Kimberly Peirce’s Prom Queen


Director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) believes in the emotional core of Stephen King’s cult horror classic, Carrie. “Carrie is an extraordinary character,” she explains over the phone. “The relationship between Carrie and her mother is amazing. There’s an opportunity for a modern film, a superhero origin story, an amazing suspense thriller, and a story of justice and revenge,” she continues. “We love the protagonist who wants love and acceptance.”

Over 40 years after her friend Brian De Palma first brought Carrie White to the big screen, Kimberly Peirce agreed to direct a remake starring Chloë Grace Moretz as White, Julianne Moore as her mother, Judy Greer as her sympathetic teacher, and Ansel Elgort and Gabriella Wilde as her popular peers, Tommy Ross and Sue Snell. With the exception of a well-utilized camera phone, very little was needed to bring the film into the 21st century. The plot points—prom, pig’s blood, and egregious emotional abuse—remain the same.

EMMA BROWN: How did you meet Brian De Palma?

KIMBERLY PEIRCE: I met him after Boys Don’t Cry. We got along great and we would go to dinners together.

BROWN: Would you have agreed to do the movie if he hadn’t given you his blessing?

PEIRCE: It really would have been a problem for me. I really respect other directors and we’re a small community, so I think it’s important to look out for each other. I was very fortunate that he was so supportive of it being redone and of me doing it. I’m very humbled by that.  I’ve seen a lot of his movies, but I just always get a kick out of Carrie.

[I first saw Carrie] when I was living in Japan. I was living in Japan for a couple of years. I got desperate for American culture, and I was doing anything I could to catch up on iconic American stuff before I was able to get my ticket home. I was 19.

BROWN:  Do you remember the first film that scared you?

PEIRCE: I hate to say it because it’s pretty obvious, but the first film to scare me was Jaws. When the head popped out, I just moved straight up out of my seat.  The second film that scared me was probably The Exorcist because I was watching it and, as her head was spinning, somebody in my family grabbed my leg and yanked it all the way up and I just screamed and fear shot threw me.

BROWN: Were they trying to scare you?

PEIRCE:  Were they trying to scare me? They were trying to effing freak me out and they succeeded. Pure fear.

BROWN: What makes a good horror film?

PEIRCE:  A good horror film is something that taps into something absolutely truthful about us—about what we want, about what we’re terrified of—and brings that to life on screen in such a way that we can get close enough to that character to let our defenses down and want them to be safe. I think it’s why in The Shining, you love Shelley Duvall. You love Jack Nicholson. But you’re let into the intimacy of that violence and it’s emotional and it’s physical. We’re let in very close. So I think a good horror film has to pull you in very deeply inside. Halloween is a good horror film because we love Jamie Lee Curtis, we’re brought very deeply in right when she’s babysitting the kids. She’s going from house to house, all those houses have windows that you can look in. We’re a very vulnerable and exposed audience.

BROWN:  In the last 20 years, horror has become quite a marginalized genre—and one that people don’t expect to take seriously.

PEIRCE:  I agree with you completely.

BROWN:  How do you get an audience to take your film seriously?

PEIRCE: Lots of times there are uphill battles with the audience. There’s what you want to do and then there’s the perception of what that type of movie is. You want to be super educated about it. So if you think about Boys Don’t Cry, how much of the mainstream audience wants to go to a movie about a transsexual and transgendered person? Fundamentally, they wouldn’t have wanted to. My goal was: I’m going to humanize this person, who I love so much, and I’m going to activate it to make it fascinating, fun, and interesting. You’re aware of the obstacles and you go for the art. The same thing with Carrie—whatever the perception of horror movies is or was, Stephen King wrote a novel that is absolutely fantastic. This is so much more than a horror film. This is a suspense thriller. This is a great protagonist. This is a great three-act structure, and this is going to be wildly entertaining to all people.

BROWN: What would have happened if Carrie hadn’t gone to prom?

PEIRCE: I think that tragic inevitability is such that if Carrie didn’t go to prom, what happened on prom night wouldn’t have happened but, given who Carrie is as a character—that she wants love and acceptance and she’s susceptible to love and that she has superpowers—if it hadn’t been prom night, it would have been another night. I don’t think that we look at prom and say, “Oh, it was random!” I think we say it was inevitable.

BROWN: Sue makes her boyfriend Tommy take Carrie to prom. Are Sue and Tommy actually doing Carrie a favor?

PEIRCE: Sue and Tommy are very shortsighted. Sue should have apologized to Carrie. She should have befriended her; she should have gotten to know her. That would have been the more challenging thing to do at the beginning, which is why she does it at the end. Sue comes up to a very simple solution to a very complex problem. She’s a privileged girl and in her world her boyfriend is everything, so she’s like, “I’m going to donate my boyfriend to you for the evening.” Sue’s not calculating what the consequences of that could be. She’s not really thinking about whether that’s good for Carrie. What if Carrie does fall in love with Tommy? What if Tommy falls in love with Carrie? I think that’s what’s wonderful about it. Sue’s choice to send Carrie to prom with Tommy is a shortsighted, naïve choice and that’s why there is a story. If Sue had apologized to Carrie, we wouldn’t have much of a movie. But it’s nice when they make the kind of half choice. The half-solution. It’s like, “Well, it’s kind of a good thing but it’s not really the final thing.”

BROWN: No one wants to be pitied, even if they are vulnerable.

PEIRCE: You’re absolutely right. Nobody wants to be taken pity on. It’s one of the biggest things I changed when I came in to make this movie: there has to be potential for love between Tommy and Carrie. Carrie cannot know what Sue and Tommy are up to. Carrie has to think that, when Tommy asks her out, there’s a chance for love, because she would never go to prom if she was being pitied. She goes because she believes there’s an opportunity to find the happiness that she’s been yearning for. Which I think is what makes the story so satisfying and exciting. And then, of course, gives her the opportunity for a great sense of justice and revenge.

I believe that Sue took a risk in sending her boyfriend to prom thinking her boyfriend would never fall for Carrie. But I think if you’re going to have a really dimensional story, there should always be the danger that Tommy could fall for Carrie and that Sue may have gambled with the thing that matters the most to her.

BROWN: Stephen King suggested Lindsay Lohan for the role of Carrie. Did you ever consider her?

PEIRCE: I considered everybody for the role. [But] after considering everybody and auditioning everybody, it was just obvious that Chloë Moretz was Carrie. Everything about her: she has an inherent amount of charisma, the camera loves her, she’s been acting since she’s five, she’s a total pro, she knows her instrument. I took her on this phenomenal journey from a confident child star who has the great privileges of a family who loves her, great success, and huge confidence, to a wounded woman who had to gain her confidence back and desperately wanted love and acceptance.

BROWN: How did you get Chloë to empathize with Carrie if she’s never had a similar experience?

PEIRCE:  I helped point out for her—which is what I do with most of my actors—this is why you’re great: you are confident, you are a precocious child. You are a fantastic entity. We did a number of exercises. I would Skype with her at night and get to know her life and the things that she cared about and her circumstances with her family. I spoke to her family and I created a safe place where she could rebel and she could challenge them with respect to people who are less privileged than both Chloë and I. I took her to homeless shelters and we spoke to young women and I asked them to share their emotional upbringing and how they felt in the world and I tried to get her to open herself up. When we got on set, she had made huge strides, but when Julianne Moore came in, she helped bring Chloë to another level of empathy and understanding by allowing Chloë to be the daughter and Julianne was the mother. The bond between them was extraordinary.