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Clueless Writer-Director Amy Heckerling on Her New Alicia Silverstone Movie, Vamps

Amy Heckerling
Amy Heckerling. Photo: CHANCE YEH/Patrick McMullan

As part of the BAMcinématek series “Hey, Girlfriend! Lena Dunham Selects,” Bronx-born director Amy Heckerling gave a sneak preview Saturday night of her latest film Vamps, in which she reunites with her Clueless star Alicia Silverstone for the first time since their 1995 forever-hit. The new comedy features two (relatively) young female vamps who try to have fun in New York, when not being summoned by the “stem” vampire (played by Sigourney Weaver) who sired them, or dodging vamp hunter Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn, also a Clueless alum), who now works for Homeland Security.

Silverstone and Shawn joined Heckerling and a BAM moderator for a post-screening Q&A that was, by all accounts, incredibly awkward: The questions were long; Silverstone couldn’t really explain how she got onboard; and Shawn shared some best-left-unsaid thoughts on the poor people in Detroit, where they shot the film: “There are people wandering the streets who are very, very poor. In most of the United States, poor people are rather heavy. In Detroit, they are as poor as you would see in India or other places where people are starving.” (Nervous-shocked-confused audience laughter ensued.) The one person who kept her cool was Heckerling, who explained why she filmed in Detroit (the tax credit), and how difficult it was to get the movie made without an agent who believed in her, like the agent she had on Clueless.

After the panel wrapped, Vulture continued the conversation with Heckerling one-on-one, and asked her to expand on the rules of her vampire mythology (she’d joked earlier that a lot of recent vampire stories played “fast and loose”). Despite fighting a bad cold, she obliged.

I would shake your hand, but I have a cold. I don’t take things for it, either, because I don’t trust them — you get too dopey.

Have you tried home remedies? Like using a neti pot if you’re feeling congested?
[Shudders] Uh-ugh-uh. The whole time on this film [I Could Never Be Your Woman], Michelle Pfeiffer kept saying, “Neti pot! Neti pot!” But it’s like water-boarding yourself! I’d rather just stick my head over hot water.

Wasn’t Michelle up for the part of the stem vampire Cisserus in this movie?
I showed it to Michelle, and she said, “I really like it, but I can’t,” because she was talking to Tim Burton about doing [Dark Shadows]. But Sigourney Weaver’s awesome in the part. When I was writing it, in my head I was thinking, Who’s a grown-up who is always young? And of course the pop-up was Cher. So somebody like that, who just keeps on going.

You mentioned during the panel that you don’t like Twilight, though you didn’t call the movie out by name. 
I just don’t like when they have vampires outside [in the daylight] and they sparkle and seem so fey. They seem so precious. Daylight, that’s got to be a complete no-no, otherwise you might as well have some other kind of monster. It’s the dark. It’s the other side, when everyone else is asleep.

Though your movie has the “vegetarian vampire” idea in common with Twilight. Louis in Interview With the Vampire also drank from rats, but yours can’t live on blood-bank donations or synthetic substitutes.
The idea was that you live on blood, but it doesn’t have to be human — although human is probably way enticing, which is why Goody [Silverstone’s character] is tempted by the drummer’s nose bleed. And it can’t be blood that’s old or stored, it’s got to be flowing. Blood probably tastes like salty water, right? You’ve cut yourself and tasted it, right?

Have you watched True Blood? Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
I wrote this before True Blood, actually. My brother loves Buffy. I saw the original movie, and I actually pitched [my movie] to a producer who did Buffy, and then I thought, Oh, he’s not going to like this because he did Buffy. This was in 2005, before I went off to do I Could Never Be Your Woman, and this was before Twilight, before True Blood, before Vampire Diaries, before all that stuff. And the fact that my agent left to do other stuff and I was lost in a world of someone who didn’t help at all was kind of depressing. She was like, [imitates an annoying voice] “Well, they’re already making Twilight and nobody’s going to do this.” But some of those other stories are like a sex substitute, because it’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to, but he wants to, so I will let him drink my blood.” If you take the blood-drinking out of the equation, it’s just about sublimation of sex. I was more interested in eternally young, fun-loving people from different time periods.

If you got some extra money, what would you have done or could still do differently? Jazz-up special effects?
Oh my God — there was stuff I cut out because I couldn’t afford it. I wanted it to start with this fantasy, this dream on the beach, where Krysten Ritter’s character is seeing all these bloated, big-tits, big-lips, big-pecs people that are beach people, super tan — like a beach movie gone scary. And it would be the reverse of Carnival of Souls, so it’s the beach-y people chasing and horrifying the pasty, white person. And then they’re all looming over her when she wakes up in her coffin: “Oh, I had the worst nightmare!” And I wanted Alicia’s character [who has been a vampire since the nineteenth century] to be more incorporated into the history of New York. That would have been money. There’s one time when you see her remember the history of a building on St. Marks Place, but I was hoping to have her incorporated into all of that, like on the Lower East Side, where there’s now a Whole Foods, and have her be like, “This is where the flophouse was. This is where the cholera epidemic was.” I’m obsessed with history, especially WWII, and the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.

It’s very rare that a vampire story employs a Star of David instead of a cross, or any non-Christian iconography.
There was one vampire movie that Gerard Butler was in, Dracula 2000, and they touched on something interesting, but it only worked in the context of that particular movie, which was that the original vampire was Judas. Because he had sold out Jesus, he was damned, and this was the way he was damned. That’s why he can’t be around during the day, because it was daytime when he [betrayed Jesus]; why he was affected by silver [because he did so for 30 pieces of silver]; and why it was the cross that scared him. So that’s why the cross was a thing for him, and that was good within its own world. Unfortunately, the girl in that movie [Justine Waddell] was so terrible. But they had their own system, that they would be descendants of Judas, and that was a good explanation for the cross. But I wasn’t going there.

Your Look Who’s Talking series inspired the talking baby in the E*Trade commercials. And now there’s talk of a remake.
Mmm-hmm. I hope they remake Look Who’s Talking — then I’d make some money! [Laughs] Because I wrote it. What can you do? I kind of feel the talking baby thing was better before the technology, because it’s less creepy.

Clueless Writer-Director Amy Heckerling on Her New Alicia Silverstone Movie, Vamps