A Director's Struggle With Anorexia In 'To The Bone'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Marti Noxon made her name as a TV writer, director and producer, working on shows like "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," "Glee," also, "Mad Men."
Now she's making her debut as a film director with "To The Bone." It is a movie about her own struggles with anorexia. The movie stars Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves, and it's available on Netflix this weekend.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco went to visit Noxon at her home in Studio City, Calif.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: We're in Marti Noxon's kitchen, with its faint but delicious scent from this morning's waffles. Actually, pie is her specialty.
MARTI NOXON: I'm pretty proud of my pie crust. I think I've finally learned how to manhandle it just enough.
DEL BARCO: This is how much she loves to bake. A few years ago, she helped open a flour mill in Pasadena. And recently, she applied to be a contestant on a TV baking contest.
NOXON: And I actually made it to, like, the second round of interviews, yeah. And when I said to the guy - I said, I did co-create a show about the evils of reality television. He goes, I know. We loved it. So I almost - but then I think the jig was up.
DEL BARCO: This baking afficionado was once anorexic, beginning at age 14. In high school, she was cast as Jennifer Jason Leigh's body double for a TV movie about the disorder. At the time, Noxon weighed less than 70 pounds.
NOXON: And believe me, the sick part of me is still prideful about it. Like, yeah, I was having heart palpitations every single day. Like, there's that violence towards yourself that lives in you, and it really wants to take you to death.
DEL BARCO: Noxon says she was in and out of hospitals for her eating disorder before finding a doctor that helped her recover.
The new movie she wrote and directed is about her experiences.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO THE BONE")
KEANU REEVES: (As Dr. Beckham) You're not thin. You scare people. And I'm guessing you like that. But the way that you're going, one day, you won't wake up. And I'm not going to treat you if you aren't interested in living.
LILY COLLINS: (As Ellen) Good speech.
REEVES: (As Dr. Beckham) If I'm going to help you, you have to agree to a few things.
NOXON: It was me. That was my story. I'm lucky to be alive. It's a blessing to tell my story, you know. But, yeah, no, I got to a place where everybody was really afraid I was going to die.
DEL BARCO: Noxon says it's taken her years to look at her own addictions. But at 53, she hopes her movie helps audiences understand the disorder.
NOXON: There's a brain chemistry - the floatiness and the disassociation and all the things that came with starving, I became addicted to. And later, when I had trouble with alcohol, it was similar because the ritual of it, even the remorse and the planning not to do it and the - you know, my life became just gripped with obsession.
DEL BARCO: As a director, Noxon was also not afraid to show disturbing images, her main character's protruding spine and rib cage and other people's shocked reactions to her gaunt frame.
NOXON: I didn't want it to feel in any way sensual or romantic. The responsibility we had was to show enough that people understood it was deadly and grave.
DEL BARCO: As a child, Noxon says she divided her time between her bipolar mother in Santa Monica and her filmmaker father in the Valley. Nicolas Noxon worked for National Geographic, producing mostly documentaries about animals.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TIGERS OF THE SNOW")
RICHARD KILEY: (As narrator) It is the biggest cat on Earth, the Siberian tiger.
DEL BARCO: In college at UC Santa Cruz, Noxon ditched acting and began to write. For many years afterwards, she worked as an assistant to a number of Hollywood agents and writers. She pitched a lot of ideas for movies and even sold a screenplay. But her big break came in 1997, when she was hired to write for the hit TV show "Buffy The Vampire Slayer."
(SOUNDBITE OF NERF HERDER'S "'BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER' THEME")
NOXON: It had such an emotional heart to it. It was the moment that Buffy bared her neck to Angel and was basically daring him to bite her. And I was like, OK, this is a heroine I have never seen before. She's a girl making bad decisions. And I was like, I want that kind of hero. I need that kind of hero.
DEL BARCO: Noxon worked closely with the show's creator, Joss Whedon, who says he's impressed by her openness.
JOSS WHEDON: Most of us are busy hiding from our damage while we're trying to create. And Marti is not - not afraid of Marti. You know, she obviously is enormously charming, very shocking. I mean, she would just tell you the most intimate things.
DEL BARCO: Whedon says Noxon's bravado came out in her scripts.
WHEDON: On "Buffy," Marti got some guff for bringing, you know, some reality to the thing. Ton of humor and metaphor and the scary and the sexy and the fun - but at the same time, she got a little close to the bone.
DEL BARCO: Noxon reminisces about working with Whedon on a key scene in which Buffy slays her vampire boyfriend, Angel.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER")
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR: (As Buffy) I love you.
DAVID BOREANAZ: (As Angel) I love you.
NOXON: Both he and I were standing behind the monitors and just weeping (laughter). I was aware of how silly it was, but I was also, like, this is the dream. I'm inside the dream factory, you know. My dad had made a documentary called "The Dream Factory" about MGM, and my whole life I just wanted to be inside it. And there I was.
DEL BARCO: By the final seasons of "Buffy," Noxon was executive producer. And during her run, she even had a cameo on one episode, singing about getting a parking ticket.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER")
NOXON: (As Parking Ticket Woman, singing) I'm asking you, please, no. It isn't right. It isn't fair. There was no parking anywhere. I think that hydrant wasn't there. Why can't you let it go? I think I've paid more than my share. I'm just a poor girl. Don't you care? Hey, I'm not wearing underwear.
DEL BARCO: After "Buffy," Noxon wrote for "Grey's Anatomy," "Glee" and "Mad Men." She also executive produced a series, "Unreal," and created "Code Black" and "Girlfriends' Guide To Divorce." Now, she tackles the big screen with "To The Bone."
On Monday night at USC, outside a screening of the film, Noxon met up with the 28-year-old actress who plays her in the movie. She and Lily Collins held up their left wrists together. Both have tattoos with the letters L.J.
NOXON: So kooky.
COLLINS: I know.
NOXON: Kooky pookie (ph) (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Noxon's tattoos are the initials of her children, Jed and Laney. Collins' are her own initials, Lily Jane. Collins says the two are best friends with many things in common, including their love of baking and their past eating disorders.
COLLINS: She's of a different generation than I am. And yet, I felt like we were the same age. And she's just the most giving, open, brutally honest, self-deprecating, smart, kick-ass woman that I've had the pleasure of working with and knowing, really. And she's a sassy truth-teller (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Noxon continues to tell stories her way. Besides "To The Bone," she's working on an upcoming HBO drama called "Sharp Objects" and a TV series called "Dietland."
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF THOSE WHO RIDE WITH GIANTS' "THE SECOND SIGHTING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.