Q&A: “KISS OF THE DAMNED” stars Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida
When you’re making a movie as intoxicatingly indebted to great European cinema as the new KISS OF THE DAMNED, it helps to have two fine actresses from the continent as your stars. Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida both hail from France and play very different vampires in KISS, and they spoke together to Fango for this exclusive interview.
In KISS OF THE DAMNED, currently on VOD and opening in theaters beginning tomorrow from Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet Releasing (see a list of playdates here), de La Baume is Djuna, whose solitary existence in an opulent Connecticut mansion is upset both for better and worse. First, she makes an instant connection with screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), who arouses her passions and becomes her live-in lover; then her wild-child sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) turns up unannounced and starts stirring up all kinds of bloody trouble. The film (see our review here) is intriguing in both its story twists and presentation of the blood-drinking subculture, courtesy of first-time feature writer/director Xan Cassavetes, who suffuses her film with echoes of Mario Bava, Jean Rollin and other international horror greats. She also provided Mesquida, previously seen in such unique genre fare as SHEITAN, KABOOM and RUBBER, and de La Baume with roles they’d been waiting for…
FANGORIA: Is playing a vampire an opportunity either one of you had ever had before, or a role you’d always wanted to play?
ROXANE MESQUIDA: It had been my dream to eat people [laughs], so I’m really happy I was able to play a vampire—and a very mean one. I bite a lot of people, and that was cool.
JOSÉPHINE DE LA BAUME: I had never been a vampire before, but I was obsessed with them as a kid—like many children, I guess. One of my favorite movies is Roman Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS. I loved Sharon Tate in that; I thought she looked so beautiful. I was always very seduced by how romantic they were, and the aesthetic of vampire movies.
MESQUIDA: I kind of wish we had done one back then, because I feel vampire movies today are often more like spoofs, and they’re less classy than those older films.
FANG: How were you both cast in KISS OF THE DAMNED—which of you got your role first?
MESQUIDA: I met Xan a long time ago, because she’s a fan of Catherine Breillat, a director I’ve worked with a lot; I did three movies with her. Xan was always thinking that she wanted to make a movie, and one day she just sent me the KISS OF THE DAMNED script as soon as she was done with it, and said, “I’d love for you to play Mimi.” No one else was cast yet, and she was thinking of different actresses to play Djuna…
DE LA BAUME: Then, basically, one of the producers saw my picture in a magazine. They were looking for a French actress and saw from my name that I was French, and they probably thought I looked like a vampire with my ginger hair and very pale skin. So I did an audition on tape, and then Xan came to meet me in Paris and had me read a little more. Then we spent a whole afternoon getting drunk and smoking tons of cigarettes, and talking about movies we liked. We shared a lot in common, and I loved all the references she had. I wish I could get parts that way every time!
FANG: KISS OF THE DAMNED has a lot of European influences. Are you both fans of the kinds of films Cassavetes was inspired by?
DE LA BAUME: There are a lot of movies we both like, and she gave us one particular reference before starting our film: Andrzej Zulawski’s L’IMPORTANT C’EST D’AIMER [THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING, LOVE]. I think that by showing us this movie—which Roxane had already seen anyway—she wanted us to feel we could have a real freedom in the way we acted, almost kind of like in an ’80s movie. All the way to the end of that decade, people kind of…it seems like it’s overacting today, but it was slightly more theatrical, whereas now we’re more obsessed with trying to be extremely real, like in everyday life. Because this was a vampire movie, that gave us more of an license to enhance the romance and the sensuality. Xan really wanted us to go further and feel free, and even if it sometimes went over the top while we were doing it, on the screen, it doesn’t feel that way.
FANG: Roxane, you’ve done a number of very unusual genre-blending films. Are you especially attracted to movies that take different approaches to horror?
