While most American movies depicting the drug war in Mexico often show the country as a living nightmare, Hardwicke wanted to capture the beauty of Mexico. "For me, this was a great chance to showcase a side of Mexico often not showcased," she says. "We often see dusty, crumbling buildings, but I wanted to show the architecture, and you see the cool modern architecture with that desert villa they go to, the hideaway. That's a really hip hotel in Guadalupe, in the wine country, and designed by a cutting edge architect."
She also got to show Rosarito beach, the coastline, and the valley of Tijuana, in all their arresting vibrancy. The locations are all tangible on the screen and provide quite an epic landscape for Gloria and Hardwicke's camera. "We went and did the whole movie in Tijuana, so from the moment we got greenlit, I was there for five months and just came back to the US for only one day for a meeting at Sony," she says. "That border takes a long time to cross, so you don't want to go back too much [Laughs]. Everybody on the movie, you know, we tried to cast everybody from Mexico, and the crew is from Mexico, and my driver had personally been involved in these crazy situations, so he took me to these different locations. We were really immersed in the area, the location, and a lot of people who worked on the film had firsthand experience."
Hardwicke's movies tend to capture a time and a place with an up close and personal feeling, whether we're talking about LA suburbs in Thirteen or Venice Beach in Lords of Dogtown. They're transportive movies. When Hardwicke wants to immerse an audience in another time or place, she first takes a deep dive into the world she's portraying. "The original film was made in 2009 and released in 2011, and it was kind of inspired by one story -- a beauty queen in Mexico, Laura Zúñiga," she says. "Since then, there's been quite a few prominent stories about these narcos novias [wives of drug cartel leaders], that are kind of in the Patty Hearst, Stockholm situation. How they get trapped in these violent situations, some of them have not survived. Of course, I try to read about all that and study all that. Our writer, Gareth, is from Mexico, and he did a lot of firsthand research with friends of his in the police force and in the government and connected with various aspects of the story."
The filmmaker often gets a sense of vastness on screen with Miss Bala, but she still maintains a closeness with Gloria as well. "I think I was trying to do that with this movie and with a lot of movies I've done -- Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown -- really try to get inside of it and really feel the location," she adds. "We were lucky enough to shoot in Tijuana and have great, beautiful locations. Often we thought, 'What would it feel like if this was happening to you? How does that feel? How do I convey that? Where do I put the camera?' I want that epic intimacy, where you're close and feeling what Gina is feeling, so her face is kind of close to the camera, but we also have an anamorphic lens, so you also feel the environment and the epic situation at the same time."