Peirce and I had arranged to meet at her friend’s house in Malibu, near where she lived after the success of “Boys Don’t Cry.” We intended to take an early-afternoon walk along the beach, but she forgot to check for high tide, which left us with only a foot-wide strip of sand. So we stood there rather comically, our backs pressed against the wall of the house, two very pale people in excessive clothing on a sweltering August afternoon. Peirce has lived in Los Angeles since 2003, but still regards herself as a New Yorker, which explained her beachwear: red pants, long-sleeved T-shirt, black motorcycle jacket and boots. She reminds me of Swank as Teena: small-boned, gently seductive, androgynous yet pretty — a butch sprite.
DePalma’s film is an undisputed horror classic, not exactly crying out for a remake (though Hollywood has never shied from tampering with perfection). But Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s president of the Motion Picture Group, saw two good reasons to do it: The evolution of special effects, and the fact that bullying is now a national, social-media-inflamed crisis. A fan of Peirce’s films, he felt that no one could better capture that teenage moment “where everything matters in such a huge way,” he says.
Peirce was initially surprised by Glickman’s interest in her. “Then I read ‘Carrie’ again,” she said, “and realized, Oh, these are all my issues: I deal with misfits, with what power does to people, with humiliation and anger and violence. Like Brandon, Carrie has gone through life getting beaten up by everyone. She’s got no safe place. And then she finds telekinesis — her talent, her skill — and it becomes her refuge. And I thought, Wow, this is an opportunity to make a superhero-origin story. With her period comes the power. With adolescence comes sexuality, and with sexuality comes power.”
The first thing Peirce did after getting the offer was to call DePalma, who happens to be a longtime friend. “I asked him what he thought, and he says” — here she did her best impression of his New Jersey accent — " ‘Well, you have to do it!’ ” They discussed some of the changes that would have to be made. “I couldn’t cast a 26-year-old, as he did with Sissy Spacek,” Peirce said. “Girls who are 26 don’t look that young anymore.” She ended up casting Chloë Grace Moretz, who recently turned 16, the same age as Carrie White. “You also can’t turn Carrie into a calculated killer — not in a post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech, post-all-these-campus-tragedies world.” But she wouldn’t have wanted DePalma’s vision of robotic destruction anyway, she said, entertaining as that was. “The pure horror of that disconnected you from Carrie. I say this with all due respect to Brian, but his film is semicampy. I wanted to get inside this girl’s journey. And particularly her bond with her mother, which was huge for me.”
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