Justine Bateman interview: ‘Violet’ director/writer
“Years ago, I made a lot of fear-based decisions” admits Justine Bateman, who makes her feature directorial debut with “Violet,” which she also wrote and which stars Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey and Justin Theroux. “Once I found a map to get from living that kind of life to life that’s more instinct-based, I really wanted to pass that map on to others,” Bateman explains. “I wish I had this map back then. Every day, I endeavor to become more and more myself, and eventually be completely confident and not make any decisions based in fear. That’s my goal, that’s my life,” she says. Watch our exclusive video interview with Bateman above.
For the Relativity film, the titular character Violet (Munn) works for a successful movie production company. On the face of it, she appears to have it all, but underneath the surface she struggles with crippling anxiety that is amplified by the non-stop voice in her head (Theroux) that puts her down, shames her, berates her and tells her what to do and what not to do. The film is often uncomfortable because Violet’s daily struggle is so recognizable, as it contemplates how anxiety and this paralyzing fear of failure ultimately holds you back and suffocates you; asking its audience, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Bateman is light years away from playing Mallory Keaton on the classic 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” for which she received two Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Supporting Actress (1986 and 1987). After spending years as a working actor and then writing (including two best-selling books), she was ready to write and direct her first feature. “What’s going to be my first film if the world ended?,” she asks rhetorically. For her, the answer was about a theme close to her heart. “If fear is not a component, then people can truly become themselves,” she explains about the underlying message in “Violet.” “I feel like when everybody is really truly themselves, it would be heaven on earth. I think people individually would feel completely fulfilled, I think we all then benefit.”
Bateman employs a novel and immersive visual aesthetic to propel the film’s narrative, including disturbing subliminal images, on-screen text that highlights Violet’s inner desires, and moments where the screen saturates into a deep red when Violet’s anxiety spirals out of control. Perhaps the most effective storytelling device however is Theroux’s jarring voiceover, as Violet’s self-destructive inner voice.
The writer/director says she intentionally wanted the voice to be played by a man and not by Munn herself. “The thing that made the biggest difference for me when I was transitioning from a fear-based life to an instinct-based life was reacting to these negative thoughts as if somebody else was saying them to me,” she explains. “I wouldn’t immediately absorb it is as fact. So, because that helps me so much to get perspective on these negative thoughts and see them objectively, I wanted to do that for the audience, so the voice is as different from Olivia’s as possible so that that it would maybe set up in their own minds like, what if someone else was saying this to me how would I react to it then?”