Horoscopes Are Deadly in Neon-Soaked Murder Mystery 'Gemini'
We talked to Lola Kirke, John Cho, and Aaron Katz about creating the seedy celebrity world of their new film.
Zoë Kravitz as Heather Anderson in Gemini. Photo courtesy of NEON
From an early pan of twilit palm trees to scenes of rocky shorelines and greasy spoons, Aaron Katz’s Gemini presents Los Angeles as a glam-noir hillscape of psychological whiplash. It's a slicker Vertigo made for the modern era. The film is Katz's first to offer serious star power—Zoë Kravitz, Lola Kirke, and John Cho—which is fitting given its themes of privacy, fame, and entitlement.
Gemini follows Jill Lebeau (Kirke) as she morphs from a homey celebrity personal assistant to superstar Heather Anderson (Kravitz) into a platinum sleuth on the run from the law. On one level, Gemini plays like a traditional murder mystery, with John Cho turning up mid-way as the solicitous Detective Edward Ahn. But the real thrills come less from the story and more from the chemistry that Kirke generates with the rest of the cast. She is at once Heather’s bestie and loyal bodyguard, and both target and rival of Detective Ahn. By the end of the film, she remains a kind of cipher, as sympathetic as she is enigmatic.
Katz—who also wrote the film—tempers Gemini’s overt style with grounded conversations that betray his mumblecore roots (Dance Party, USA and Quiet City). As Heather and Jill banter over the merits of Seventeen magazine and a lone Mello Yello waiting to be mixed with St. Germaine, their obvious comfort with each other sometimes adopts subtle erotic undertones. The fact that Heather is being hounded by the paparazzi for a fling with pop star Tracy (Greta Lee) further mires their romantic possibilities in a way that reminds one of how queerness can still jeopardize a film career.
Ultimately, amidst its doppelgänger intrigue and a narrative as twisted as the streets of the Hollywood Hills, Gemini applies whodunit logic to today's social-media driven celebrity moment, exposing its victims without ever fully critiquing the culture itself.
VICE spoke with Katz, Kirke, and Cho on the phone about the film, which hits theaters in New York City on March 30. Here's an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead.
VICE: From the title on, the concept of twins and doubling utterly fills this film. At times, it feels a bit like Hitchcock. Were you influenced by a specific movie of his?
Aaron Katz: Interesting. I actually wasn’t thinking too much about Hitchcock or that era of filmmaking when writing the script. I was more thinking of 80s and 90s thrillers—like Single White Female—but these may be riffing off Hitchcock. I was also thinking of the detective literature of the 30s and 40s, which often involved people who looked like one another, or bodies that are not found or identified properly, which of course means that body is going to come back in ways that may or may not surprise people.
What was the catalyst behind the "twinning" concept for you?
Katz: We definitely wanted to reflect some different ways that the title applies to different characters in the movie. Lola, was the script called Gemini when you first got it?
Lola Kirke: No, it was called Heather! A twin to the movie Heathers. [Laughs]
Katz: But that title was confusing—because we didn’t want this movie to seem in any way related to that movie. My movie revolves around Heather Anderson and the evolving relationship that Jill has with her—and the imbalance of power that shifts throughout the movie. I tried to change the name, but nothing else felt right. Then our director of photography, Andrew Reed, suggested something astrological—something that sounds like a Showtime movie you might see late at night in the early 90s. With Gemini, we realized there are all these different ways and layers that you can interpret that title—and ultimately it’s a stronger concept.
The Gemini symbol not only becomes a clue at the end, but connects to the ambiguity in the relationship between Jill and Heather. Lola, I got this wonderful tension between the two of you, and wondered how you cultivated your characters offset.
Kirke: It was kind of funny because Zoë was shooting Big Little Lies while she was making Gemini. Aaron and I would be working really hard and she would come on and do her day and then leave and go back and be fabulous. In a way this achieved precisely the dynamic of “Zoë has a lot of things to do and we don’t." [Laughs] That’s also what you see with Heather onscreen.
