In 1999 Kimberly Peirce stormed onto the scene with Boys Don't Cry, her unique and authentic take on the true story of Brandon Tenna, a young transsexual who was raped and murdered in 1993. Now, nine years later one of the most inspiring and intelligent directors in the business is back with a raw war drama, Stop-Loss. Though a completely different subject matter, Peirce brings the same passion and fire that prevailed in her debut, showing the world that she was no one-hit-wonder. And though her schedule is stacked, she somehow found the time to sit down with us to discuss the film and its origins, how she inspires other female directors and just how she always seems to find the best actors for her films.
Our first topic of conversation dealt with her film and why she chose to base the story in Texas.
"I knew from the beginning this movie took place in Texas," Peirce recalls. "I had interviewed soldiers all over the country, but I wanted to tell the emblematic story of this generation of the patriot who signed up after 9/11 for what he considered 'all the right reasons', and while I met soldiers like that from New York and LA, I met many more from Illinois and Texas."
But it really wasn't so cut and dry. Peirce goes on to speak about the long tradition of military life in both states as well as the numerous base towns that were located within their borders. But Mark Richard, Peirce's co-writer proved to be the final straw as he is from Texas.
I also had to get Peirce's take on the radical change that our generation has taken to war, especially in film.
"I believe in entertainment in every aspect," she says. "It can be tragic, it can be comic, it can make you laugh or cry, So if you can make a good war movie, or in this case a good movie about coming home, it is more about the camaraderie after combat, their love for each other and their willingness to sacrifice their own life for one another. If you can bring that to life and the challenge when he comes home, I think you can humanize people."
Next-up we spoke in-depth about Peirce's ability to search and discover new talent.
"I'm very drawn to actor's talent," she states. "If they're charismatic, emotionally honest, and talented, it's obvious in the room. I try to give them the space and whatever guidance I can to bring out the best in them."
Back in '99, Peirce took a small known actress by the name of Hilary Swank, who at the time had only The Next Karate Kid to boast about, and turned her into a an Academy Award winner and household name. And now, with her very next film, Peirce looks to do it again, this time with up and coming star Channing Tatum.
Cast before he was anywhere near a mainstream actor, Coach Carter was his sole claim to fame, Peirce instantly fell in love with the "hunky, good looking" actor and felt a connection.
"Channing came in and he had that spark of charisma and anger and confidence that allowed him to be the guy that just might charge into that house to go after the insurgent who was firing on his best buddy, and ended up digging a ranger grave in his front year, shot up wedding gifts with his buddies, and re-signed with the military because being with his comrades and at war made more sense than being at home," Peirce states. "Channing had all the passion, emotion and physicality we needed and talent to fully embody the role."
But even that wasn't enough to win over Peirce, who needed the cast to be perfect to fully convey her message.
"On set," Peirce continues, "Channing was sheer energy, willing to try anything, go anywhere emotionally and bare himself and his vulnerability, his sense of dignity and his feeling of brotherhood for the other men. He is definitely a movie star in the making."
From there we ventured into Pierce's own career. Taking the reigns as director, Pierce chose one of the most male dominated genres in war. However, Peirce says that the thought never crossed her mind.
"While being a woman informs everything I do, first and foremost, I am a writer and a director, a storyteller," Peirce ensures. "I follow my curiosity to understand character and story and to bring characters to life."
But Kimberly Peirce says that she never thought that she would serve as a role model to other female directors and is tremendously humbled by the reactions that she has gotten throughout her career, especially as of late.
"It is absolutely wonderful and amazing to me, that I could have a positive effect on other women, and other filmmakers for that matter," Peirce states. "I believe deeply in the power and fun of storytelling."
Peirce continues by saying that she hopes that by co-writing Stop-Loss, it will show the world of directors that no matter what your sex, you can direct anything as long as you are passionate about the material and able to bring it to life with authenticity.
"I don't think John Ford was a cowboy but he made wonderful westerns," Peirce says. "I don't think Kubrick fought, but Full Metal Jacket and Paths of Glory are great; nor do I think Coppola fought, nor was he in a gang, and yet Apocalypse Now and Godfather are two of the best and most entertaining moves ever made. All these directors were great storytellers!"
As we were given our two minute warning, I got one last question in about the true meaning and what the director wants the viewers to take away from her film.
"I am hoping people have the same reaction from the film as I had from the real life soldiers that I interviewed," she states. "[Soldiers] are coming home to get back to their lives and the idea that they are having to struggle to not be sent back to fight in the war when they have already done their time, it is heartbreaking. The message is simply a human one."