“Pearl” is here.
The character, introduced as a murderous old crone in this spring’s 1970’s-set “X,” gets her own origin story in Ti West’s “Pearl,” which just debuted in theaters with Mia Goth in the title role. And, as it turns out, Pearl as a young woman is as deeply messed up (and as oddly sympathetic) as she was as an old lady.
In the new movie, set in 1918, Pearl is a young woman marooned on a barren Texas farm, her days spent caring for her father and dreaming of becoming a movie star. (Her husband is away at war.) That’s basically all you need to know; “Pearl” is just as odd and transfixing as “X,” but with an aesthetic borrowed from Douglas Sirk instead of Tobe Hooper. (The movie is shot in lush widescreen as compared to “X’s” more cramped frame.)
TheWrap spoke to West, who once again directed and this time co-wrote the screenplay with Goth, about what it was like shooting “Pearl” and “X” together, what we can expect (or not expect) from the third film, “MaXXXine” (centered around the only surviving character from “X,” also played by Goth) and what it was like shooting Pearl’s jaw-dropping monologue. “X” was a new horror classic and “Pearl” might be even better – even Martin Scorsese is gushing.
Can you talk about the timetable of shooting “X” alongside “Pearl?”
Well, “X” was written and was sort of green-lit and we were going off to New Zealand to make it, and it was during the peak of the pandemic and New Zealand was a safe place to make a movie. And we had spent a lot of time and effort to set up an environment down there with a crew and to get visas and to get everyone in through quarantine and to build an infrastructure a) to make a movie and b) this specific movie that was “X,” meaning building a barn and turning New Zealand into America. And it was very uncertain if we would make that movie, I suppose, because it was a strange time and it was even more uncertain that we would maybe even make a movie ever again after that. It occurred to me that we’re putting all this effort to go to a place and to be one of the fortunate people that could actually do this when nobody else could do it – what if we just used this stuff and made two movies instead of tearing it down and going home?
From a pragmatic standpoint, that was the first kernel of an idea. And I had been spending a lot of time thinking about Pearl’s backstory, because when we were making “X” and I cast Mia Goth, if she was asked, “Well, what was Pearl’s life like?” I wanted to have an answer. I knew who Pearl was. And when I thought about making two movies, I didn’t want to make a sequel where more people went to a farm. But I’ve been talking to Mia a lot about the character and I thought, “Well, that story’s interesting, and if we go backwards, we can use the whole farm.”
It started there. And then I went to New Zealand and I had to do two weeks of mandatory quarantine. And in that time, I told Mia, “What if we made two movies? Would you stick around?” And she said yes. And I was like, “Well, I’m going to do two weeks in a hotel room, which is maddening, so I’m going to try to crank the script out there. Would you like to do it together? Because you are a Pearl and there can be no second movie without you and it feels like you should be involved in the conception of this one.” And she was excited by that. I was in a hotel room and she was in New York and we would FaceTime and we just frantically shared ideas and cranked out this movie.
And then when we got out of quarantine, I shared it with A24 and they liked it and they weren’t totally ready to commit immediately. And so we went back to work prepping on “X” for a month and I was nagging them being like, “Look, I polished it up. It’s a little bit better. We should do this and it would be great. We could make it back-to-back and everyone’s game to stay.” I put the whole production plan together with Jacob Jaffke the producer, and it made sense on paper. It just didn’t make sense because it was a crazy thing to do.
And then they just really liked the script and we came to a point where they were like, “Well, we want to do it.” And I was like, “The time to do it would be now, because if we say OK now, we can get ahead of the prep and we can make ‘X’ with the idea that we’re making ‘Pearl’ and treat it like one big movie so we can get all of these connective tissue things in both movies.” And they green-lit it about a month before we went into production on “X.” And then in between “X” and “Pearl,” it was about three weeks of going back to prep to get everything ready, putting up wallpaper in the barn, painting the barn, things like that. We had three weeks in between.
Was the plan always to release them six months apart?
It has been quite a bit of work, because I was writing the third, also. There has not been a day off in quite some time. It wasn’t so specific to say six months. It was kind of just like, I want to try to get it done as soon as possible. And when we went to South by Southwest with “X,” it was basically done. We hadn’t mixed it or anything, but the edit was done, the effects were done, we were pretty much there. And the goal was to basically try to be able to have the opportunity to release it as soon as we wanted to afterwards. We probably could have done it anywhere between June and now. And now felt like the best time, so we went with now.
The ”MaXXXine” trailer just dropped. Does that feel like the end of the “X” universe?
At the moment, I do not have plans for part four.
However, I have an idea…. Let’s see how “MaXXXine” goes. There’s an intriguing spinoff that would make sense if I was insane.
But I don’t have plans to. When I had the “Pearl” idea, I had the “MaXXXine” idea at the same time. And so I sold the “MaXXXine” idea to A24 and they really liked it and they were like, “We want to do that.” And I was always like, “Yeah, but we have to go back before we can go forward.” Because “MaXXXine” as a sequel to “X” is fine. “MaXXXine” as part of a trilogy about these characters is infinitely more interesting. And by “Pearl” going back and going way into a different aesthetic and showing everybody how these movies can be connected but can be standalones and be radically different, “MaXXine” does the same thing. It does a different thing, but “Pearl” now gives you context for how “MaXXXine” could be wildly different than “X,” which it is.
