Gemini, a psychological thriller that follows the relationship between Heather (Zoë Kravitz) and her assistant-slash-best friend Jill (Lola Kirke), premieres today. When Heather is mysteriously murdered, Jill scrambles to find the culprit and clear her own name before a detective, played by John Cho, wrongly persecutes her. Along the way, she examines the way fame and social media lead to loneliness, social anxiety, and skewed morality.
Though it delves into the detrimental effects of the world of social media, which is often fast-paced and anxiety-inducing, the film makes space for beautiful cinematography and long panning shots. When I met with Kirke and Cho, Kirke told me that they often filmed entire scenes all the way through, a rarity in Hollywood filmmaking; the scenes that make it to the screen are more often the result of countless takes spliced together. Cho added that the camera doesn't cut quickly the way it might in a chase scene or on a TV sitcom to inform the audience how to feel and where to look. Instead, the camera acts like an unbiased observer, allowing the viewer to make their own observations and draw their own conclusions as the plot line unfurls.
Throughout our conversation about Gemini, we talked about the process of preparing to film a neo-noir, the way L.A. and fame act as villains in the narrative, and the dark aspects of social media.
How did you prepare for each of your roles?
LK: Aaron [Katz, the film's director] gave me a short list of films to watch, including American Gigolo, Body Heat with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, and a movie called Sliver. These movies were all in the genre of neo-noir. It was really fun to watch those movies.
The movie starts with an eerie shot of palm trees, and it ends with the shot of the city. Do you feel like it was very L.A. specific?
LK: Well, I think it would be weird if it were set in Boston. But, yeah, I think that Aaron was interested in exploring the shadow side of celebrity and of Los Angeles, and Hollywood in particular. But most of the movie is not shot in Hollywood. I think there's one scene, which is the scene where I'm pretending to be someone else. But most of the movie, and what I think is cool about it, is shot in neighborhoods that people who actually live in L.A. spend more time in, on the East side.
JC: The reason the movie works so well in L.A. is that it is a very difficult city to get a handle on. Even if you've lived there a long time, it's very slippery. In a way, my character behaves in a very Los Angeles way, which is to give hints of intimacy but to not reveal himself. Ultimately, what he wants is to know what you know and what you want. It's useful to him. He gives hints of his personality, which may or may not be truthful. That's kind of Los Angeles mode, I feel like, at the parties.
LK: When you come back at the end, there's an ambiguity about what your character's intention is. Obviously, Aaron had this intention that you wanted to see an unedited performance, but there's another way of reading your presence — that you too are also taken by celebrity.
Which is interesting, because your character is not an actor or involved with celebrity culture. You're a detective, but you're saying that his behavior still part of this extended Hollywood lifestyle.
JC: I think Los Angeles is a company town in a lot of ways. There are echoes of the dominant business throughout a lot of businesses. I mean, there are celebrity cleaners, in a way that a university town has university cleaners. It's dominated by the central business. So yes, there are echoes of the business throughout Los Angeles, and I would say even in the police force. I was thinking about that scene in The Big Lebowski when the Malibu cops' sheriff was throwing Lebowski out of town. But he's just sort of the protectorate of the famous people that live in Malibu.
When you were making this movie about Hollywood, did it ever feel too close to home or meta?
LK: No, not for me. The life I live is so different from Heather's. I think Heather's life is incredibly small, and that's really evident. Even though her movies have this big reach and so many people love her, she has only two friends, and that is very foreign to me. But I think that her fame, in a way, necessitates that. That's the burden of this privileged life that a lot of people have.
JC: I didn't feel that way, although I've seen it. I don't have the kind of fame that [Heather] perhaps has. People recognize me, but it's not rabid like that. That is a particular kind of fame, and then you see it multiply when famous people come together. Then that's its own rabidity. I haven't lived that. But it shades, certainly, things I've seen. The script and the movie felt authentic to me, in that regard.
I noticed that there are only a handful of characters in the movie who you really see and explore. Then you think, "Where are their families? Their other friends?" They clearly have a very small circle, even during this tumultuous time. That seems like a commentary on how secluded Heather's life must have been.
LK: Someone was just saying that fame is the villain in the film, not Heather, and I think that it just puts everybody in a really weird position.
JC: The movie is dominated by Heather's loneliness, which, I think, is a very truthful consequence of fame. I don't want it to come off as complaining, but I think many famous people have to build walls. That can become lonesome.
You don't really end the movie feeling like Heather was at fault. There's not too much exploration of what happened. You empathize with her, because —
LK: She's like a baby.
Yeah, and you spend the first half of the film seeing her as a good friend. You see the relationship will Jill. She's very humanized.
LK: Well, I think that there's a way that famous people get to live a life that has an unvaried rhythm, and I think that Los Angeles can give that to you. In L.A., you get to live in your house, drive your car, drink your juice, and everything is on your terms in a lot of ways. Whereas in New York or other cities, you're constantly having to adapt your rhythm to other people's. And I think that can be seen as a metaphor for famous people. They get to make a lot of choices and call the shots.
