Writer/Director Steven Shainberg is probably best known for his 2002 release Secretary, in which Maggie Gyllenhaal takes a new job as a secretary, only to see her working relationship with her boss, James Spader, devolve into a sexual/sadomasochistic one. He’s also directed the critically acclaimed Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus in 2006. His latest film, Rupture, opens in select theaters this Friday, April 28th, and it stars the always fascinating Noomi Rapace as a single mother who’s captured by a mysterious organization, with no inkling as to why she’s been taken hostage, or what’s about to happen to her. Critics have called the film both bizarre and terrifying, and Mr. Shainberg took a minute to talk with me about his latest work, working with Ms. Rapace, and what he’s been doing in the ten years since he made his last film (The aforementioned Fur).
Gruesome Magazine: Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate you sitting down to talk with me.
Steven Shainberg: No problem!
GM: While I want to ask you about Rupture, I have one question to ask that’s I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. It’s been about ten years between your last completed feature, Fur, and your latest one. What exactly have you been up to during that ten-year stretch?
SS: Trying to get money to make movies! The kind of movies that I want to make are hard to find funding for. Unless you’re making the latest Jason Blum scare fest, it’s kind of hard to make the movies that I gravitate to.
GM: I completely understand. I can see where that could be a problem in today’s Hollywood. There seems to be a lot of bondage/kink themes in Rupture, or at least a lot of allusions to bondage/kink.
SS: [Laughing] If you’re bent that way, it’s a kinky movie. It is there if that’s what you’re looking for.
GM: I only ask because of a very popular film you directed some years back called Secretary. As you and I both know, that one reveled in those themes. What was it about the script for Rupture that made you want to direct it? Was it because of its kinkier aspects?
SS: Not at all! But I guess everybody is drawn to a certain thing. Spielberg can make really young kids look/act very naturally in his films, that’s his thing. I guess weaving some bondage/kink themes into my work is my thing. This was originally an idea of mine that I started on as a producer. My producing partner (Andrew Lazar) & I were working on getting another film off the ground for a very long time, but we eventually ran into a dead end. The script for Rupture was one of a few other scripts that we were working on at the same time, and I realized that this script could be turned into a film that I would like to make, because underneath what’s scary in the movie – there’s a kind of spiritual story about personal transformation in which fear is something that we have to move through in order for us to grow. And when I realized that and feeling that it could be something that I would be interested in, I said to Lazar that we should just go make this. It’s a genre movie, people want genre movies, and we could probably get it made. Ultimately, it’s better to make a movie than to not make a movie. So that’s what we did.
GM: When I hear the words “Genre Movie“, I automatically think horror or science fiction, probably because they’re my preferred genres. But while Rupture has elements of both of those genres, I wouldn’t call it a horror or a sci-fi film.
SS: It’s definitely not either of those things, and I think that’s one of the reasons that it’s not getting a big release. Some of the bigger distributors passed on the movie because it’s not readily identifiable. And if it isn’t immediately identifiable, then the distributors scratch their heads and ask “Well how do we sell this?“. To me that translates into the film being a far more interesting film that refuses to be pigeonholed into a set genre, something that a lot of distributors just can’t get their heads around. It’s not an easy sell, because it’s not exactly a horror film, not exactly a psychological thriller, and not exactly a sci-fi film – it has an unusual quality to it. So let’s just see how it does out there, I certainly hope people will gravitate to it.
GM: What was it like working with Noomi Rapace?
SS: She’s fantastic! She’s one of the most unusual people walking around on planet earth, and her energy is phenomenal, incredible even. The movie needed somebody like her, but there’s nobody like her! So if we didn’t get her, we were gonna be in big trouble. She’s just a tremendously interesting and compelling presence on screen. She pretty much carries the entire movie from the beginning to the end. She’s in every frame of it, so we were very fortunate to have someone like her in the role.
GM: I’m curious, you described her as one of the most unusual people on the planet. What did you mean by that?
