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The Globe and Mail

Catherine Hardwicke: a director not afraid of the big bad wolf

Red Riding Hood director Catherine Hardwicke in Toronto, March 9, 2011.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

It's rare to see a director - particularly one of the most commercially successful female directors in Hollywood - jump up and down on a bed in a short, tight dress.

But Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight film and has just released a gothic thriller based on the classic fable Red Riding Hood, knows spontaneity and gut instinct usually help her get her best shots.

So she's happy to oblige a photographer trying to capture the essence of her incredible success on film.

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Her actions speak volumes about the 55-year-old Texan director ( Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) who is reputed to be a tremendously passionate, creative and, yes, fun filmmaker - and one with a knack for tapping into what really moves younger audiences without being condescending or stereotypical.

"She just loves making movies and has so much imagination," says Amanda Seyfried, who plays the fetching Valerie - a.k.a. Red Riding Hood. "When we were in pre-production, she showed me drawings and photos and videos she had put together, which really helped me understand the different facets of my character. She truly is the most creative director I've ever worked with."

From the moment she signed on to Red Riding Hood, the Los Angeles-based Hardwicke says she knew Seyfried would be perfect as the curvy blonde no wolf could be blamed for wanting to bite. "She was my first choice because she looks exactly like the character I see when I turn the page. Amanda can do anything. She can be comedic, sexy and she can grab your heart and rip it out."

But while Seyfried was a shoo-in for the girl in the famous red hood, Hardwicke had a more difficult time casting the leading lady's two love interests, Peter (the devilish, but dirt-poor woodcutter, played by Shiloh Fernandez) and Henry, (an honourable scion of the wealthiest family in the village, played by Max - son of Jeremy - Irons).

"But I had trouble finding Rob [Pattinson]for Twilight, too," the director points out. "And in the end, I picked the actor I trusted my gut had the best chemistry with Kristen [Stewart, who plays Bella]

"Shiloh and Max are both relative unknowns. But I like making discoveries on all my movies," adds Hardwicke, whose hunch on Pattinson panned out stunningly, the picture earning $400-million worldwide. "I just always try to make sure the chemistry is right. The funny thing with Shiloh is that, initially, Amanda didn't want to play opposite him. She'd met him at a dinner and really did not like him. So when I met with her, I said, just have an open mind. Just give him a chance. She said, okay let me try.

"At the audition, you could see she was surprised by what he brought," says Hardwicke, who also "discovered" Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed in her 2003 directorial debut, Thirteen. "They had that spark."

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Will the Fernandez/Seyfried pairing equal that of the Pattison/Stewart combination?

Hardwicke just smiles, and says: "None of us saw that coming! We truly thought we were making an indie film at the time. We didn't know it would go cuckoo-bananas and that they'd never be able to walk out of their house again."

Filmed in Vancouver last summer, Red Riding Hood also includes Julie Christie, Gary Oldman and Billy Burke, who plays Bella's long-suffering dad in the Twilight franchise.

Hardwicke says the film's $42-million (U.S.) budget was tight, by Hollywood standards, for a period piece that required two sets, as well as complicated fight scenes involving horses, scores of villagers, fire and a werewolf that doesn't really exist.

But the challenge of bringing all these elements together drew in Hardwicke, who adds that she is captivated by fairy tales because they use monsters "as metaphors to examine our real fears.

"It was a thriller with unexpected turns, as well as a compelling love story, which also held some surprises for me," she says. "And we get to explore Amanda [Seyfried's]sensuality."

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"Even in the original tale you have this little girl who comes to a fork in the woods. She can go down one path, which is straight to grandma's house and exactly what her mother had told her to do. Or she can go the other way, and stop and smell the flowers, which is getting in touch with her sensuality. We used the two young men to represent that fork in the road, where she could choose the safe path with Henry, or the riskier, more exciting one with Peter.

"Fairy tales are age-old and enduring because they give us symbolic characters that suggest we constantly have to make a choice of taking a risk or being safe. Of battling our demons or not. We all have dark sides to ourselves, and these stories let you confront the dark."

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