Interview With Donna Deitch

AE: This is different from the other one.
Totally different. ‘Cause when I did the first one, somebody from the distribution company was kind of interviewing me, and I was very disappointed with the way it came out initially. So what I did is I really spent some time thinking about the making of the movie because I wanted it to be informational and give people a real idea of the process of how this movie was made from beginning to end. So I watched the movie over and over again, and I just really wrote down all my thoughts and really thought it through, so this new commentary really tells you the whole story of the making of the movie.

AE: So is that why you decided to put out another DVD? To do more background on it?
Well, what happened is that the rights came back to me after 20 years, and so I had an opportunity to put out a brand-new DVD, and I thought, since I was now going to go with Wolfe Video — because I had previously been with MGM — that it would be a good opportunity to reach out to an existing and new audience with a brand-new DVD.

And it was exciting to me to revisit it, you know, with the actors. We’ve never had occasion where we sat down in a room and specifically talked about the making of this movie. And this was opportunity to do that. … It was like a little trip down memory lane. … Sometimes you see actors or hear actors talking in a DVD with the director, but that’s usually like a year or so after the film has come out because that’s when the DVD comes out. So these are conversations with a 21-year perspective.

AE: So, we’ve already talked a little about the love scene. At the time, obviously there hadn’t been any love scenes quite like this in a film. Why did you decide to go for it at that point? It was very early in your career; did you think it was a really risky thing to do?
No. I thought it was the normal thing to do. I mean, basically I did it because I wanted to see it. Everything came from that motivation. What I did in the film was what I wanted to see in the film. And I wasn’t really thinking about risk or — it seemed natural, that this is how these people would be in bed, and that’s what I wanted to show.

But I also knew in order to get that chemistry and get that heat and all of that, that I’d have to cast for it, and I needed to see two actresses in the room together, reading. See, this is something that never happens in a Hollywood film, because stars don’t read together. It’s very, very rare. A star might read with somebody who’s not [a star] to test them out, but even that is fairly unusual, because stars don’t come to casting sessions.

AE: I’ve read that the casting process was difficult.
The casting was difficult, yeah. Ultimately, I still feel I found the perfect people to play those parts. In the beginning, it was difficult because in that era … a lot of people didn’t want to be in the film. And these were people who were not necessarily just [there] to audition for the two lead parts. There were other parts that people refused to come in to audition for because they just didn’t want to be in a film with this subject matter.

AE: You’ve said that you’ve gotten a lot of feedback about this movie over the years, and a lot of women have told you that it inspired them to come out. How do you feel about that?
I love that! We all like to do our part, you know. [Laughs.]

AE: How many toaster ovens do you have?
[Laughs.] Well people used to say to me, when it first came out, when it was running in the theaters … that those were the best pickup lines in town. So that was all, of course, quite thrilling to me. For instance in New York, at the Third Avenue Cinema —that’s where it first opened, that was a great pickup line. Or in Los Angeles at Goldwyn where it showed in West Los Angeles, people were cruising the line, and it was great!

AE: Obviously, Desert Hearts jump-started your career, but what’s one thing that the film really changed for you?
What it did for me, I think, was that it gave me a 21-year yearning to get back to it. [Laughs.] And that’s only just beginning to manifest now, because it’s been sort of like a back-burner project all of these years, to do a sequel to Desert Hearts. The experience of making a film that comes from you as opposed to directing a film for hire — it’s just quite a different experience, and so I’ve had this yearning all these years to get back to it, but I’ve been otherwise occupied, working, and I’m finally onto it now.

AE: Onto the sequel?
Onto the sequel. Writing the sequel.

AE: Really? So the long-rumored sequel is actually going to happen?
It’s actually going to happen.

AE: Can you tell me about it?
I’m a little reluctant to talk about the story and the setting, because when you’re in the middle of writing something like that, it’s kind of hard to talk about it ’cause you’re not quite certain, you know.

But it’s going to be some time later, and it’s going to not only be about … these characters, it’s going to expand into new characters as well. I envision actually more than one Desert Hearts sequel, ’cause I’m thinking about making several of them. Since this one was in the late ’50s, I have some room to move around here, right? And I think it’s time for me to get off my day job and get on with doing this, because I can see several sequels, and then I can see sort of a sci-fi [one].

AE: Really?
Yeah, I think that’s all doable. That’s kind of how I’m envisioning it, but at the moment I’m just writing the next one.

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