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From the Set of 'Carrie': Revisiting a Horror Classic with a New Spin

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Jul 16, 2013 | 6:27pm EDT

Carrie, behind the scenesMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Screen Gems

The world came very close to never learning the name Carrie White. As Stephen King buffs likely know, the writer tossed the original manuscript that would become his debut novel in the trash, decrying it as unworthy of the public eye. It was King's wife Tabitha who fished the story out of the garbage and demanded that he bring it to life, resulting not only in the 1974 epistolary book to which the horror fiction readers of America become so fond, but Brian De Palma's classic horror thriller and this week's long-awaited remake courtesy of director Kimberly Peirce.

Maintaining such a prominent legacy in literature and film, the chilling tale of Carrie was a risky one to take on for Peirce and her team. But this new Screen Gems production didn't set out to live up to or even surpass De Palma's Carrie — it's mission was to tell its own story. While the '76 picture might have spent the majority of its time in Carrie's high school, the 2013 iteration's star Chloe Grace Moretz assures us that hers is "a darker, more twisted version that really focuses on the mother-daughter relationship and really mines that out, which is our main focus."

With themes specific to womanhood and the passage into it, having Peirce take on the project from a female perspective is bound to instill the new Carrie with ideals some might have felt De Palma's feature was left wanting. Peirce says, "In reading the book, what I fell in love with was this mother-daughter story that was so amazing and so profound. What is a mother? A mother is somebody that's willing to sacrifice themselves for a child. And that's really what Margaret is. Margaret loves her daughter to no end. There's never a moment in the book or the movie where Margaret is not acting out of love and protection of her daughter."

"So yes, absolutely for me that mother-child relationship is really at the heart of the movie," the director continues. "There was a huge opportunity with [Moretz and Julianne Moore] that I have with the fundamental storytelling and the journey that Carrie and Margaret go on."

While Peirce didn't want to risk taking any due credit away from De Palma, her colleagues have no problem boasting the heightened sensitivity to the story that her being a woman affords this movie version of Carrie. Judy Greer, who plays Carrie White's gym teacher and hopeful savior, says, "I respect [Peirce's] ability to tell a story and I think that being a woman telling this story is interesting. I'm so glad a woman is directing this remake because I think that will add a lot to the storytelling. Even visually, what she sees and what's important to her as a woman, and as a director, I think will add something that we haven't seen in a movie before." Greer adds, "As a woman, I think she has so much sympathy for Carrie and I feel like she sees herself in Carrie in some way. I’ve never had this conversation with her, but it just feels that way listening to her direction and her passion for the project and telling the story and making sure that moment is really authentic. I think it’s really seeming to be a story a lot about this girl and less about the horror.

Producer Kevin Misher was also willing to concede that there is a special insight present in Peirce's remake, but chalked that up exclusively to her individual talent. "It's not only a ... generic female director," Misher says, "I think particularly Kim Peirce and her point of view on the world ... If you look at the angst that was driving the characters in Boys Don't Cry, and the fact that those characters lived on the fringe, a little bit, but with the desire to be in the middle, is sort of what drove us all in high school and what probably what drives all of us today. Everybody wants to feel, 'What’s normal? Where am I? How do I fit into the system?' I think that was what Kim was experimenting with in both her films, but probably more primally in Boys Don't Cry. It translates very well."

Even with a mind and an eye like Peirce's at the head of the project, it was a challenging process to bring the character to life...

Next: How Chloe Moretz Became Carrie

CarrieMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Screen Gems

As you might imagine, transforming the confident, talented, and beautiful 16-year-old Chloe Moretz into the meek, fearsome, internally shattered 18-year-old Carrie White warranted more than a few line readings. "When I first met her, I said, 'We've got to beat that little confident person out of you,'" Peirce says of her star, continuing to reminisce on their early dialogue. "'You're walking the red carpet, you're working with Martin Scorsese [and] Tim Burton. The world loves you. Your family loves you. That's great for you as an individual, and you've got to hold on to that. But for this movie, we have to take all that confidence and security and personality and we have to put it over here. We have to take a hammer and we have to crack that, and then we have to make you sheltered, scared, a misfit, unusual, you've been beaten by your mother.'"

In order to achieve this vision of Carrie, Peirce had Moretz go to some pretty surprising lengths. "I feel like it's okay to share this, but I had her go to homeless shelters and had her really go deep inside the characterization to experience the fear, the humility, to really go on the journey," the director says. "We did that, I don't know, for two and a half months. She did it in LA, she did it [in Toronto] and we always were trying to make sure we showed respect to the people that were helping us. But for her to really see the other side of life, because I felt like that was essential to the character. That lack of confidence, it's everything. If you have a little alpha there, you've lost it."

