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Mike Mills

Mike Mills’ new film, 20th Century Women concerns the lives of three Californian women in the late 1970s. Here, the writer/director talks candidly about the process of recreating real people on the big screen. “20th Century Women is all based on real people. Dorothea is based on my mother, Abbie’s character is based on my sister and Julie is based on my first girlfriend and a bunch of other girls that would sneak in to my bedroom at night. I was raised in a matriarchy. Dad was around but he wasn’t really present. So I had this very strong mother, these very strong older sisters and so I kind of gravitated towards women. In a way it feels very natural. It feels more natural to me to write female characters than male characters. A lot of my emotionality or my true inner life is really easy to transpose on a female character. Actually writing them is a little trickier. And trying to be right and trying to be aware of my limitations as a heterosexual, cisgender male guy, I can’t really have the life experience of my mom and all these different people. “I wrote Beginners when my dad had just died, so I had a lot of fresh memories. My mom died in ’99, so the memories were much more passive. For her I had to just study all these ’30s and ’40s films because that’s what she watched. It really brought her back, because she had that kind of anti-authoritarian humour that all those women had back then – just wisecracking all the time. She was very Hawksian in the way she spoke. And very Bogart, too. She said all the time, ‘In my next life, I’m gonna marry Bogart.’ Then I kind of realised my mum is Bogart, she was very butch and had a little trans quality to her. She wanted to be a pilot, was a contractor, never did anything feminine. “I involved my sister, Meg. She helped in the recreation of my mother. She does really great astrology readings where she gets like the exact time of your birth and does your whole chart. Annette Bening [who plays Dorothea] ...