Despite a substantial effort to integrate gays into mainstream
America, anti-homosexual violence continues for those who don't
conform to this country's far-too-conservative mores. Though it's
hard to believe that it continues, bullying still spurs teen
suicides in a country charged by Tea Party extremism.
So first-time director Abe Sylvia used his juvenile experiences as a
gay kid growing up in 1980s Norman, Oklahoma, as a starting point to
inform us about his efforts to flee such attitudes. His debut
feature, Dirty Girl, details a comedic search for identity
and freedom which provides a context to illustrate the effect such
repression has and how it stimulates the will to escape.
As the "dirty girl" of Norman High, Danielle (Juno Temple) sluts her
way through high school, but her misbehavior gets her demoted to
Special Ed. There she joins up with innocent but abused closet-case
Clarke (Jeremy Dozier). Together they head out on an illicit road
trip to escape the repression and discover themselves through their
Coming from an English showbiz family – mom is producer Amanda
Temple and dad is director Julien Temple – the younger Temple has
been a schooled actress since elementary school. Relative newcomer
Dozier has only done a few shorts. But he shares in Sylvia's
experience, having growing up in conservative small town Texas.
Sylvia ran off to NYC to be a Broadway hoofer, working with such
talents as directors Susan Stroman, Mel Brooks and Tommy Tune.
However, the grind took its toll and he turned to Los Angeles to do
film, television and commercial work in 2001. After graduating from
UCLA's film school, Sylvia's four short films have screened in over
100 international festivals. He's also won several awards, including
the Jack Nicholson Distinguished Director Award, the James Bridges
Prize in Directing, and was a finalist in the 2006 Chrysler Film
Thanks to Christine Vachon's Killer Films and Paris Films, Dirty
Girl got made and did the festival circuit including 2010's
Toronto International Film Festival. It is now being released
theatrically this month. The following Q&A is culled from a recent
roundtable with these two leads.
has changed in society since 1987 so what did you learn about the
time period and what were your impressions?
We had to do a lot of research on the music and stuff.
I really hadn't listened to Melissa Manchester or anybody like that,
and she's this icon for Clarke. So I did a lot of research and
watched her YouTube videos. I found it fascinating how powerful she
was on stage. I also did lots of research on the time period, on the
clothes and everything, which was a lot of fun. It was a time when
being gay wasn't really talked about so I think that's changed a lot
since then, thank God. We'd walk onto set and everything would be
decked out in '80s gear. It was so much fun walking into this
it was like walking into a new world in a puff of smoke.
Did you ask your older cast members to give you some tips or
references for the '80s?
Kind of. But we're a different generation to them in the movie, too.
My parents were a big part of the '80s rock and roll music scene, so
I know quite a lot about that part of the '80s. So this was like a
whole new part of the '80s in that we're listening to this great
power ballad, music you can't help but move your body to.
What was great about working with Abe [Sylvia, the director] is that
he grew up in that time period and had so many references for us.
Movies like The Breakfast Club and different movies for us to
We watched some good movies.
The music plays a huge part of the movie, and he knew what songs he
was going to play over which scene before we started.
We were given the soundtrack before.
That helped us inform the scenes and get the tone [right].
You have your come-on line, which is "Are those Bugle Boy jeans?" I
hadn't heard that in so long.
I thought that was such a weird line. I shot the entire movie not
knowing where that came from. Just last week, Abe posted the
commercial on Facebook and I was like, "It all makes sense now."
other references from the '80s that you didn't know about?
There was a line that was cut out where Clarke says to Danielle,
"Let's sing 'Don't Cry Out Loud,'" and I'm like, "I'm more of a
That was the kind of vibe that Danielle is more into, like hair
metal. The thing I loved about Danielle was that she was kind of
'70s in this '80s world. She got all her mum's hand-me-downs, so
she's in these little rompers and fur coats and '70s platform heels.
She looks like even more of a misfit. She doesn't get so '80s until
the end, with the polo neck and the camel toe shorts. It was
interesting because also it's so Abe's world – it's based on his
childhood story. He’s written the bible for you in that situation
because he knows it better than anybody else. [He‛s] a man you trust
so dearly that he opens your eyes to this whole new world and you
just become lost in it. So [we spent] a lot of time talking with
Abe. I grew up having a really vivid imagination. So when you have a
director that has this incredible vision that he's just giving to
you, it's like walking through the Narnia closet or something, like
walking through a whole new doorway. Even before we got on set, we
did dance and singing rehearsals. We grew up going out dancing, and
it's like you just wriggle a bit, you don't really have proper dance
routines. So you get there and are learning how to do all these
crazy moves that you haven't seen since an '80s music video. That
was so fun, taking you to a whole new part of your brain that you
haven't really ever accessed before.
