Unflappable provocateur Harmony Korine penned the explosive teens-without-borders epic Kids in 1995 and later wrote equally scandalous cult items like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy. But they’re Toy Story 3 next to Spring Breakers, his racy romp with girls spring breaking into criminal madness with the help of a silver-plated dealer/rapper/weirdo named Alien, brilliantly played by James Franco. It’s a long way from Oz, but writer/director Korine, who’s now 40, was very accessible for an illuminating convo.
Hi, Harmony. I loved the movie. But do you want your films to be love/hate or love/love? That’s an interesting question. I’ve never had love/love. I never made a film to be taken one way. I understand all reactions.
Someone complained to me about the film’s repetitions of images and dialogue, but I felt those were obviously there to create a hypnotic state. Yes, it was meant to be a hallucinatory or drug experience, with a physical element to it and a transcendence. I was trying to chase a certain kind of energy to get something more inexplicable.
Are you afraid you might seem to be aligned with conservatives who moan that kids are out of control? I don’t worry about anything, to be honest with you. I know what I’m trying to do and where I’m trying to go. The interpretations or the alignments, that’s not my deal.
Conversely, does part of you get off on showing kids being sexy? Not really. It’s more that I was interested in this specific cultural event. I wanted to use it as a starting off point. Spring break is only in the film for a short period of time. It becomes more about our gangster culture. In Florida, I found a violence in the pathology of the shadows.
Is that specific to Florida? No, it’s America. But in Florida, the ambiance of the place seemed really strong and toxic. In St. Petersburg, everyone felt like they were in the witness protection program. Like they’d been lured by the sun.
I go three times a year. Why did you cast teen idol Selena Gomez as the conscience of the piece? That’s the part she wanted to play. I thought it made sense. She’s representative of pop mythology. She’s connected to that culture. At the same time, she was perfect for the character. She was bold and wanted to try something more extreme, a different kind of acting.
Was the scene where Franco menacingly strokes her face a homage to Cape Fear? I wasn’t thinking of that, though I did always love that scene. But I felt we needed an extra moment where Franco messes with Selena’s head. When I saw that room with the pit bulls, gangsters, and weed smoke, it came to me. I told Franco what I wanted, he prepared, and then I brought Selena in and told her to react to what happens.
I don’t think Justin Bieber ever touched her that way. [laughs] Would you say Franco is artistically fearless? Yes. He’s fearless. He’s a maniac. He’s attacking everything and just going for it.
Wait, I mean the actor, not the character. Yeah, I’m talking about the actor. He’s process-oriented—making it up as he goes along. It’s something you don’t really see with actors. They become so corporatized. They’ve been drained of any personality. They’re zombies. Franco’s doing his thing, and even if you don’t like it, you have to admire that he’s doing it.
I do. When he went down on the gun, I was very impressed with his oral skills. Me too. He looked really comfortable with that.
How about the scene where he catalogues all his belongings? (“I got Scarface on repeat, y’all. I got Calvin Klein Escape…”) We were riffing in rehearsals and we started to expand it. I like to put chemicals in a bottle and shake it up and document the explosion. At heart, he’s a character actor. For sure, the Alien is the best thing he’s ever done, acting wise. It’s going to be hard for him to outdo this one.
How did you help him with his characterization? I wanted the character to be a violent, cosmic sociopath, not rooted in any one thing—a cultural shapeshifter who has a strange poetic side and a hyperviolent side. I’d send him everything from rap songs to videotapes of girls in 7-Eleven parking lots getting in fistfights. We’d drive through the ‘hood and I’d point and say, “That’s the house you grew up in” or ‘That’s where you cook it up.’ He’d sit there, not saying anything. Then I’d see him put his teeth in and his hair on, and I was like “Holy shit, man, he’s got it.”
Do you find him sexy? Did you want to pounce? I find his character charismatic. Sexy is something else. I was never trying to pounce on him. He does it with a gun! [laughs]
Your wife, Rachel, plays a spring breaker. She’s 26. Does she ever say anything that reminds you how much younger she is? It happened more when I first met her. Now, in a way, she seems older than me.
What are you on? You seem so calm. I don’t do any narcotics anymore. I just kind of do my thing and dream it all up.
Do you practice any spirituality? Just through my movies.