Interview With Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour For ‘Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon’

One thing I love about Ana Lily Amirpour’s films is the strong female characters at the heart of the story. Her latest film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, is no exception. Jeon Jong-seo as Mona Lisa, and Kate Hudson as Bonnie, lead a stellar ensemble cast through the streets of New Orleans in this quirky, offbeat fantasy thriller. To celebrate the release of the film, I chatted with writer and director Ana Lily about the inspiration behind the film, the casting process, what’s up next, and more!

PopHorror: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is a lot more lighthearted than your other films. What inspired the story and how did the project come about?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I actually started writing it, and started getting ideas for it, when I was editing The Bad Batch. I wanted to do a grimey, homegrown fairytale adventure movie that was set in New Orleans. New Orleans was the first character I’d say. I was really thinking about this girl, this character of Mona Lisa. I was thinking it was something with the spirit and DNA of the idea of a werewolf archetype but changing it to something that I felt more affection for. Just the idea that the moon is connected to some primal – and it is very female for me – power. I also wanted her to be really kind of separated from society in a way. Someone who society never understood, and she never understood society, and was dismissed and kind of not appropriately categorized, so she got sectioned off for a really long time. So basically, what I had was this newborn baby that I could set loose in this world and see the world with fresh eyes. For myself I needed that. I wanted to engage with reality with a child’s simple innocence so I could find the beauty amidst the chaos.

PopHorror: Oh wow. The casting was perfect. It was really nice to see Kate Hudson in a role like this, and Craig Robinson? That was quite a departure from the other things I’ve seen him in.

Kate Hudson and Jeon Jong-seo in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah!

PopHorror: But Ed Skrein, he stole the show as Fuzz. He was so amazing. I read online that Zac Efron was actually cast first for that role.

Ana Lily Amirpour: At the very beginning, he was attached to the movie for a short while. And then we parted ways amicably. I don’t think it was totally right for him, like maybe this isn’t the right thing. And then there was a whole second wave of ideas the producers sent me, and I was like, “Ed!” It’s funny because I feel like some of the producers didn’t totally necessarily get right at first, why, because he hadn’t done anything at the time that made them think like, why do you… ? And Fuzz on the page, it was hard for people to see what I was… Like I described him, and it was very detail oriented, but they were like, “What is this guy? Is he like a meth scumhead? What is this going to be like?” And then when they saw him and saw it, I remember it was the first day on set when he was all… They were just like, “Oh. I get it.” You know what I mean? And he is Fuzz. It’s absolutely destined to be him. He’s phenomenal. 

PopHorror: I think it would have been a completely different experience if it had been Zac Efron. At first, you’re like, “What is this guy doing?” But then he became my favorite character. He really did steal the movie.

Jeon Jong-seo, Evan Whitten, and Ed Skrein in Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, who doesn’t want a chance to hang out with Fuzz? You achingly want more of him. He’s like the Buddha. I think it’s really cool it’s Ed too, because I think if it was someone famous like Zac Efron – recognizable – then you don’t totally get swept away. I think Ed really disappeared. Like you don’t even know who this is, and his New Orleans drawl is perfect. It was perfection.

PopHorror: I had to look it up because I couldn’t tell who it was. How did you convey your vision to your cast and crew?

Ana Lily Amirpour: At this point, being my third film, one aspect of it is these people have seen my work and they get how heightened and stylized and I’m a surrealist, so they know it’s going to be visually aggressive and all these things. I have pretty clear, distinct ideas on locations, and on what the characters will look like, and things like that. And so I just work it all. I’m very detailed – obsessively detailed – oriented about all the stuff you’re going to see in the frame and the art direction. Working that out with everybody and world building, and then with the actors, how are they going to look with the hair, and the tattoos, and nails. All the details that make Bonnie Bonnie, and with the Mona Lisa, all of them. Once you have all those details, it just really already starts to take shape and then it’s suddenly alive. I work a lot with music. I think that when you’re doing stuff that’s a little bit amplified and stylized. I play music on set. I write it into the script. I really think with music. I feel like music gives a vibe to everybody when we’re shooting. The energy, the camera, sometimes for the vibe, and the mood in the room and everything like that. So I’m always playing music when I’m shooting. I don’t know. I’m just kind of like a… It’s almost like you’re a cult leader when you’re making a movie. It’s like the cult is the movie and like whatever the movie is the religion or something for that period of time, and you just have to get everyone to believe and get all jazzed up, by whatever means necessary. I do also think the locations… Like New Orleans is so powerful, and specific, and distinct, and sexy, and dirty, and weird, and fun. It transports you. Have you been there?

PopHorror: No, I haven’t.

Ana Lily Amirpour: It’s a really incredible city. Really incredible.

PopHorror: I would love to go. I’ve heard it’s incredible.

Ana Lily Amirpour: It is.

PopHorror: I’m really glad that you brought up the music because I feel like it was very carefully selected, just from the way it played off the action and the scene that it was in. It was really character all on its own. Perfect selections.

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, thank you. Thank you. I love the soundtrack on this one. I loved doing the music. Being able to work with music – cinema is such a special, special art form because it’s like a combination of so many different powerful elements to create this experience. And music is one of the most powerful forces on Earth. It’s transportive, without having to take substances, like psychedelic substances. What can take you and put you in a whole body vibe and make you feel a certain way without having to use any language? And every movie wants its own sound. New Orleans and these characters, and each character has music that starts popping up for me, so it’s like it’s a blending of different things and I’m looking for different things every time with each movie. It’s like blood in the veins of each movie.

PopHorror: Absolutely. What is up next for you?

Ana Lily Amirpour: The movie I made for Guillermo del Toro’s anthology is also coming out at the end of October, which I’m really excited about because it really is like another movie. So that’s exciting. And then I’m writing the next thing, which is a little different I think, but I’m super excited about. I can’t really talk about it. I don’t like talking about things when I’m in the writing stage because they’re like in the womb. They’re not formed, and they need to be protected. I’m totally pro-choice, by the way, that’s a metaphor you’re not supposed to take out of context. But like a seed that doesn’t have its roots yet. I will say that it feels like it was forged out of whatever this three-year Covid detour mindfuck was. I wrote three scripts during Covid, and none of them are right for what I want to do. And then this happened. I just started writing it in the spring, and it’s totally a reaction to all of that constipation. I can only describe the last three years as some kind of constipation that’s maybe coming loose now, but it’s constipated. And I am still developing and working with the writer – there’s a cliffhanger – it’s not a remake. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s not a remake, that’s for sure so I don’t know what to call it. But it’s a cliffhanger movie.

PopHorror: That’s exciting! Definitely keeping an eye out for what you have coming up for us. Just one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?

Ana Lily Amirpour: That’s so hard. Straight horror isn’t really what I generally go for. I’m more in the surreal, psychedelic, in-between fantastical fantasy film kind of place. It’s so hard to pick one. I can never pick one of anything. But if I have to pick one movie that I feel like is this generating force from my childhood, that I still constantly think of and that still is one of the most mystical stories, and meant so much to forming who I am, that is The Neverending Story. When that horse melts into the Swamp of Sadness, and Atreyu is screaming and losing the thing he loves the most right in front of his eyes, and helpless to do anything about it, that has to be one of the most profoundly sad moments in all of cinema. That’s true horror to me.

Thank you so much to Ana Lily for taking the time to speak with us. Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is now on digital and On Demand.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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