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Director: 'Thirteen' is 'one kid's story'

Movie deals with advertising, peer pressure and consumer culture

By Todd Leopold

Catherine Hardwicke, right, directs a scene in "Thirteen."

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Evan Rachel Wood
Catherine Hardwicke

(CNN) -- Catherine Hardwicke wants to make one thing clear: "Thirteen" is not meant to chronicle the lives of all 13-year-olds.

"Somebody on CNN said, 'This is not how all teenagers are.' [But] we never said that," the first-time director says in a phone interview from New York. "You don't watch 'A Beautiful Mind' and say, 'This is how every mathematician is.' That's one person's story, and this is one kid's story."

Nevertheless, the movie is quite a story, and it's caused some controversy.

"Thirteen" is about Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), a girl who goes from being a Barbie- and teddy bear-loving child to sex and drugs almost overnight, partly thanks to the peer pressure of the popular Evie (Nikki Reed).

Reed, now 15, co-wrote the script with Hardwicke, a longtime production designer for directors such as David O. Russell ("Three Kings") and Cameron Crowe ("Vanilla Sky"). spoke with Hardwicke about her film and its inspirations.

CNN: Are the pressures on 13-year-old girls harder now?

HARDWICKE: [One reason] I was interested in making this movie is that there are a lot of crazy pressures and kind of confusing messages that seem to come at kids at an alarming rate [nowadays].

So many images are saying to girls, show a lot of skin and look gorgeous and sexy. And yet when people see our movie, they say, "Why are these kids thinking about sex? This is outrageous, that 12-year-olds think about sex!" Well, how could they not? Those are the kinds of things that we praise and put on the cover of every magazine.

'Kids have to experiment a little'

Nikki Reed, left, who co-wrote the script with Hardwicke, with Evan Rachel Wood in "Thirteen"

It's tough and it's confusing, and people are shocked that kids are acting this way. But, on the other hand, you know what's really funny? We've had screenings in different cities around the country, and college kids come. And 21-, 22-year-old kids will raise their hands and say, "I am so startled! I think this is outrageous! This cannot be the way 13-year-olds are acting!"

So I asked one guy, who was really getting outraged in Chicago, "How old were you the first time you had a sexual experience or a drug experience?" The guy looked at me and goes, "I hate to admit it, but I was 11 when I first had sex." People kind of have a short-term or a revisionist memory about what they did [as adolescents].

Every kid has to go through this. ... Kids have to experiment a little or figure out where they belong. It's just that we hope that kids don't go too far, places they can't turn back, getting AIDS or pregnant or arrested or killed.

CNN: Our consumer culture glorifies skinny, beautiful bodies; it glorifies things to put on those bodies. If you wonder why someone would grow up into a woman -- or a man, for that matter -- obsessed with material goods, well, it's all there when you're a kid.

HARDWICKE: There's that interesting book called "Branded." It has a lot of great points. This generation, from the time they were born, there was Baby Gap, and they wear Nikes from 1 year old. So a lot of kids have had a fully branded life, and there's no other life except branding and consumer culture. ...

Whenever you ask kids what they want to do, they say, "Let's go shopping." That was the first thing they could think of to do.

Going for 'the real stuff'

In "Thirteen," Holly Hunter plays Wood's mother. Jeremy Sisto is Hunter's boyfriend, who's trying to overcome a drug addiction.

CNN: How did the script come about?

HARDWICKE: I've known [Nikki] since she was 5 years old. ... When her dad and I broke up four years later, I decided I was going to remain friends with her and her brother.

One day I'm over [at her house], and I see a new Nikki, and she is like Miss Glamourpuss Super Hottie Supermodel girl -- but angry.

She'd wake up at 4:30 in the morning and do like 2 1/2 hours of hair and makeup before seventh grade. And she was damn good at it, too.

In a weird way, I was kind of shocked -- Nikki's not reading books, but she's doing makeup for 2 1/2 hours. But then I realized every single magazine is telling her to do that, and she's doing exactly what we tell them, exactly what we want girls to do, or what we say we want girls to do. So why should I even be surprised about it?

So my idea was to find some creative fun stuff [for her]. ... She was interested in acting, so we started on the acting thing, finding a coach for her, reading serious books like Uta Hagen and [about] the [Sanford] Meisner technique.

She got the concepts instantly and really had this intuitive grasp for it. I thought she would be a really great actress.

I [told her], "You've got to write your own material." We thought we'd write a teen comedy, but ... as we started to see Nikki open up a little bit more, and we started talking about more stuff that she and her friends would be going through -- and I'd watch her mom and other moms dealing with their kids -- it seemed like to us that the real stuff would be more interesting than anything we could make up. So we just went for the real stuff.

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