Did you keep any of the clothes?
There was one – the Laura romper – that I wanted. Actually Abe had
bought [it] years ago for the movie and brought it in and it was a
perfect fit. It's pale beige. It was kind of Cinderella-esque. It's
the one in the campfire scene. But, unfortunately it was sent to a
Universal storage lot. But it was meant to be mine. One day I'll get
it back. It's very hard to find a good velour romper that suits you
and fits the right areas correctly, I guarantee you.
would you describe this film's tone?
This movie is like a roller coaster. There are really emotional
scenes and then there are comedy scenes, so there's something for
everybody. There's singing, dancing, and it deals with a lot of
issues that are pertinent today.
It's timeless, I think.
It's a movie set in the '80s but it is so important to today,
especially in today's climate. With all the gay teen suicides and
all of that, learning to love yourself and coming into your own and
figuring out who you are – It's a great message movie.
Yeah. It's "don't judge a book by its cover” – that's the best thing
you can tell people, because it's the worst thing you can possibly
do. You miss out on so much when you just judge someone by their
Is it hard for you to believe that after all this time since '87,
there are still these teen suicides because people are hassling
others for being gay?
It's ridiculous, to be quite honest with you. We still haven't been
able to find out a way to be okay with letting people be what they
want to be. I think it is part of the reason why you get angry. But
whatever happens, I think in high school there's going to be
something that someone's going to get bullied about – like the size
of someone's nostrils, or whether they have a weird toenail on their
big toe. People find the weirdest stuff to destroy children's lives
about. That's why I think this is such a great message, because it's
really like, "look beyond that." When you first meet Clarke and
Danielle in the movie, you wouldn't picture them being best friends
at all. It's this weird chemistry that just explodes, because
actually, for the first time, they meet someone [who] wants to
listen to them. They meet someone who wants to be around them,
someone who thinks they're so great for who they are, and to help
entice that out of them. That’s something that people should so look
for in high school. If you don't get on with everybody, you don't
get on with everybody – you're not going to. But when you find the
people that really get you and just love you for who you are, then
everything kind of figures itself out and falls into place. I think
that's such a good message to be sending.
Bullying ultimately comes out of ignorance.
I think we've made a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of
progress to go.
It‛s amazing how people in high school or in junior high will type
each other and then suddenly a year or two later they become best
friends because they have more in common.
It's the message of this story too. It's so about becoming who you
want to be versus what you're labelled as in high school, and that's
exactly what these characters are doing over the course of the film.
Life’s so much bigger than that.
Did your school have a Special Ed class like the one in the movie?
I went to high school in Texas and they definitely have the class
for the troublemakers and stuff like that. And then if you had so
many offenses, they had a whole separate school that you got sent to
if you were that bad.
Where do they send you in England?
was in very, very, very bottom, bottom class math. I was awful at
math. I went to an English boarding school, so the situation there
is you have A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, and you're not put in one section for
everything. I was in 3FF, or whatever it was called for math, but
then I was in a really good class for English, and then history, and
then not for physics. So it was very kind of catered.
Did they have a place for the troublemakers?
God no, not in boarding school. But you also don't have that many
people in school. My second boarding school, there was like 200
students all around. That's like the size of a year in American high
I think I graduated with like 500.
If they start getting good grades, did they put you back in regular
Right, if you start behaving well, then they'd put you back in
normal classes, yeah. Often whenever you get stuck in that class,
it's only for like a week or a limited amount of time. It kind of
serves as punishment or whatever.
Before doing this movie, what kind of Southern experiences did you
I'd done a film in Louisiana, in Shreveport. I shot Year One
You didn't do that in a Southern accent.
No, but I filmed in the South, so that was an experience. I actually
had a funny experience there where I wore quite a lot of black. A
big style icon for me is The Craft, so I was wearing some weird,
Craft-looking outfit. I'm sitting outside the Hilton Shreveport,
smoking a cigarette, just being sweet and quiet. This Southern guy
came up to me and he was like, "Excuse me, ma'am?" He goes "Are you
a Wiccan?" I was like, "I'm so sorry; I don't know what that is. I
don't know." He's like "It's an earthly witch." And I was like "Oh
no, no. No, I'm not. No." I also have a best friend I live with
who's from Oklahoma, so I've been around an Oklahoman. But I hadn't
done a Southern accent until Dirty Girl. Dirty Girl was my
So what did you learn in playing a Southern girl that you hadn't
think at heart I'm probably Southern. I've had a few of my Southern
friends say that I can be an honorary Southern person now, which I'm
very excited about. They're really good fun, Southern people. You
can vouch for that.
I'm from Texas so I grew up in the South. I can definitely vouch for
He's a good time, I guarantee you.
What did you do to teach her about Southern fun?
