‘Girl Picture’- Interview with the Director and Cast

Girl Picture, directed by Alli Haapasalo, follows the story of three young women over the course of three consecutive Fridays, as they set on a journey of self discovery. What follows is a beautiful and honest glimpse of adolescence, sexuality, and identity. Oscars Central had the fortunate opportunity to speak with director Alli Haapasalo, as well as actresses Linnea Leino and Elonoora Kauhanen about their experience in making this movie, as well as what they hope audiences take away from the film. 

Lex Williams: How did you get involved in this film and what initially drew you to the project? 
Alli Haapasalo (director): I was approached by the writers, Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti, in 2014 with a treatment. So they didn’t have a script, but they already had kind of the basic idea for the characters and what they wanted to thematically explore. I was immediately drawn to it, because even if it wasn’t a fully fleshed out screenplay, you could tell they had a very modern and fresh take on adolescence. I was looking for a story that would be female-driven, but also a story that would be sort of small in terms of scale or scope, and allow screen time to really study the characters. Which, I think this script does in such a lovely way.

It’s not plotty, and it’s really allowing us to explore the themes of adolescence, identity, sexuality, and self discovery with the girls. I got really excited by the opportunity to discuss representation of girlhood and girl characters on film. That really drew me to the project. You can have the same scale story about another theme, but I wouldn’t get as excited about that. And I realized at that point that it’s shocking how few characters I identified with as a young woman growing up, and this felt like opportunity to create that with the writers. 

Linnea Leino (Emma): We had this casting process. Alli decided on this open casting so that anyone could apply to be part of the film. It started in the beginning of 2020, and then we had several times of casting, and then it was the summer when we were chosen to be part of the film. Of course, we were super excited about that. That’s also how we got to know each other. 

Elonoora Kauhanen (Rönkkö): Yeah, it was really good that the casting process was open. This was my first film, or any camera project. I actually applied to another film, but the casting director from that film remembered me and asked me for a self tape, and that’s how I got into the film. I absolutely fell in love with the script. The first time I read it, I was on a bus, and I was just holding onto my seat, like, ‘Oh my God, this is my favorite.’ The last time I had been so drawn to a text was when I read The Hunger Games, and I just knew this was a good film, and I was very impressed by the representation of girlhood. 

LW: To Linnea and Elonoora, in what ways can you relate to your characters and what aspects of yourself are reflected in them? 

Leino: Ali gave us the opportunity to build our characters, to get together with each other so that we got the opportunity to give a piece of ourselves to each character, and that was a really fruitful way of working as an actor. I think, in Emma, I see myself in how harsh she can be to herself, but also what’s really important to me is the relationship with her mother. I’m super close to my mom, so it was really nice to have that feeling and that story in the storyline of Emma. 

Kauhanen: For me, in addition to being very talkative and bubbly like R, the thing that I relate to is her urgency to fix a problem to be complete. For me, if I see a problem in my life or in myself, I think ‘okay, what do I need to do to fix this?’ And I think the story that I got to be a part of also taught me that imperfections are beautiful and you’re allowed to not know everything right away. 

LW: I love that. I absolutely adored this film and loved that it felt very refreshing and it was a very honest take on womanhood. It got me thinking about representation of womanhood, especially young womanhood, in other forms of media, and so how would you like to see the approach that this film takes represented more in film and TV? 

Haapasalo: At least my generation is very accustomed to the story of woman as victim, and woman as bystander or supporting character, or the woman who asks questions so that the male characters can explain the world to us. We wanted to turn that around so that the representation is of women who take center stage, but also don’t ask for permission or definition of others for that role in center stage. Obviously, women have been critical for a long time of being objectified in cinema. But even still, I feel like when we’re subjects in films or in other media, we still are quite often seen through a very male lens, gaze, thought process, or world view.

