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During the 2017 incarnation of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Justine Bateman debuted her short Five Minutes, she carved out some time to catch other filmmaker’s premieres, including Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
Now, the former actress is returning to the festival in person with her feature directing debut, the Olivia Munn starrer Violet, and will launch her woman-at-a-crossroads drama in similar fashion “in a big beautiful theater.”
That will mark a first given that the Relativity Media film’s world premiere at South by Southwest in Marh was virtual. “It will be the first time I get to see this with an audience,” she adds. “We’ve shown it for investors and department heads, but I haven’t seen it like this yet. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”
Ahead of Violet’s Sept. 9 TIFF bow, the writer-director-producer talked to THR about saying goodbye to acting, delaying college for nearly three decades and why she wouldn’t support a Family Ties reboot.
What was that first moment when you decided you wanted to direct?
I was 19. I was having lunch with a couple of agents, talking about [1986 French film] Betty Blue. I was saying how I love the colors and the pacing, and one agent looked at me and said, “You should be directing.” I thought, “Oh, yeah.” But the timing never felt right. So, I waited, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I felt the timing shift. I used to have a great, great T-shirt from CAA. There was a dog sitting in a chair, across from an agent, and the speech bubble above the dog said, “But what I really want to do is direct.”
What was the genesis of Violet?
I wrote a few scripts around the time I wrote Violet, so it’s a little bit of a blur. This was in 2011. I did a lot of research for the role, which is my jokey way of saying, “I’ve been through a lot. I’ve processed this in my life.”
So, you personally connected with the character Violet, whose entire life is built on fear-based decisions?
I used to make a lot of decisions based on fear years ago, and when I realized I was doing that and that there are a couple of things that that may get me on the other side of that, that made a big difference. And then looking at those irrational fears and going, “I don’t think that’s gonna happen and then finding empirical evidence that it’s not true. And then I could get to a place where I’m making instinct-based decisions instead of fear-based decisions. We’re exposed to so much information and so much news about what’s happening everywhere else that it can be devastating for anybody who has their antenna up.
What was the mindset behind casting Olivia?
When I’m casting, I like to look at videos — the work that somebody’s done, also any interviews they’ve done and any videos they put on social media. I’m looking for certain characteristics or elements that I would like to have in the character and whether they are obvious characteristics or more subtle ones. I want to tease it out and broaden it. There were characteristics of Olivia’s that I could see in all of her roles that I wanted to tease out and expand for this role. And she really gave herself to the part, and we were able to do that.
As a writer, you made your first sale with Wizards of Waverly Place. Why that series?
[Proeducer] Peter Murrieta brought me on to help break stories in the beginning of the season. And then they gave me a script to do. That’s that is a big part of how I got into the WGA. With SAG, you just have to say something onscreen and you’re in. But the WGA or DGA, those are hard guilds to get into. Those were very proud moments to get those membership cards. I’m very grateful to Peter for bringing me in on that. And that show was a great experience.
As a former teen actress, do you have any special bond with young adults?
Not really. Acting was really good to me, and I had a longer-than-normal acting career. And then when it started shifting, it was, “What’s going on? How come this door is getting shut?” I was like, “Oh, I get it. I need to go in this other direction.” This other direction is happening and it’s not like it’s as a footnote to acting but, rather, it’s completely replacing it. Anyway, young actors, I don’t know. I can’t imagine what the experience is now with fame, social media and everybody having a camera in their pocket? It seems pretty difficult to navigate that, considering all the new elements.
You were unable to attend college because you were told you were under contract with Paramount. In hindsight, do you think that was fair?
I don’t I don’t feel like it was anything unkind they were doing to me or anything like that. The whole job was a fantastic experience. I think I was just too new to the business to understand that I couldn’t just go [to college without getting their approval.] But it’s fine because I graduated from UCLA eventually. And my experience in college from 46 to 50 was a much different experience than it would have been from 18 to 21. But it was great.
There are so many classic TV series being rebooted. Has there been any talk of rebooting Family Ties? How would you feel about a reboot? Would you be game to be involved?
I don’t want to. I mean, whatever. I don’t own the show. It’s Paramount’s business or Viacom. It’s just my own personal tastes, but I’m not supportive of a reboot. I mean, it’s Family Ties. Don’t touch it. What’s important about art is the context in which it lived. So, Family Ties, within the context of the ’80s, and everything that was going on in the 80s, is kind of part of that art project [of the era]. I’m not a fan of reboots. I just feel like there are so many incredible new things we could be doing, which are specific to us now. I feel disappointed for this generation because so much of their pop culture is reboots, re-blogs, retweets of other people’s childhoods and young adulthood or whatever from the past. Thank God for Christopher Nolan doing these big-budgeted, totally new ideas, because that’s not that common. Film after film are based on comic books that were established and had impact on the childhoods of people who are 50 or dead. It’s not quite fair to this generation that they don’t have their own moment.
Do you have any plans to return to acting?
No, that’s done. I haven’t done [acting] for many, many, many, many years. It’s definitely writing, directing, producing for me.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 11 daily issue at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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