Category Archive: Film
  1. Lea Seydoux: “Like many actors, I have a lot of instinct, but I’m also scared, even if I often feel comfortable on a set.”

    Leave a Comment

    Lea Seydoux follows in a long line of sulky, petted lip and iconic French actresses, of which there are quite a few – I would argue that she’s already up there with the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. Seydoux is a famed art-house actress (The Lobster, Blue is The Warmest Colour)  with a penchant for staring in blockbusters (James Bond).  Here, we discuss her new movie Deception, ‘a profession of faith’ based on the eponymous Philip Roth novel, and her latest collaboration with the brilliant and prolific director Arnaud Desplechin. 

     

     

    The softness of your voice in Deception is striking, almost hypnotic, from the opening scene where you are facing the camera. Was it a given from the start? 

     

    I have had few such a talkative roles in my career, moreover with such demanding text. Here the words had to be expressed incisively and quickly. We surely all have several voices according to different periods and situations in life. My voice in Oh Mercy! was clearly different from the one I have in Deception. In this film it is closer to mine in life. 

     

    You all seem to have an erotic relationship with the text in this film… 

     

    This comes from Arnaud, who has a very close relationship with literature. I think that words, language, literature are essentially erotic. I am convinced that creation in general has a close relationship with eros. It’s a libidinal transformation. And this is the case in Deception. Throughout his films Arnaud narrates feelings supported by the text.

     

     

    It is also a sensual film, as close as possible to faces and bodies. Did you feel enveloped by the camera and the light? 

     

    I wasn’t exactly aware of the work the camera was doing while I was acting, but I loved working with the DP, Yorick Le Saux, who brought so much energy. There was such a special energy on this shoot. When you work with Arnaud, you want to espouse his cause. The actors he directs are thrilled on set. At his side, we feel transcended. He manages, with great youthfulness, to infuse a childlike excitement on set. His enthusiasm is contagious. He has fire in him and manages to communicate it to you. It’s as if he was handing us the torch. Then it’s up to us to seize it and make it blaze. Under his gaze we want to give the best. Arnaud inspires me enormously. In addition, he has the gift of choosing subjects that fascinate me. 

     

    Can you say more? 

     

    I like the way he talks about feelings. I especially like his viewpoint, his subjectivity. At his side, I feel I’m learning as much about cinema as about life, one not being distinct from the other. Thanks to him I have understood that one thing always goes with its opposite. That is why he doesn’t blame his characters, even those whose behaviour is reprehensible. He is always looking for their humanity. This was at the very heart of Oh Mercy! And it’s also the case in Deception. We can discuss the fact that adultery is immoral, but Arnaud films the love between my character and Philip. He always manages to make humanity triumph. His films never moralize; feelings always prevail, which gives dignity to the characters. I think that’s wonderful.

     

    What was your feeling when you read Arnaud Desplechin and Julie Peyr’s screenplay?

     

    I had the feeling of understanding the film immediately. And it was the same thing on set: when Arnaud gave me directions, I knew instantly what he wanted, it was evident… Sometimes it only takes one sentence in a screenplay for you to understand the whole film, a sentence around which the film revolves. In this case, it’s the final sentence, when my character says to Philip: “Because it was so tender…. unless I was mistaken.” He tells her no, she wasn’t mistaken. The whole film is in these two sentences, there’s no misunderstanding, tenderness did exist between the two of them. This sentence is related to the beginning of the film, where she asks him if he feels the same way she does. There are often misunderstandings in love. Here, both of them agree at the end: they did understand each other. By the end of the script, I was in tears! And I was in the same state when I played that scene. Our world cruelly lacks tenderness. Yet tenderness has to do with giving, with generosity. It’s overwhelming. And there are many such scenes in the film. 

     

    Were you familiar with Philip Roth’s world before shooting this adaptation? 

     

    I discovered it thanks to Arnaud. Roth is both vulgar and poetic. It seems to me that paradox runs through his oeuvre. This is probably why he is so fascinating to so many. 

     

     

     

     

     Did you work differently with Arnaud Desplechin on this film than on the one before? 

     

    I was almost more intimidated on Deception than on Oh Mercy! It seems to me that it was the opposite for Arnaud. I thought he was more confident on this one. 