So here, I hope that the representation is more honest and realistic. Let’s think of sexual women in film, for example. Women who have desire or pleasure are very often punished for that; they’re shamed very often, and they get into terrible danger, or get violently abused. But, even when a film is about a sort of subject wanting woman, even then, we very often look at women from a very distant point of view. They’re not really flesh and blood, they’re dangerous, or ethereal, or nymphomaniacs, or something quite special or weird or something extraordinary. I’d like this film to put the girls at that stage with all their ugly traits, beautiful traits, honest, realistic, flesh and blood. Real human beings, and approachable, identifiable, relatable. 

Kauhanen: I remember Alli saying that, “Even the girl next door is a sexual being, so normalize it and don’t shame it.” There are so many films where the girl is lost with herself or with her life and then she finds the guy who miraculously fixes everything and then she’s happy and finds a career and gets married and stuff. In this film, I love that Rönkkö doesn’t end up with anyone. We have Jarmo, who’s a nice guy. You’re expecting Rönkkö to end up with him because he’s nice. But, she’s not looking for a guy, she’s looking for herself, for her pleasure. Even though the guy’s nice, it’s not the thing. I think it’s so important to create the narrative that you don’t need other people to fix you, and you’re not incomplete if you’re not in a relationship or if you’re not in love with anyone, you have to find the love in yourself. I’d love to see that more. 

Leino: The whole narrative that this movie is just a glimpse in their life. And there are big feelings and big things happening to them, but they’re not in the script. Just huge things happening in the life of a teenager. It’s a film about life, and so many people have related to it, because that’s the life of teenagers. It’s not that in the end there’s this miraculous thing that happens or something huge has to happen so there has to be an end. No, their life continues. And I think that is such a beautiful thing about the film, that you know that next week it’s just the next thing that will just send them off. 

LW: Going off that, if you were to nail down just one thing that you wanted audiences to take away from this film, what would you want it to be? 

Leino: Young people should have the liberty to be themselves, and not something that people are wanting them to be. I hope when people get out, they think, ‘Maybe I could be myself without any other expectations.’

Kauhanen: For me, something I would want – and people have told me they’ve gotten out of the film – is we’re so used to being pushed into certain molds or frames, and to be complete and get a career. For example, I still feel the pressure to get into a school or figure out who I am exactly, and especially when I was younger, I’d feel so anxious because my style changed all the time, and I thought, ‘No, I have to choose, I have to know who I am.’ What I think is so beautiful about this film and one of the things it wants to say is, ‘You don’t have to be ready. Imperfections are beautiful.’ You can see on Rönkkö’s face, I had acne, we didn’t try to cover it. We see dirty hair and armpit hair, and no makeup. Yeah, imperfections are beautiful and you don’t have to be complete to be enough. 

Haapasalo: I think life lives in imperfections. That’s something I kept repeating during the making of this film. I think it’s very difficult for us as human beings to sort of accept and embrace, but it’s true. In addition to the wise words of Linnea and Elonoora, I called the film understatedly radical itself. Because, like you pointed out, it’s not a finger-wagging film at all, it’s a feel good film. I think the political statement is pretty clear in it: to allow the empathy and love for people.

If you look at it, it’s kind of funny, there’s no antagonist. There’s not a bad person. Even the police officer is a woman with a big heart. I thought that was important to do with this film, I thought it was very key to sort of spread that statement of acceptance of girl characters and queer characters. Also, at the same time, not make a big deal out of it. This is not a “coming out” film at all, but several queer activists have told us that it’s radical and it has such a positive representation of a queer relationship. I don’t think it should be radical anymore, but it is a little bit. I hope that in just a few years it ceases to be radical and is just mainstream. 

LW: I think the phrase ‘understatedly radical’ sums up exactly how the film is, and sums up to why I loved it so much. And, as a LGBT film critic, I can personally attest to just how wonderful and refreshing the representation was in this film, and that’s definitely to be commended, so thank you for that. I know in terms of the way the story breaks down, it takes place over three consecutive Fridays, and I was curious as to what affect that has on the plot, or what greater significance that had to the story? 