JC: The other thing is that you get to shape the story, and very literally, the end. Somebody was murdered, but the story becomes about the actress in the end. Ricki Lake's character is fascinated with what Heather was thinking. But there's a murder victim in the way that I, Tonya, that incident is now, through the movie, a bit of a controversy. Tonya Harding has become the heroine of the story, when at the time, it was Nancy Kerrigan who was the victim and the heroine, and Tonya was the villainess. Through the act of storytelling, we're the ones who are seeing it differently. And perhaps the protagonist of this story shifted.
One way the narrative is propelled is through texting and social media. Did you talk about the role social media plays in the movie or do you think its presence is just a given in contemporary filmmaking?
LK: When you see the beginning of the film, Heather takes a picture with a fan and then immediately goes to search for it on her Instagram. That's so real. You would imagine that these people have everything so they would want nothing to do with other people, but in fact it clues you in on this external validation that they too are seeking, just like everybody else. I think that social media seeks to take away the middleman between the celebrity and the pedestrian. In this film, in a way, when that middleman is taken out and the fan gets access, that's when the danger happens. And I think what that comments on is this mysterious and nefarious pedestal that we put celebrities on.
There's an interesting question of how to incorporate new technologies visually, too. Do you have the screen show up? Do you play the voicemail? Because it's something that's so mundane, it's not cinematic. And it's so thoughtless at times, even when I'm tagged in a picture, I scroll through it, and I'm kind of mindlessly doing it. So then how do you make that into a conscious framing decision?
LK: It's like the most boring thing in the world to shoot phone inserts. How do you tell that story, because it's really profound to that part of our lives?
JC: I mean the social media thing too is not something we talked about explicitly but I think watching it, the movie is so much a mediation on fame. Social media is the ultimate democratization of fame, and so everyone has a chance. It's funny — everyone's doing a People Magazine spread through their phones. People are like, "This is me in my living room and at the beach."
It's true what you say about social networks feeling democratized on the Internet, and people who aren't famous feeling like they have a certain proximity to fame. I wrote my senior thesis on Taylor Swift and her fandom, and I would trace different fan accounts and see how people my age were interacting with her. A lot of times they would go to her account and then she would post about her best friend Abigail and then Abigail would post about her fiancé.
LK: Right, the association. Famous people love other famous people.
Eventually, someone's account only has 1,000 followers and so you can trace social networks to find people who are less and less famous and maybe more relatable. The social networks are very traceable. And that's the same thing in the movie, you see Jessica Parker's character has the same tattoos as Heather, and so all of these things are very visibly online.
LK: Totally! You troll your trolls. Like my friend was telling me recently that she has a stalker and she says, "Do you want to see what he looks like?" and I'm like, "Wait are you stalking him?" So it's very democratic in that way, everyone can stalk each other!
The world "stalking" is so normalized.
LK: Stalking is a terrifying thing to do.
It is. And we all stalk our crushes on Instagram like it's a normal thing to do but maybe it isn't so normal...maybe it's really bizarre. The first scene is very poignant and darkly lit. There's this blue and pink lighting throughout the rest. Did you talk about that a lot?
LK: Noir lighting has become something that represents the shadow self and the darkness of humanity. The femme fatale is the shadow of the Madonna/whore complex. So I think it's fitting that this movie is a neo-noir, using shades of pink and blue because this movie is very much about the shadow of celebrity.
I have a question about Jill. A lot of the times you're on the run in costume. In the times you were wearing a costume were you playing another character?
LK: I felt like Jill would have felt like dog on her hind legs in that costume. When I was picking out the costume I thought, "I want it to be like a girl who never thought about getting dressed up in her life and then wanted to look like a normal girl and then came up with the world's strangest outfit." I didn't feel like I was playing another character but it definitely added a level of discomfort to the character I was already playing.
And John, your character doesn't make an appearance until half an hour into the movie when there's already been a good deal of exposition. At first it's about friendship and then it turns into a thriller. So I was curious if you thought about your character's introduction as a turning point in the narrative?
JC: I didn't, but I shared your experience as a viewer. It's act two and we're looking at a playful night and we're getting this voyeuristic view into this evening. And then the shit hits the fan and it's almost like you had a party and you spilled something on the rug and the parents came home and it's morning. There was definitely a telling shift and the plot accelerated.
LK: I feel like Aaron does that a lot in his movies too. Like you think it's about one thing and then it's about a murder mystery.
That happened to me in the end. I did not anticipate the plot twist!
JC: I love that feeling. Yesterday on the plane I watched The Deer Hunter. That movie has about 40 minutes of this Russian wedding. It's just a bunch of dudes getting drunk for 40 cinematic minutes and then all of a sudden a bomb drops and you're in Vietnam. And I love being lulled into complacency as a viewer.
Photography: Johnny De Guzman