Below Her Mouth is a film directed, produced and written by women. Director April Mullen’s latest film captures the raw emotion, sexual desire and lust between two women, Jasmine (played by Natalie Krill) and Dallas (played by Erika Linder).
As an actress, producer and director Mullen is also a Ryerson theatre acting alumna.
The female gaze and its authenticity is what motivated an all-female crew.
“Something from a female’s perspective of what it’s like to fall in love and what turns us on as women. (In) every aspect, we wanted to have a female lens to it,” says Mullen.
Below Her Mouth is an alternative to the heterosexual norm and conventional male gaze of romance movies. Mullen wanted to play a part in changing the under-representation of women in film.
“It gives audience members an alternative to Fifty Shades Darker. We thought if we’re going for it, let’s do the female gaze,” she says.
Mullen says the female gaze offers transparency of truth that can’t be denied.
“Rather than feeling like a spectator on the outside, it’s almost like you’re pulled into a vortex and you’re a fly watching on the wall. You’re seeing things you shouldn’t be, but you almost feel lucky that you’re able to witness them,” she says.
When Mullen first read the script by Stephanie Fabrizi, she immediately connected with it. Mullen thought the character arch for Dallas truthfully portrayed her as a member of the LBGTQ community. The film explores how love is love and it can be life changing.
The film follows Jasmine, a successful fashion editor who is engaged to be married. Suddenly, she unexpectedly meets Dallas, a charismatic roofer who can get any girl at the bar.
“In the case of Jasmine, she rediscovers herself, changes a part of her identity, and I just found all of that so amazing,” she says.
Mullen and her team agreed that if they weren’t able to find the perfect cast, they wouldn’t make the film. For six months, they looked all over Canada, the U.S. and Europe for the perfect pair.
Mullen stumbled upon Erika Linder on the Internet and saw she was a Swedish supermodel who was the first to start modelling for men’s campaigns. Canadian actress Natalie Krill, who plays Jasmine, can tap into deep emotions and has the same sense of wonder as Jasmine, according to Mullen.
“When the two of them read together for the first time, there was this instant chemistry between the two of them that we hadn’t found anywhere else. They were the perfect match,” Mullen says.
The all-female crew was comforting for Linder and Krill when they performed their most intimate sex scenes. “In terms of the intimacy and depth, they were able to find each other when you’re isolated in a bubble,” says Mullen.
But her real challenge was to depict the intensifying chemistry, spark and rush of emotions between the characters in 90 minutes. “It’s just a simple slice of life and that was really interesting to me because I’ve never done a drama before, or something that pushed my boundaries in terms of just having two people be on the screen at the same time,” she says.
The film takes place in Toronto with cameos of the Toronto Island, the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood and a TTC streetcar. “The film location was always going to be Toronto because the city has so much acceptance and the characters were able to be free,” she says.
They filmed on Dundas St. E. at Filmores, the gentlemen’s club. “Even like Filmores is sort of romanticized in a way,” she says, and laughed because of how close they were to the Ryerson campus.
Ryerson was a big part of her life. The support from the School of Performance faculty members such as Sheldon Rosen, Perry Schneiderman, Cynthia Ashperger and Marianne McIsaac allowed her to be confident, take bigger risks and be bolder with her creative choices.
“Without them pushing me outside of my comfort zones, I wouldn’t be here,” says Mullen.
When Mullen was studying at Ryerson, she met Tim Doiron in her theatre class and they started an independent production company, Wango Films, which is why she became a director in the first place.
“I wouldn’t have given myself that kind of opportunity or built my career path without Ryerson and them really advocating to create your own work,” says Mullen.
Her time at Ryerson is full of memories and moments that she incorporates in her work. For example, when she studied abroad for six months in Wales at the Royal Welsh School of Drama and Music, she had this blue lace curtain in her dorm room that she later used in Below Her Mouth.
“Those memories will definitely be pulled apart, then placed into different films even if it’s a curtain that I love from Wales. It’s in the bathroom scene with Jasmine and Dallas,” she says. “Pieces of me are everywhere in everything I do.”
Regardless of gender or sexuality, Mullen hopes Below Her Mouth will trigger an overwhelming sense of love, openness and acceptance for audience members.
“I feel like it’s a very uplifting film for today and really important and also for Valentine’s Day. It’s like a hubba hubba movie,” says Mullen.
Below Her Mouth is now playing in 29 theatres across Canada.