The neo-noir thriller Gemini, directed by Aaron Katz and starring Lola Kirke, John Cho, and Zoë Kravitz, was filmed during the 2016 presidential campaign — and released on March 30, 2018. Kirke stars as Jill, personal assistant/best friend to famous actress Heather (Zoë Kravitz). After a night out, Jill leaves Heather alone for a few hours — and when she returns, she finds Heather’s body. When the lead investigator on the case, Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho), makes it clear that she’s the prime suspect, Jill goes on the run and tries to figure out who killed Heather.
Underneath this story, though, is an exploration of fame and power. When I sat down with them for an interview before Gemini’s release earlier this week, Katz, Kirke and Cho agreed that Gemini looks very different from this side of the election.
To begin can you tell me where the idea for Gemini came from?
Aaron Katz: It was a lot of threads coming together. One of those was wanting to make a movie that reflected my love for Los Angeles. Another was watching a lot of thrillers from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Another was being curious about the relationship between an assistant and the person they’re working for, that very porous line between the professional and personal. And then what brought it all together was seeing Mistress America and seeing this amazing actor that I wanted to work with.
Lola Kirke: My agent called me and was like “This guy wrote a movie for you.” And I was like, “Oh?” I really loved the genre that it was working within, and I thought it was really exciting to have a woman be a Philip Marlowe-detective-type. I also think that fame and the way that it operates in society is something that’s always worth investigating, especially in the Trump era. Which we didn’t know was going to happen.
You filmed it right before Trump?
Aaron Katz: Yeah. It’s really weird to think back to what feels like another era, but it was less than two years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about the last scene, where one person has a platform to speak her version of the truth, and there are two people who are observers who have different versions of the truth. I think that scene is, if anything, even more relevant now than it was when we shot it.
Was it surreal to be filming a story that involves paparazzi and creepy fans?
Lola Kirke: Not really, though I do have a funny thing. My email for a really long time was a very simple, straightforward email. And people would tell me, “You’re going to have to change that soon, people will figure that out!” And I was like, “Oh no, they’re not.” And then one day I got this email that was like, “I’m such a huge fan of you.” And I was like, “Yes, yes!” and I changed my email. Then one day I was looking back and realized I had written to her before. So that’s my only creepy stalker story, and it doesn’t exist.
Lola, I read that you suggested Zoë for the celebrity role. Did the two of you know each other beforehand?
Lola Kirke: Yeah, we’re old friends. It’s always fun to work with people who you have natural chemistry with.
Aaron Katz: The way I like to do scenes is we shoot the whole thing from beginning to end, so there’s space for Lola and Zoë to take these fictional circumstances at face value and live in them. The cameras would stop rolling, and they’d be joking around and riffing on stuff, and some of that stuff would make it into the scene. Like there’s a Jonathan Taylor Thomas reference.
John and Lola, did you two know each other in advance?
John Cho: We did not.
Lola Kirke: I was his personal assistant.
John Cho: We severed our relationship just prior to filming. [laughs] That was one of the gifts, getting to know the Lola experience as we did the movie and press.
Did you do any avoiding each other on set or anything, because your characters are so antagonistic to each other?
John Cho: No, I’m not that serious of an actor. To tell you how unprofessional I am, I was doing a bit where I was tipping everyone with the fake money from a scene. I would roll up a bill and tip someone. And I kept doing it. It was funny, and then it was not funny, and then it got funny again.
You mentioned that Trump’s election changed how you saw the way fame is shown in this movie. For me, I noticed the gun element: the action all goes back to this gun that Lola’s character should not have. Is that something that’s changed for you when you look back now?
Lola Kirke: I didn’t even think of it because guns are something we see in films all the time, which is part of the issue. It’s really somber on set when a gun is brought in, because you have to do all this training and there’s a special gun handler. Which, thank god, because whenever I see a gun, I don’t want to be near that. It’s very rare that we’re faced with our own mortality and how fragile it is.
Aaron Katz: It’s this object that can just end a life at a moment’s notice. I think the film does become a reflection on that idea.
John Cho: It doesn’t even require intent. In contrast to so many other movies with guns, this movie treats a gun like I do in real life: I see a gun and I think, “Danger!” In the movie, the instant we’re introduced to the gun, we know that this is a thing that can kill. In that way, I think it’s very accurate.
My father told me this story. He used to be a soldier in the Korean army, and he had to carry a gun at all times. He was in a restaurant or a bar, and there was a very belligerent drunk man. He recalls being overwhelmed with the temptation to use the gun to pacify this man. He said it was too tempting to use the gun, and that’s when he thought no one should have guns. Because it becomes an option, and once you have the option, who knows what will happen.
Aaron Katz: The movie isn’t meant to be explicitly political, but I do think it does have everything to do with what we’ve been saying.
At the center of the story is this very close, kind of toxic female friendship between Jill and Heather. Was there anything you looked to for inspiration for that?
Lola Kirke: It’s interesting to hear the friendship described as toxic, because for me — and maybe this is the same for Jill — I don’t think she realizes that it’s toxic until the end of the movie. She’s just like, "This is my best friend!" The film comments really well on the way power structures reflect personal relationships and the power. John created this term I love, “self-infantilization,” which means you have to be powerful in order to choose not to be not powerful.
John Cho: If, for example, you like to get peed on in hotels in Russia.
Lola Kirke: You can’t just be like, “Pee on me!” You have to have money to pay someone.
John Cho: In a way, the villain of the movie is, perhaps, fame.
Lola Kirke: And how that system of fame strips consequences away from people.
this interview has been edited and condensed
still images from Gemini, courtesy of Neon
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