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James Franco, Selena Gomez indulge in dangerous debauchery in 'Spring Breakers'

Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Harmony Korine, Ashley Benson and James Franco at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival premiere of "Spring Breakers" in Austin, Texas
Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Harmony Korine, Ashley Benson and James Franco at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival premiere of "Spring Breakers" in Austin, Texas
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The raunchy and violent film "Spring Breakers" (released in 2013) is about four female college students — Candy (played by Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (played by Ashley Benson), Faith (played by Selena Gomez) and Cotty (played by Rachel Korine, who is married in real life to "Spring Breakers" writer/director Harmony Korine) — who commit robbery to finance a spring-break trip to Florida. Once in Florida, the four friends indulge in a lot of partying and get arrested for underage drinking and public intoxication.

A gangster and part-time rapper named Alien (played by James Franco) bails the girls out of jail after seeing them during a court appearance. Faith grows increasingly uncomfortable with being around Alien, so she goes home, but Candy, Brit and Cotty stay with Alien and gleefully join him in his life of crime until one of the girls also goes home because of a gunshot injury. Harmony Korine is known for writing and directing offbeat, little-seen independent films, but "Spring Breakers" is his biggest and most mainstream hit so far. Here is what Franco, Gomez, Benson, Rachel Korine and Harmony Korine said during a Q&A after the U.S. premiere of “Spring Breakers” at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Harmony, how did you get the idea for “Spring Breakers”?

Harmony Korine: The movie came to me like a dream. I had been collecting spring break imagery for a couple of years from fraternity sites and co-ed pornography. And I was using it for paintings and artwork and stuff. And I started looking at it, and I just like the world and the colors and the feel of it.

And there was always this hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent subjects, but there was also interesting child-like details, like nail polish and bags. So I just imagined girls on a beach, in bikinis, robbing fat tourists. That was the first. And from there, I started to build the image and the story.

How did you put together the “Spring Breakers” cast?

Harmony Korine: I had been talking to James [Franco] a couple of years before that, but I never really had a character part. And then, I started thinking about this Alien character. And when I wrote it, I just sent him a list of ideas. I usually wait until it’s fully realized, but I just wanted to know if he could do something like this. It was an email, like a hundred sequences and descriptions of things. And then, in two minutes, he wrote back, and he was like, “Let’s do it.” And that’s kind of how Alien was born.

And then, [I cast] the other actresses in the film for all different reasons and also because they were all terrific and bold. And in real life, they representative of this pop mythology and this thing and this connection. But they were all at a point in their lives where they were ready to experiment and push themselves. And lucky for me, they did.

Was filming “Spring Breakers” as fun as it looked, or was it all work?

Benson: It was really fun. Being with these girls, it didn’t feel like work. Working with Harmony and James, it was such a great experience. We had the best time.

Rachel Korine: I think the dynamic between the four girls is one of the most important elements of the film. Very early on, Harmony knew it was important that we all became friends. So there was actually scheduled time for us to all to hang out. So for a lot of the film’s duration, we were hanging out, and we did become friends. I think you can see that on screen.

Franco: Yeah, it was great. The number-one reason is that I’ve been a fan of Harmony’s since high school. That’s when “Kids” came out. I wasn’t acting professionally then, but it had a huge impact on me.

I was interested in the arts, and here was something that was new. It was about people my age, but it was not pandering. It was aesthetically fresh, but also very real in a lot of ways. So from that moment on, I was a fan.

When we finally worked with him, I don’t know how many years later, I felt like I knew him. I even said on set, “I feel like we’re going to camp together.” One of the great things was that I got to play this character. I’m so proud of the character, but I don’t think it would work in any other person’s movie.

Harmony makes the kind of movie that can support that character, and that’s why I could go so crazy. There was no way to go over-the-top. I was always going to be supported by Harmony and his movie and that context. To have that as an actor is a dream if you can really feel like there are no boundaries.

James, what kind of research did you do for your role in “Spring Breakers”? And what did it feel like to have a grill on your teeth?

Franco: The other thing about Harmony is that he is a great researcher. He was talking about researching images of spring break on the Internet. When it got to my character, he started doing a lot of research on that. We had a year from when we started talking about it to when we shot it …

Harmony knows all the weirdest websites and all the strangest stuff. I got it all. Sometimes there’d be interviews, sometimes there’d be songs, sometimes it’s be how a person sounded, sometimes it’d be how they looked. And they all went into this soup for a year.

And then, the second phase of that was when he picked the location of St. Petersburg, Florida. He went down there early to find locations but also meet locals. Just as he’s great at finding the weird websites, he’s great at finding the weird locals. He sent me some camera-phone videos of this weird, white guy with dreadlocks in a car, rapping.

