'Spring Breakers' stars loved St. Pete's beaches, magical sunsets

Actors Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine and writer/director Harmony Korine attend the Spring Breakers premiere at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
Actors Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine and writer/director Harmony Korine attend the Spring Breakers premiere at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
Published Mar. 20, 2013

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "Satan loves sinners" is the official slogan of the swanky SLS Hotel, where Spring Breakers interviews were conducted last weekend. The devil would adore these four backsliders, strutting into a press conference in matching pink-and-black varsity jackets, touting a movie overhauling chaste images. "We're the new Pink Ladies," chirps Ashley Benson, the Rizzo of this neo-Grease gang who'll later joke about dabbling in drugs between takes. She's shushed by a pair of Sandys, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, the good girls gone criminally bad in Spring Breakers.

At the other end of the table Rachel Korine looks amused. She's an early adapter to sin by marriage to Satan's little helper, writer-director Harmony Korine.

"No matter how you've seen them before, the thing that is the most surprising and impressive is that they were all pretty much fearless the whole time," Harmony Korine says. "That was amazing to watch, how they transformed and left themselves.

"They were all in a place in their lives where they were ready for this. They all wanted to challenge themselves and play characters outside the realm of things they'd done before. Go places that were more extreme, more graphic, and in some ways more enlightening."

Satan couldn't say it better himself.

To their credit, the actors patiently answered questions heard the previous day during TV interviews: Yes, it was thrilling to watch James Franco transform himself into a skeevy, drug dealing rapper-muse. Yes, it's unnerving to wear bikinis before cameras all day long. But the actors perked up a bit when asked about working and playing around Tampa Bay.

"It was amazing shooting out there, especially on the beach," Hudgens said. "We got to see some of the most magnificent sunsets, so magical, that are so ingrained in my mind, some of the best memories. The water was just so warm. We'd be filming and when we had a little break we'd just run out into the water and go for a swim."

Gomez said leisure time was nearly as vital as rehearsals in Harmony Korine's loose-limbed approach to character development. During off-hours they visited landmarks like Busch Gardens and Tampa Theatre and enjoyed boat rides and restaurants or just dancing to Nicki Minaj and Drake in their hotel rooms, like college-aged women do.

"One of the most important things was just becoming as close as possible," Gomez said. "We'd rehearse for an hour or two, then on the (production) schedule it was just be, like, hang out with the girls, go to the beach. We got to be really close and that was important, to create that bond."

"I loved it there. People were really sweet and the fans were really great; very supportive, very welcoming. It was quiet and that was nice."

Benson seconded her co-stars' notion that Tampa Bay was an easygoing change of pace from the bustle of L.A. and New York.

"It was such a small town," she said. "I remember going out with the girls and we were just driving around, had no idea where we were going. We'd be like: 'Oh, I want to live here, in the little houses on the water.' "

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Rachel Korine called it a "great environment to sort of be thrown into," during an answer suggesting her husband's creative oeuvre rubbed off.

"Location can be everything sometimes," she said. "It was very colorful but there were some gritty places, too. A lot of weirdos. You've got to find a place that has that balance. You don't want all sweet, smiling faces. You want some creepers coming out, too. That's what gives the film its characters, and those, like, messed-up undertones."

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.