Was the conceit always that they would also center around seismic shifts in the landscape of filmmaking?
I mean, “X” was very much a movie that the characters in the film were sort of affected and inspired by independent auteur-ish Americana, like exploitation filmmaking and whatnot. And that bears no value to Pearl’s story. And Pearl was very much affected by the wonder and the glitz and glamor of the showbiz life that could be offered. And Maxine is affected by a different kind of moviemaking. It’s a different thing. And now that “Pearl” is out and people have seen that departure, the departure that “MaXXXine” will ultimately be will be…I don’t know, I guess they’ll be a little more prepared for it being something. I don’t think they’ll expect what it is, but they’ll be a little more prepared for it being different.
The trailer suggests that it’ll center around the explosion of pornography on home video.
It is in the ballpark of that, yes.
Can you talk about working with Mia and forming this character? People are already talking about how she should be a part of the Oscar conversation.
I don’t know, it’s a really crazy movie and a horror movie and historically they get sort of overlooked for it. But I don’t know, I would say find me another performance, especially by a young actor, but any actor at all that is in every single frame of the movie and is as commanding as it is. And if there is one, then fair enough. But I think that it’s really nice to hear people talk about her in such a high regard because I certainly see her that way. And A24 has seen her that way. And it’s been a real privilege to see it happen. It’s just been a great collaboration.
Her and I clicked right from the beginning, and Mia is the kind of person that she only gives 110% to whatever she’s doing. And for what these movies were, it needed that. And certainly for what “MaXXXine” is going to be, it needs that. And I’m excited for, especially because Pearl – you meet Pearl in “X,” and you get a very different side of her in “Pearl.” You meet Maxine in “X,” but you’re going to get a very different side of her in “MaXXXine,” and that’s going to be fun to showcase yet another evolution of her in these movies. I’m just fortunate that timing linked us up the way that it did.
Can you talk about her big speech towards the end of “Pearl?”
It was always the plan to have the climax of such a showy, flashy movie to be something really not flashy and showy aesthetically, but perhaps from a performance standpoint it would be. The goal was that the climax of this movie be about this character’s emotions and her psychology, because that’s ultimately what the story was. And it just felt like, well, the climax of this movie should be a reveal of how she’s feeling. And easier said than done. But we wrote the monologue and we set out to do it. And I think we filmed it six or seven times, and I want to say the fourth take is what’s in the movie. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure it is. And my role there was mostly just to get out of the way because we filmed that scene from when they walk in and they sit down, to then they talk and then there’s a monologue and then they get up and they leave. And that all together could have been 12, 15 minutes, somewhere in the ballpark of that, for the whole sequence.
And that’s a long time to be doing a take. It was the kind of thing that there was the line that started the monologue [and] my goal was not to cut. If anything was to go wrong on set, it had to go wrong before that. If anyone was going to sneeze, if a walkie was going to go off, if a phone was going to ring, if a thing was going to fall down and you knew about it, shout it out. Because the moment she starts that monologue, it was like doing a stunt, where everyone needs to be at their places and everybody needs to be hyper-focused and nothing can go wrong because if 4.5 minutes into this six-minute monologue you bump the camera, you messed up the whole thing.
So on my end, it was really just trying to clear the road for her to be able to have all the room to just do it. Because once it happens, it’s only her that can do it. No one can help her. There’s nothing we can do. And obviously a total credit to her. She just nailed it.
What about the final shot?
Yeah, that’s become sort of arguably the best and certainly people’s favorite thing in the movie. And I quite like it. But that was something where my plan was she would say the final line of the movie and she would smile and then I was going to freeze frame on the end, like I do in the beginning when it freeze frames on Pearl when she’s feeding the alligator. And I don’t know why I had the idea, but I was just like, “It might be kind of interesting if we just do an organic freeze frame and you just try to hold it as long as you can.” And she was like, “OK.” I was like, “So do this, do the smile. And just hold it as long as you can and let’s see what happens.”
That happened for about three minutes. And then I was like, “That’s great. It’s going to be in the movie.” And we did it one time and that was it.
That’s just what happened. It was so magical. And no one heard me, no one knew what was going to happen, because it was just like, “Hey, what if we tried this? Might be cool.” And then that’s what happened and it’s certainly the most memorable, if not probably one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Will viewers be rewarded by rewatching “X” after “Pearl?”
There’s no shortage in both movies of connections. I could tell you on a more obvious scale, if you were to watch “X” again, it’s sort of like Jenna Ortega’s running around in the basement and there’s a big wheelchair there that suddenly now is like, “Oh, I know what that wheelchair is.” And there are lots of things like that, that are in both movies. And so they will become more apparent that when she steps on the “X,” that is probably as obvious as it gets.
But yes, the wheelchair plays a part, her bike is a part. There’s all kinds of things that are in there. There’s a lot of lines of dialogue that are referencing things from both movies. Obviously, the opening shots are the same. She’s wearing overalls and Maxine’s wearing overalls. There’s no shortage of things. I could go on forever about it. You just have to watch the movie and pick them up as you go.
“Pearl” is in theaters now. “MaXXXine” is coming soon.