Indie director Gerard Johnson’s latest movie is Muscle, a psychological thriller starring Cavan Clerkin and Craig Fairbrass. The plot follows out-of-shape salesman Simon who meets an intimidating personal trainer at his local gym. After its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, I caught up with Gerard to discuss the film…
How did the London premiere go?
It was great! It was my first time having a film at London. I’m from London so it was nice that I finally got to play a film there. My previous two Tony and Hyena both premiered in Edinburgh, so it was lovely to premiere in London with Muscle. The three screenings went well and generated great word of mouth buzz, so it was everything I wanted from the festival really.
Where did the inspiration come from for Simon’s story?
Well I’ve been going to gyms all my life really, from the spit-and-sawdust ones to the more modern lifestyle ones. I’ve had this idea for a while of a personal trainer taking over someone’s life, and it remained a two-page treatment idea for years. Recently, in seeing how gym culture has exploded, it made me think that we’ve never really had a film about gym culture. Obviously, there was Pumping Iron, which is an amazing gym-based documentary but that’s more about Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Nowadays, everyone is more health conscious and knows about nutrition, carbs, good fats etc. so it feels like a good time to shine a light on that world in the cinema.
The ninth collaboration between legendary pairing Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and their first in over twenty years, mob drama The Irishman has been a long time coming. Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by true crime writer Charles Brandt, the plot centres around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), the eponymous WWII veteran turned hitman. From meeting mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to his complicated friendship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the sprawling epic tracks the life and times of the mercilessly loyal footsoldier.
New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi has garnered cult status and critical acclaim with his distinctive style of madcap comedy. The controversial premise of his latest feature Jojo Rabbit has caused quite the stir as the Jewish auteur tackles the topic of Nazism. Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the WWII story sees German boy Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis) enrol in a Hitler Youth training camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his team of instructors. Meanwhile, Johannes’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house, presenting a moral dilemma for the young protagonist which he ponders with Adolf (Taika Waititi), his dictatorial imaginary friend.
Indie filmmaker Gerard Johnson isn’t content with making simple crime movies. His work to date has blended the genre with other elements, crossing into wider arthouse ideas. With psychological thriller Muscle, he casts his directorial gaze upon gym culture and the toxic masculinity that can come with it. The plot follows Simon (Cavan Clerkin), a schlubby call-centre worker stuck in a rut. In an attempt to better himself, he joins the local gym where he meets Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an intimidating personal trainer who offers Simon a helping hand. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems.
Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach explores love within the confines of separation with divorce drama Marriage Story. The plot follows actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and her theatre director husband Charlie (Adam Driver) as their relationship is falling apart. With their young son to consider, they want an amicable break-up, but once lawyers get involved, the situation becomes messy and emotionally charged.
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 biggest challenges in adapting the theatrical dialogue in your play for the
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.
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
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.
original play was titled Retreat from Moscow. What was the story behind the
name change to Hope Gap?
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!
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!
Hope Gap will be in UK cinemas from 12th June 2020
Writer and director Robert Eggers caused a stir with his folktale debut The Witch back in 2015, and his sophomore effort is fantasy horror The Lighthouse. The 1890s plot follows experienced seafarer Thomas (Willem Dafoe) as he hires fresh new recruit Winslow (Robert Pattinson) to help him with the upkeep of a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. Working hard by day and drinking hard by night with only each other for company, the harsh conditions and isolation eventually takes its toll on them, and Winslow slowly descends into madness.