Freida Pinto & Teresa Palmer Spill On Self-Discovery And Terrence Malick
The notes I took while watching Knight of Cups, the latest film from visionary director Terrence Malick, look like the scribblings of someone on opiates. Part of that comes from the fact that I was blindly writing in a darkened theater, but even the words and phrases themselves seem disjointed. “Where did I go wrong?” I wrote. “Everyone whispers. Even pillows are bad.” Reading them back now, I find myself wondering, what the hell was I talking about?
And yet, it’s these broken up, disconnected notes that seem to best qualify the film. Knight of Cups serves up a heavy dose of L.A. existentialism, following screenwriter Rick (played by Christian Bale) as he desperately tries to find love and meaning in a subculture infamous for its superficiality. An “experience film,” Knight of Cups seems to be driven as much by the actors’ in-the-moment decisions as it is by Malick’s keen directorship.
Set to release on March 4th, the film is divvied up into eight chapters, each profiling a different love interest and, like the movie itself, named after a tarot card. We caught up with two of the movie’s muses, Freida Pinto—who plays Helen, a graceful model—and Teresa Palmer—who plays Karen, a fun-loving stripper—to talk mysticism, working alongside Terrence Malick, the Oscars, and the perfect comfort foods for a heavy film.
Knight of Cups is framed around tarot cards. Do either of you have an interest in that type of mysticism?
FP: I don’t have an issue with it, but I haven’t done it. As soon as you set a certain expectation with the future in mind, your mind reels in ways that are not necessarily useful in the present. So I haven’t particularly sought mysticism out, but I’m interested in hearing about other people’s experiences.
TP: In our household, we don’t have tarot cards, but we have these angel cards that I use with my kids. They love it so much because we go through them and pick out three angel cards that’ll be representative of the day. My oldest son used to have nightmares, so we’d do the angel cards before bed and talk about how the angels that he picks are his guardians. They’re going to spend the night with him, and he’s no longer afraid. But angel cards are about as far as I’ll go with it.
From everything I’ve read about the movie, it sounds like Malick’s direction was hands off and nontraditional. What was your experience on set?
F: It was definitely a very unconventional style of filmmaking, but it wasn’t a style I was closed to. I wanted to experience a liberating style of just going with the flow. Not even necessarily having a script. Playing off of ideas—just saying things and seeing what kind of reaction I’d get from Rick’s character, or the kind of reaction he could get out of me.
“Because this is going to be an experience film for the audience, all I’m going to say is go into it with an open mind.”
But it’s also such an exploration of self. There’s a lot that you learn about yourself while filming. It’s hard to explain the actual experience of filming Knight of Cups because in that moment it’s an experience that you are feeling as opposed to feelings that you are writing down. And feelings, as you know, are hard to explain. You could say, “I love somebody,” and “love” could mean a million different things. It could mean “I love the way he smells,” or, “I love the way the words that come out of his mouth make me feel.” Because this is going to be an experience film for the audience, all I’m going to say is go into it with an open mind.
Teresa, your character’s chapter is called “The High Priestess,” whose card refers to Catholicism and the papacy. I know you grew up in a religious household, so I wonder if you brought any of that to the role?
T: No. [Laughs] Not at all. I did grow up in an extremely religious household, but I feel like I didn’t bring anything specific to the role apart from being in the moment. I really enjoy delving into these parts of myself that are a little untethered, a little wild, a little adventurous, and that was what was so exciting. I’m playing all facets of myself—delving into this edgier side of me was something interesting and different. I really love that, it was challenging and liberating at the same time. I just thoroughly enjoyed my experience.
Freida, your character was, in a sense, biographical because you used to model. How did the role come up? Was it tailored to you in any way, or did you have to adapt to it?
F: I was very surprised when I was asked to model because, initially, the character that Terry had in mind was a singer. He had a certain title for all these characters, and he thought I was a singer in the first couple of pages that he gave me. Then I arrived and said I didn’t sing, and the next day they said, “We’re going to do this scene where you’re going to be modeling.” I was like “Oh! Okay, that’s quite far removed from what I was given on paper.” The next thing you know, I was dancing on the rooftop of the Avalon Hotel. So, yeah, maybe he was aware of the fact that I had modeled previously.
“Modeling is not something I necessarily enjoyed… I just found it to be hard to deal with that kind of underhanded or direct verbal abuse.”
Modeling is not something I necessarily enjoyed. It’s a very personal feeling—no disrespect to other models. I just found it to be hard to deal with that kind of underhanded or direct verbal abuse, the kind of constant criticism and judgment. But, with the character of Helen, the new thing I could inject is that—in the present, where I am right now—I feel a lot more settled with who I am and what I want to do. So Helen is not a person who will necessarily model for the rest of her life. She’s constantly transient, going from one thing to another. That’s how she’s exploring life and herself in it.
Did you all see the Oscars?
F: Yeah, it just reminded me of what a fun experience it was many years ago when I was a part of it. I was really happy that Leo won.
T: And Brie Larson. She’s so brilliant.
F: Oh yeah! And Brie. There’s something so inspirational about that girl. Besides being brilliant she’s such a hard worker. Her film Short Term 12, which I hope a lot of people have seen, came from these young writers who were not famous in the industry, but she lent herself to the project and made it what it was. Very happy for her.
T: Brie’s such a chameleon. She’s been phenomenal in all the different films that she’s done. Different genres, too. I’ve seen her in comedies, in dramas, in all sorts of things, and I think she has such a strong essence about her. She portrays strong female characters so beautifully. It’s a testament to her own spirit. Whenever I spend time with her I leave feeling smarter, very inspired, and proactive. That’s just the sort of person she is. I feel really happy for the success that she’s getting.
The movie itself is pretty heavy and existential. With that being said, what are your favorite comfort foods?
T: [laughs] Comfort foods? Quesadilla, guacamole and chips.
F: I love spicy food, so anything that has just the right amount of spice in it that makes you cry is amazing.
Not to press, but I love spicy food. Any specific dish?
F: Oh God…Anything with chili flakes. Okay, I love eggs, but I can’t do eggs without Tabasco.
Check out Knight of Cups, in theaters March 4th.
Stay tuned to Milk for more Hollywood insanity.
Original art by Kathryn Chadason.