[Interview] Thomas Hardiman for MEDUSA DELUXE

In Thomas Hardiman’s debut feature-length film, MEDUSA DELUXE, talented, ambitious, and backstabbing hairstylists gather for a competition in England, only to find one of their own murdered before judging can begin. Winding through neon-lit halls and backstage dressing rooms, competitors unspool long-simmering resentments and secrets as they search for the killer among them.

For the upcoming release of MEDUSA DELUXE, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with writer/director Thomas Hardiman. During their chat, they discussed everything from how intensely the team rehearsed the scenes to developing those beautifully intricate hairstyles we see onscreen to how passion can rebuild a community.

Hi Thomas! Thank you so much for speaking with me today. One of the things that I loved most about MEDUSA DELUXE was that it wasted no time jumping into the action. Can you talk about the reasoning behind doing that? 

Thomas Hardiman: There’s a few different reasons. The entire film is trying to throw people into the moment. It’s almost like a snowball at the top of the mountain that ends in an avalanche, and I want people to be thrown into that space. It’s a deconstructed murder mystery, essentially, it’s a character drama masquerading as a murder mystery. You don’t have a detective. Instead, I’m putting the audience in the space of being the detective and just trying to make sure that it feels fresh and different. It is doing things that are intentionally different from other kinds of films. Once you jump off the deep end, you might as well keep going down.

It goes without saying that it’s incredibly impressive how MEDUSA DELUXE was executed in what seems to be one shot. How did you approach the complexities of doing that?

Thomas Hardiman: I think you have to trust people’s skills and talent. You need people who are along for the ride with you. We shot the film in nine days, which is pretty intense. Then we rehearsed it effectively for a couple of weeks beforehand. All you would do is the same as you would do with everything really, it’s incremental builds. You’re doing something that’s pretty ambitious. This is a low-budget film, but we are trying to make something that’s going to rip you off your seat and drag you through the screen.

The way we did it originally is I had everyone on Zoom. I had my laptop in one hand, my phone in the other and I walked around the actual space filming the entire film on my phone. We started to rehearse it in another space with just a random camera, not the proper camera. Then, we get to the real space and we keep the rehearsals going. We started to bring in the steady cam and the actual camera. It’s just incremental builds.

I didn’t find the shooting of this necessarily stressful because I had an incredible team and crew behind it. I know the story intimately cause I wrote it, but it’s like you’ve got A, B, C, D, E, and you’re putting it all together. The plan’s right in front of you and you just have to follow the plan effectively and look for the moments where things are electric, [and] when it kind of comes to life and you get that moment of like… you had all the rehearsals, but it fell apart in a really interesting way when we were actually shooting. Then, the skill and talent of everyone you are working with brings it to that extra level, that friction that happens when you’re actually shooting, the magic of cinema.

Personally, the only times I get stressed is when [things] are not as meticulously worked out. I think cinema is effectively logistics and so having a handle on the logistics so that you can break them is what, for me, is kind of interesting filmmaking. When you suddenly have something where you are leaping around in the vague hope you’re gonna get something, that’s stressful.

[Interview] Thomas Hardiman for MEDUSA DELUXE

The hair designs seen throughout MEDUSA DELUXE are nothing short of stunning, especially the one that features mini-ships. What was the inspiration behind the different hair designs? 

Thomas Hardiman: Eugene Souleiman did the hair in this film and he’s the greatest hairdresser in the world. I begged him to do this film. He’s phenomenal and he’s worked with some of the great fashion designers of the time. He’s working with Margiela at the moment and he’s worked previously with McQueen extensively. He is as good as it gets. I wanted him to work on this film because obviously his level of skill and talent, but specifically he comes from the punk generation. For him, it’s about breaking things down and showing the artifice, and this film was always about breaking apart a lot of different things. The way in which I think and he thinks, there’s a kind of kinship there so, I desperately wanted him to do this film. When you are lucky enough to get someone like him on board, he takes it to the next level. The other side of this film is trying to work out different ways to tell stories. How can you tell a story through dance? How can you tell a story through hair? There’s got to be other ways to tell things especially when it’s an ensemble film.

With Eugene, he came in and said, I wanna be a method hairdresser. I’m not sure I understood what the h*** that meant to start with and then I realized that he wanted to go method on all of the hairdressers. He literally was going, alright, I am this character. How would they do a style? How would their character translate into it? It’s really magical. He’s got all the talent in the world. Then he’s thinking, okay, so this person is competitive. How can I bring that out in a style? That suddenly becomes something that’s very tight and very taut in a sinuous kind of way. That’s Etsy (Debris Stevenson) hairstyle done by Kendra (Harriet Webb).

When we were looking at something like Divine’s (Kayla Meikle) hairstyle, she’s the coming force. She’s nervous at the start and then obviously, her trajectory takes her to a unique space. The skill of her hairstyling becomes apparent. For someone like Cleve (Clare Perkins), it’s different. She’s not actually competitive. She’s trying to prove something to herself by creating this hairstyle that’s referencing Marie Antoinette. I was trying to work out how you can do that style and bring it to be modern. That took weeks to get done.

It’s absurd and ridiculous in the sense that she’s finishing it in this particular context but that’s the film, that’s what we’re doing. We’re pushing things to that limit. It’s about having that cathartic moment of her suddenly realizing she’s proved herself to herself and that’s what that scene and hairstyle are about.


Were there any specific themes or messages that you wanted to convey through MEDUSA DELUXE? 

Thomas Hardiman: The essential theme of the film is a community that’s kind of broken apart and comes back together through a shared passion. Passion and how it veers into obsession is something that I gravitate towards maybe cause I’m not that different and I get quite easily obsessed. I find there’s an interesting moment where passion can kind of either make you or break you. It dominates your life and it’s all you ever think about. It’s either going to send you down this cul-de-sac of complete madness or it’s going to give you something that you’re able to live with. It’s gonna give you an opportunity to do the thing that you love. Whether it’s hairdressing, whether it’s artists, whether it’s collectors, it’s how we process our passions. I’m quite interested in that and it’s probably a theme that I’ll come back to.

Lastly, what would you like to say to all the writers and actors who are currently on strike due to improper compensation from the studios as well as how their jobs will be impacted due to the rise of AI? 

Thomas Hardiman: I have to be completely honest, cause I’m from the UK, I don’t know the inner workings. I think I’d actually have to know a hell of a lot more before I made real comments. The world is shifting and changing so dramatically that on every single level, it feels like we need to redraw a kind of societal level contract to understand how we can all live in the coming century. With the changing technology, it’s gonna change things so radically that we’re not going to be able to live in the same way that we have done for any generation. I feel like it’s not a coincidence that everyone’s suddenly looking around in every single industry and thinking, I can’t live. There are so many abundant resources all around that world that anybody feels that they can’t live or can’t survive… it’s so tragic.

MEDUSA DELUXE releases in select theaters and on VOD Friday, August 11.

Shannon McGrew
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