Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
March 4, 2011

In the 2009 film Women in Trouble, a sweltering day in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley provides the backdrop as a series of random events intertwine the lives of several seemingly disparate women. At the center of this web of mayhem is legendary pornstar Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino), whose bad day is just beginning when she discovers that she is pregnant. This ensemble comedy--which also features Adrianne Palicki, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Connie Britton, Marley Shelton, Cameron Richardson, Elizabeth Berkley, Josh Brolin, Simon Baker, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt--quickly evolved into the start of a proposed trilogy of films.

The second installment in the series, Elektra Luxx, focuses on the title character's ongoing misadventures as she gives up the adult film industry in favor of teaching sex education classes at a local community center. But she's not the only one trying to start a new life for herself: fellow porn starlet Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), who continues to harbor an unrequited love for her best friend and professional call girl Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui), has had enough of bending to other people's whims, and hopes that she and her girlfriend can stop selling their bodies for a quick buck.

Elektra Luxx also sees the return of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bert Rodriguez, an online video blogger with a meticulous appreciation for the aesthetics of adult cinema and a heartfelt adoration of Elektra. Joining the sequel's cast are Timothy Olyphant, Justin Kirk, Kathleen Quinlan, Lucy Punch, Malin Akerman, and Julianne Moore in an epiphanous appearance as the Virgin Mary.

In this exclusive interview, writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez talks about the making of Elektra Luxx and examines two of the film's standout characters: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Bert Rodriguez and Adrianne Palicki's Holly Rocket. (Fans should note that the adorably well-meaning Holly not only steals the show with her frequent bouts of confusion, but also dreams up a sizzling lap dance fantasy in which she is on the receiving end of Bambi's seductive advances. So thanks for the Emmanuelle-Chriqui-on-Adrianne-Palicki action, Holly's imagination.)

Elektra Luxx is now playing in select cities. Sebastian Gutierrez's film Girl Walks Into a Bar, which also features an extensive ensemble, including Carla Gugino and Emmanuelle Chriqui, premieres exclusively online at YouTube. At what point did you realize that the story of Women in Trouble was going to expand into a series of films?

SEBASTIAN: I'd say it was about midway through the shooting of Women in Trouble. On Day 5 of shooting the 10-day movie, we thought, "Hey, this is really fun. It kind of sucks that it's going to be done in five more days. We should continue these characters and see what other adventures they get into." So it was as simple as that: a group of actors having a really good time. Because the structure of Women in Trouble was kind of "ten women in ten different vignettes," there was a lot of room for finding out what happens to a few of them in a different day in their lives.

How did you determine which characters would be carried over into Elektra Luxx?

Well, everybody seemed to gravitate organically around Elektra and Holly. And initially in the script of Elektra Luxx, the Connie Britton character Doris was also in. But then those sequences couldn't be shot because we couldn't get her off of Friday Night Lights. So it became more and more focused on how everybody related to the Elektra character.

From a writer's standpoint, do you have a special attachment to any one character?

I'd say the Holly Rocket character--the Adrianne Palicki character--is probably the closest to my heart, if only because it seems from the outside like she's a dumb blonde, but she's not. And that character of the dumb blonde, by the way, has been done very well and very badly in many movies. It's a very recognizable character. But I think if you're not condescending to that type of character, ultimately, it's the most winning because it's the most like, I think, the inner us. We're geeks just trying to survive in the world, and we don't want to be found out.

I love the way Holly's brain seems to be wired for apparent non-sequiturs. In one scene, she relates cooking with taxidermy, and in other, she associates doctors with mimes. How do you approach her mindset when you're writing her jokes? Where do those connections come from?

[laughs] I don't know where it comes from from her, but when I'm writing it, I think it might come from [the fact that] English is a second language for me. So there are words that sound like other things to me that I think somebody, if they weren't as eloquent, might jump from one thought to the other. There are words in English that have Latin roots that are mixing one thing with the other. A taxi and a taxidermist...I don't know why those two words are even the same. You know, there are a million things that you go, "Why is that?" How the words are spelled has nothing to do with what they sound like. And I think that's very hard for Americans to understand. But if you come from a different country and you see "school" written down S-C-H-O-O-L, this makes no sense why that would be pronounced "school." So I think with Holly, it's very easy, actually, to be in that mindset of how to mispronounce things, or how to confuse things for something else. But I think her jokes are so bad because I have that sense of humor...You know, when other people get stoned and they have a really silly sense of humor, I'm already there. I'm like, "You know what? I'll skip the pot part and I'll make you laugh with the same silly joke." Like I don't need to be brought down to that level. So Holly, in that sense, is close to me.

