To celebrate the UK release of gritty World War II film Hell Hath No Fury, we spoke to director Jesse V. Johnson (Avengement, Triple Threat) and star Nina Bergman (Seize the Night, Doom: Annihilation) about the background to making the movie.
Taking inspiration from various women of the resistance movement, this is the story of a woman who single-handedly takes on the might of the German war machine, the French resistance, and a band of US infantrymen. Branded a traitor by her countrymen, French national Marie DuJardin (Bergman) is rescued by American soldiers on one condition: to survive, she must lead them to a cache of gold, before the Nazis return to claim it for themselves.
Nina Bergman’s compelling performance has been praised by critics, and she is backed by a strong supporting cast including Daniel Bernhardt (John Wick), Louis Mandylor (The Debt Collector), Timothy V. Murphy (Sons of Anarchy) and Dominique Vandenberg (Gangs of New York).
Jesse, what appealed to you most about making Hell Hath No Fury?
JVJ: It was at the absolute height of the lockdown; I had a financier who loved World War II stories. I knew that I needed a script which could be shot at minimal locations, with minimal cast. I probably read 35 scripts, I would read the first ten pages and if I wasn’t hooked, I moved on. The story appeal of Hell Hath No Fury was that it wasn’t told from the American G.I.’s perspective. I’ve seen that and it’s of no interest to attempt to retread Steven Spielberg or Terrence Malick, I’ve watched two dozen war movies where the directors copied them (or attempted it) and it’s terribly boring. This script was subversive and edgy, it was about French resistance fighters who were anything but enamoured by the U.S. forces, they were untrusting, and the Americans were equally complex and unpredictable. I had never read a script like it before, so I found it exciting and new.
Nina, what drew you to the role of Marie?
NB: When I finished reading the script, I saw her instantly. I felt her so deeply and saw her character arc. She has a quiet inner strength that I admire. She’s a victim but she doesn’t let that stop her, she’s deadly… she’s fearless and incredibly brave. I felt a calling to walk in her shoes and relive her journey.
Jesse, you’d worked with Nina before?
JVJ: Prior to the Wonder Woman movies I made a proof-of-concept trailer with Nina which went viral, it got a million hits in 48 hours! We had every studio in town calling, studios literally said, “you won’t be directing our movie, we need a woman, but would you mind sharing how you made certain decisions with us?” So, I shared, they copied, and shots we had storyboarded, rehearsed and shot for the trailer were in the trailer to the $100 million movie, and that was that!
What made Nina the right choice for the lead in Hell Hath No Fury, and did she surprise you?
JVJ: Nina was amongst a large number of auditions for the role of Marie. It was a very tasty role. Many of the actors were overseas, so they could not, or would not travel, that cut down our list.
I was adamant that Marie has her head shaved on camera and plays the role as unglamorous as possible, and that decision further lessened the number of applicants. When we were down to two, it became obvious that Nina was the best choice and I am so very pleased and thrilled with what she brought to the role. She really inhabited this complex character for the duration of the shoot. We all endured insanity to make the movie and she was there with me every step of the way.
NB: I had a moment when I was tied up to a cross for hours. The robe was cutting into my wrists, explosions were going off above me as they were shooting skulls off my head. Suddenly it felt a little too real! I almost panicked but I couldn’t because Marie would never do that!
The movie takes a non-traditional take on the war genre. what do you hope audiences gain from the film, and this different perspective?
NB: There are two things: I hope it gives a voice to the women who risked their lives to gather information from the Nazis, they really were the unsung heroes. I also believe Jesse did a fantastic job demonstrating how war can bring out the worst in people.
JVJ: The “non-traditional” take on the genre was what appealed to me about the script. This one felt different, edgy and interesting. I cannot speak for what the audience responds to, since I know only what I like. When I look at popular movies, I’ll will often panic because most of the time I absolutely hate what I see, then something comes along that I like, and it does well at the box office, and I regain faith in my internal barometer again!