The dramatic film Gimme Shelter starring Vanessa Hudgens tells the story of a desperate pregnant teenager in search of her birth father who ends up at a shelter for teens who have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. The incredible part of the film is that although Hudgens’ character ‘Apple’ is a composite of many different girls, the woman who runs the shelter (Kathy DiFiore, played by Ann Dowd) really exists and gave the writer/director of the film, Ron Krauss, permission and to tell the story of her work. She also granted him access to the shelter itself. I got a chance to interview both Krauss and DiFiore about the making of the film:
How did Vanessa Hudgens become your choice to play Apple in the film?
Ron Krauss: “She got a hold of the script and was passionate about playing the role. Originally, I wanted an unknown to play Apple. I auditioned and filmed 10 girls and I was leaning towards Vanessa because I thought she was the most convincing, but I felt it was important to get the girls from the shelter’s input so I had them watch the auditions and they all picked Vanessa. Now remember these are girls who had no idea who she was; they’re not familiar with her work on the Disney films and television shows.”
Why did you feel compelled to tell this story about the shelter?
Ron Krauss: “Because it’s really a story about family and compassion. There are at least 750,000 teenage girls in shelters in this country and I wanted to shed a light on an incredible woman who was making a real difference in some of these girls’ lives. Kathy’s shelter is a mile away from my brother’s house. When I first approached her about maybe doing a documentary on her work and the shelter, she said no. But when we talked about doing a feature film and to show the work and how it makes a difference in these young girls’ lives and how they become each other’s family, she agreed to the movie.”
I’m curious why you decided to focus the film on the character of Apple instead of telling Kathy’s story and making her the main character?
Ron Krauss: “That’s a really great question. The answer is because that was how Kathy wanted it. She didn’t what the film to tell her story but rather to focus on the work and help the shelter provides for the girls. She wanted the audience to see how the shelter and the work brings people together.”
In the film James Earl Jones plays Father Frank McCarthy who helps Apple get to the shelter. Talk a little about working with him.
Ron Krauss: “He’s amazing. The real Father McCarthy is a very compassionate man and Mr. Jones conveys so wonderfully the fatherly spirit and kindness of the man. He becomes Apple’s first teacher and first real friend that she learns she can count on.”
Getting back to Vanessa in the role of Apple, this is a real change for her to play someone so gritty, lost and helpless. How did she prepare for the role?
Ron Krauss: “She took the work extremely seriously. She lived in the shelter for three weeks and stayed with the girls and really became one of the girls. She had to learn the rules and just live with them and take in as much as she could. We filmed the movie in one of the actual shelters. Kathy has five now. Vanessa said it took a real toll on her and touched her heart far more than she was expecting. It took her months to become herself again.”
What do you want people who see the film to come away with when they leave the theatre?
Ron Krauss: “That we’re all connected and we all need to get involved with helping one another. Like I said before, it’s a film about compassion, hope, family, and bringing people together. It’s not a movie…it’s a movement.”
So Kathy, how do you feel about the film? Are you pleased with it?
Kathy DiFiore: “The film is opening a new phase of my life. To be honest, it’s a little bit intimidating. But, yes, it’s a masterpiece. For 35 years I kept the real world out of the work we were doing for the girls at the shelter to protect them, and I trusted Ron to get it right and he did. Gimme Shelter was made to help people change their lives for the better.”
What’s next for you?
Kathy DiFiore: “I’m putting out a book called Gimme Love, Gimme Hope, Gimme Shelter – The Making of the Film. It tells the story of nine other ‘Apples’ and it describes their development.”
For more information on the movie and the shelters, visit Gimmeshelterthemovie.com.
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