ATLANTA — Early Grayce sports a homemade tattoo on his arm, a crude blue drawing of a heart. But that sentimental gesture has been obliterated by a self-inflicted scar.
Adele Corners looks like a girl who would cause trouble on any seedy street, even if her only crime was a fashion infraction. Skinny legs stretch from her high-heel clogs to her hot pants, and a thin tube top covers her chest. She pops her gum with mindless ease.
Standing outside a run-down gas station beneath a rumbling interstate, Early and Adele are a match made somewhere far short of heaven. The hard-luck couple are two of the principal characters in "Kalifornia," an unsettling road movie that completed filming last summer near Barstow, after starting in Atlanta. The $9-million project for Propaganda Films is the first feature by director Dominic Seca, who made a reputation as a visual stylist with his television commercials and music videos for such artists as Janet Jackson.
Portraying Early and Adele are Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, two rising actors who have attracted increasing attention since they filmed "Kalifornia": Pitt for his role in the bucolic "A River Runs Through It"; Lewis for her part in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 10, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 83 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Dominic Sena is the director of the upcoming film "Kalifornia." His name was misspelled in a story last Sunday. "Too Young to Die" is the name of the television movie on which Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis met. An incorrect title was given in the same story.
Producers hope the couple will boost interest in "Kalifornia," which will be released in March or April and distributed by Grammercy Pictures, a new joint venture of Polygram and Universal.
In the film, the couple embark on a cross-country trip with another couple who have an academic fascination with violence and squalor. Along the way, the others realize that Early himself is a serial killer.
Pitt and Lewis, who live together, have been romantically involved since they met five years ago while filming "A Time To Die," a television movie about children who commit violent crimes. On the Atlanta set, they hugged and kissed and sat together quietly on a curb while the crew bustled around them.
"We wanted to do something together and they just happened to offer us both the parts," said Lewis, 19, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991 for her supporting role in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear."
"We just found two characters we liked, that's what it took," said Pitt, who played a sweet-talking cowboy rogue in "Thelma & Louise."
Seca didn't set out to cast the two. He was looking for someone to play Adele when he saw Lewis in "A Time to Die." He immediately wanted her for his film, but was dismayed to learn she was already working on "Cape Fear."
"She was going to be our little discovery," he recalled during a break on location in Atlanta. "Then the posters for the movie came out and her name wasn't on them and I thought, 'No problem, it's a cameo, a little bitty role, no problem, let's get her. . . . ' Then the next day I see the movie, she steals the movie, she's nominated for an Academy Award. . . . "
Seca, continuing his search for Early Grayce, noticed Pitt in "Thelma & Louise." Pitt's role in the film, says the director, seemed like "a PG version" of Grayce.
When Seca decided to try to cast Pitt, "I didn't know they were a couple," Seca said. "The next day the word came back, 'We think they're an item.' I thought, that's either great or it's terrible."
The actors and Seca say they were drawn to "Kalifornia" by glimmers of humor and vulnerability that offset its dark edge. "It gets you between the corners," said Seca, who was initially troubled by his reaction to the character of Early Grayce.
"At first it threw me," Seca said. "When I got to the end of the script (by Tim Metcalfe), I found out that I liked Early Grayce. There were a lot of things about this guy I really liked. He wasn't like Leatherface, he wasn't like this dark demonic force that lurks in the alleys. He was a real three-dimensional character with a side to him. I still liked this guy despite the things he does over the course of the story.
"At first that bothered me; I shouldn't like Early Grayce. But the next morning I said maybe that's what is really interesting about it. It was that ambivalence that really started to gnaw at me."
According to Seca, the film explores the American fascination with violence from the perspective of Brian and Carrie, played by David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes. The characters are two hipsters who flee the confines of academia to document the sites of serial murders across the country. And as luck always seems to have it in the movies, they wind up with a real-live killer and his girlfriend going along for the ride in their '63 Lincoln convertible.
The physical contrast between the characters sets up the tension: Early in his workman's clothes and Adele in her trailer park garb, while Brian and Carrie wear denim and black. Carrie smokes Greek cigarettes, and a stylish bob sets off her appearance, which does not go unnoticed by Early. As his desire for Carrie becomes evident, her feelings toward him are more ambivalent.