SS: She has incredible concentration. Her physical rhythms are like no one else’s. She has a tremendously complicated background which you feel when you watch her on screen. She’s tremendously intelligent, and a really superior athlete to boot. She’s just this combination of things that are so rare to find in one individual, I don’t think there’s anybody like her on the screen today. She just has this quality, she’s one of those people that you just don’t look away from. And in this kind of film, you need an actor like that, or else the film might just fail to be interesting.
GM: See that just makes me even more curious, because you also have Peter Stormare in this film. And from everything that I’ve read about him, and judging from the roles he seems to enjoy playing, I’d think that he was one of the more fascinating & unusual people to work on a film with.
SS: He has this reputation for being an oddball and playing a lot of villains, but he’s actually one of the most incredibly friendly and lovable people that a crew could work with. Everyone just utterly embraced him! He has this kind of incredible joy about him, an openness that’s just very beautiful. He’s just a guy that you wanna find a role for in every movie you make. He showed up on set with really interesting ideas and questions about his character. He’s one of those guys that you make a movie with, and just eternally adore afterward.
GM: As I looked over some reviews of Rupture, I couldn’t help but notice that the word “Pretentious” came up more than a few times. I find that to be a really strong word, and I didn’t find anything remotely pretentious about this movie at all. What do you think they could possibly be alluding to when they describe your film with that word?
SS: I never read reviews. Someone can call me and tell me there’s a great review of my work somewhere, and I won’t read that either. After glancing at some really good reviews for Secretary, I just decided to stop before it fucked my mind up. What I will say is that there are ideas in Rupture that are implicitly religious, or spiritual. The experience that Noomi is having, while it’s terrifying, has another level of meaning. The experience she’s having goes to a place really deep inside of her, and I don’t know, maybe it is pretentious. But is Michael Haneke pretentious? Is Bergman pretentious? I’m certainly not comparing my films to theirs, but there are directors whose work I look at and adore. And then there are others that are clearly reaching for things, guys that are trying to convey things dramatically that are just from another realm. I have no idea, I’m just taking a guess here. I don’t really know, and nor do I really care.
GM: There’s a lot of red/purple lighting in the hospital scenes…
SS: It’s not really a hospital. It’s more of a crazy facility that Noomi is taken to, and neither she nor the audience knows exactly what the facility is. You can call it a hospital, but it doesn’t really feel like one. It’s just feels like a really scary place that you or I would not want to spend two minutes in. There’s freaky stuff going on in there, she wants to get the hell out of there, and it doesn’t really look/feel like a place that you’ve ever seen in a movie before. It’s just a very strange and scary place. I’ve sat through the movie twice with an audience, and once she gets to the facility, which happens pretty quickly – about 12 minutes into the movie, the audience just became dead still. Just gripping the armrests of their seats, they were really freaked out. And that was the intention [Laughing], to make a really scary movie! The vibe/mood/tone of the movie is very disconcerting, it’s just very odd.
GM: I’m really excited to watch the movie now!
SS: This is a really great interview because, in a sense, I’m pitching the movie to you! I’m yelling at you “Go see the movie!“.
GM: Are we going to have to wait another ten years before we see another movie from you?
SS: I don’t know man! Ask the financiers. I have eight movies that I wrote/developed over the last ten years, Rupture is number nine. Some of them have casts, some of them have financing, but no casts. So if someone wants to try and help me – then try and help me get these fucking movies financed! It’s super complicated trying to get a movie made that’s just about people. Rupture is kind of an outlier, but there is another story that I got interested in because I had so much fun making this one. Basically, the movies I make are all about people, facing situations in their lives, and sadly that’s not necessarily what financiers are interested in making any more. It’s very tough for most people to get these movies made, and I make them for a living. If you make them for nothing, then you literally don’t get paid anything, and then maybe you’ll have a better chance at making them. But I really just can’t afford to do that – it’s tricky.
GM: Well I wish you nothing but the best of luck, and hope your next film comes a lot sooner than later. I think you’re a very talented filmmaker.
SS: Now I wanna talk to you after you see the movie! That would be fun!
GM: I’d love it! You have my number, give me a call!
SS: I hope you enjoy it!
Rupture opens in select theaters and VOD on Friday, April 28th.