Style & Culture

On Location: ‘Bones and All’ Is the Next Great American Road Movie

Lifting the curtain on some of the season's most exciting new releases.
Taylor Russell  as Maren and Timothe Chalamet  as Lee in BONES AND ALL directed by Luca Guadagnino a Metro Goldwyn Mayer...
Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Bones and All, the genre-bending romantic horror from Luca Guadagnino, is the next great American road movie, following classics likeThelma and Louise and Little Miss Sunshine among many others. It's also Guadagnino’s first movie to take place entirely stateside. Set in the late 1980s, the film begins in Maryland and follows stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet inward through the middle of the country, passing through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

Prior to filming, the Italian director was largely unfamiliar with the American Midwest—and its eccentricities. Fortunately, he had an expert on staff. Production designer Elliot Hostetter hails from Indiana, and as such was more than prepared to guide his director through the singular landscape. We sat down with Hostetter to hear about capturing what makes the Midwest special, filming on the road, and the fast food they ate along the way.

Bones and All is very focused on a particular slice of America—one that covers a lot of ground but is nevertheless rather consistent at the same time. How did you get involved in the production and what was your approach?

I’ve been working with Luca on various projects for many years, so it was kind of a continuation of the work, you know? But I’m from the Midwest, so I especially wanted to do this film because it touched on my world. I’m from Indianapolis.

One of the states that Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothée Chalamet) pass through in the film is Indiana. Did you shoot there? 

We did a little bit, but not so much. We were based in Cincinnati, which sort of borders Kentucky and Indiana. Most of the film is actually different parts of Ohio, with other states in little bits and pieces. 

Maren (Taylor Russell), Lee (Timothée Chalamet), and the pickup truck they take across the country in Bones and All.

Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

This is a road movie, albeit an unconventional one. Have you ever done a road trip across the country?

I think I probably travel around a bit more than most people. After I graduated college, I took a three month road trip until the money ran out. I drove all around trying to see things, but also find where I wanted to make my home. I've done several road trips—I lived in Texas in my 20s, for example. And so I would drive back and forth to Los Angeles a fair amount. I love to drive and I love to travel around. It’s a great way to see large sections of the United States and its crazy diverse landscape. 

Were you actually road tripping around while filming?

We were road tripping around Ohio, nearly all of the film was shot within a sixty mile radius of Cincinnati. That means a lot of Kentucky as well. All along the Ohio River. 

A moment of solitude for Maren in Nebraska's Ogallala Grasslands

Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

And how did you land on this area as your home base—what about it was so encapsulating?

There’s so much biodiversity in the radius—corn fields and river valleys and meadows—before it gets monotonous further West. [Luca and I and a few others] took a two-week road trip in the very beginning, before we fully settled on Cincinnati. We did the real trip of the film, so we went from Maryland to Western Nebraska. I kept trying to warn him that there was a long stretch from Kentucky to Nebraska that was gonna just be a lot of emptiness. But he really wanted to feel it, you know? 

And did he?

Oh, he felt it. Yeah.

What was that like to witness?

It was a lot of fun. Luca has been in the U.S. a lot, but he really hasn't seen the middle of the country. He was excited by it. It really allowed him to kind of get a subtext on the socioeconomic range and decline in the U.S.—I think it gave him a more personal sense of what was going on. And I think that subtext is in the movie, even though it's not really evident in the plot. 

The film takes Maren from Maryland to Minnesota to Nebraska, picking up Lee along the way.

Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Were you stopping anywhere along the way on this road trip? What type of food were you eating? 

I took Luca to McDonald's, which I think is a special kind of moment. I remember having lunch in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It was really beautiful, this little place by a river, like an old mill.

There's definitely a lot of bad food on the road. But there's something kind of exciting about that, too. And then you pepper in a good steak in Omaha. We try to try to get the hits where you can. Waste no opportunity for regional cuisine.

The film is a period piece set in 1988. How much work did you have to do to recreate that period?

I mean, in a lot of the Midwest, there's a lot of stuff that has not changed too much [since the 1980s] or has only deteriorated. Maren takes the bus a few times. We had an agreement with Greyhound, they gave us a few buses. I’ve never taken a cross country bus trip, only trains and cars. They haven't changed much, the buses.

Maren and Lee stop at a diner—a road trip essential.

Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

They sit in this vast meadow towards the end of the movie and lay their souls bare. Where was that?

That’s the Ogallala Grasslands in northwestern Nebraska. It's a really special place—one of those places that nobody goes to. It's a couple of hours out of the Black Hills in South Dakota, kind of near Wyoming. I love the grasslands in this country. There's beautiful ones in Oklahoma, too. People don't really go there because I think people think it's a little boring, but I just find it one of the most serene, beautiful, and peaceful places I've ever been. No one's there, the air smells sweet from the grass, especially if it's rained a little bit and the birds are singing, you know. Just listening to the sound of that nature is pretty incredible.

It was a really kind of difficult location to shoot, we went there in the middle of the shoot, but I'm glad that it really stands out in the film, because it was not easy to bring everyone there—a 16-hour-or-so hour drive from Cincinnati. 

Last question: What do you have to say about corn?

That’s a loaded question. What can I say? Where I grew up in Indiana was all corn. All the forests have become cornfields. That primordial American landscape has been destroyed by corn. But it's also this incredible crop that's fed the world. It's an interesting place to spend time, to hide in corn and to get lost in corn. It works well for the horror genre, is what I’ll say.