     

    We perceive you as a tightrope walker in this film, constantly between two states, often overwhelmed by emotion… 

     

    I played this woman as if she was on the edge of a precipice and that’s how I felt on set. I was very shy during this shoot. I was so exposed… My character offers herself: this woman is in love. You feel very vulnerable when you’re in love. Because you want to be loved in return, you expect something. So I felt very fragile. My smiles are a way of masking my distress and emotion. Playing a lover is daunting. 

     

    What did you tell yourself about your character, who has no first name? Did you secretly give her a name? 

     

    In the screenplay she’s referred to as “The Lover”. It’s as if the characters were conscious of being characters… Because apart from Philip and Rosalie, no one is named in the story. Philip is like a sun around which everyone orbits. My character is neglected by her husband. We sense a great loneliness in her. She is a woman who doesn’t work, she’s financially dependent on her husband and therefore not free. “Without income you don’t have dignity,” she says. This sentence summarizes her situation, her state. I see her as an imprisoned woman. Her lover is her escape. 

     

    Did her sophisticated look, her meticulous outfits, her stylish hair help you find the core of her character? 

     

    I blended with this character quite naturally. I could dress like her in life. I wear some of my clothes in the film and bought some of the costumes after the shoot! The costume designer, Jürgen Doering, who has worked for Saint-Laurent, has beautiful taste. I loved wearing the clothes in the film, I felt very at ease in them. They are both chic and comfortable. 

     

    What kind of acting partner is Denis Podalydès? 

     

    He is firstly a man with whom I absolutely love to have conversations in between takes. We got on very well. He is as inspiring as Arnaud can be, and like him knows how to open up new perspectives. He’s also attentive, caring, strong. He is a theatre actor, his feet on the ground, he’s earthy. This was precious to me, as I was playing a febrile character. 

     

    Did Arnaud Desplechin direct you together? 

     

    He gave each of us different indications. Arnaud is great actor’s director, the greatest perhaps. Being directed by him is an immense pleasure. He is as intelligent as he is sensitive. 

     

    Denis Podalydès says he had the feeling that you were always one step ahead of him… 

     

    Is it because I never know what I’m going to do before the camera starts rolling? It can be destabilizing for my partners. I can go through peaks and abysses, which no one is aware of but me. I feel like a wild animal, one that hasn’t allowed itself to be tamed and which, emotionally speaking, has no reference point. Like many actors, I have a lot of instinct, but I’m also scared, even if I often feel comfortable on a set… although sometimes not. So I too am one thing and it’s opposite! 

    Were you inspired by the sets, the 80s accessories? 

     

    The sets are sensual and vibrant. I liked their “French charm”, while the action is set in England. Arnaud embodies French elegance! 

     

    Did this experience trigger some inner change in you? 

     

    I feel as if this was my first role as a woman and that I am in synch with my age, with my own life. I wouldn’t have been able to play this part five years ago. My experience in life nourished me for this film.

  2. Julia Ducournau: “I wanted light to spring from the shadows…”

    Leave a Comment

    Julia Ducournau first gained attention as writer/ director in 2011 when her short film ‘Junior’ was selected at the critics’ week in Cannes. The film would also win the Audience Award at the Festival Premiers Plans in Angers. She first came to my attention in 2016 with the release of ‘Raw’, a brilliantly witty yet horrifying (especially for vegetarians) twist on the flesh-eating horror genre which reportedly had some fainting in the cinema aisles. So it goes. The film would go on to win a host of awards at various international film festivals (Sundance, Sitges, Toronto) and her latest and second feature, ‘Titane’ recently won the Palm d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Here, in a shorter interview than I’d like, Ducournau discusses her latest film, it’s relationship with ‘Raw’, and divulges some insight into her methodology. 

     

    Ms Ducournau, can you tell me about the writing in Titane and how it took shape?

     

    I sensed I was facing a very complex puzzle, with dense matter that I clearly needed to simplify. But I had to be careful or I’d risk losing the existential scope I was aiming for. It was a real balancing act. To give TITANE its definitive shape, I honed in on the character of Vincent [Vincent Lindon] and his fantasy: this idea that through a lie, you can bring love and humanity to life. I wanted to make a film that initially may seem unlovable because of its violence, but then we grow deeply attached to the characters, and ultimately we receive the film as a love story. Or rather, a story about the birth of love because here, everything is a question of election.

