IN HER LATEST FILM, THE LOST GIRLS (OUT JUNE 17), LONDON-BASED WRITER/DIRECTOR/ACTRESS LIVIA DE PAOLIS RETELLS THE STORY OF PETER PAN FROM THE FEMALE CHARACTERS’ PERSPECTIVES. THE FILM ADAPTATION OF WRITER LAURIE FOX’S NOVEL FOLLOWS FOUR GENERATIONS OF WENDY DARLING’S FAMILY AS THEY FOLLOW THEIR ADVENTURES IN NEVERLAND. HERE, THE ITALIAN AMERICAN MULTIHYPHENATE DISCUSSES THE IMPORTANCE OF TELLING STORIES FROM A DIFFERENT POINT OF VIEW—AND THE OBSTACLES CONFRONTING WOMEN BEHIND THE CAMERA.
How did you first get introduced to the story of The Lost Girls? I read the book by Laurie Fox in 2003 and I always had a strong fascination for Peter Pan—my favorite [stories] were Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. At that time, I kind of took a sabbatical; I went to Mexico for a while… I had a bit of a Neverland [adventure] and the book stayed with me. I remember giving the original copy I had purchased to a friend of mine, then bought another one, then gave that to another girlfriend. Finally, I bought a third, then after [that] made [my first feature film] Emoticon.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF VERTICAL ENTERTAINMENT/© SMITTEN BARKS LIMITED 2021
What inspired you to depict this multigenerational fairy tale through film? I think it’s always good for women to tell their version of the story. The way we tell the story [of Peter Pan]—the paradigm according to which this hero’s journey has been told—is very much from [the hero’s perspective]. The way we [as women] go through our experience is a little bit different.
Why was it important for you to retell a classic fairy tale from a woman’s perspective? This is Laurie Fox’s—the writer of the book’s—idea. But that said, it is important to look at culture and the way in which [things like] fairy tales have been written primarily by men, because they were the ones who [historically] could get an education. Inevitably, a world that is centered on men is portrayed. There’s Wendy, of course, but she’s almost like the love interest. Typical Hollywood situation, right? And I’m like, OK, can we not look at women as the love interest? Can we look at women as the protagonist of this story? And if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?
PHOTO: BY JEMIMA MARIOTT
You wrote, directed and starred in the film as Wendy Darling. Why did you want to take on the adult role of Wendy? This is not autobiographical, but in a way the story is so personal. And I did write it for myself. … I started writing in 2015 and I finally made the movie five years later. When you spend so much time with the material, and then the writing... I kind of workshopped certain things in, so the character was pretty much created out of me.
Tell us about your cast. Due to COVID restrictions, you had to pivot and find new actors—the end result is a tour de force with Vanessa Redgrave (Wendy’s grandmother), Joely Richardson (Wendy’s mother), Emily Carey (young Wendy) and Ella Rae-Smith (Wendy’s daughter). Originally, I had Emma Thompson attached to the film but she was in lockdown in Venice. But in the end, I love the cast and I am happy. I actually feel that [the pivot] gave me the opportunity to explore a completely different setup with the family. I am very happy with the film, so it all worked out.
Why do you think being a female director is something we’re still talking about? In 2014, when Emoticon was distributed, I was asked to do a blog entry for Women In Film and IndieWire. I talked about something that is just now starting to surface, which is competition between women. It’s still a bit taboo, but… [if] we could actually overcome that, we’re going to be fine. It’s still something that’s not so talked about. It makes me look like someone that has a chip—that’s what I was told that 2014. It is true though and it doesn’t help anybody. I have the feeling that younger generations are getting better.