We live in LA so that's kind of hard. We went country dancing not
too long ago. Line dancing.
We did go country dancing. You played me some good tunes. We did
some dancing in trailers.
A couple of the words she said were off. For instance, she says
"twat" in the movie and she said "twat" [with a flat a] and I was
like "No, no, no. That's not how you say it in the South."
have to just make a statement there. "Twat" sounds so English. "Oh,
you twat." And then like "Oh, you twat [with a flat a]" sounds so
much more American. So I was like "Twat? What are you talking about,
you weirdo?" I was livid about it. I was just very embarrassed.
What was your relationship like when you first met and how did it
change over the course of making the film?
We met at the chemistry read. We had spent like 30 minutes together
just reading, and rode the elevator down together. Juno doesn't
drive, so she was like, "I have to take a taxi." I was like, "I have
a car. I can give you a ride if you want." I never thought that she
would take me up on it because I was a complete stranger. But she
did, and I drove her home.
Yeah, being a blonde girl without a license in LA. You take what you
can get [laughs].
Now do you have a license?
don't have a license.
In a driving movie, a road trip movie without a license.
notified them that when in my first audition, I was like, "I have to
tell you guys immediately that I don't drive." I mean, I can drive,
but legally I can't. But then we got in the car and listened to the
radio and we were chatting and got on so well, that [our
relationship] just blossomed more and more. You know immediately
there was an instant chemistry right there. Then you start shooting
a movie and get tired; it's long days and you get emotional, and it
was the best support system ever. So great.
Totally, this was my first film, so to have a best friend there
that's in almost every scene I'm in [helped]. We had the chemistry
so we would just get on set and play, which was so nice. It was so
It was really great.
Did that make your dancing and strip scenes easier to do?
Totally. It all comes from Abe [Sylvia] because Abe was so
supportive and he built this supportive set where all of the crew,
even the big name actors, were so nice to me and treated me as an
equal, and that meant the world to me. On the first day, Mary
Steenburgen pulled me aside and told me that she knew what it was
like to be in my shoes because the first film she did, [Goin‛
South], she starred opposite Jack Nicholson and Nicholson was
also directing. So she knew what it was like to be on a film with
big actors in it. Bill [Macy], Tim [McGraw], Dwight [Yoakam] and
Milla [Jovovich] – everybody was so nice and supportive. So whenever
it did come to the moments where you either had to be really
emotional, like Juno did, or where I was in underwear and a
Flashdance shirt, you really felt really comfortable. Of course,
it was nerve wracking [on] the first take, but then you kind of get
Also you were bringing so much. It's like when you have people on a
set and everyone's so enjoying the project that they're working on.
You have a good time when the camera's not rolling and you're so
excited to go to work.
And you build upon one other. It's like everybody just gets more and
more creative. It was great.
What about working with former Heroes star Nick D'Agosto? He was
only there for a few days, but how did he add to the dynamic?
That was early on in the movie. He came on and shot that beautiful
scene where he's dancing, and he was the first one that hadn't
danced. We had all done this dance training, and we were like, oh my
God. And it was just so beautiful that night with the projection
screen and him.
Juno and I did it together, but we hadn't seen Nick's dance. He’s
such a good actor. He was amazing so the scenes that we shot with
him were so easy. One of my favorite scenes in the film was the
Skittles scene, after we've picked him up and we're playing with the
Skittles in the back of the car. That scene is a lot of improv
because we're playing with the Skittles and you just have to react
to whatever happens. There's a line in the movie where he's like
"You knocked me in my tooth," and it was so funny and perfect. It
felt effortless whenever we were all together. I remember we would
stop the rolling of the cameras and [be] like, wait, did we get all
the lines? Is that the scene? Are we good?
So what's next for you?
I have two movies in post-production right now. One is a teen comedy
called Rock Paper Scissors, which is kind of Dodgeball
meets Superbad. And I did an indie thriller called Right
Next Door, that's about this family that is dark and twisted.
They hire a babysitter and over the course of the film the
babysitter realizes that the family is not what they seem.
Do you have anything?
I've got some movies coming out. I've been busy for the past like
year and half. I've shot seven or eight movies, so that's been
great. I just wrapped a movie a few weeks ago called The Brass
Teapot, this independent that I shot in upstate New York. [It‛s]
about this young married couple that doesn‛t have much going for
them and they find this magical brass teapot that when you inflict
pain, it spews out money. So shit gets kind of gnarly. But it's
good, because it's like money doesn't make you happy, and I like
that moral because I think that's very true. I've got a couple
projects that I hope happen at the end of the year that just need a
little bit more money. One of them would be in Chile, so I hope that
happens. It would be a good exploration to go on. And then Christmas
with my family, which I can't wait for.
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