Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England and moved to the United States when she was a kid. In Florida, Amirpour was teased for her accent, so she tried doing a couple of things to make herself more American. She started a fan club for General Zod from Superman II, which never really got off the ground, and dabbled in filmmaking with her dad’s camcorder.
Her first feature was a slumber party horror movie that she filmed when she was twelve. “The movie did have a kill scene that was pretty scary,” she says. “I showed it to my friends and their parents, and everyone jumped. I was like, ‘Ahhh!’”
Her family, though, had different plans for Amirpour. Her parents are Iranian, and Amirpour says, “Iranian parents are very, they’re like, ‘You’ll either be a doctor or a lawyer,’” she says. “I was very arty in high school and my mom was like, ‘Yeah, so you can be a plastic surgeon.’”
Instead of studying textbooks, Amirpour credits Michael Jackson’s ode to monster making to helping her with her film career. “I watched the making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video thousands of times,” she says. “It taught me how to be an American.”
Other influences are too many to count. “I love James Dean, Die Antwoord, Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Bee Gees, Sergio Leone, David Lynch, Sophia Loren. I’m obsessed with this album Escape Yourself by Footprintz,” says Amirpour. And Bruce Lee. “Read Striking Thoughts, his philosophies on life and art—they’re the most gangster-ish you’ll ever read. He’s all about obstacles being in the past.” Also: “Anne Rice was my first thing. I loved—addicted loved—all of that.”
Amirpour went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and was pursued by Hollywood agents after that. But instead of doing the Hollywood thing, Amirpour took a sabbatical in Germany, where she got her head together. “I ended not making those [Hollywood] films, and I am so glad. They were not my pure soul matter. In Germany, I got to sit and think about the shit that I love,” says Amirpour. “I thought, I’m going to write something where everything people say and do turns me on.”
The idea for her successful first feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night came to Amirpour when she was directing a film short and an extra walked through the set wearing a chador. To Amirpour, it looked like a bat and she asked to try it on. That’s when she thought “Iranian vampire,” which became the core of her movie. She started using Indiegogo to crowdfund her Iranian vampire film and raised $57,000 before SpectreVision stepped in as a producer. “A vampire is so many things: serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict—they’re sort of all these things in one,” says Amirpour, who released a comic after the success of her first film.
“It’s a mash-up, but it becomes really liberating, because as a kid growing up I wanted to be American, like my white American friends, but I am Iranian and my culture is very fixed and strong and it’s been an overwhelming presence in my life,” says Amirpour about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is told in Farsi. “How do you explain that is part of who you are?”
Another reason Amirpour likes vampires is because she fears death. “I hate it, I don’t want to do it,” says Amirpour. “I also don’t like old. I don’t care how many fuckin’ Ansel Adams photos you take of old people and try to tell me it’s beautiful. It smells bad and shit’s failing. You’re rotting inside yourself, inside your own body. That’s what it is, in my opinion.”
Amirpour is sure, though, that a cure lies just around the corner. “I’m extremely greedy about life. In fifteen years, there will be a nano-shot where you can live forever. I’m sure of it. I don’t think it’ll be FDA-approved and I don’t think it’ll be given to everybody. But I would fucking take it in a second,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s working on her second horror feature, which she plans to debut later in 2016 at the Cannes Film Festival: The Bad Batch. Amirpour says, “The Bad Batch is a post-apocalyptic desert cannibal love story.” Originally she wanted Jennifer Lawrence to star in her movie as bait for cannibals. “She’s so fucking dope,” Amirpour says, “she’s so gangster.” But instead Suki Waterhouse ended up being cast as her leading lady.