I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. It was like, “Franco, blah blah blah. Check it out.” And Harmony was like, “Listen to this. This is a model for your character.”

And he’s in the movie. His name is Dangerous. He’s the guy rapping with me on stage. He was supposed to make it out to [this premiere] today, but my guess is that he didn’t.

I spent time with him, I made a video with him, and he really just shared his life with me. There’s a little speech that I have in [“Spring Breakers”], where I’m like, “Check it out. I’m on YouTube.”

All that stuff, that’s straight from Dangerous. That’s stuff that he told me. In some ways, the back story of the [Alien] character is based on him. All that went into the mix.

The grills were cool. I hated the cornrows. If anybody’s had cornrows, you’re in the club. We could get together and say, “Oh, the itch.”

The grills were cool. We went to that pool hall, and there were people with grills cemented into their teeth. I had to tell them that [my grills] were fake. They weren’t cemented in.

Is the Alien character based on Riff Raff or Dangerous?

Harmony Korine: It’s not based on any one person. It’s based on kids that I knew growing up, riding on the bus to school with and stuff. It’s an amalgamation of all different people. It’s kind of filtered into this creation, but it wasn’t meant to be a white rapper. It was also some other dimension to the character that we trying to get at — some kind of gangster misfit.

To the actresses, did you have any reservations to make “Spring Breakers”?

Gomez: To be honest, I didn’t have many reservations. I hadn’t been in something in a while that I had been super-blessed to be a part of. I wanted to do something that would be different for me. I think I speak for the girls when I say that we really wanted to push ourselves. And we trusted Harmony to do that. James was super-proud of as well. I think it was all something we were proud of and wanted to do.

Benson: She said it exactly. Harmony made sure we were comfortable.

Were there any scenes that you filmed that didn’t make it into the final cut of “Spring Breakers”?

Harmony Korine: There was one sequence we tried to use but couldn’t, where the girls tried to rob this really chubby surfer, and they made him drop his pants and he had a huge penis, and it gets aroused, and they talk about it and stuff. It’s kind of a beautiful scene. There’s something almost romantic about the scene. It was one of those things that was so intense, it was almost another movie. I kept trying all over the film, and we could never get back into the film. That works on its own.

The party footage was all stuff we created. There was no stock footage of parties. We would kind of take over abandoned hotels and stuff, and get a couple of thousand kids in, and they would just demolish the place — really demolish it.

How do you react when people see “Spring Breakers” as a dark comedy?

Harmony Korine: I think it’s great. I love seeing people laugh. I like things that are never one way. Usually, emotionally, I make the films based on a type of energy. I try to work with things that are more difficult to articulate. And so, that’s more of a feeling. And so, the things that have attracted me are more of the things that are morally complicated or emotionally complicated.

And so, for certain things, certain audiences, people will laugh. And in other places, there’s dead silence. And I enjoy them both. You try to make films where it’s never one way — like life. I can think something’s funny, and you can think it’s a tragedy — and vice versa. Those are the kinds of things I’m chasing. Humor is great. It’s terrific.

Will there be a “Spring Breakers” sequel?

Harmony Korine: What would happen in the sequel? I want some suggestions.

What about “Christmas Breakers”?

Harmony Korine: In winter coats. That would be un-sexy.

Harmony, can you talk about working with cinematographer Benoît Debie on “Spring Breakers”?

Harmony Korine: Benoît is great. He’s one of the best cinematographers in the world, I think. He’s very, very inventive. I wanted to make a film that was a lot about a texture and a tone and a feeling. I wanted it to look like it was lit by candy, like using Skittles for lenses. I always wanted to work with him. He’s great. He’s one of the best. He’s like a painter.

What was it like working with Gucci Mane, who plays one of Alien’s gangster rivals?

Harmony Korine: Gucci Mane is one of my favorites. I first spoke to him in prison. His manager, Coach K, introduced us. I always loved his music and loved him and just his whole thing. There’s something really special about him at well.

What can you say about casting wrestler Jeff “Double J” Jarrett as Faith’s youth-group preacher?

Harmony Korine: I like wrestling. Also, I grew up in Nashville, so all the youth preachers are on steroids and Red Bull — not that that’s Jeff Jarrett.

There’s a scene where Alien and the girls gather around a piano and sing Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.” What did Britney think of that scene?

Harmony Korine: I don’t know. I hope she’ll love it.

Selena, how are you handling your fame?

Gomez: I definitely agree with what Harmony was saying that the girls and myself can definitely speak to a certain generation, which is the obvious thing that people immediately associate. Like I said before, it’s kind of an awkward thing to mess with: the transition of doing what I used to do and wanting to do things like this. For me, it’s a little awkward, but I’m enjoying it and trying to do the best I can.

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