We interview director Ana Lily Amirpour and the cast of Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, Craig Robinson and Ed Skrein, about their Venice Film Festival-premiering horror movie.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is one of those films you want to rewatch as soon as the credits roll. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour and starring Jun Jong Seo, Kate Hudson, Craig Robinson, and Ed Skrein, the film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where we interview filmmaker and cast.
The movie revolves around a young girl with unusual supernatural powers who has been locked up in a mental institution for over ten years, and who suddenly awakens from an ancient slumber when the blood moon rises, which enables her to break free from the institution, in the streets of New Orleans. But Mona (Jun Jong Seo, of Burning) has never really had any experiences of life, and her newfound freedom marks the beginning of a rebirth: as she discovers the world, hoping to find a sense of belonging, she becomes acquainted with the city and its strange inhabitants, which leads her to the realisation that “people are not so easy to like.”
But Mona’s journey has only begun, and the people she meets—a friendly prostitute named Bonnie (Kate Hudson, of Almost Famous), her larger than life son Charlie (Evan Whitten, of Mr Robot), the charismatic and kind-hearted drug dealer/deejay Fuzz (Ed Skrein, of Deadpool) and the perceptive and resilient Officer Harold (Craig Robinson, of Brooklyn Nine-Nine)—will help her find her place in a world that can be cruel and chaotic, and ultimately embrace her status as an outsider.
Thanks to stunning world-building, a clever screenplay that perfectly blends authenticity with absurdity, a really great soundtrack and committed performances from the entire cast, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is, at the same time, a gripping thriller, a coming of age tale with Alice In Wonderland undertones, a superhero movie, and an utterly original adventure that will captivate you from beginning to end and make you fall in love with its fascinating characters. Not only will it teach you how to survive (and embrace) the chaos of existence, but it will leave you with an uncontrollable urge to drop your socially acceptable facade and experience life in all its madness.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon had its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2021, and we interviewed director Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and cast members Craig Robinson and Ed Skrein on the film’s origins, its one-of-a-kind characters, the setting of New Orleans, and more.
Craig Robinson and Ed Skrein on Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon
Welcome to Venice, and congratulations on the film’s World Premiere! Was this the first time you watched the movie?
Craig Robinson: For me, yes.
What was it like?
CR: What a ride, is what it was like! I’ve been hearing about it all day: [Ed Skrein] told me how it was, and that I was going to be really happy. And I was really happy: you know, it’s an adjustment seeing myself in a non comedic role. I’ve done a couple, but it didn’t hit me till I was laying down, and I thought, “Oh, wow. I wasn’t making jokes”. And, you know, … I love it!
And it’s such an amazing film! What I loved about your characters is that, even if they only show up at key moments in the film, there’s so much humanity in them and we connect with them immediately: you can tell that a lot of work must have gone into making them come alive.
CR: You know, there was some direction within the direction, that Ana would put in. Here’s one small example. When Officer Harold is eating his his meal, Chinese food, near the sheet, [Ana’s note on the script] said: “This man loves his food”. You know what I mean?
Ed Skrein: I love the way he was eating in that opening scene! [both laugh]
CG: But that’s the thing. She had those extra directions, and you knew who you were dealing with. You know the trust exercise where you lay back, and somebody’s gonna catch you? [With Ana Lily Amirpour], it was easy to fall.
Do you have any anecdotes from the set?
ES: Tell him about the face paint, man!
CG: So, for a couple of days, Ana had clown makeup on. You can imagine, you know, she was seriously directing! [everyone laughs] So, I didn’t learn until yesterday that, when we were doing the junket, she did that because she knew she was gonna have to run around, and, in case the camera caught her, she would just look like somebody who was on Bourbon Street in clown makeup. But at the time, I was just like, “Okay, this director has clown makeup on! [laughs] Okay: I’m in!” [laughs] That happened.
But it’s so crazy with the anecdotes, because we had a short time to shoot. We overlapped for two days, so we were able to grab tea and say “What’s up?,” but I’m going to let you down with the anecdotes question! Like, “were there any pranks on set?” “No!” [laughs]
But did any of you bring home any props? Ed, you must have! You had all this glowing stuff!