Moretz recounts the difficult task as well: "I come from such a privileged life," the actress says, "and to go meet these people who have never known any semblance of love, and money, and life — what we go through every day, being able to go out to Whole Foods if you want to and buy an all-organic meal, they have never lived that.  And I talked to these women who have been sexually abused and physically abused and verbally abused, and they're so strong.  Even though they've had so much done to them, they're so strong, and you look into their eyes and you learn so much just from talking to them."

So devoted to creating an authentic character was Peirce that she asked Moretz to step even further away from her comfort zone. "I said to her, 'You actually have to go through something that you probably haven't gone through yet in your young life.' She hadn't been to prom, she hadn't done certain things. And I said, 'So we need to set off a teenage rebellion in your life.' And I actually said, 'You need to move out of your house.' And she was like, 'Okay, Kim. I'll do it.' She couldn't do it."

But of course, there were some less dramatic measures that Moretz also took to get into the dark mind of her role: "Do you know that Sia song "Breathe Me?" You know, it's super twisted, it's a dark song. You can really beat yourself up for that song and that’s definitely a major song that I listen to for this type of stuff. And "Fix You," [by] Coldplay. That one really gets me. Music is a large element in my life. And also pictures, family members, stuff like that. That's a major element to this movie."

Working together, the pair sought to create a Carrie White that was not only vivid and dense, but one that stood as a representation of something that has long been a terrible tragedy in our society, only recently earning due opposition.

Next: The Carrie Remake Takes on the Bullying Epidemic

CarrieMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Screen Gems

One of the first things you think about when you consider a Carrie that takes place in 2013 is all of ways society has changed in the past 40 years, and how said changes would impact the way people feel about this type of story. Amidst a very present movement to knock down the pandemic of school bullying, the Carrie remake might hit even harder than the original.

Moretz speaks to this in discussing how many platforms allow for bullying in the modern era, and how this idea is executed in the new movie. "A large element of this movie is the bullying aspect," she says. "How Carrie is taken advantage of and made fun of just because of peoples' weaker selves [lead them] to push whatever their insecurities are onto someone who takes [abuse] from everyone. And yeah, there were a lot of things we brought into the script. We brought some social media aspects of it; that's stuff that actually happens on Facebook and Twitter ... Some things happen on a social network, [but] Carrie doesn't even realize it because she doesn't even know what Facebook is. At the same time, it's sweet that she's so unaffected by what they want to affect her with. But I think, honestly, the main point of the movie is Margaret and Carrie. I think that's the main pinnacle of her, it's her mother."

Anyone familiar with Peirce's resume knows that she is no stranger to engaging stories about the powers and traumas of bullying and interolance. "As a person alive in our world who has made a movie about bullying with Boys Don't Cry, and a movie about the war [Stop-Loss], that's just a thing that in my life I'm very aware of," Peirce says. "I'm not unaware of it. But at the same time, and the movie certainly reflects the reality of that, but the thing that drew me to the story — if it was only a bullying story, I don't think there would have been enough to make this kind of movie about. I think what ends up happening is that there's an authenticity and reality to the times it's happening in; that actually, De Palma was kind of ahead of his time. I think that the movie is coming out when this stuff is real, but I think the story itself is still a fantasy story, it's a superhero story, it's a supernatural story, it's a thriller and it has horror elements."

Greer, playing a conscientious teacher in the movie, has plenty to say on the issue. "Bullying was one of the things that made me interested as an audience member in watching this movie again," she says. "Had I not gotten the role, I would still have been excited to see it, and I think because now the take on it is bullying moreso than I remember the first time, that it was just kind of an outcast story, and that’s what made it interesting to me, and that’s why I think it’s a fresh perspective." Greer adds, "Becase bullying has really become such a problem right now, I think [the remake] is maybe going to be more impactful right now. Just because of where that is in society and how much more we're hearing about it. At least 35 years ago, you didn't have the Internet telling you every single thing that happened in every school and college around the world, but this seems to me  and maybe it’s because I know Chloe and I didn't know Sissy Spacek — but seeing the stuff happen to Chloe really breaks my heart and makes me feel really sad. It makes me feel sad to think of kids going through that. Just watching her performance in the shower scene is really heartbreaking."

For a classic film in a modern, progressive new lens, catch Carrie in theaters on Oct. 18.

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