TORONTO — It's not too often you can make the statement "Well, they've never made a movie like this before." But on the dark, dingy, Canadian set of next year's "Repo! The Genetic Opera," you're constantly reminded of the thought by the assembled army of freaks, rock stars and tabloid targets.
"It's set in the not-so-distant future," explained writer Darren Smith, struggling to describe the project before finally settling on referring to it as a cross between "Blade Runner" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "In this future, people are buying and selling body parts on credit, and not just for health reasons. It's like the next phase of plastic surgery. Upgrading your body parts, and upgrading your internal organs, has become a fashion statement. ... You can have a designer kidney or a Gucci liver. But as such, it's expensive. So people are buying these high-end body parts and organs on credit, and in this future it's legal for the organ-financing companies to repossess your organs if you don't make your payments on time."
The futuristic flick comes from the same team that brought you the fourth movie in the bloody profitable "Saw" series. Oh, and have we mentioned yet that it stars none other than Paris Hilton?
"There's so many great songs in the movie, but one of the songs I really loved doing was 'Come Up and Try My New Parts,' which is a very sexy song," explained Hilton, whose previous musical experience consists solely of a critically panned 2006 CD. "It's music I've never even sang before, kind of hard rock. ... [My character] is obsessed with plastic surgery — which everybody is, basically — and they all go to GeneCo to get their new body parts, and my father owns the company. So I feel like I'm kind of also showing everybody [the goods], kinda like a commercial."
The day of our visit, we were escorted into an old warehouse that had been converted into a soundstage. A throng of bizarrely attired extras (lots of leather and fishnets, midgets and clowns — like you might imagine at Marilyn Manson's birthday party) stood in rows outside a steel gate, cheering as veteran actor Paul Sorvino lip-synced a tune welcoming them inside for the film's climactic opera performance.
"I can get down," the 68-year-old "Goodfellas" star laughed. "I can boogie!"
Yeah, but how well can he scream? Co-starring Alexa Vega ("Spy Kids"), Bill Moseley ("The Devil's Rejects"), Skinny Puppy lead singer Nivek Ogre and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Anthony Stewart Head as the ruthless repo man, the film's blood-soaked set, torture-chair side room and vacuum-sealed, animal-organ-distributing prop master left little doubt that "Repo" will bring the pain.
"I take this guy out of a big fridge, and while I'm getting dressed [in an S&M-inspired repo costume], the guy's trying to get out," Head explained of one of his favorite musical numbers. "I finally push him over against this large slab-like structure, string him up, and disembowel him while singing!"
The film focuses not only on the perceived future of plastic surgery, but also of drug abuse. "[Hilton's character] is addicted to a fictitious drug called Zydrate, which is taken from dead people at the time of their death," explained Smith, who originally launched "Repo" with partner Terrance Zdunich as a stage play in 2002. "You know how people supposedly get a euphoric high and see a white light before they die? We hypothesized that a chemical is given off called Zydrate, and if you extract it you can feel that same sense of pleasure."
"[Hilton's character] Amber Sweet wants one more hit of Zydrate, and she has no money left, so she goes up to [a grave-robbing character played by Zdunich] and says, 'I know another way I could pay you,' " Smith explained. "And she starts singing, 'Come Up and Try My New Parts' ... and his character gets a sample."
A promiscuous, hard-partying, vain heiress who makes headlines with her dad's money and a willingness to flaunt her figure? Suddenly this futuristic flick doesn't sound so far off.
"No, this was a stage show that we've been doing for eight years now — and in the stage show we had a limited budget and couldn't do prosthetics, but it was all the same things," explained "Saw" director Darren Lynn Bousman, insisting that the role wasn't written with Hilton in mind. "The script hasn't really changed that much from the stage production to the movie. ... I'll be honest, I was a disbeliever originally ... but Paris pretty much came in and owned it. Meeting her was so crazy, because within five minutes of meeting her we were like, 'This is Amber Sweet!' "
Describing the character as a cross "between Marilyn Manson meets Nine Inch Nails meets Courtney Love," Smith and the filmmakers cast Hilton despite preconceived notions that almost kept them from even meeting with her. "Paris looks different in every single scene; she's what we call in the movie a 'scalpel slut,' " Smith explained. "She loves to go under the knife every week to get her new face. So she'll look different in each scene — people will barely recognize her."
"I really wanted this part. I knew it was going to be hard work to get this because it was like nothing I had ever been asked to do," the "Simple Life" star explained. "I just really put my heart and soul into it and rehearsed every single day."
Hilton insisted that her recent run-ins with the law have caused her to re-evaluate the casual attitude she had toward acting during her "House of Wax" days.
"I think, with being an actress, you have to really feel those feelings [of pain] and know how it is," she said, softening her voice. "I've experienced a lot in life, so I can take things from my personal life and use them in my acting. That's what I've been learning the past couple of years, how to do that. It has to be seen within your eyes, and when I'm doing certain scenes I'll kind of try to relate it to my life."
Still, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And walking around Toronto, one couldn't help but notice the posters on nearly every corner, bearing a come-hither photo of Hilton alongside an invitation to buy tickets and "Party With Paris" at a local nightclub.
"I've been working so much; we're on set early every day and then work till late at night," Hilton explained of the ads. "So I haven't been out that much. But I am having a party out here ... a wrap party for the movie."
If all goes according to plan, April might just give us a movie — and a Paris — unlike anything we've seen before.
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