Model turned director Rie Rasmussen has been doing everything she can in recent years to prove she’s more than just a pretty face. After eye-catching roles in Brian De Palma’s “Femme Fatale” and a starring role in Luc Besson’s “Angel-A,” Rasmussen stepped behind the lens to direct a short film, “The Thinning Herd,” which first caught Quentin Tarantino’s attention.
Now Tarantino is again showing his support for Rassmussen by debuting her feature debut, “The Human Zoo” (which she wrote, directed, edited, produced and stars in) at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. “Rie Rasmussen makes an electrifying directorial debut,” Tarantino says of ‘Human Zoo.’ “It’s as shocking and violent as it is moving and charming.”
Partially based on the trials and tribulations of her own sister’s immigration, Rasmussen plays Adria Shala, an illegal immigrant haunted by her past before being rescued by Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko). The story flashes between present day in Marseille and Shala’s traumatic past in Kosovo before shifting to Belgrade where Shala heads down a dark path with her savior.
The Playlist spoke with Rasmussen last week about “Human Zoo” and what Tarantino’s involvement has meant to her film.
One thing you quickly discover speaking with Rie is that, much like Tarantino, she’s not one to mince words. His support has meant everything to her filmmaking career and helped her work find a larger audience. “Like splitting an atom, baby,” Rasmussen says of Tarantino’s praise. “Nuclear explosion. It cannot be better. I can tell you, I’ve been nominated for a Palme d’or in Cannes with ‘Thinning the Herd,’ I’ve opened the Berlin Film Festival and having a quote like that from Quentin Tarantino. That’s one that overshadows.”
The budding filmmaker first met Tarantino in 2004 in Cannes and the two have become pals in the years since. “I was nominated for my short ‘Thinning the Herd’ and Quentin was head of ceremonies, bad-ass motherfucker on top of the hill. I didn’t meet him, but he said some very nice words about my short film. After ‘Angel-A,’ I met Quentin and he took my short film and he put it in the QT Fest in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse and I was one happy girl, I can tell you that. I was sitting in between Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater with Quentin Tarantino at the mic saying very nice things and then my short film showed. It’s one of those things you take with you to the last breath.”
It’s easy to look at the career trajectory of Rasmussen and assume that, like many actors, she caught the directing bug after a lengthy acting career. But in this multitalented beauty’s case, she was always really a filmmaker in the body of an actress/model. “I grew up in Denmark in a really dark and desolate place,” says Rasmussen. “I watched movies my entire fucking life. My dad had me watching Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen; my mom was [Martin] Scorsese and my other mother, my father’s first wife, it was anything that was [Steven] Spielberg and Tom Cruise. I got a very eclectic upbringing from all these individuals in my life. We spent our lives watching movies because it was fucking Denmark. There’s just nothing to do. Movies were my entire life.”
So Rasmussen began creating her own movies as a young child. “I’m a drawer, a graphic artist, so I wanted to be a Disney animator. I made all my own first movies with drawings with a cassette tape telling the story. Those were really my first movies at seven years old.”
After some years spent finding herself that included following a surfer to California in her late teens, she returned to her first love and planned for a career as a filmmaker. “At 18, I was making skate videos and stuff like that and then I went to Hollywood Film Institute and I was living in a building underneath Luke and Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson. And then I went to Paris because I wanted to write and paint and kind of live the life. And I ran into Brian De Palma and he cast me in “Femme Fatale.” And then all that craziness with fashion happened because Tom Ford was a closeted director and loved movies like me and hired me as a unique face of Gucci. So that’s when all that fashion shit happened, but that was just two years. And then by 2003 I’m making my short film and 2004 it’s showing in Cannes. It was all a byproduct of my parents being genetically compatible.”
Rasmussen’s feature directorial debut also has a personal element in that the character she plays, Adria Shala, is based partially on her own adopted Vietnamese sister. “I had the entire family come down for the opening night Berlin Film Festival Premiere and she’d just gotten her Danish last name,” Rasmussen tells The Playlist. “When we started the film, she couldn’t get her Danish citizenship. She was Vietnamese. Her mother had been sold into prostitution when she was four. She was held in this one building with her mother her entire life. Her mother sent her through the human trafficking lines and she, thank God, luckily ended up in Denmark. The problem was then, they wouldn’t let my family adopt her because they said she was 18... You’re saying, ‘Okay, hold up a second here. This woman was sold with her mother and four, enslaved her entire life and now this fucking rich country will not take her in because of her nationality originally? Are you joking? So this is what ‘Human Zoo’ is about, this frustration of people winning the ovarian lottery. This is what I don’t understand. Imaginary lines made by men’s blood to separate us all when we’re all brothers and sisters when it comes down to it.”
Rie wore a lot of hats in the making of “Human Zoo” taking on just about every role on set except for Best Boy and Key Grip. Next time around, she’d be happy to pass off some of those duties to supporting parties. “Writer/director is actually not a problem. I never want to produce my own film again. I want a producer who has my back.” Perhaps Quentin might accept the role?
“No, Quentin presents, he doesn’t produce,” Rasmussen tells Playlist. “He’s carving out his own legacy right now. He doesn’t have time to fuck around with other people’s shit. I would want a producer. I think if I had I done [my other script] ‘Romance the Dark,’ which is an action flick, Luc Besson, if he wasn’t doing ‘Arthur 3’ and ‘Transporter 3’ as I was doing my movie, he might have produced my film and I would have liked that and that’s what I want on my next film, a really great producer. I would write and act, but all of it together, no way. I don’t want to die early.”
De Palma and Besson offered Rasmussen a master’s degree in filmmaking.
Long before Rasmussen acted under Brian De Palma in “Femme Fatale” and Luc Besson in “Angel-A,” Rasmussen was learning from watching other filmmakers. Watching them work in person was simply the next step. “I feel like Brian De Palma raised me as a filmmaker earlier in life because of watching his films,” says Rasmussen. “I feel like Luc Besson, I loved ‘La Femme Nikita’ and ‘Leon,’ those were really like some of my favorite movies back then. I feel like, at that point in my life, they raised me as a filmmaker. And on set, yeah, of course, you always learn being on set. I was in the one Brian De Palma long steadycam shot in ‘Femme Fatale.’ That was the shit.”
“Human Zoo” plays at the New Beverly Theater through November 17th.