Katz: Yeah, like, “Zoë has Yves Saint Laurent parties to go to.”
Kirke: And then she had to go on tour in the middle of the movie. Like, “You have one take and then I’m leaving.” [Laughs] Of course, I’m kidding. Zoë was amazing. I think it was a testament to her excitement about the movie that she did it at all because it was not that easy for her to do it.
Katz: One thing the three of us also did was spend a lot of time together before we actually shot the movie. We would just sit around and talk about movies and talk about these characters. And I would rewrite scenes based on what we’d talked about. When I wrote the characters, even though I had Lola in mind, I didn’t know her yet, and I didn’t know who would play Heather. Bringing the characters of Jill and Heather into the specifics of who Lola is and who Zoë is—that was a really exciting process.
At the beginning of the film, there’s an intriguing line from one of Heather’s fangirls: “There’s a theory going around that the two of you are together.” When you were playing Jill, did you think there was some type of romantic tension between her and Heather?
Kirke: I like that it’s an ambiguous element of the film, but it wasn’t at the fore of my mind. John [Cho] and I were talking about this in another interview and John astutely said that he thought maybe Aaron had perhaps intentionally left that open-ended.
John Cho: You can amen this or not, Aaron, but I thought maybe you planted that seed with the shot of Zoë and Greta kissing, which then cuts to Lola looking at them. It seems like perhaps you were trying to create as many possible motives for the crime that happens.
It seems that Jill feels a sort of love for Heather, but also a sense of frustration. The fact that Jill doesn’t have any romantic context or relationship possibilities of her own also opens up that idea that there may be something between them.
Kirke: I also think that’s reality for a lot of these Hollywood assistants—or assistants who work for really powerful people. They have no context of their own. It disappears because they’re so involved in the life of somebody else. I also think that female friendship, when it’s deep enough, can become this very multifaceted thing: You become the friend, platonic lover, mother. It can become a really dynamic, rich sister-type friendship.
Cho: At the heart of it, what their relationship has in common with other relationships of import is intimacy. Jill and Heather are very intimate with each other. In the Venn diagram of relationships, there’s overlap between romantic intimacy and sister intimacy and even parent-daughter intimacy. The motorcycle shot at the end of the film, for example, can be read in a romantic way, but also as parental. That’s the whole upside-down palm tree of the assistant-actor relationship. The employer sometimes cedes power to the assistant, like, “You take care of me, even though I’m your boss.” It can become a type of self-infantilization.
And of course, in the beginning of the film, the palm trees are presented in a double row, going back to the twinning idea.
Cho: The Gemini reference also connects to a cliché of Hollywood—going back to Annie Hall and talk of astrological signs. But people here really do talk about astrology in casual conversation and there are tarot card readers all over the city.
Katz: I know that Lola had to have her tarot card reader on set everyday. [Laughs]
John, during the course of the film, Jill plays a kind of detective twin to your Edward character—a kind of girly Columbo in a trench coat. Edward’s character is so cryptic, I wondered how you envisioned his backstory.
Cho: I saw Detective Ahn as a kind of doctor testing reflexes—poking different spots to see when the knee jerked up. His trick is to reveal as little about himself as possible in order to get you to reveal as much about yourself as possible. His identity is very fluid to me. He’s very shifty, and I don’t know how much of what he says is true.
In a way, it seems that the whole film questions this fabrication of truth and fabrication of celebrity images—specifically through social media platforms. The phrase “This is real life” shows up in the film several times in a way that seems consciously ironic.
Katz: I definitely have a lot of anxiety about that, but I don’t mean the movie to be a critique of Hollywood, or social media platforms, or paparazzi, or any of that. Yes, they’re part of the plot, but what’s more important is exploring what happens when real humans have to live in these circumstances.
Gemini is in theaters today.