The directorial debut of Ryan Andrew Hooper has its premiere at Glasgow Film Festival. A comedy Western set in Pembrokeshire, The Toll tells the story of an unnamed toll booth operator played by Michael Smiley, and about what happens when his dark past catches up with him. I was fortunate enough to chat with Ryan about the film ahead of its release…
I see you have directed The Toll previously as a short film titled Ambition. How closely linked are the two and were there any major changes to the story for the feature-length version?
In terms of that, it was actually written as a feature before it was a short. We came up with the idea and the writer (Matt Redd) and I had this strategy around a short film scheme in Wales called The Beacons. We decided to make the short in order to apply to Cinematic for funding to make the feature! We ended up making a short that was nothing like The Toll. We had different actors, a different toll booth, and there was some magic realism in it.
“The expert in battle moves his enemies but is not moved by them” is just one of the phrases slightly misquoted by the stationary anti-hero in black comedy The Toll, the first time feature from director Ryan Andrew Hooper. An extension of his 2019 short film Ambition, the crime caper centres around an unnamed toll-booth operator (Michael Smiley) who appears to enjoy the simple things in life. His peace is shattered by various incidents occurring in and around the nearby small Welsh town, meanwhile traffic cop turned detective Catrin (Annes Elwy) is looking for answers.
We’ve come to expect the unexpected from the eclectic films of indie filmmaker Ben Wheatley, as his rule-defying style can twist and mould genre conventions to fit his dark directorial visions. His latest project, which he co-wrote with his wife Amy Jump, is 70s crime caper Free Fire. The action unfolds over just one night in a derelict umbrella warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts. When business associates Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) team up with facilitator Justine (Brie Larson) for a dodgy deal with Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Ord (Armie Hammer) and their squad of gun-runners, the tension is palpable. Not even so-called allies fully trust one another, let alone enemies so when an argument breaks out, a brutal shoot-out ensues.