“You just don’t murder people. That’s just something you don’t do.”
That was Stephanie Beatriz in an interview with CutPrintFilm following the incredibly affecting premiere of her new movie at the SXSW Conference, The Light of the Moon. There’s a social expectation that you don’t go around killing people. If you do, there’s an expected price to pay. Rape, on the other hand, is shrugged off and often left to victim blaming.
“You don’t murder people, you don’t rape people. We’re not living in a world where that’s the truth,” Beatriz said to punctuate her point.
Director Jessica M. Thompson noted that one in five women in the United States alone will be raped in their lifetime, including two of her friends. This spawned the idea behind this film, which follows a survivor, Bonnie (Beatriz) and how her relationships with others, and most importantly with herself, are affected.
“It’s not a particularly flashy, sexy story,” Beatriz said. “But it’s so human and it’s so specific. I’m always interested in stories that are super specific but then become hugely human. They become all encompassing.”
That’s what attracted Beatriz to the project, seeing its Linklater-like style after Thompson first handed her the script. It was difficult selling some people on Beatriz in the leading role, since her most prominent role to date was in four seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, where she plays the hilariously stone cold Rosa Diaz. Yet Thompson was sold on Beatriz because of this, not in spite of it.
“She’s a strong, assertive, funny woman. And from seeing her on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I saw that she had that,” Thompson reflected. “I had a feeling before I saw her reel that she had range and had this dramatic side.”
Not only was Thompson certain Beatriz had a dramatic side, a theory confirmed by Beatriz’s background performing Shakespeare and working other dialogue-heavy theater, but Beatriz is also a “fabulous Latina lady.” Thompson said she feels there aren’t enough roles for women of color, and creating this role for someone in need of a first true leading performance made Beatriz a perfect match — one that’s capable of the real tears this role requires. That was something Beatriz proved in her first screen credit in an episode of The Closer.
But despite the real tears Beatriz sheds throughout the film, she said she was always aware that none of the story was actually happening to her. She’s only giving life to Bonnie, not experiencing the real emotional and physical pain caused by her assault.
“I hope that I’m able to channel something that seems real. I hope that I’m able to access some deep pain that other women and men have gone through,” Beatriz said about the difficulty of shooting the rape scene that happens in the first 15 minutes of the film. “I have a very vivid imagination and it’s been that way since I was a kid. But it’s nothing compared to the pain of really going there.”
While the rape scene wasn’t particularly difficult for Beatriz to film — she and Thompson actually had to keep the set’s mood high going into it with some levity — it was a painful experience for her acting partner and fictional attacker. It was something he would never do in real life, but with the help of a fight consultant to choreograph it like both a fight and a dance scene, the process was made as intimate as possible and kept Beatriz completely safe at all times.
“You slide into the pretend and the world becomes what it is in that moment,” Beatriz recounted. “Your brain almost splits into two pieces. You’re aware Jess is over there with a camera. You’re aware all of this is fake, yet you’re letting your soul go as real as it can. That’s what the camera catches the best. When you really pretend, I think that’s where the good stuff comes out.”
The emotional roller-coaster for Bonnie that follows as her longtime relationship with Matt (played by Michael Stahl-David of Cloverfield fame) spirals in and out of control were some of the more painful moments.
Beatriz said she remembers first getting to know Stahl-David, going out in New York and taking pictures to hang up around the set. When she was watching the premiere, she said she saw one of the photos from that night and her vivid imagination went back and drew up how that memory was created, ultimately what relationships boil down to, “All you have is a picture left.”
It was creating backstories like that which made the last fight scene with Bonnie and Matt the most difficult scene to shoot. With her experience in theater, it wasn’t the uncut scenes that emulated how Jesse and Céline would have talked following the same experience in Before Sunset, that were the hardest for Beatriz. Instead, the most painful scene was the final fight with Matt, because of how hard it is to break up with someone you care about.
Not everyone has gone through a traumatic experience like Bonnie, but people can at least draw from their own experience in difficult relationships.
“The meat of the film is her relationships with the people in life and her relationship with herself,” Beatriz said. “Ultimately, that’s the biggest thing that happens to a rape survivor, dealing with themselves after the fact, loving themselves after.”