An Interview with Ashley Benson and Harmony Korine
In my review of “Spring Breakers” for The Suffolk Voice, I referred to it as our generation’s version of “Easy Rider.” It has the potential, like Dennis Hopper’s initial directorial masterpiece, to transform the way that this generation views movies altogether.
It could also change the way that films are financed so that auteurs are given more freedom, and so that people like Harmony Korine are given the resources that they need in order to make unhinged masterpieces like this.
However, Korine has never been one to be exempt from directorial freedom. The writer of “Kids” has made a handful of movies since 1996 that can, in the simplest way, described as experimental. They include “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy,” “Mister Lonely,” and most recently “Trash Humpers” – none of them receiving wide distribution. “Spring Breakers” has already grossed more than all of Korine’s other films COMBINED, in part due to the fact that it has a highly recognizable cast – including a role played by “Pretty Little Liars’” Ashley Benson.
The Suffolk Voice recently got the chance to interview Korine and Benson about “Spring Breakers.” The interview was completed over the phone with The Suffolk Voice along with other members of the press.
Harmony Korine: Hello, Ashley?
Ashley Benson: Hey Harm!
Harmony Korine: What’s up?
Ashley Benson: I don’t even know what we’re doing…
Harmony Korine: Me neither. Is anyone else here?
Press: How does music influence your writing and vision of films? Does it serve as a guiding force?
Harmony Korine: Music is a huge part; sound is a huge part; energy is a huge part. I listen to music constantly. Sound is half of what a film is. I definitely pay attention to it.
Press: Ashley, you’re known for your role in “Pretty Little Liars” – most of your audience knows you from that role… So why the huge jump to this?
Ashley Benson: I don’t know, I’ve been on that show for 4 years now and I feel as if people see me a certain way because of it. I wanted to do a film that was different than anything I’d ever done. I read Harmony’s script and I liked it. I wanted the chance to work with Harmony and James [Franco] and do something different.
Q: This film really starts off showing spring break as something like a wet dream, but it progressively evolves into more of a nightmare. Do you see spring break as a wet dream or a nightmare, or both?
Harmony Korine: A wet dream… Damn, wet dream… You know, I see it as it is in the movie. I guess if you want to say some of it’s a wet dream that’s okay, but it is what the movie is. It’s how it plays out. There are emotions, images, ambiguities, strangeness, and horrors all kind of mixed up and dancing together – kind of a cultural mash-up or interpretation of all these feelings.
Press: With this film, “Kids,” and “Gummo,” you seem to portray adolescence as having invincibility. Do you feel that the adolescent has changed up until this point in time?
Harmony Korine: I would say that people are people – they always have the same urges. The world has changed, and the way people communicate and socialize has changed. It is something that is more performance-based and a more exposed cultural thing now. The world is more performance oriented. Back in the day it was about people trying to disappear. It was more of a shadow culture then. Now, everything is on display.
Press: This was Gucci Mane’s first major acting experience. Why did you cast him?
Harmony Korine: Gucci’s the best. Gucci is a trap god. Gucci is what makes America great. I just think he’s the best, and I would love to keep working with him and I think that all the girls would think the same.
Press: Was it a deliberate choice to pick this unexpected cast that might appeal to a younger generation?
Harmony Korine: I think the fans will grow up and eventually see it. We make a movie and it exists forever. People that aren’t old enough to see it now will be old enough to see it in a few years. I wanted to work with these girls because they were the best for the part. I also liked the fact that they were connected culturally by this pop mythology. I thought it was an interesting counter on their perception from what they’ve done in the past. It was a different type of acting for them.
Press: Why is it important for your audience to enjoy your movie in a physical way?
Harmony Korine: I always felt like I wanted to make movies that were more physical and inexplicable. Not a normal movie-watching experience – something with a different element to it, like a ride or a game that demands some kind of participation. I wanted the films to be beautiful and entertaining but I always thought about movies in a different way, as opposed to being told the story or being told what to think.
Press: You were recorded saying in an article on Grantland that, “I don’t ever ask myself questions, I don’t want answers…” It seemed as if you were referring to your previous history of drug use. What questions do you ask yourself?
Harmony Korine: I’m not afraid of anything. I don’t ask myself questions, there’s nothing about myself that I’m trying to find out. Film isn’t a therapy for me. I think it’s all bullshit. People can make up their own answers to their own questions to make them feel comfortable. When I do have questions, I put them into the film – that way, the questions are more provocative and more exciting. I don’t always need to be told the answer. I don’t have any type of desire to meditate on things. I just want to light it up and set it on fire. What’s an answer? I don’t even know. I prefer things to live on in your imagination and be constantly evolving. I don’t always enjoy that characters and storylines have a definitive finality. I like to think that the characters exist forever.
Press: Ashley, what’s it like working with Harmony? Was he as crazy as you thought he might be?
Ashley Benson: Um, no, I mean, I was cast into the movie last minute so I didn’t get to meet with Harm until we got to Florida. When I got the script, I looked him up on YouTube – his interviews with Letterman – and he seemed crazy. But when I met him, he was a normal dude. Ohh yeaaah.
Harmony: Ohh yeaaah.
Press: Ashley, what was the biggest challenge you encountered filming the 3-way?
Ashley Benson: I guess the improvisation of it. We were able to improv a lot through the movie, and I didn’t have much experience with that – so that was the only challenge. I’d never done anything like that before. Harm sort of made things up as we went along, which is super fun and rad. I was at first insecure, but it became easier.
Press: Ashley, who would you rather take on spring break, James Franco or Gucci?
Ashley Benson: Gucci for sure maaaann. Gucci.
Harmony Korine: Gucci!
Ashley Benson: Gucci Gucci Gucci!
Press: Why did you think that you need to make “Spring Breakers” now – do you think it stands as a reflection of teenagers in America right now?
Harmony Korine: I made it because I like the storyline and I like the characters. There are some things that you reflect, things that are connected to this culture in some way. It was never meant to be a documentary or expose on anything – it’s a reinterpretation. Almost like “The Real World” pushed into something more hyper-poetic. It works on its own logic. There are obviously things that connect it to the culture.
Press: What do you think when people refer to your films in their reviews as exploitive?
Harmony Korine: They can say whatever they want. I never really understood that argument. You’re not blindfolding someone, drugging them and sticking them in front of a camera. Whatever people say is fine.
Press: What was the craziest thing that happened on set?
Harmony Korine: We found like six or seven gay guys that had burrowed themselves in the floorboard of a motel that were living off of nothing but menthol cigarettes while snorting Ritalin. That was the craziest thing.
Ashley Benson: Anything with the ATL Twins took shit to the next level. I was very entertained with what they did.
Press: In the past, you said that cinema is stuck in the birth canal. Do you still feel that way?
Harmony Korine: I said that 15-20 years ago, you know. Now, everything has changed. The idea of what cinema is or what it can be has changed – it’s exploded in some ways. I think the world is different now, it’s become so fractured that cinema is also a 30-second clip of, you know, like the bunny rabbit running across the telephone wire. It’s all just changed.