The Horror Revolution: We're going to dive right in, but first I'm going to give you a softball. My first question is always what's your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most and why?
Jill Gevargizian: Favorite: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Scared me most: As a kid? IT. More specifically, the sewer scene. I still think it’s one the most perfect and terrifying scenes in all of horror history. Both the original and the remake nailed that scene.
THR: The Morrigan (my website partner) was a hairdresser, and she was blown away by the realism of the first scene: the consultation, the way the hair clips are put in, right down to offering the client wine or water. The woman even tells her hairdresser something she wouldn't tell anyone else. It's clear you were a hairstylist before becoming a director because the opening scene is EXACTLY what it's like to be a stylist besides the, uh... well, you know. What's the craziest thing a client has told you?
JG: I am still a full time hairstylist! That’s what drove me to make this film, I realized one day that a horror film about a killer hairstylist didn’t already exist and that I could do it right with my experience as a stylist and a horror lover.
The craziest thing a client has told me… honestly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing anything I’ve been told, even anonymously. It means a lot to me that my clients trust me and I do not want to betray them. In the film, it’s my hope to show how vulnerable clients tend to be with stylists. Not that we judge our clients and what they may say.
THR: Have you had those experiences, as The Morrigan had, that these women coming to see you positioned themselves as friends but treated you like an employee?
JG: I feel I’ve been pretty lucky personally. But it is a job that is often treated like “the help.”
THR: As a woman, do you find it challenging to work in the predominantly male-dominated field (the horror genre)?
JG: I personally don’t think of myself as any different: she, he, they - we’re all the same to me.
THR: What made you want to pivot from being a stylist to filmmaking?
JG: Like I said, I’m still a stylist full time. Making a living as a director I think it’s incredibly challenging unless you’re making studio, huge budget films. I’m still a completely independent filmmaker, who produces my own films. So I still need another job to make a living. In fact, I do more than just hair. I also run an OnlyFans account to pull in more money. I used to work as a stripper, so I’ve always been a fan of work where you can hustle. Hairstylist and stripping/OnlyFans are the same in that way. Jobs where you can always make more. Also similar in that they are jobs where people come to you to vent about their lives to you, both are about creating a safe and judgment free place for people to feel heard and see.
THR: Your movie is absolutely gorgeous. I mentioned in my review that you had these random pops of color that would make Argento drool. Normally, we see serial killers in movies keeping their "trophies" in a pipe-filled basement, dirty, dark and with water dripping everywhere, while Claire has this beautiful Victorian-styled dressing room with halo lighting and a real sense of style. How did you manage to make a dark and disturbing film that was just absolutely beautiful?
JG: Thank you so much! Yes - most serial killer lairs are dark and cold and those films often are not told from the killer’s perspective. This film is Claire’s story. My objective was to put the viewer in her shoes, not make them scared of her. We wanted every filmmaking decision to mirror how she feels from how the camera moves to the score. So we designed her lair (Claire’s Lair, as we call it) to feel very warm and safe, while still naturally being creepy as there are scalps everywhere. This is her happy place. This is where she goes to feel safe, to feel seen, to feel what it’s like to be someone else. Sarah Sharp, our production designer, described the room to her set decorators as a “nest.” Like an animal’s nest, it’s messy but to them it’s home. That’s why she designed it to fully surround Claire. No matter where we put the camera, she would be surrounded by warm light.
THR: Who inspires you as a director?
JG: I could go on forever! Julia Ducournau, Barry Jenkins, Andrea Arnold, David Fincher, Alfred Hitchock, Lynne Ramsey, Sean Baker, Brea Grant, Tobe Hooper, Martin Scoresese
THR: I watched the short film as well, and I'm so glad you turned it into a feature film. What were the challenges in moving from writing and directing short films to making full-length features?
JG: Biggest challenge is you need a lot of MONEY! But really. It’s much easy-ish to pull together a crew for a couple days with a short film with little money. But when you need them for an entire month, you need a serious budget.
THR: This is your first feature, and it's astoundingly good for those who haven't seen it. Do you feel pressure to live up to The Stylist with your next film?
JG: It’s funny that I don’t. It doesn’t dawn on me that maybe I should feel pressure until I’m asked. I’m honestly so concerned with just being able to do it again, that I’m not thinking beyond that.
THR: Not to fanboy over you, but I'm absolutely in love with your film and you feel like the kind of director for whom I'm going to be first in line to see your next film. So what's next for you?
JG: I have a few different projects in all in the very early stages. Another horror feature with writer Eric Stolze, who cowrote The Stylist. And a feature I’m working on writing now, that isn’t horror! It’s not even genre. I don’t want to say much else yet.
THR: The film has already won a ton of awards on the film circuit. That must be so satisfying as a filmmaker.
JG: I’m so proud of what the film has accomplished, but it’s honestly surreal. It’s hard to describe — like it’s just too cool and too awesome to be able to completely absorb it.
THR: How was your experience playing a bit part in your own movie? (And getting a really cool death scene to boot!)
JG: It was so fun - a lifelong dream come true! I was so, so, so nervous though. I am not what I’d call a natural in front of the camera, I’m much more comfortable behind it. Najarra Townsend, our lead actor, helped me a lot. We rehearsed the scene, in the location, with our producers and director of photography. I also had our editor John Pata second unit direct the scene. So that I had someone I could trust watching the monitor and making sure we got what we needed.
THR: Who would be your dream person in the industry, alive or dead, to work with?
JG: Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight. That film had such a profound effect on me. Hell, I’d just love the opportunity to have a conversation with him, to learn from him.
THR: What would you like fans to know about the film?
JG: That I have been working on it in one way or another for 8 years now! This project has my blood, sweat, and tears ingrained deeply.
THR: One of the things I love to do when watching a film is to go through IMDBs trivia about the film. What's an interesting piece of trivia about the making of The Stylist that fans would be interested to learn?
JG: We shot the bachelorette party scene in a club (Record Bar) in downtown Kansas City, the night before the Chiefs Super Bowl Parade, that went right down the street we were shooting.
THR: I'm a huge collector of more boutique-style brands of physical media, and The Stylist was one of the films I was most excited to preorder. What was it like working with Arrow Video to give your film a physical release?
JG: We were so spoiled working with them. We were completely included in all the decisions for the Blu-ray. It was so much fun. They are a company that truly loves film and cares about the filmmakers vision.
THR: If you were to write a book about your career so far, what would it be titled?
JG: I’ve thought about doing this! Off the top of my head — How a hairstylist with no film education directed, produced and wrote a highly acclaimed feature film. That needs work.. that’s more like a subtitle.
THR: Finally, what's the most surprising thing we'd find in your fridge right now?
JG; Ummmmm….. I don’t think there’s anything surprising in there! Oreos? They’re so much better cold.
Check out THR's review of HIGHLY recommended The Stylist