I chose the NYC-based transgender performance artist Nicholas Gorham to play the part. I wasn’t trying to make a particular point about gender, drag, or trans-identity at this stage; Nicholas was simply someone who I knew and felt was the perfect person to play the role.
I interviewed another friend privately, a woman who I had known to be a survivor of sexual abuse. I wanted her perspective on how a rape survivor might communicate such a trauma, and rationalize it within herself, so that I could speak to this subject matter in an authentic voice. Proceeding from this, I devised a loose torso of a script that would contain certain themes and talking points, which reconstructed the original narrative of Daphne and Apollo, and put the characters into a contemporary context.
I presented these notes and ‘concept images’ taken from art history (Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne’ being the most famous) to Nicholas. He developed the costume and mannerisms based on this, with the idea that she would be lucid but delusional, and residing in a mental institution. We shot the ‘interview’ in one sitting, with me off camera in the role of the ‘psychiatrist’ and director. My voice doesn’t appear in the film, and aside from a few specific directions and key lines that I had scripted, the performance was entirely and brilliantly improvised by Nicholas. He struck the right balance between ‘pathos’, ‘camp’ and sincere emotion that I was looking for.
At this point I still didn’t have an idea about the visual direction of the piece. I imagined incorporating some special effects, some trippy visuals like in the other videos I made, but basically the character would be presented as she was shot. It took me a full year and a half between shooting and final editing of the interview; several sequences were ultimately cut about Daphne’s ‘father’ (a river god who was actually responsible for casting the spell of transformation on her, in a spectacular act of "blame the victim for being too beautiful to resist"). At some point during editing, I began experimenting with the 3D computer-generated look that rendered Daphne in a way that reflected her inner psychological state in a more interesting way than the usual ‘weird’ effects would do. So this process ended up being a lot more time-consuming and deviated significantly from my original vision, but for the better, I think. It took that much time for this piece to let me know what it wanted to ‘be’, if that makes sense.
The sound design was also all composed by me, inspired by some campy electronic recordings of ‘music for plants’ that I had come across while researching this whole human/plant hybrid concept. Finally, I designed a series of 'chapter headings' -- the "4 Parts" -- as interludes, using extra bits of footage I had, mostly as a way to give the viewing audience a break but also to accentuate some of the 'punchlines' delivered by Daphne and give this long video a bit more of a narrative structure.