     

    Can you talk about the post title sequence where we’re introduced to Agathe Rousselle (Alexia) as an adult?

     

    That sequence is there to impose a certain vision – not my vision – of Alexia, or more accurately, who others want her to be. This vision idealizes her, forcefully iconizes and sexualizes her, makes her obey a whole series of clichés. I see it as a decoy: we’re exploring a surface layer that hints at the ocean we’re about to plunge into, where we’ll discover a femininity with very blurry contours. I wanted this sequence to be both extremely organic and totally disconnected from reality. The Alexia presented to us here does not align with the truth of the character. 

     

     

     

    What was the casting process like for the part of Alexia?

     

    I knew right away she’d have to be an unknown face. As she goes through her mutations I didn’t want people thinking they’re watching the transformation of a physically familiar actress. I mention above a ‘femininity with blurry contours’. I needed an unknown to embody that. Someone the audience couldn’t project any expectations onto. Someone they could watch transform as the story plays out without being conscious of the artifice. So I went straight to non-professional young women. I had a certain androgynous physique in mind, one that could endure the various transformational states that playout for the camera. I wanted a face that would change with the angle of the shot. A face that could make us believe anything. So the casting was both vast and precise. I knew there’d be a lot of work for whoever I chose. Not so much rehearsing lines (Alexia is practically mute) but in the acting itself. I’d have to go digging for something inside her, push her to places she wasn’t used to going, and obviously that takes time. When I saw Agathe [Rousselle] for the first time at a casting session, she really stood out. She had the right physique and a fascinating face, but also a presence. She commanded the screen, and that’s exactly what I wanted. 

     

    What about Vincent Lindon’s character? 

     

    For the character of Vincent it was far simpler: I wrote the role for Vincent Lindon. We’ve known each other for a long time. I wanted to film him and show him to everyone the way I see him. His character required a range of emotions that, in my eyes, only he is capable of: at once scary and vulnerable, childlike and dark, deeply human yet monstrous… especially with that impressive hulk of a body. In preparation for the role he did serious weightlifting for a year. I wanted him beefy like an ox, reminding us of Harvey Keitel’s massiveness in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. We got along beautifully during the shoot and I’m very proud of that. Vincent trusted me. He accepted the idea of surrendering to the character without necessarily holding all the keys to my cinema. He was exceptionally generous in what he gave to the role and to me. I think I got something from him that he himself was looking for at this stage in his career. I came along at the right time, if you will. 

     

    Can you say how you achieved the many special effects in TITANE?

     

    The biggest challenge by far were the prosthetics Agathe [Rousselle] had to wear. She spent long, laborious hours in makeup every day, which was exhausting for her and stressful for us, as every little touchup obviously takes time. The prosthetics were a central part of our daily schedules. It’s funny, because I’ve been using them since Junior and every time I say to myself, ‘Never again, too much hassle!’ Then I go right back and do it again on the next film! (laughter) But the thing is, for actors, prosthetics are true companions in the acting process. And they’re so organic on screen. 

     

    And you again teamed up with Rubens Impens who worked on RAW. What did brief did you provide for this film?

     

    I often used the word ‘malfunction’ to evoke the film’s transformations. ‘Derailment’ too, because the story is peppered with machines and metal. Ruben and I worked hand in hand. We did the shot list together, the lighting chart together, we were practically joined at the hip on set… We started by figuring out what machinery we’d need on the film, because we shared frustration from not having played on that more in RAW. And we discussed how to do something graphic without losing the characters in the process. When it comes to lighting, I work a lot within a cold/hot dichotomy. TITANE is concerned with metal and fire, so the cold/ hot relationship had to be ever-present. Ruben and I wanted to take a deep dive into contrast. We were constantly flirting with the limit, the limit being the cartoon: one step further and we could fall into cartoonish. We had to stay in the reality of the film. Push the shadow/light envelope as far as we could, without getting lost in an ultra-stylization that would suck the blood out of the characters and the action. We focused more on pictorial references than film references, the paintings of Caravaggio in particular. I also showed Ruben Summer Night by Winslow Homer and THE EMPIRE OF LIGHT series by René Magritte to give him an idea of what I was looking for in the contrasts. I wanted light to spring from the shadows in the same way emotion gushes after an initial shock. I also wanted lots of colors, to break with the darkness of the story and avoid an impression of inescapable sordidness. For the many nude scenes, which I wanted as non-sexualized as possible, I tried to use lighting to reinvent the skin each time. Our work with color made it possible to bring new textures, meanings, and emotions to the skin itself. 

