I auditioned in New York and saw about 500 people. Kim Weston-Moran was reading pages with the actors and at one point I just looked at her and I said, “Kim, you should play Alma.” So that’s how Kim became Alma. Victoria Platt, who plays Rainbow, auditioned. She was young and very, very strong, very, very strong. As a youngster, she was just so generous in auditioning. We cast someone as Ruby and they had to drop out, so I looked for someone to play that role. Everyone said, “You have to talk to Mizan [Nunes]”. So someone called, I went to her flat down in the village. She auditioned and I hired her on the spot. Initially Cassandra Wilson was signed to play Ruby, but she had the opportunity to go on tour and singing, and it was one of those opportunities that came at the right time in her life, and that’s why we let her out of her contract.
Speaking of song, you wrote the song that Ruby sings in the funeral parlor. What was the inspiration behind it?
There was a time when I traveled a lot around Europe. It was so interesting, the sensibility where you saw a lot of artists who had more personality than talent. It was so obvious to me that the personalities were a little big and flamboyant and brave, but the talent wasn’t there. They would sing off key or arrhythmically – and not in a good way. Ruby is someone who really lives off her personality in many ways. She is not Josephine Baker. She admires her, but she is not. She doesn’t have a great singing voice, but she has a lot of chutzpah. So I wanted to write a song that was kind of bizarre in a lot of ways, but a song that she just felt so connected to that she just gave it her all in that moment.
Another part I thought was really striking was the way you introduced Rainbow binding her breasts. You don’t often see girls represented in movies who aren’t prepared for puberty, don’t want people to know about their puberty, and then obviously she gets her period, and I thought the way you handled that shock was really interesting.
In my own formative years, I remember certain kinds of stories that I heard in my mother’s beauty parlor about men, about domestic violence, about being unfaithful. Early on I decided, or maybe it was destined for me, that I was put in this category of tomboy. I like sports a lot. I was a very physical child. I had a lot of male friends growing up and I saw them start to change. So I felt more comfortable in baggy clothes, clothes that didn’t reveal the body. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my body. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me about my body. I know some of it has to do with some of the decisions I made for the character Rainbow.