Certainly one of the most unusual films of Fantastic Fest 2018 (which is saying a lot, considering their diverse programming slate) was Maria Pulera’s Between Worlds, a supernatural thriller/romantic drama that follows a trucker named Joe (Nicolas Cage) who has long been haunted by the deaths of his wife and child. One day, he crosses paths with Julie (Franka Potente), whose daughter, Billie (Penelope Mitchell), was involved in a dangerous crash, leaving her life hanging in the balance, and allowing Joe’s dead wife, Mary, to infiltrate the young woman’s body. And from there, one of the most twisted love triangles unfolds.
As mentioned, Between Worlds is a wonderfully weird story about fate, love, nostalgia, and sex (at one point, the character of Joe is reading a book entitled My Memoir by Nicolas Cage, proving that Pulera was ready to have some fun with her latest film), and Daily Dead recently spoke with the writer/director about defying expectations with Between Worlds, collaborating with both Cage and Potente, and much more.
This is such a wild movie and I am so glad I got to see it. I watch hundreds of movies a year, and I just love when movies can take me on a journey that I'm not expecting, that they can do something different and really stick with you, like this one absolutely does. So first of all, just congratulations to you.
Maria Pulera: I like the fact that you say it wasn't what you were expecting. That to me immediately says, "Oh, I'm glad," because I think a lot of people walk in expecting the traditional thriller, and we take more of a post-modernistic twist and throw out all the rules and we're not working in the classical Hollywood paradigm, either. We're not really in any particular genre. We mix it up, and we took a new concept and really just went with it. I like that you walked in expecting one thing and got something different out of it.
Oh, for sure. Because this story is so unusual, can you talk about putting these ideas together in the script and the ways that you've challenged yourself with the story as well?
Maria Pulera: I grew up in rural Wisconsin, so I love truck stops and I'm a single mom, so there was a personal inspiration for this, too. The idea, having this trucker having these spiritual abilities, it's really a bizarre, bizarre story. We wrote a traditional script with the regular beats to it, because it is a thriller and we have to build up the story. But when I got on set, I didn't follow a script, and I didn't stick to a story, either. I just thought about the whole process as a living collaboration, and I loved the process. When you get the opportunity to work with really amazing people, you have to just embrace it.
Nicolas Cage brought a hell of a spirit to the story, and then, when we went into editing, that brought a whole new layer on everything. In fact, our editor [Tim Silano] had done other Nicolas Cage movies before with Paul Schrader, so he knew how to cut Nic’s work. So, for me, the script really was inspired by my life, but it's also very random and very bizarre, which is something I wanted because I am all about breaking the boundaries, and going outside of the classical Hollywood paradigm. I'm all about experimenting and trying things outside the box.
The genre elements are very strong in this, but I think what really hit me the hardest was this idea of not being able to let go and the dangers of nostalgia. We see that exemplified in Joe’s character, and even a bit in the character of Julie, too, and it really grounds this story.
Maria Pulera: That's very fascinating. I like that you recognized that the nostalgia is not all what you think it is. I couldn't really verbalize it like you did, but I definitely agree. That's a very interesting perspective, especially since you felt like it grounded the film.
It really did. I know we're sort of in this Nicolas Cage renaissance right now, which I am enjoying. And I recognize what he brings to the table in terms of star power, but from your perspective, when you were starting to put together the cast for this, what was it that you thought about him as an actor where you realized, "Wow, this guy is definitely Joe."
Maria Pulera: Well, to me, I didn't want Nicolas Cage cast for star power, that wasn't my thinking rationale even though he obviously has become an international superstar. I grew up with movies like Wild at Heart and have always thought that he is an amazing actor, and he was the only one who I thought could play this kind of bizarre love story, and really play it up in an amazing way. So for me, Nicolas Cage was the only one that I had in mind, and we were really lucky to have him join us.
In this movie, he got to play more of a tormented character, this roughened guy that still has this heart to him and feels this deep pain. So, the juxtaposition and melding of those emotions, and having an actor who really can go there like Mr. Cage can is a gift. I was so lucky.
Franka’s character, Julie, balances out Joe so well in this, and it’s almost like you’re watching two broken people in a way coming together in this movie. How was it working with her? I just thought she was so great, and Julie pretty much becomes the heart of Between Worlds by the end.
Maria Pulera: Absolutely, she is the heart. Her character, Julie, is the mama bear. She’s always been protecting her daughter, trying to work hard, she’s been struggling, and she's a broken person, but she just keeps fighting. Franka definitely brings the heart, and she brings the warmth to this story. She's the earth and Joe's the fire. And working with Franka was amazing, and I had been a fan of hers for a long time. So it was really a pleasure to get her to join us and to work with her. She was amazing.
These three main characters—Joe, Julie, and Julie’s daughter, Billie—balance each other out, in terms of the different natures, in a very odd way. So I'm glad you got that sense as well from Julie, because that's exactly what we wanted.
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