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Vanessa Hudgens, James Franco and more get wet and wild in 'Spring Breakers'

James Franco, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine and Harmony Korine
James Franco, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine and Harmony Korine
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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.

Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, James Franco, Harmony Korine, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival premiere of "Spring Breakers"
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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, Hudgens, Benson, Rachel Korine and Harmony Korine said during a Q&A after the North American premiere of “Spring Breakers” at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Harmony, what does the Toronto International Film Festival mean to you and what it’s done for your career?

Harmony Korine: It’s awesome. It’s one of the most exciting festivals by far, definitely in North America. It’s the spot. I’ve been coming here for a long time with all my movies. It’s great.

Selena, can you talk about your transition to being a former Disney Channel star to this more adult role in “Spring Breakers”?

Gomez: Whenever my series ended, I was really excited to do a couple of movies. And I thought doing the independent route would probably be best for me. Whenever Harmony mentioned my name, and I read the script, I think if there’s anybody I’m going to take this risk on and do the transition, it would be Harmony, because whenever I met with him, we met for two hours, talking about the script. I think he really believed in me.

And so, I think he took a chance on me to put me in this movie. It’s been a really great experience. It’s a hard transition, I think, but I’m having fun doing it. So hopefully, people will accept it.

Harmony, can you talk about casting “Spring Breakers”?

Harmony Korine: When I had the idea for the film and these girls and what would happen and how they would look, I started to imagine it. And I started to think about the types of music and the things they would watch. And it was kind of a dream. You start off with a concept, and it’s like a dream, the ultimate of who you can have in your films — the fantasy. And Selena and these girls were really that to me, because they were of this world, they were of this culture and this time. They’re pretty amazing and talented.

I think the first person I met was Selena. She came to Nashville and auditioned in my living room, which was really amazing. I didn’t know anything about her personally. I have all this kind of crazy artwork in the house, and I was flipping it over because I didn’t want to spook her.

Gomez: He thought I was a super-Christian, so he put away all of his art. If I’m a Christian girl, I probably wouldn’t have done this movie.

Harmony Korine: I got nervous. I didn’t want to spook her, so I started flipping over photographs.

Harmony, “Spring Breakers” is arguably your biggest film, in terms of star power in the cast. Did you approach making it differently than your other movies?

Harmony Korine: No. I see things in a specific way. All the films are different. There are specific characters and scenes and locations and ideas. There are colors I want to see. There are movements and things … The films are different, but the approach is the same.

How much of “Spring Breakers” was improvised?

Harmony Korine: There’s not actually a lot of dialogue in the movie. I didn’t want to make a movie with too much talking. I started to feel like words get in the way. I wanted to make a movie that worked in an experiential way, like something that was a physical experience — movie that would almost go through you, in a physical way. There were scenes that were improvised. We definitely made stuff up as we went, things that were based on ideas a lot of times.

For me, the best moments come from setting up a situation, an environment, a place. And maybe inspiring, pushing, cajoling them and seeing where they take it. Improvising, I’ve never really been too fond of the word. It’s something else. It’s like the real world is pushing it into something else, and they’re finding it.

James, did a real-life rapper inspire your Alien character? How did you prepare for the role?

Franco: Actually, I was the first one cast [in “Spring Breakers”].

Harmony Korine: Yeah. I thought [the casting question] was about the girls.

Franco: I only bring that up because we had a year before we started filming in which Harmony and I were talking about the movie and talking about the character. One thing that Harmony is a master at is uncovering unusual inspiration material, images and videos on the Internet and also once we found the location, he was kind of a master at finding locations and local people that were both unusual and vibrant and would add to the movie. And they would end up becoming part of the movie.

So he’s great at placing and figuring out what can be brought into our film and add a very unusual but kind of authentic texture to it. So for this [Alien] character, he sent me endless videos, songs — everyone from Yelawolf to Lil Wayne.

Harmony Korine: And a lot of Memphis rappers. I grew up in Tennessee, so Three 6 Mafia and all these groups from Memphis had a certain voice.

Franco: Right. So we had all of that. And then, on top of that, once we got there, we met some of these local characters that were very willing to help. So I just spent a lot of time with one guy in particular in St. Petersburg, Florida, who turned out to be a very sweet guy. So I think a lot of the alternative side of the character Alien — the kind of sweet side — maybe comes partly from this local guy that I met through Harmony.

James, can you talk about how you constructed how Alien looks?

Franco: I think the look was really important to me. Harmony talk about not only this character, but a lot of it is, in a way, about the surface. That’s only because we’re moving into kind of a new age where people do interact with each other and pop culture and everything, a lot of times in a very superficial manner.

And normally, you think “superficial” is kind of a negative term, but it’s kind of a new phenomenon or the way that we live now. So I guess it’s just to say that looks are very important to this movie, and surfaces are very important to this movie. It’s just something that Harmony and I developed.

I just saw this documentary in Venice about Harry Dean Stanton. And what Jack Nicholson said to Harry Dean when he directed him in “Going South” was, “Hey, just let the wardrobe play the character. Don’t do anything. Just let the wardrobe inform the character.”

That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or don’t do a lot of research or anything like that. But to me, it means letting the environment and letting everything around me do at least 50 percent. And what I bring is authentic feelings or authentic grounding to the character. And so, I think Harmony just wanted to transform me and make it so you didn’t recognize me. I think he did a pretty good job at it. And then I kind of relaxed into it, I guess.

Harmony, was the girls’ gun-toting scene any reference to Pussy Riot?

Harmony Korine: No, we filmed this a while. I never heard of them until last month. It’s just an awesome coincidence.

To the actresses, did you ever imagine being in a movie where you’d be called “bitches” as a term of endearment and have so many close-ups of your nearly naked bodies?

Hudgens: I think we made [Alien] our bitch.

Harmony Korine: Yeah, good answer.

How did you get into character?

Hudgens: I think in the very beginning, we got flown out a week before we started filming. Harmony just wanted us to hang out. We would spend the night with each other and be girls and allow ourselves to be completely raw and know that nobody’s watching and just free ourselves of anything that we could concern ourselves with. We just got along so beautifully.

I trust these girls, I love these girls more than anything. And just throwing ourselves into the circumstances our character were in just allowed us to be completely free and play and push each other in whatever direction was needed.

Rachel Korine: Spring break is just so highly sexualized, like James said, just taking in the environment. It’s almost like this rite of passage at that age, especially for freshmen.

Harmony Korine: It’s creating a world. They’re actors. They take this world and inhabit this world. I used to tell them from the very beginning that there’s no right or wrong. You just become a part of it. You’re fearless. It’s you, but it’s not you. And then, nothing you do is mistakes. It’s all perfect.

Directing, to me, starts even before we get to the set. Directing is a fluid, an abstract thing. It’s not done only purely in the moment. It’s an idea that you plant before. It’s a location that you show. It’s something I whisper in someone’s ear. It’s a freeform thing. It only takes me a week to write the script, but it’s years that you’re thinking about it. The execution is really the fast part.

For more info: "Spring Breakers" website