in Berlin and it was done in German. I always knew that for this film to work, I needed someone who had “it.” Firstly, it had to speak to an American audience. It was an American movie and I really needed someone who could blow us away.
Nerd Report: Are you German?
Matthew A. Brown: My ex-girlfriend was German and I’d moved to Germany. We were living in Berlin together. Before that, I was actually back in South Africa for these two other projects that collapsed. After these two things collapsed, I just had to get out and she and I had been together for a few years. I just moved to Berlin but it was always my journey back to America.
Nerd Report: Did you shoot Julia guerrilla style in New York?
Matthew A. Brown: We definitely had some permits, but we definitely also stole quite a number of shots. There’s a lot of night exteriors, we just hopped onto the street and got them. We got chased out of the subway a few times. There was one evening, in the training sequence, the third bar scene where she gets a guy to follow her and he’s pushing her up against the metal grates in the alleyway. That was actually shot on Doyers Street which is known to be the most bloody street of all time in New York. It’s how they got that name. It’s called the Bloody Triangle. It got that name during the Chinatown wars. That night, cops came by and our producer was like, “Oh, I’m just going to send a guy. We’ve got all the papers back at the office. We’ll just have a guy go and pick up the papers and we’ll come back.” We finished everything up, got the f*** out of there before our guy supposedly returned with the permits.
Nerd Report: Were there any scenes that were deceptively tricky to do?
Matthew A. Brown: One of the hardest scenes I found was the scene where the women are in the bar. Everything with Ashley was easy in a way just because she was so in character and in the zone that it was very rare even that we did more than two takes. Often, in fact, it was one take. But the scene in the bar with the women, most of them weren’t actresses. They were more models and it was quite complicated. It was also the very first day
of the shoot. It’s the one where Ashley overhears the women talking about the therapy. So that was kind of tricky, but I had a feeling it was going to be tricky just because it also involved a bit of improv, getting them into a certain kind of space.