Indie filmmaker Drew Denny’s latest 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…Continue reading “Momster interview: Drew Denny – ‘I hope to make bigger fiction films through the lens of a queer feminist perspective.’”
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
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…
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…
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.
What do you get if you take someone with Tourette’s, an OCD sufferer and an anorexic and put them on a road trip together? You get new film, ‘The Road Within’, written and directed by Gren Wells. Taking on the complex roles of Vincent, Alex and Marie are Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel and Zoë Kravitz, and Gren Wells has kindly agreed to discuss the project, exclusively with Cinema Perspective. This is what she had to say…
‘The Road Within’ is a remake of German movie ‘Vincent Wants To Sea’. What was it about the original that compelled you into writing and directing an American version?
I saw the trailer for the original film on some random German trailer website – and I thought if they could put that much heart and humor into 2 minutes, then the movie had to be amazing. Shortly after I optioned it, the movie won the German Oscar for Best Film and Best Actor – so luckily I was right! At that point, the movie hadn’t been seen by many people outside of Germany but what struck me is how universal the message is. The movie is about young adults dealing with specific mental disorders (Tourette Syndrome, OCD and Anorexia) – but at its core, it’s about feeling different. And everyone can relate to that because we’re all different in some way. We’re all weirdos. That’s why Breakfast Club is such a classic – because everyone feels like an outsider at some point in their lives.
Did you face any cultural challenges in your reimagining of the project?
Not really because it’s a coming of age story about real people. Not real in the sense that it’s based on a true story – but real because people are dealing with these issues all over the world. Mental health awareness is a huge mandate of mine. It makes no sense to me that physical pain doesn’t have a stigma – but mental does. And that’s what people are relating to. We’ve now shown this film all over the world and audiences are all laughing, clapping and crying at the same moments because, though our exteriors might look different, the human spirit remains the same.
You’ve brought out three superb performances in Sheehan, Kravitz and Patel. What were they like to work with and can you tell us about the preparation for their roles, both mentally and physically?
Thank you! We had such a great time making this film. We felt an incredible responsibility to portray the disorders with authenticity and dignity. These issues are usually portrayed as the butt of a joke and I don’t think anyone has to right to laugh at someone else’s pain. But there’s a big difference between laughing at someone – and laughing with them. Laughter, by its very nature, is a release. It’s taking a breath. And it’s incredibly important to allow an audience to breath during a tense scene. My favorite films are ones in which you laugh and cry (James L. Brooks, Mike Nichols and John Hughes were masters of this) – so we all went into this knowing that it was going to be a delicate balance of pain and humor.
With Robert Sheehan, I knew the moment I met him that he was Vincent. He has such an amazing heightened energy – and Tourette’s is nothing if not high energy. [Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder in which the sufferer has involuntary physical and guttural tics. Only about 10% of TS sufferers also have Coprolalia, which is where they curse and say inappropriate things.]
I knew Robert’s previous work so I knew he was extraordinarily talented – but the work he does in this film proves that he is one of the top young actors working today. He was fully committed to the role (we rehearsed for 6 months prior to shooting) and he never wavered. I moved him in with Jaxon Kramer, a young man with Tourette Syndrome so he could get the physical mannerisms right. And after a week or so, Jaxon and I said, ‘Great! Now forget everything you just learned.’ Because tics are specific to each person. So he had to find movements that worked for his body. And even though Robert’s tics were too big at that point, I never once told him to tone it down because I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious – and I knew he’d eventually find the right balance. And boy did he! Seriously, he’s just tremendous.
With Dev Patel, I needed someone who could portray the arrogance and intense loneliness of Alex. Again, I was looking for a specific energy – more frantic than Vincent’s – because the OCD sufferers I interviewed all had it. Dev was initially scared of the role and turned it down but I hounded his manager until she finally sat us down together. And I convinced him that I would be there every step of the way – that I would not let him fail. It’s an incredibly brave performance because, on the page, Alex is unlikeable. He yells, he screams, he connives – but Dev has such a beautiful vulnerability behind his eyes that you can’t help but love Alex. We rehearsed for 3 months, figuring out the right obsessions, rituals and triggers for Alex. I think Dev absolutely nailed it and gives his best performance to date.
With Zoë Kravitz, I knew she was perfect for the role of Marie because she’s dangerous, sexy and unpredictable. The thing about Anorexia is that it makes you incredibly secretive and manipulative. I was Anorexic / Bulimic from age 15 – 21 and I remember putting on this really brave face – but inside I was terrified. So I needed someone who could pull off both sides of the coin. Plus, because an intense physical transformation would be necessary (Zoe eventually lost 20 pounds for the role), I needed someone who was strong enough emotionally to not fall victim to the disorder. Zoe had dealt with her own eating disorder issues in high school – but she spoke about it with such strength that I knew she could handle it. [Plus, I was watching her like a hawk.]