Haapasalo: Truth be told, I think that was a key moment in the writing stages, because it was very difficult to find the balance between the main characters. They’re all main characters, but two of them are best friends, and two of them become lovers. And then, the best friend has a separate story. So it was difficult to find a good balance. It was years into the writing process that we discovered the writing structure of three Fridays, and then everything started to fall into place.

As a director, I was so thrilled to work with that structure, because in a way it’s kind of porous, as you don’t have to constantly explain things. You can just cut five days into the future, and then people are shocked and they have to peel from the scenes what has happened within those five days, and I just completely loved that. It also allowed us the time to really concentrate on the characters and their emotions and explorations. You know nothing necessary of their lives. You have no idea of any other thing, but I don’t think that matters, because they are such specific characters, largely thanks to the collaborative work and the specificity that the cast works. You don’t have to explain too much, because it’s all in the work that Elonoora, Linnea, and Aamu [Milonoff, who plays Mimmi] do. That structure was very, very key for the story to work. Also, I love the idea that Linnea pointed out earlier, that this is just a fragment of their lives. That becomes very clear with the form of the three Fridays. I’m a bit of a formalist, so it’s inspiring to me to have a very clear form for the story to happen within. 

LW: For my final question, did your experience on this film help you take away any key things that you might look for in an upcoming project? 

Haapasalo: They want to work with me in the future. 

Leino: We just want to do all the work that Alli gets to do. 

Haapasalo: And I only want to cast you. 

Leino: A bit boring, only the same cast! No, I’d love it. For me, it was exciting because I got to build the character for a long time because of the ice skating training that I did with my coach, so it was a really interesting way to get to build the character. To get to know one of the most important parts of the character, the ice skating, for the character of Emma, so that’s something that I’d love to do in the future. To get to really work and get to really know the character before doing the film again would be really lovely. 

Kauhanen: I’d say the same thing. Also, we had a great intimacy coordinator and I think it was good for my first film that I had an intimacy coordinator. My character has a lot of intimate scenes, but it was so well done. We had a whole day of introduction on how that would be done; it was just very safe and easy. In the scenes, I wasn’t nervous at all, because I knew what I was going to do. I have a dancing background, so it was familiar for me to do the choreography first. It also taught me that intimacy in scenes isn’t just sex scenes, it can be a kissing scene, or even if you have like a wet shirt or something. That’s something I’ve been able to put in my other work and request for an intimacy coordinator or a separate time to do scenes not in front of everybody. So, that’s something I think I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life in future projects – that I have this knowledge and I can request it, and also educate why it’s so important and why it helps to make things more safe and more believable. 

Haapasalo: I didn’t learn anything, I do the same thing every time. No, I’m kidding. No, it was a good process. It was a really collaborative, very, very nice process, and my artistic team was just out of this world. This was a dream project artistically. I have a pretty specific method that I like to work in, and it’s a very inclusive one. Like Linnea pointed out, the casting process took three months at a time. I really enjoy that. For me, that’s the most thrilling part. It would be really boring to come on set or rehearsals and just explain what’s in my head. I’m much more excited to hear what’s in everyone else’s head, and then letting the magic of collaboration happen. So, I think I’m gonna stick to that, because it works. 

Kauhanen: It’s so great. She really created this atmosphere where you didn’t feel like ‘I’m the actor, and that’s the crew, and they’re separate.’ It felt like we were doing this together. And she really emphasized, ‘I’m not just director and above you, we’re a team.’ Also, the care and time she took in to explore the characters, and showing us the scenery and mood boards, and we watched reference films together and talked about it. The time and effort, and everything Alli put into it was just amazing. 

Leino: We were super lucky!

Haapasalo: It works when people are willing to jump and do it. So, thanks is to all of you guys, as well. There might not be people who want to do all that, they just want to do their lines and go home. But, I think films are better when everybody is very invested, and everybody here was very invested. 

Girl Picture is now playing in select theaters and is also available on PVOD.
You can also check out Oscar Central’s review of the film here

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