Interviews · LFF19

Hope Gap Interview: William Nicholson – ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll just be dead, so I might as well get on with it!’

William Nicholson is a respected and prolific screenwriter, having penned the scripts for Gladiator, Les Misérables, Shadowlands, and many others. His latest film is divorce drama Hope Gap which he has written and directed. It’s a very personal piece as it is based on his own life and adapted from his Tony award-nominated play Retreat from Moscow.

 The story tracks the separation of husband Edward (Bill Nighy) from wife Grace (Annette Bening) after almost thirty years of marriage. With their son Connor (Josh O’Connor) somewhat caught in the crossfire, the narrative illustrates how the split impacts on the family and explores the repercussions of the breakup. The film celebrated its UK Premiere at the London Film Festival, and I was fortunate enough to chat with Nicholson about the project…

What were the biggest challenges in adapting the theatrical dialogue in your play for the cinema?

 In an interesting way, the biggest challenge was to not ditch the dialogue! A lot of people think that you can’t have a film where people give long speeches. I don’t agree. A film is yet another form of exposing people to emotional drama. There are some films that are wall-to-wall talk and they’re amazing…films like Before Sunrise for example. The key thing for me was NOT to say, ‘I must open it up’. I should have faith in my words.

 Having said that, the film gave me so much opportunity to give echoes of other images which I put an awful lot of work into. It sounds silly but there’s a shot of a train going by and I spent about a day trying to find the angle for the train to cross. I wanted the screen to be a little bit empty, a little bit lonely, and to have a sense of ‘the end of the line’ because that was in this emotion of the story. I’ve been able to compose every frame! I can’t do that in the theatre because the audience composes the frame. For me, that was a gift.

With the story being autobiographical of your youth, how come it’s taken so long to make it to the big screen?

 I was waiting for my parents to die…I think in some ways it would’ve been hard for them to see the film. My mother certainly was very conflicted. Not that she wouldn’t have wanted me to do it, but she kept thinking that my version of what my father did was the truth. It might be the truth, but I don’t know! He didn’t talk too much, so I’ve invented my version of why he did what he did. Now that they’re not here anymore, I’m free to invent.

 The other reason it’s taken so long is that I’ve been afraid of directing for a long time. I finally thought ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll just be dead’ so I might as well get on with it. I realised that I’m surrounded by experts and my job as a director is to know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it. The cinematographer, the set designer, the editor. These people know how to get it, so I need to get them to make it for me…and they do! Here I am at my advanced age and I feel like I’m starting a new career. It’s amazing.

The original play was titled Retreat from Moscow. What was the story behind the name change to Hope Gap?

Retreat from Moscow was always problematic because everybody thought it was about Napoleon. It was a metaphorical title, but I thought for the film I had to do something else. Because I grew up in Seaford, I thought I’d make it there…so when I was visiting, I saw the Hope Gap which is a real place, and I thought that was perfect. Nobody else wanted Hope Gap actually. My production colleagues thought it was ugly and horrible. It might be puzzling but it’s memorable and I like it…so I hung on and now it just seems so natural. I’m thrilled with the title!

You have such wonderful actors for the film. Did you always have them in mind at the beginning of the project?

 Bill Nighy, yes! I didn’t even know Josh O’Connor existed! I was casting and meeting people and by golly, do I know he exists now! He is going to be a big star. He’s wonderful. Annette was much harder to cast. I was originally looking at English actors, but my production company were telling me I needed a big name. A name big enough to get the money…so we looked into the Americans! We approached Annette and it was quite a process. She wasn’t sure about me but then why would she be sure? I might be a well-known screenwriter but I’m not a famous director and actors care about that. Thankfully, she eventually said yes and here we are!

There’s currently no official UK release date for Hope Gap but it’s expected to be in cinemas some time in 2020.

See a clip below!

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EIFF19 · Interviews

Schemers Interview: “This is a celebration of Scottish culture and there needs to be more of that, for sure!”

Schemers is the first feature-length movie to be made in Dundee, and follows the adventurous early years of music producer David McLean. Ahead of its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I was fortunate to sit down with writer/director McLean and leading actor Conor Berry to chat about their film.

What triggered the project and why did you decide to make it now?

Dave – Well it’s been a work in progress for a good few years…I’ve always fancied being a writer. I’d wrote the original script in 10 days but that was four years ago. Pals say to me ‘why don’t you do it? You’ve got loads of stories’ so when the band I manage (Placebo) had a bit of downtime, I thought this is the time to do it. We got the script, we got the money, and we just made it. We thought we’d make it about the early years because there was a good soundtrack for that time. It was a good period. It was exciting.

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Interviews

Director interview: Drew Denny – ‘I hope to make bigger fiction films through the lens of a queer feminist perspective.’

Indie filmmaker Drew Denny’s latest feature is short crime thriller Momster, which stars Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) as a mother and daughter on the wrong side of the law. I’ve been lucky enough to ask Denny about this project on the week of its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival…

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Interviews

Red Carpet interview: Ewan McGregor

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Ewan McGregor’s movie career really kicked off in Edinburgh in the nineties, as it provided the setting for his work with director Danny Boyle on both Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Since then, he has gone onto appear in Star Wars, Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish and many more, cementing his place as one of our finest exports. He returns to the capital to present family drama American Pastoral, adapted from Philip Roth’s award-winning novel of the same name. Directing for the first time as well as playing the leading role of Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, he took to the red carpet at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, and I was fortunate enough to attend.