Holly seemed very accident prone in Women in Trouble, but that wasn't the case in Elektra Luxx. Did she outgrow that?

Has her balance [or] hand/eye coordination gotten better? [laughs] Well, I don't know that there was that many opportunities for that to happen here...You know, it was a very deliberate thing that's happening to both Elektra and Holly--that they are growing up and deciding not to be for sale anymore. And in the case of Elektra, that is much clearer because there's more screentime with her, and she is pregnant in the first movie. So that is sort of where the whole story hinges. But in the character of Holly, I find it as (if not more) endearing, because this is somebody who can't quite articulate why she's trying to change. But she's definitely changing, and she is standing up for the things--in a funny way--that she believes in in this movie. And I'm proud of her for trying to get out of the "objectified ghetto."

Given her thoughts on how she and Bambi should be together, do you think she's the film's biggest romantic?

No. Bert Rodriguez is the biggest romantic in the movie--the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character. That would be the biggest romantic. He's, like, head-over-heels, knocked-on-the-head...Throw all the cliches in the blender: he's a walking romantic.

He also seems to be a bit of a contradiction: on one hand, he's the porn aficionado who could be expectedly sleazy, but on the other, he's the guy with rules for how someone like Elektra should be respected...

Yeah. I guess I really gravitate toward characters like that. Both Bert and Elektra (to a certain degree) are characters like...You know, Toshiro Mifune would always play these samurai that have a code of honor that only they understand. And there's one thing they will not do, but it's not even explained why they won't do that. [laughs] But you know that that's where they draw the line, and they won't do it. So Bert...Yes, a sex blogger could be a sleazy guy, but the truth is, he's sort of like a stand-in for a film connoisseur--he has a whole sense of aesthetics, and he's very serious about glorifying these women. So [he's] much more, I think, like film geeks. And by that, I mean people like myself who love B-movies from the 1960s, or might be obsessed with Italian horror movies from the '70s. It's that kind of fetishistic "trying to meet other like-minded people and find the things in common with the paraphernalia of these things." And we see it in the movie: when he meets Elektra, he's extremely shy and respectful. I mean, he does hold her up on a pedestal of looking up to these--and he even says it in the movie--Amazon women. And he's very verbose in his descriptions of these women. And those characters are always fun, because I like people like that in real life, who take it very seriously. There's nothing sloppy about Bert.

Is your film Girl Walks Into a Bar connected to the world of Elektra Luxx?

No...It only relates in the way that the movie was made, which is basically, the producers of Girl Walks Into a Bar saw Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx and said, "Wait a minute, if you can explain to us how you're making these movies in 10, 12 days for a very little budget with big casts, we might have a crazy idea: What if you made a movie to be given away for free on the internet?" So the MO of how to make the movie, from a production standpoint, is similar. There are two actors--Carla and Emmanuelle Chriqui--that cross over, but the characters are different characters.

It's great that you've been able to make these films with such an independent, cost-effective model, but is it something that amateur filmmakers can mimic? The hard part seems to be finding recognizable actors who will take time from their schedules to work on a smaller passion project...

Yes and no. I mean, I think the secret about actors is that they really want to act. Going back to Elektra Luxx, about half the cast, I didn't know or hadn't worked with before. These were simply roles that I wrote and sent them, and they wanted to do it. So a lot of stuff is friends of friends--not necessarily my friends. But I think the key is if you can get to one or two, and you have material that is appealing to actors, it might surprise you that actors will be willing to do something if it's a very short amount of time. Here, the time commitment was a day or two. So if it's in town for a day or two, a character that they don't usually get to do, that's sort of the trick of the thing.

What can you tell us about Women in Ecstasy, the third installment in the Women in Trouble/Elektra Luxx series?

Well, the script is written, and there's a lot of schedules to work out to be able to do it...The third one kind of tries to bring everybody together from the first and second, which is tricky, because you don't want it to be like Return of the Jedi, where at the end, there's a big party and everybody's dancing with little creatures. So I will say that: it brings back people from Women in Trouble that were not in Elektra Luxx. Obviously Holly and Bambi and Elektra Luxx are in it, as is Bert Rodriguez.

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