     

    Another thing which struck me is the music. Where you again work with Jim Williams, what spec did you give him?

     

    I asked him to use percussions and bells. And I insisted on the bells. Why? Because I absolutely wanted to incorporate metal into the score. I wanted music that sounded metallic while still being melodic. As with RAW, I wanted a memorable recurring theme that would vary according to my characters’ trajectories. TITANE goes from animal to impulsive to sacred. To help us feel that progression, the music must also fluctuate, hybridize, transform. We go from percussion to bells to electric guitar and sometimes everything combined. Then voices come in, bringing a liturgical dimension to the film. I asked Jim [Williams] to work on creating a momentum towards the sacred. His music also needed to be like bursts of light in the shadows. 

     

    Julia Docournau, thank you.

    And thank you to Wild Bunch International. 

     

     

     

  3. Abdel Bendaher: “I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed”

    Leave a Comment

    Samir Guesmi’s directorial feature debut is described as being a ‘rites of passage’ in which a father and son will slowly grow to know and understand each other when ‘botched robbery’ and the need to satisfy older friends offer no end of conflict. Newcomer Abdel Bendaher plays Ibrahim, a youth hell-bent on finding himself and others at the same time. Here, Abdel Bendaher answers some questions about the role itself, working with director Samir Guesmi and finding his own feet in when dipping his toes into the world of filmmaking. 

     

    Abdel, How did you end up being a part of this project? 

     

    It was a bit of an eventful Sunday for me and my friends: we went to watch a friend – totally outclassed by older players – play a football match. At half time we dropped our ball near the spot where Samir Guesmi was. I felt he was staring at me. With his motorcycle helmet in hand and big as he is, we thought he was a cop! He introduced himself, and explained he was a director and actor. We didn’t believe him. He had to show us his Wikipedia page with a photo before we took him seriously. Then he asked if he could film us. Weeks went by and Christel Baras, the casting director, contacted me. I did a test with her first, then more casting sessions. I gave myself completely each time, because I felt the pressure mounting and I wanted to believe in this. When I found out I’d got the part I was really happy! 

     

    What was your relationship with cinema before this experience?

     

     I only went to the cinema to watch American blockbusters. But with my best friend we often fantasied about making a film about our friendship and the bullshit we used to come up with together. Now I’ve started to watch French cult films, I’m opening myself up to cinema and it fascinates me. 

     

    Do you remember your reaction when you read the script of IBRAHIM 

    I remember feeling it was really alive. I was immersed and I believed in everything I was reading. I quickly identified with Ibrahim, who is a high school student like me. He’s shy and reserved too. It was easy to project myself into this role. I liked the friendship between Ibrahim and Achilles as I much as his relationship with his father and the connection he develops with Louisa.

     

    What did you tell yourself about Ibrahim? The truth? 

     

    Nothing! I told myself I was going to play Ibrahim as I am. I understood that’s why I had been chosen, that I should stay as close to who I am in life to play the role of Ibrahim. I just thought he was an unlucky boy, not a victim. He wants to do things right and avoid problems, but his mate Achilles involves him in his bullshit and exerts a big influence on him. I also think he and his father love each other very much, but don’t dare tell each other. Ibrahim is a very observant character… Like me! I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed. I’m a champion at looking away if someone I’m looking at turns his head towards me. So I had no trouble finding the right attitude for Ibrahim, and Samir helped me a lot too. He guided my gaze, sometimes even during scenes. 

     

    How did Samir direct you, in other respects? 