Amidst the premiere buzz, he spoke passionately about the project to which he has been attached to for a number of years as an actor, but described directing as ‘a different ball game’ and an ‘incredible opportunity’. Because of the big budget and star-studded cast, he mentions that it feels like somebody’s second feature and excitedly states that he’d love to go back a step to make his ‘first’ film, possibly a small indie romance that would unfold in contemporary Scotland. As he gets moved along the packed media line by his entourage, I receive a signal that there is time for two questions only. I greet him and we shake hands, and I ask the following…

Being both director and leading actor in American Pastoral, how did your acting process change without having someone else there to offer direction and guidance?

“I think I really had to trust my instincts as I always do as an actor. In terms of doing takes on myself, I would just trust the feeling that I usually have when I’ve got it. You know, when you’re doing a series of takes I suppose you’re aiming for something or a certain feeling, and when I felt like I had that I would move on. When it starts to feel real, that is when its at its best.”

Which director that you’ve worked with has had the biggest influence on you as a filmmaker?

“It’s difficult to say! I think all of them do. There are lots of directors I’ve worked with that teach you what not to do, and then there’s those that teach you what to do! The truth is that I could mention three names of directors that I’ve loved working with, and they all work in entirely different ways. There’s no correct way to do it. It’s very much about who they are and their characters. I directed just the way I like to be directed, I suppose. I do believe that filmmaking is a collaboration, and I loved collaborating with the actors and the crew on American Pastoral.”

American Pastoral opens nationwide on Friday 11th November. 

See the trailer:

Photograph by Filmhouse

Interviews

EIFF interview: Stephen Graham

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In 21st century cinema, British acting talent doesn’t come much more talented than Stephen Graham, the Liverpudlian known mostly for his hard-man roles across film and television, both in home-grown projects and in the US. His breakthrough role was in Guy Ritchie’s ensemble black comedy Snatch in which he starred alongside Jason Statham and Brad Pitt. Two years later, he was in the States working with Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York.

Since then, he has been perhaps most associated with playing sociopathic skinhead Combo in Shane Meadows’ This Is England and portraying the notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone in HBO series Boardwalk Empire. His other notable credits include Public Enemies, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Pirates of the Caribbean.

His latest part sees him play reclusive security guard Robert in Michael Lennox’s directorial debut A Patch of Fog which is screening at the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Instead of following the rules and prosecuting, he blackmails the thief in return for friendship. I caught up with Stephen Graham to discuss the new film as well as his impressive back-catalogue of work.

We’re introduced in Edinburgh’s Caledonian hotel and as he orders a water with honey, he switches chairs a couple of times to get comfortable, apologising for looking like a ‘right goldilocks’. He’s far from that, and after I ruffle through my notes and hit record, this is what happened…

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Interviews

Red Carpet interview: Paddy Considine – ‘My challenges are always with myself.’

English actor Paddy Considine poses for pictures on the red carpet for the world premier of the film 'The World's End' in London's Leicester Square on July 10, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)

From starring in Shane Meadows’ cult classic ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, appearing in movies such as Hot Fuzz and Pride, to writing and directing the brilliant ‘Tyrannosaur’, multi-talented Paddy Considine has been a key player in the British film scene since the turn of the century.

This year he goes Shakespearean alongside Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard to play Macbeth’s best friend Banquo in Justin Kurzel’s anticipated take on the iconic play. At the premiere, I was lucky enough to fire some questions his way…

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Features · Interviews

Macbeth Premiere: Interview with Justin Kurzel

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The blood spilled in Macbeth was as deep and red as the carpet at Edinburgh’s star-studded premiere at The Festival Theatre, where crowds gathered to celebrate the release of the latest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s iconic play. In its introduction, Australian director Justin Kurzel jokingly calls his latest work ‘The Scottish Film’ in reference to the well known theatre superstition of never uttering the play’s name, but jokes are nowhere to be found in his bold and brutal retelling of the story.

The highly acclaimed Michael Fassbender stars in the titular role, with Marion Cotillard by his side as the influential Lady Macbeth. The supporting cast includes Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki. Their Skye shoot was marred with horrid wind and rain, beating down to give the perfect weather-beaten backdrop for events to unfold. The premiere was much to the contrary as the sun shone on the stars to greet the fans, Fassbender revelling in signing autographs and taking selfies with his Scottish admirers.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to chat to the director of the piece Kurzel, who had an interesting take on the central character, comparing him to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who is arguably the greatest television anti-hero of the 21st century. Discussing the odd similarity, he said, “I was watching a lot of Breaking Bad to have some freedom away from the torture of the edit and found that, like Macbeth, it is about a man going mad and descending into an evil that he can’t find a way back from.”

Bringing a Shakespeare classic to the big screen is no mean feat and the filmmaker was quick to discuss his reasons for giving it the cinematic treatment.

“It kind of read like a Western when I read the screenplay, and felt really modern. The Scottish setting made it feel very honest. It didn’t feel contrived or as if it was a prisoner to the words. The writers had a new take on the themes of ambition in the play, making it less about control and more about what you do with grief and trauma, especially being a warrior. We found that to be a really fresh and interesting take on the original material.”

He also spoke freely about the universal appeal of Macbeth, and how the story has the longevity to be told again and again without becoming stale.

“I read something the other day that stated that every four hours across the world a production of Macbeth is taking place, so I think already it is the biggest blockbuster around. I think it is whether people are engaged enough to want to see a new one because it carries a lot of baggage. People think if they’ve seen it, or read it, or studied it at school that they’ve done it so I think it’s always about offering up something fresh and new.

For us it’s about placing it back in the time in which it existed, and finding something very human and real in it. I’ve seen it now three times and it’s amazing to me how much Shakespeare keeps on repeating itself but people always want to go back for a second or third time to watch it. I think it has a lot to do with the verse because you don’t always hear or understand the verse the first time so you want to go back and get something new from it each time.”

Macbeth is available on DVD, Blu Ray and on demand.