Luca Guadagnino and Dakota Johnson on the 'fun madness' of making Suspiria
Most of Suspiriais spent in, well, suspense. Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 Dario Argento horror classic is a slow burn, centering on an all-female dance troupe in ’70s Berlin. Outside, the city is divided and caught up in the terror attacks of the Red Army Faction. Inside the walls of the dance company, however, the troupe is busy preparing its signature piece, a modern expressionistic performance called Volk. But the piece’s lead dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), has gone missing, and when a new student named Susie (Dakota Johnson) arrives from America, she soon starts to wonder if all is not as it seems. And then there are the rumors that the women running the dance company (led by Tilda Swinton’s glamorous Madame Blanc) might secretly be witches…
The original Suspiria was a gaudy, gorgeous slasher flick, all blood and guts and gonzo murders. Guadagnino’s take is far more austere, and the Call Me By Your Name director slowly builds dread every time the company dances. (EW has an exclusive clip from the film above, which follows Patricia’s replacement, Olga, played by Elena Fokina, as she starts to unravel during a harrowing rehearsal sequence.)
Eventually, the film peels back the company’s secrets, before devolving into a truly bonkers finale. “It’s surreal, what we did,” Guadagnino teases. “We were aware that it was a crazy thing, so it was fun. It was fun madness, I would say.”
Below, Guadagnino and Johnson open up about putting their own stamp on Suspiria (in theaters Oct. 26). “I can only tell you that this is a movie about power,” Guadagnino warns. “It’s about the relationship of power, about internal power and dominance. I like the idea that not everything is what you think it is.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Luca, you’ve talked before about seeing the original Suspiria as a teenager and falling in love with it then. What was it about the film that hooked you and made you want to make your own version?
LUCA GUADAGNINO: I think it’s because I was very ambitious when I was a kid and I had this crazy dream of being a filmmaker, not really knowing how a filmmaker [would go about] making a movie. And watching a movie like Suspiria, where I was immersed in an atmosphere that was so completely wild and free, I guess that was probably was what made me want to do it again — to try to replicate that sense of freedom and unleashed wildness.
Dakota, what was your reaction when Luca came to you about this movie?
DAKOTA JOHNSON: I had not seen the original film, but when he asked me if I would be a part of it, I automatically said yes. And then once I got ahold of a DVD and watched the movie, it was amazing because I understood a lot of the inspiration that some of my favorite filmmakers drew from the movie, and I understood the kind of cult following that I had learned about afterwards. It was funny because prior to Luca telling me about the movie, I hadn’t known of it. And then once I knew of it, it exploded into my world in all these different corners, and people I didn’t know knew about it would talk to me about it. It was really kind of funny how that happened.
Dakota, you have a little bit of a background in dance, but you did so much training and choreography to prepare for this. What was it like going through that intense preparation?
JOHNSON: Well, my background in dance was when I was a kid. I did ballet when I was a little girl, and that’s a very different style of dance to German Expressionist dance. [Laughs] Because obviously [with German dance] you move with gravity instead of going against it. And the movements are very sharp and aggressive and expressive, instead of contained. So, prepping for the movie was a long process, and it was kind of in chunks. We kind of figured out today that it began maybe a little bit over a year before we started filming, and we started working with a trainer who helped me with reshaping my body to look like that of someone who had been a dancer her whole life. So [I would] have long, lean muscles and tone and not just [look] very scrawny.
And then there was training with [choreographer] Damien Jalet and the other dancers in the film before we started filming the movie, and that was when it became more intense. It was more about spending the time on perfecting the movements. And I think without the help of the dancers, I would’ve been at such a loss. They were extraordinary. They were so supportive. Dancers, like artists, have a signature. They move differently, especially dancers in this world. So I learned different things from every person, and these women were extraordinary. They really helped me. And the one in particular, her name is Tanya, and when there were moments I couldn’t do, like a quadruple pirouette or something totally insane, she would be able to double me.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the look and the feel of the film, because it’s so different from the original. The original film is so bright and Technicolor, whereas this version is very muted. Luca, how did you approach the visual style?
GUADAGNINO: I think the answer lies in the year: 1977, when the original movie came out. That was the time in which [screenwriter] David Kajganich and I felt we had to set this story. In doing that, I felt that we had to be consistent in trying to reproduce and evoke that moment in history in Germany, Berlin, that was called the German Autumn. So we drew on the extensive visual documents of the time, along with the references of the cinema of the great [director Rainer Werner] Fassbinder and some other stuff. Architecturally, we looked at the modernist movement in Germany. The buildings we shot we reshaped completely, making it look exactly like that. And we thought a lot about the eerie, uncanny paintings that Balthus made throughout his career. All the grays, greens, and browns, a little bit of red.
You two have obviously worked together before, but what was different about collaborating on Suspiria?
JOHNSON: I felt on A Bigger Splash very much like a baby, and sort of Bambi-like. When we were filming, do you remember you used to tell me to move more like Bambi? [Laughs]
GUADGNINO: Yes! Well, you were a baby, but you were not a baby. Because I remember on Bigger Splash, your first shot was you just silently looking at the quarreling between Harry and Marianne on a little wall and then eating. And then I remember the scene, how it came to life through you. And it was so full of nuance and wisdom and sharpness. Beautiful.
JOHNSON: Thank you! [Laughs] But I think on Suspiria, we had laid the groundwork for being able to just be totally in sync, and we didn’t need to figure each other out or figure out the footing of how to work together. And now it’s like we see each other, and we just start. It’s great.
I’m curious because this is a film that feels so feminine. It’s almost an entirely female cast, and it explores these questions of female power and autonomy. What was it about this sense of femininity that you wanted to explore?
JOHNSON: Oh, I’ve always had an interest in movies about women and girls. I’ve always been interested about movies and stories that are grounding feminine energy and witchcraft. When I was young, it was obvious films like Hocus Pocus or Little Women. But then I discovered films like Heavenly Creatures and Three Women, and that part of it was enticing to me. But then just the mere thought of making a film with 38 women in the cast just felt like an incredible opportunity, especially the women we were working with. They’re so talented and of all ages, from every corner of the world. It was an incredible experience. I loved all of these women so much.