ES: You know what, I did! And I’m somebody who doesn’t like to keep props and things like that. You know, it is what it is in the movie: I bring it home, and then it’s like, “What am I going to do with these sunglasses?”. But I did keep some things: the tattoos! First of all, I flew straight to Grenada afterwards. And I was like, “You know what, leave my tattoos”. And I went to the beach, the next day, with the Ying and Yang, the Sex Pistols and and all that. And then, every day, they would rub off in the sea water! [laughs] But I’ve still got the tattoos, my favourite ones, like the little mini heart. And then there was a rat, and underneath the rat, I wrote the word “mouse” backwards in my handwriting, and there was just all this stuff!
How did you come up with all these tattoos? Was it all in the script or did you come up with some of those too?
ES: Well, yeah, Ana Lily made it feel like it was my idea. [smiles] She kind of knew what she wanted. She was like, “I want you to have the DMT chemical molecular structure here. And then the lips, and the Sex Pistols with the tab here…” And she wanted the Cheshire Cat’s big smile on the back of my head, because she said that Fuzz is like the Cheshire Cat. You meet him and he’s like, “Am I dangerous? Or am I here to help you? Whatever I am, I’m mischievious. I’m going to be here for a small part of your story. And I’m going to progress the story, and then I’ll be gone”. And you will remember him. So I had a big smile on the back of my head, which said something that the Cheshire cat says. And then I had a quote, which was Bukovsky, and a koi fish: there was lots of stuff! I’ve got a good friend in London, and I’ve always loved his tattoos: so many of them are homemade, with just needles and a pen. He used to have his national insurance number wrong [tattoed on him], and he’d do stick men, and dots… With this, I wanted to do that, like my friend. So, we did lots of little weird, messy things. And, again, it’s Lily being like, “You do your thing!” She wouldn’t let me do you crazy stuff, but she encouraged me to make it my own.
Ana Lily Amirpour on Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon
Where did Mona come from?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I guess that’s one of the hard questions: where did you think of the idea? I could say that I came out of my mother and shook off the placenta, and looked at this world, and was like, “How do I deal with all this sh*t?” You know what I’m saying? Because Mona’s kind of being born in the film. When I made the movie, I wanted to re-engage with the madness and chaos of humanity, but also find the beauty, optimism and connection in it, amidst the chaos. I wanted to find joy in a way that was truthful and honest to me.
I can definitely see that in the film: there’s a scene between Mona and Charlie towards the end that absolutely broke me.
ALA: It did that to me too! I didn’t expect that.
It was just so unexpected, and such a beautiful, meaningful moment! Where did the character of Charlie come from, and how did you develop his relationship with Mona?
ALA: That question makes me emotional. My cousin, who was more like a brother to me—we grew up together—passed away. At any time in your life, there’s someone you’re so close to, and sometimes they go away. We all go away at some point, but that’s the thing: when it really happens to you… It’s a big surprise. And then you realise, “Oh, sh*t. It’s great to be here. And it doesn’t last forever”. And if you find those people that see you, and you see them… Charlie sees the best version of what Mona is, and she sees the best version of him: it’s this pure way of seeing each other. It’s that kind of friendship. That was in the heart of the movie, and I’m happy that you felt it.
These themes are so universal: we’ve all felt what you’ve described, and this feeling really does reach us in the movie.
I also love that you chose to set it in New Orleans! I feel like it’s a place that has so many badass women, like your characters in the film.
ALA: I feel like there’s something badass about everybody in New Orleans: there’s a togetherness. People feel together, and constantly survive the devastation of hurricanes. That town is like Bonnie: it just like gets beaten down and comes back, and it gets beaten down, and it comes back. They’re constantly playing music, and having parades every week, no matter what. These people are determined to walk down the street and sing every single week, no matter what’s going on: it’s crazy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is now available to watch on digital and on demand.