One can assume that most movie-goers have all asked themselves the same question while watching an action film: what would I do if I were in that situation? Fantasy obviously doesn’t equate to reality, and most would probably pray to simply never be in that kind of danger, but still the question crops up. For Catherine Hardwicke, director of the new movie Miss Bala, however, this isn’t a hypothetical situation. She actually went through a situation audiences have seen thousands of times on the big screen – and, editorially, her reaction was rather insane. She recently told me,
It was in LA in the middle of the day, and it was, I think, a gang initiation where somebody wanted my car - that I reacted in the wrong way to, but I lived. I just looked right at the gun, I was just shocked, and I go, 'Fuck off.' I don't know why I said that, right to the loaded gun. And it startled the guy so much that he sort of dropped his guard for one second, and then I just started walking. And, of course, the cop told me that is not the thing to do. Do not do that; give them the fricking car. I had a junker car anyway! But I didn't think that way. I was just defiant. I kind of knew in my heart that I was tougher than that guy was, and so I just went, 'Fuck off.'
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Catherine Hardwicke at the Los Angeles press day for Miss Bala, and this shocking story was delivered at the very end of the interview. Our time was running short, and I had already asked what was supposed to be my final question, but I couldn’t help but follow up when the filmmaker told me that she personally had the experience of having a gun put in her face.
The subject came up in a more macro discussion of Hardwicke’s work as a filmmaker – the kind of stories that she is currently interested in telling at this point in her career. She expressed that, rather than having anything to do with genre, what she wants to tell right now are stories that are driven by perspective, high stakes, and real choices. This was something she definitely got in the making of Miss Bala, headlined by Gina Rodriguez as a young woman named Gloria who winds up becoming a pawn in the operations of Mexican cartels and border crime.
According to Catherine Hardwicke, a big part of what helped her make the film as realistic as she could make it was putting herself in the shoes of her main character – and it helped that she had some personal experience in the “perilous moments” department. It was at this point that she first told me about the time that her life was threatened during an attempted carjacking:
I just kinda try to see it as a real story. Like, what if this really happened to me? I mean, I've personally had a gun to my head. I've been in some pretty scary situations, so like I know how I reacted in certain cases. But most of us aren't tested on a daily basis. Like how would you react with life or death stakes? So it's fascinating to see that.
The intensity of having a gun pulled on you is intensified by a factor of 100 in Miss Bala – a remake of the 2011 film from director Gerardo Naranjo. Gloria travels from her home in America to visit her friend in Mexico and help her try to win a beauty pageant, but things go horribly wrong when the protagonist is caught up in an assassination attempt while out at a night club. She is told that cooperating with the cartel that takes her captive is the only way to see her friend alive again, so she does what she’s told – all the while trying to figure out her way out of the situation.
In the making of the movie, Catherine Hardwicke says she loved not only watching the story unfold through Gloria’s eyes, but also constantly upping the stakes in the narrative. She explained,
I love the idea of what Gloria is going through too, you know, just how do I keep you in her mind, in her feelings? And then what would she do? How do you deal? How do I keep the camera relating to her and helping you feel what she feels… In this case, the stakes just kept getting higher and higher, and ratcheting up for her. The second she gets out of one thing, oh hell, now she's got a bag over her head and the DEA wants her to work for them and she has to go back in as a double agent. Like holy shit, how would you deal with this?