We hired her a dietician and a trainer and we went and spoke with numerous young women who were currently in the throes of the disorder. It was heartbreaking to see these women suffering – and just like in the film, you want to say, ‘Eat something!’ But it’s not that easy. Anorexia is a disease of the mind. So we were very careful to not glamorize this disorder – but we did need to show the reality of it. And the reality is that Anorexia has the highest death rate of all of the psychological disorders. Zoe knew this and felt it was imperative to bring this topic into the limelight.
And then with Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Patrick, I was just lucky that they said yes! Seriously, they’re both such pro’s and I feel honored to have worked with them.
Q. What has your experience been like in bringing the film across the pond to the UK, and to the Edinburgh International Film Festival?
Well, we haven’t shown the film yet but it’s incredibly flattering to have our UK premiere here! The Edinburgh Film Festival has such a renowned history for programming interesting, thought-provoking and challenging films, so I can’t wait to see how audiences respond!
Q. What’s next for you as a writer or director? Do you have any new films in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I actually just signed on to direct my next film! It’s about a female Marine who gets both legs shot off in Afghanistan and ends up having to go back to the place she was running from to begin with… her home town and her family. So it’s a beautiful father / daughter reconciliation story, set against the backdrop veteran’s affairs. I can’t wait!!!!
See the trailer:
British actress Sarah Solemani is best known for her roles in BBC comedy programmes ‘Him & Her’ and ‘Bad Education’, and this year she appears at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in ‘Hector’ alongside Peter Mullan and Keith Allen. Directed by Jake Gavin, the film provides insight into the UK’s homeless community, and tells the story of Hector (Mullan) who tracks down his family after years on the streets. I have been fortunate enough to discuss the film with Sarah, and this is what she had to say…
Hector is a beautiful film that boasts the established talent of the brilliant Peter Mullan. What was he like on set and to work with in the tender scenes you have together?
‘Thanks Garry! Peter Mullan is an actor’s actor. That is, amongst actors, he is considered the best. Best talent, best showbiz stories, best banter etc. Actors want to work with him because they know they’ll learn from him, and that they’ll get a training of sorts. He didn’t disappoint. On set he was relaxed and gentle, and when we weren’t filming we would be smoking in his room talking about Marxism and global politics – a fascination we both share.’
The thought-provoking film is effective in showing both the kindness and cruelty shown towards the homeless community in Britain. How do you feel about how homeless people are perceived in the UK and have your views changed at all following your role?
‘I don’t think my views have changed because I’ve always been aware of how fragile certain people are and how easy it is to slip through the net. I suppose the film serves as a reminder that the homeless aren’t just addicts trying to make you feel guilty to fund their habits, which sometimes gets caught in our heads. They often have heartbreaking, eye-popping, epic stories behind them, and could even be considered Job-like heroes if you think about what they’ve been through and survived. Perhaps because we physically look down on them, on the pavements or shop doorways there is a sense of them being lower, amongst the dirt and the stench, but what the film does in putting a homeless person as the protagonist is elevate them to a different status which I think is missing from common consciousness.’
When Hector is at his lowest, the introduction of your character Sara is a breath of fresh air to him, and to the film. What was the process like in bringing light to what at that point was a dark part of the film?
‘I didn’t really approach it in terms of light and dark, though I’m glad that is what was perceived. I met people who worked in the social system; support workers, social workers, volunteers etc. and tried to get under their skin a bit. What struck me was the hours a lot of these people work; the pressures, the low pay, the levels of paper work so there was a ‘busyness’ to her that helped me avoid sentimentality. A practicality – she wants to help Hector because that’s her job and there’s a process. Rather than do a Mother Theresa number I wanted her to always be on the move, rushing about from one person to the other so that when she does take a breath for Hector, we realise there is a special bond there.’
I have read that a Bad Education film is in the works. Can you tell us a little about that?
‘I could but I might not live to see another day! Ok, don’t tell anyone but it’s all shot, it’s fantastically funny and it should be out very very soon…’
Finally, I am a huge fan of Him & Her and thought you were excellent in it. Are there any plans to do another series or can we expect to see a big screen outing for Steve & Becky? If there was to be a film version, what would be your dream plot?
‘Thank you! I’d love to do the film. Becky announced her pregnancy in the last ep of the last series so I’d love to see how they’d cope with another little addition to their slobby family!’