Ronald Krauss & Kathy DiFiore Talk ‘Gimme Shelter’
Kathy DiFiore has sheltered pregnant teens in her New Jersey home for decades, and her work has garnered her worldwide praise, including from Mother Theresa. Inspired by her story, Gimme Shelter stars Vanessa Hudgens as Apple Bailey, a fictional character who’s an amalgamation of the real-life girls DiFiore shelters. In the film, we watch Apple struggle to find her way when her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson) and absentee father (Brendan Fraser) fail to provide the support she needs. Eventually, she finds Kathy (played by Ann Dowd) and her shelter, the home she never thought she’d find.
DiFiore has resisted talking to any press about her story and the stories of the girls she shelters, but that all changed when she met director Ronald Krauss, who convinced her to let him make the film and share her story with the world by getting involved and helping her at the shelter for over a year.
DiFiore and Krauss talked to us about how they linked up to make the project, how a hug started it all, Kathy’s relationship with Ann Dowd, Hudgens’ performance, and more.
Gimme Shelter releases nationwide this Friday, January 24th.
Kathy, you haven’t been known to talk to any press about your story…
Kathy: None at all. Zero.
Zero. You didn’t want to do it. So, what brought you to Ronald? What made him different?
Kathy: It’s what brought him to me. I was in hiding! (laughs) I’m a very spiritual person. I have a deep commitment to God. I’ve dedicated my life to God. I say, “God writes straight through crooked lines.” Through a variety of crooked lines, I got to meet Ronald. When I met him, he started to talk about his talents and possibilities, and I kind of just said, “Whatever.” I call it God’s divine timer: every five minutes, I kept hearing in my head, “Trust him. Trust him.” This had never happened to me before. I say this honestly. He kept talkint to me, and I opened up to him. I listened to him. Normally, I would just hang up the phone, make up some excuse, change the subject. Every single talk show has called me, and I’ve always said no. I wouldn’t even let the girls know, because I didn’t want them to get intrigued that they’d get on a show. As I got to know Ronald, I knew why God was saying to trust him. He’s really special, and the girls fell in love with him. They had told him things about their lives that I had never heard.
Ronald, you were at the shelter for a year, correct?
Ronald: I was there a year to write the script, and then I was going back and forth all the time, between casting, researching, and thinking about the idea of actually going back to the real shelter, shooting in the real shelter, and eventually putting the real girls and their babies in the movie, acting with Vanessa. I was trying to figure out whether it was a possibility to do this in an independent fashion, because, first of all, it was a small film. Second of all, it becomes this verité documentary film. My initial instinct was to shoot a documentary, but as I got into it, I realized that doing a feature film would reach so many more people. It was such an important story that had to be told. In these times, the film isn’t just about these shelters or teen pregnancy: this is a film that can unify us and help our society, which teaches us about selflessness, about helping people, about family, about compassion, about love. It’s about all these things, wrapped up in this little place. I said, “This has to happen,” and it did. Now, it’s more than a movie: it’s becoming sort of a movement. It’s touching on so many things that we need right now and that we need to explore with others.
That’s the thing about independent film: we need to be able to have these personal stories to share with others. Big films are great and entertaining, and those are important to in a way, but right now, this film connects with us and can help to show us that helping people is the way. This is the time–right now–to stop fighting on Black Friday to save ten bucks. Forget about yourself and what you need for five minutes and realize that we went through some tough times. What we really need is to lift each other up. This film heals us in a certain way. I’m not saying that has anything to do with me. It’s because of all of the people who worked on this film: the mothers, the babies, Kathy. This is a film about family.
You’ve said that this project started with a hug. Can you talk about that?
Ronald: I went to the shelter to do some research one night, and I met this girl standing out front. It was the middle of January, so it was 20 degrees out and she had no jacket on. I thought she was part of the shelter, but she didn’t. When Kathy showed up, she asked who the girl was, and I said I didn’t know. Kathy had a bed for her, and when I told the girl she could stay, she hugged me so hard she almost knocked me over. She crushed my heart, really. It made me think really deeply about what was happening at the shelter. Her name is Darlisha, and she actually acts in the film with Vanessa as one of the girls. Her story is half the story of Apple. Living in ten foster homes, the razor blade scene with the mother…that all happened to her. The movie’s also really a combination of all the girls, because they have so much in common when it comes to abuse and how society has made them outcasts. The shelter embraces them and picks them up off their feet, showing them that they’re as good as anybody else.
Kathy, what was it like working with Ann Dowd?
Kathy: It was like working with an angel. She’s so sweet. She has her own foster child who she cares for. She took such care with the character. She’d come up to me with Ron’s permission and ask me for guidance. I’d coach her as best I could. When she’d be filming, she’d come back and ask, “Was it okay? How did you feel about it?” I never changed anything she did. She was superb. We became like sisters. I miss her. I wish she was here today. When she plays my part, I cry, because she does such a good job that I feel sorry for myself at times. When Rosario comes to the shelter and whacks her daughter in the face, I cry every time. It’s such a complex scene, and Ann is the anchor of it.
Ronald: Ann is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. She turns in performance after performance, she does theater…she’s so strong. Rosario is explosive in that scene, and in that scene, Ann defines the character of Kathy. She’s so strong. She shows the audience the way. We got so lucky with this cast.
Kathy: You sometimes have to break your heart to be in love, and that’s okay. That’s what that scene says. Kathy’s heart is broken, Apple’s heart is broken. But the love just blossoms.
Vanessa spent time with the girls at the shelter as well, correct?
Ronald: She lived at the shelter for three weeks. She cried the first night wondering what she was doing there, in a sense. She signed up for the project wondering if it was a good idea. That was the transformation, leaving Vanessa behind and becoming Apple. She cut her hair off, gained 15 pounds, lived in the shelter and came out of there being this girl. When we shot the movie, she was Apple. The entire time I was calling her Apple. I don’t think I ever saw Vanessa. I didn’t meet Vanessa until after the movie was over. She somehow became this character, who is so far from her, in terms of her personality as Vanessa Hudgens. She’s an incredible actress. If you challenge this girl, she’s going to deliver. She’s on the cusp of being something great, and this movie shows it. I helped her, but in the end, she had the abilities. I’ve worked with some really good actors, and she really made my job easy. She gave me the confidence that I had the right person for this role.
[To wrap up, Kathy provided more information about the great work she does and how people can help.]
Kathy: I have written a book called Gimme Love…Gimme Hope…Gimme Shelter. It has nine “Apples” in it, it has Mother Theresa in it, who has quite a relationship with me. I think people will enjoy reading it. We’re calling this not a film, but a movement. We’re hoping people will be inspired to help us open shelters around the country. My website is severalsources.net. I have a shelter kit, so if people want to open shelters in various places, I will help them. I’ve been doing this for ten years, including places as far away as China. Get involved! We need more shelters. There are 750,000 pregnant teens in this country a year. Some can stay home with their loved ones, but others are on the streets, and we need to help them.