Exclusive Interview: Joe Lynch (Director, “Everly”)

Everly starring Salma Hayek and Hiroyuki Watanabe, is now out on DVD and Blu-ray, and the film features Hayek as a woman who is trapped in a building full of people who want to kill her. Her only goal is to get save her daughter and somehow get out alive, even though the odds are stacked against her.

I was excited to speak with Everly director Joe Lynch about the film, what it was like working with Hayek, and any advice he’d have for filmmakers. You can read our exchange below. 

How did you come up with the idea for Everly?

It kind of stems from a couple things. First off, I love …pressure cooker situations that can bring out so many variants on character and story and how you execute that. Some of my favorite movies, like Assault on Precinct 13 and Die Hard, Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead…have these characters that have been thrown into the mix and then you find out what happens in that situation. It stems from that love and I love movies that have parameters and rules.

My mentor at the time, and my producing partner [for] Everly, Luke Rivett, he and I were talking about how much we love Lars Von Trier movies. Not just the provocative moments, but how he sets certain restrictions and rules…Because [Everly] was a movie about one person in a particular situation, it felt more engaging to have the visuals be affected by the situation as well. [Rivett] proposed to me, “What if…we gave ourselves this rule that the camera can never leave the room, even if she leaves, so that it will give this sense of claustrophobia so that hopefully, if she does escape the room and the camera can be freed in a way, there will be a sense of catharsis for the audience. People who’ve seen the movie already have expressed that [catharsis] to me[.]

I find it neat that you always strive to make a film you’d love to see, since you’ve said in another interview that you love watching films that include a roller coaster of emotion. You like taking audiences on that same kind of ride. 

I’m an audience member first and foremost. I live and breathe movies; not just making them, but loving them. Every time I watch a movie, it’s homework, you know? It’s also the joy of it but it’s also thinking about all the things that are a part of making me laugh, smile, gasp…along with the audience or even at home. I try to be as hyper-aware of what buttons needs to be pressed or what needs to be done to illicit a certain response.

We’ve been criticized before in the movie for how derivative it is of other movies. I’m the first person to take the blame on that because in many ways…[it has] samples of the feeling of moments from movies I love. Like, obviously Die Hard, but also Kill Bill and The Raid, Blood Simple and a dozen Takashi Miike movies. These are all movies that significantly impacted me when I was watching them[.] I remember how much these movies got a response out of me[.] If people think I’m stealing from stuff, I’d be the first person to say yes and no. Everyone steals from everybody. I’m more evoking the things I love in movies…we’ve never stolen shots, but we’ve stolen the feeling these particular movies bring about.

You’ve also mentioned in other interviews about the influence of Salma Hayek on the film, such as her insistence on the maternal instinct. Why do you think Hayek made the perfect Everly?

When she told us that she was coming at this from a mother’s perspective—we had met with a lot of other actresses and they were like, “I just want to be a badass. I just want to be an action star.” There’s nothing wrong with that; that gung-ho attitude is really inspiring. But, Salma said she knew she was a badass. But she was more invested in the idea of what would it take for a mother to put their loved ones, temporarily, in harm’s way ultimately to save them?…It’s like that old story of a mother picking up a bus to save their kids. You’ll go to those extremes, you know? Salma was always interested in finding the maternal truth to those moments. So as crazy as the movie around her is, as long as she’s coming from a place of truth…then to both of us, it was the right way of going.

When my wife first saw it…she wasn’t expecting a lot of the maternal stuff Salma brought to it. She just knew the script as a badass character who has to save their kids. Now, it’s more of this mother who is put in this very shitty situation who has to go through all these extremes to get [to her child].

This was at the time that…we had just had a kid, our first son, and she was pregnant with our second [child], and I asked her afterwards how did she feel about [the movie.] She goes, “I would have done exactly the same thing as her.” Of course, she’s biased, because she’s my wife, but a lot of people, particularly women movie-goers, have all expressed that. This movie is ridiculous, it’s totally absurd and insane, yet because she brought everything to the role in terms of grounding it, she made [them] completely engaged, even in the crazier moments…Salma brought the truth and we were just there to capture that.

There have been several female leads in action films lately, and I was wondering what advice you’d have to filmmakers who are striving to make their own female-led action film. How would you advise them to go about it without delving too much in the tendency to go fetishistic?

That’s a question I haven’t been asked and it’s something I’ve wanted people to ask. It really depends on the story and it depends on the character, so that’s first. But I think in this day and age, it’s so integral that we give a proper balance to both genders in film. There are great stories that can be told that are based in the male gaze, and there are great stories that can be told that are based in the female gaze….With this particular movie, my particular set of fetishes were to take stuff to the extreme to show this character, whether it was a male or female, was stripped down to as bare emotional state, and in this case, bare nude at the beginning of the film. If we didn’t go to that extreme, we wouldn’t have been able to let her, like the phoenix, rise out of the ashes, you know?

…[W]e’ve been criticized as being way too fetishistic, and my response is that that’s the kind of world Taiko [Watanabe] lives in. That’s Taiko; that’s his own set of fetishes and I’m there to capture that. But with Everly, no matter what, I could put Salma in a burlap sack and someone would find her fetishistic. That’s something you just can’t shoot around when you have one of the most beautiful women in the world on your set.

All of us tried really hard to never make it seem like we were just objectifying her. Anything she did, she was always doing it from a place of character and it was our job to make sure that the frame we were using it in was evocative of where she needed to go. Any advice to any filmmaker is to always come from a place of truth with your character first. That really is the most important thing.

Quotes have been edited and condensed. 

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