Bleeding Love Director Emma Westenberg Talks Addiction & Family Crisis


Ewan and Clara McGregor shine as a father who takes his daughter on a road trip after her near-fatal drug overdose. Bleeding Love adds whimsical elements to a powerful addiction drama. The unnamed protagonists encounter bizarre people who add levity to their tense reconciliation. Dutch director Emma Westenberg, known for her Janelle Monáe music videos, fashion commercials, and episodic TV, strikes an artistic tone in her feature debut. She discusses how the film changed from its premiere at last year’s SXSW film festival, working with the McGregors on a tight-knit set, and her filming methods for the extensive driving scenes. Read on for our complete interview.




MovieWeb: This is a touching film that will hit close to home with people who have addiction issues. Clara McGregor is listed as the producer and story creator, so I guess this is kind of her baby. How did you get involved with her and become director of this film?

Emma Westenberg: Clara and I know each other from when I was living in New York. I am longtime friends with her producing partner, Vera Bulder. So when they started this project and set it up, they were looking for directors. That’s how I got involved. I pitched on being part of it. They decided to go for my take, so very exciting.

MW: Was it always going to be a starring vehicle for her and her father?

Emma Westenberg: Yes, that’s where the idea came from. She and Vera are working on different projects. This was one of them.



Art Doesn’t Imitate Life

Bleeding Love

3/5

Release Date
February 16, 2024

Director
Emma Westenberg

Cast
Ewan McGregor , Clara McGregor , Jake Weary , Kim Zimmer , Travis Hammer

Runtime
1hr 36min

Writers
Vera Bulder , Ruby Caster , Elle Malan

MW: Does art imitate life here? Does the story have anything to do with Clara and Ewan’s true relationship? Or is it purely fiction, and they’re just actors playing parts?

Emma Westenberg: This story is totally fictional. We talked a lot about it as we were developing the movie and the way that we were going to film it. We talked a lot about our own personal experiences, and finding some kind of collective emotional truth to these different scenes. So we all drew from personal experiences, but the whole story is totally fictional.

MW: You’re working with a father and daughter team as actors. Did you feel there was any personal catharsis for them in playing these roles?


Emma Westenberg: I think making a movie makes you either get really close to the people that you make the movie with or not. I think on this project, it was really so collaborative, and so wonderful. Yeah, I feel like we did all get closer. For them personally, you would have to ask them, but I feel like it definitely. They seemed to enjoy it so much, making it together. That was wonderful to see. I think you’ll see that as well on the screen.

MW: The film premiered last year at SXSW under a different title, Love Lies Bleeding. Why is it now called Bleeding Love?

Emma Westenberg: The title was deemed too long and too hard to remember (laughs). So they changed the title.

MW: The suits took over and said that the title had to be truncated?

Emma Westenberg: Yes, I did notice that people would forget or say the title wrong. It might not have been a bad idea.

MW: Following up on that, what does Bleeding Love mean pertaining to the story?


Emma Westenberg: The word comes directly from when they sing the song at a certain point in the movie. They sing it in a way that they’re having fun singing it. It’s a wonderful song. I love this song. It does have the lyrics of the song, and does apply to their relationship because sometimes the people that you love the most, hurt you the most. That’s what the story is about. The daughter feels really abandoned by the father. He comes back. They have to go through it again. This is the pain of abandonment and what that does when somebody you love leaves.

The Workings of Addiction

Bleeding Love
Vertical


MW: I’ve known people who were addicts. This lying to themselves, oh, I’m fine, I can handle it. The story has the character literally 12 hours after almost overdosing. This false sense of security that’s really like a glass palace. It feels like something that’s very broken inside. Talk about Clara and Ewan’s preparation. Did you guys go to AA meetings like in the movie? Did you interview addicts? Or was it something purely based on the script?

Emma Westenberg: I, as well, have close relations to the subject matter. Whenever I tell a story or get attached to something, I find my own experiences in it. How is this personal to me? What sounds true to me? I did read a lot as well about the workings of addiction. In that way, I learned a lot more than just personal experience, also the collective experience of it, and just research about it. Then also talking a lot with Clara and Ewan about their experiences with it. Yeah, it was kind of a patched-together work. Addiction is such a wide thing in our society. It doesn’t have to mean that you are physically addicted to something. It can be like a substance. It can be buying stuff.


Emma Westenberg: I think it all comes from this hurt, or an emptiness of something. That’s what I wanted to put central in the story. It’s not about what they are addicted to, or how much, because the character is so young. She can’t really be physically that attached to it. It’s more of this kind of emotional thing that she was trying to fill. That comes from this abandonment. So, it really became more of an exploration of this relationship. What happens when somebody leaves? How does one cope? Addiction is part of that, but it was not the full extent. It was really about their relationship. How do you affect each other? How do you change each other? If that makes sense.

MW: Why were the characters unnamed? Why are they just Father and Daughter?


Emma Westenberg: So, in the script, they were named that. Then, as we were developing it, it was so much about that father-daughter relationship. I never missed the names. I was like, yeah, why would we make that up? Because for each other, they are father and daughter. How you see your father, it’s not by the name. The archetypal roles we just stuck to when we didn’t miss the names, so we were like, we’re not going to make them up.

MW: You have this whimsical, Homer-esque odyssey where they meet all these intriguing characters. You present it in a visually interesting way, like when they meet the hooker and the fantasy sparkles. It adds almost a trippy aspect to the film. Was that in the script, or you artistically doing something different?


Emma Westenberg: Yeah, it was a combination. There was dancing in the script. But the glitter and the painting stuff, it comes from when you’re in this self-destruct loop. You kind of lose sense of the true beauty, or the true magic that is just in the world without having to do drugs or get wasted. I think recognizing this beauty and recognizing being part of something big and beautiful is a way to also get out of this loop of self-destruction. So, visually, I wanted to show this. It’s always in the most unexpected places, moments of beauty and grace.

Ewan McGregor’s a Great Driver

Bleeding Love
Vertical

MW: You do a great job with the confined shots inside the car. You have a lot of reaction shots. You’re cutting back and forth between them. How did you film that? Were you in the back seat? That’s really where you see their intimacy.


Emma Westenberg: We had a lot of different reasons. So many car scenes, but we also filmed quite a lot driving because Ewan is a really good driver. He likes vehicles. He’s basically a stunt driver. There was this one scene where we were swapping rides between them. It’s at nighttime and the camera kind of moves between them. We filmed that scene static. I just didn’t feel like the energy of the scene that we needed came across. So the DP and I were like, okay, let’s just drive because we had some time on one of the days. Let’s just do this scene again and just drive with us in the backseat. The DP and I dismantled the camera, made it super small. They were acting the scene while we were driving on this road. There were different ways of capturing the mood of the scene.

MW: What’s next for you? Do you go back to music and fashion?

Emma Westenberg: I definitely want to make more movies. It was such an incredible experience.

MW: Something that you produce for somebody else or write yourself?


Emma Westenberg: I’m working on different things. I love the collaborative aspect of developing your story, but I’m also now writing some things by myself. We’ll see what goes first, but yeah, different ways of getting there.

Bleeding Love will have a concurrent theatrical and VOD release on Feb. 16 from Vertical.



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