MESQUIDA: I’m a weirdo, obviously, so I’m attracted to weird movies [laughs]. I’m just kidding—I think I’m attracted to working with very interesting filmmakers, and I’m a huge fan of [KABOOM’s] Gregg Araki. So I didn’t care about what it was; he sent me that script, and I wanted to say yes to the movie without even reading it; I didn’t really care about which character I would play. It’s true, RUBBER and SHEITAN are also strange, but it’s not like I’m simply attracted to horror movies; it’s more that I want to work with good directors. Those filmmakers were inspiring and very, very talented, and that’s why I wanted to work with them.
FANG: How did the two of you go about developing the strong adversarial-sibling relationship you have on screen?
DE LA BAUME: We had such good chemistry—we became sisters in life, like, instantly—that for a second we were worried about, “Do we get along too well to kind of hate each other in this movie?” But actually, we benefitted a lot from that, because the chemistry was so good that there was a real sense of sisterhood between us.
MESQUIDA: Yeah, it was very easy to work together. I think we brought something more to the scenes where we were in conflict, because we got along so well. It’s not just like two girls fighting; it becomes something deeper. It would have been very boring and uninteresting to just fight because we never actually liked each other. I’m glad we were able to bring something more meaningful to the relationship.
FANG: You had that beautiful house locations to work in; how did the mood of the place affect your performance?
MESQUIDA: We actually lived in the house.
DE LA BAUME: Yeah, all together. We were staying in a hotel originally, but then when we saw that place, it was much more comfortable than the hotel, so we all moved there. Xan was like, “Are you sure it’s OK to live where you work?” I said, “It’s totally cool. There’s a home cinema on one floor, we’ll be just fine.” So we all lived together—which, in all honesty, became really intense, because it was Milo, Xan, Roxane and I. But it helped in a way, because it brought out a lot of intensity between everyone, and that shows in the film.
MESQUIDA: It was strange having the crew come in in the morning. We felt like, “What are they doing in our house?!”
DE LA BAUME: Roxane actually stayed in Mimi’s room—she was sleeping in character!
FANG: You both have fairly explicit, sexual scenes in the film. Did having a female director make those any easier?
MESQUIDA: Yeah, because I just feel like with women, they never film sex scenes in a vulgar way.
DE LA BAUME: Xan was very collaborative, and she always wanted us to be happy with the way we looked, and it was the same with the sex scenes. She was very respectful, and wanted it to be beautiful and not disturbing. And also, all the sex scenes are there for a purpose. When I have mine, it’s a moment of transformation, and when Roxane has hers, she becomes kind of a witch. Every one was not just sex for its own sake, but had to do with the plot.
MESQUIDA: And because we’re friends, we had no problem with the nudity, you know?
DE LA BAUME: We lived up to our French reputation.
FANG: You worked with another notable French actress, Anna Mouglalis as vampire grande dame Xenia. How was that experience?
DE LA BAUME: It was good. Anna was only on the set for three days, so whereas Roxane and I were there for like two months, she was in and out quickly. Roxane played more with her; I only had one scene. But it was fun to be part of a little French troupe in New York, and she did a great job with that character.
FANG: How about your other co-stars—Ventimiglia, Michael Rapaport (as Paolo’s agent) and Riley Keough (as a young victim)?
DE LA BAUME: Michael Rapaport was hilarious. Xan was kind of attached to the dialogue she had written; she didn’t like to change it too much. Michael changed all his dialogue, added a million lines; he came up with the “Jean-Luc Truffaut” thing. But he was so brilliant that Xan, for the first time, was like, “OK, you go and do whatever you want.” He was great. And the same with Milo. We spent a lot of time in the same house with him, and sometimes it was great and sometimes we’d get frustrated with each other—but that’s life, and it helped the movie. It made our [onscreen] relationship more electric. It came through, depending on how we’d feel about each other during the day.
MESQUIDA: And Riley was incredible. She’s such a nice girl, it was a pleasure to work with her. She’s very talented, and brought something very special and pure to the character.
DE LA BAUME: She stood out. Although her role is quite small, you really remember her.