||Alexandra McGuinness is an Irish director whose film She's Missing made waves at the 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival. She went from film buff to actress to helming her own films, and She's Missing is her second feature, which has amassed a cult following with its story of two young women in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as the New Mexico desert, and the mystery that threatens to drive their friendship to the brink. If you have seen the film and are wondering about an explanation or insight, then her answers in this interview will be essential reading (don't worry, there are no spoilers).
What are some of your favourite films? Have you always loved the movies?
I have always loved films. When I was a child I used to watch a lot of musicals and old films, I loved Rita Hayworth and Greta Garbo. When I was 10 my family moved to the Irish countryside and my father bought a large collection of laserdiscs (shortlived pre-cursor of DVDs, the size of vinyl records) and I watched a lot of classic films that way; Shampoo, Heaven's Gate, Annie Hall, L'Avventura , The Heartbreak Kid - I remember watching this way. They are all favourites.
How did you get started in the film industry? Was it more difficult than you expected?
I went to the London Film School. I had spent a few years as an actress, I thought that was the job in film I wanted, because it was the most apparent. I didn't know I could be a director and when I discovered that, everything seemed to fall into place. It is a difficult job, and difficult to get a film made, it takes years. I worked doing EPKs on other people's films, and then made music videos and fashion films in London and Dublin before directing my first feature film Lotus Eaters.
She's Missing has a vividly dreamlike quality, was this a deliberate decision?
I think Heidi's dreams are a part of the plot of the film, and the cactus drug that features in the film also creates an altered reality, so it made sense for the film’s look and sound to have a dreamlike quality at times.
How much research did you do into the lives of young women who exist in these middle of nowhere places? Is the film a kind of "tribute" to those we don't really hear about?
I drove around America while I was writing this film. I observed people in the kind of towns were this film is set. I went to a lot of rodeos and met some rodeo queens. Heidi and Jane both work in the service industry and are mistreated by their mostly male patrons. They don't have a lot of power in their situations, I think anyone who has worked as a waitress or a bartender, which I have, can identify with their point of view even if they're in a different part of the world.
How did you go about casting your leads? Did they have acting chemistry immediately?
Deanna Brigidi was our wonderful casting director. She introduced us to Lucy Fry, who originally auditioned to play Jane, her audition was amazing, and I knew she was our Heidi. I met Eiza Gonzalez for coffee in LA and we spoke about the role and it was something she was interested in doing. We had to shoot quickly to fit in with her schedule.
Anna O'Malley, one of the producers, had worked with Josh before, she brought him to the film, which was great, the role was originally written older but Josh turned it into his own thing.
The supporting roles are strong too, was Amber Midthunder already a TV star when she was in your film? How was it working with Josh Hartnett?
Amber is from New Mexico, where we shot, her mother Angelique was our local casting agent. Her whole family are actors. Angelique said that Amber had some free time and would like to be part of the project even in a smaller supporting role. I think she's a great actress with really interesting presence. Josh was great to work with, he has a presence that really translates on screen. He brought the power that he has as a famous actor to the role of this magnetic cult leader in a way that is really special.
Are you attracted to the desert locations? Were you conscious of his location's screen history, from It Came from Outer Space to Paris Texas, etc and did you feel a part of that history?
I love the desert. The first time I saw the Californian desert I was amazed, it was like being on Mars. I'm interested in discovering and filming in landscapes that are dramatic and unusual. There is a history of European directors making films in the American west and south west locations, films like Paris Texas, Zabriskie Point, American Honey. I would love She's Missing to be part of that tradition.
How important was the music to generating the atmosphere of the film?
Dave Harrington (of the band Darkside) composed the score. It was wonderful working with him. He wrote as we were in the edit, and we would edit to his score, and he would change the score for our cuts. I'd never worked that way before, I used a lot of sync tracks in my first film, and I wanted this film to have a unique and original soundscape.
Without giving too much away, how are we supposed to react to the final scene? Even the final shot?
The film is about a type of friendship that I think a lot of girls experience in their late teens, early twenties, when that friendship is everything, it's the main thing in your life, it's obsessive and co-dependent and there is often a power struggle element to it. There are several scenes in the film with Heidi and Jane, that tell the story of their power struggle, the final scene is the finale of that arc. The film asks the question - is a friendship worth saving if it can destroy you?
What are you working on next? Do you plan to stay in this drama format?
My next film is called Lucia, it's about James Joyce's daughter who was a modern dancer in the 20s and 30s. She was committed to an asylum where she spent close to 50 years. The film is about her trying to create the greatest dance that ever existed, while trying to avoid being incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital.
Many thanks to Alexandra for this interview. Track down She's Missing, readers, it's well worth your time.
[SHE'S MISSING is now available On Demand on iTunes, Sky Store, Virgin Media, Google Play, Youtube and Amazon (click here)]