Born in Britain to Iranian parents who had fled after the 1979 revolution, Ana Lily Amirpour was raised in California on vampire stories, Quentin Tarantino and Sergio Leone westerns. This eclectic background is reflected in her debut genre-defying feature film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Since its premiere at Sundance last year, audiences and critics have been praising the twisted fairy tale about a chador-wearing, cat-loving, skateboarding vampire – the Girl (Shelia Vand). On the phone from Los Angeles, Amirpour talked to The Globe about immortality, working with Elijah Wood and the surprising way Margaret Atwood supported the film.
When did you first get into vampires?
My gateway to vampires was Anne Rice. I read all her books growing up. I loved Lestat. He was the vampire who stole my heart.
What drew you to these stories?
With vampires, people go one of two directions: either the existential, lonely contemplative figure or you have a bloodbath massacre. I never saw them that way. The most exciting thing about a vampire, for me, is that they don't die. I want to live forever. I like the idea of seeing everything that happens in human history. The drawback is, of course, that everyone you know dies and you're alone. But I would do it. I would gladly live by night and deal with madness if I could see it all. I like it here. I don't want it to end.
What was the genesis of this film?
The idea for the Girl started everything. I knew Shelia: We'd done shorts together and she's a close friend, and I always wanted her to be the vampire. We tried to make a short about a vampire before, but Shelia was doing a play, and it became this unfulfilled thing between us. I left for Germany and when I came back to L.A., she was the first person I talked to. I hadn't written a script yet, but I had the idea of the Girl. I told Shelia I wanted her to play the part and that she'd have to cut her hair short. Things went very quickly from there.
Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?
It was a reflex, immediate choice. I don't even really like black-and-white movies very much, but when I thought of this character, it was always black and white. The Girl is almost a geometric shape against white walls and in empty streets. The black and white also removes reality, and the settings become even more fantastic and dreamlike. You can get even weirder with the supernatural stuff.
Elijah Wood signed on to executive produce. Audiences loved it at Sundance. Are you surprised that such a strange tale is getting so much attention?
From the beginning, I was only interested in doing something that fascinated me. Making a film can take months and months, so if you don't love it hard, how can you expect anyone else to? I will fight my whole life against making something based on the whims of an audience. But if you come from a place of trying to be singular, people who think the same way will come to you. Elijah was one of those people. Margaret Atwood, too. I met her at Comic-Con before I shot the film and she loved the idea and got behind it. The Madonna posters in the Girl's room are actually of Margaret Atwood. I couldn't [get the rights to] use the real Madonna posters, so Margaret let me make her into Madonna.
What are you working on next and does it feature a cat?
I'm working in Texas on a dystopian, psychedelic western. It's very violent. Cannibalism is involved. There is an animal, but I won't say whether it's a cat or not.
This interview has been condensed and edited.