EXCLUSIVE: Actress and producer Trudie Styler makes her feature directorial debut with Freak Show which is world premiering in the Generation 14plus section at the Berlin Film Festival today. Alex Lawther stars with Bette Midler, Abigail Breslin, Laverne Cox and AnnaSophia Robb in the story that’s based on James St James’ novel about school bullying and wearing your inner freak with pride. Check out an exclusive clip above.
Lawther plays Billy Bloom, a boldly confident and eccentric teenager who faces intolerance and persecution at his ultra-conservative high school, and decides to fight back on behalf of all the misunderstood freaks of the world. Midler is the mother who ships him off from his fabulous life in Connecticut to live with his dad (Larry Pine) in the south where he finds himself up against ultimate mean girl Lynette (Breslin) in a battle of tolerance versus ignorance as he runs for homecoming queen.
Styler and producing partner Celine Rattray’s Maven Pictures produces Freak Show with Flower Films. The movie at one point “found itself without a director,” Styler explains. At that point, she says she asked if she could be considered because she knew the project so well. It has particular resonance for her given she experienced bullying first-hand as a child.
Styler says bullying is “such an ordinary evil” now and is often ignored in schools “so you have kids who are isolated and victimized. The movie is about how as a teenager you are at your most vulnerable because you are trying to figure out who you are.”
She calls the film “heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time” but cautions that it’s also a mirror image of what is happening in the U.S. right now “where I do believe we have a president who has bullying behavior and that’s mirrored all around the world.”
Quietly confident in her start behind the camera, Styler still sought out guidance from others. “I had an amazing array of directors that I took masterclasses with over dinner,” she tells me, citing Cary Fukunaga, Steve Zallian and Paul Haggis. “It was a dream list of advisers to a rookie director.”