     

    He told me to not act, to be natural. The fact that he himself is an actor helped me. During the first weeks we shot the scenes in Ibrahim’s and his father’s apartment. They were complicated scenes, because their relationship is complicated. The first days, Samir didn’t want to talk to me. He had warned me that the beginning of the shoot would be tough, and he piled the pressure on me. That’s how I felt about it anyhow, and it did help me to find the right emotions for the film. At first I concentrated on my character; I was in my corner and repeated the lines to myself, I was hunched up, like Ibrahim. I quickly felt I was the character. Bit by bit I understood this was Samir’s strategy, but I didn’t hold it against him. All the more so since at the end of the first week he came to talk to me and explained why he had talked to me so little at first. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone. 

     

    Did you manage to forget the camera?

     

    Only after several days. I got used to it gradually. I also had to get used to the crew, I was a bit overwhelmed by all these people around me. What helped me was being invited to participate in the location scouting. I got to know some technicians and quickly felt accepted. But on set, I was intimidated. It was really intense, and I felt there was no room for mistakes. I didn’t know that films were made like that. I thought you shot in front of a green screen with dialogues written on cards! Those first days were crazy – hallucinated the first few days: no comparison! 

     

    How did you find your character physically? Did the wardrobe help… the chapka hat for example?

     

    Yes, even if at the beginning I thought that the shoes I had to wear were lousy! These must have dated from the time of Louis XVI, these trainers! I swear to God! I wore a chapka hat, a coat, had a green bag… At first when we shot the scenes at the high school, with kids around us who hadn’t necessarily understood we were shooting a film, I was a little ashamed in these ugly clothes! But it allowed me to feel like Ibrahim. The chapka hat physically defines his character. He wears it all the time, he’s attached to it. When Ibrahim takes it off the people who look at him feel they are discovering a new face. 

     

    Did you see Samir’s short film, C’EST DIMANCHE! before the shoot? 

     

    This short film helped me. It doesn’t describe the same father-son relationship but it gave me clues. 

     

    How did you work with the other actors? 

     

    They were all older than me and had experience on films. They acted like big brothers and sisters to me. They helped me a lot and made me feel at ease, by rehearsing my lines with me between takes, for example. 

     

    Were you able to leave this role easily? How did you emerge from this first film experience? 

     

    When I went back to school after filming, I was shyer than before, as if Ibrahim had rubbed off on me. But that changed quickly, particularly when I was back with my friends. It’s funny, because at the beginning, I was in a hurry for this shoot to be over with. But at the end, I was sad and wanted to start again as soon as possible. I really want to carry on acting. I know how lucky I was to have met Samir. I’ve always loved the idea of trusting my destiny. Samir arrived at the right time: I had bad grades in third grade, I wasn’t sure which way to head. This film has changed everything for me. I’m like a new person, in a way, thanks to this film. It is also the first step towards the professional world. When I finished the shoot, I was a bit proud of myself, without having become big-headed. Just proud to have taken on a challenge and to have been able to play a part in a beautiful film.

    With thanks to the lovely people at Wild Bunch. 

     

  4. Parker Love Bowling: “Being in a Tarantino film has been a dream since I was six”

    Leave a Comment

    Parker Love Bowling is a creative who holds the type of innocence and danger one would need to convincingly play confidante of the Manson Family, nevermind an actual member. As it turns out, she’s played a Manson-girl twice, once for Canadian TV, and most recently in the latest Quentin Tarantino film, ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. An actress interested in originality, she also happens to be a ferocious poet and documentary filmmaker in her own right. We chat to discuss her work as a writer and director, her family upbringing, the ‘Me Too’ movement, as well as what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

     

     

    Firstly, the current topic of the times – Corona lockdown; what’s life like for you during all this?

     

    I’m currently staying in Topanga Canyon so I’m fairly isolated where I am. I’m spending my time baking, watching Ken Russell movies, reading, writing, and editing. I’ve been in quarantine with my dog, Townes, and she definitely relieves a lot of my stress. My boyfriend is with us also, so I have plenty of company.

     

    As your an actress, I suppose now is a good time to indulge in film?

     

    I’ve been watching a lot of Ken Russell and Nicholas Roeg movies, as well as revisiting some classic Audrey Hepburn films. I’ve also gotten really into Shirley Clarke’s short films and documentaries.

     

    How does this situation impact you as a creative?

     

    Thankfully, I have a lot of writing and editing to catch up on. I’m a homebody anyway, so I don’t mind staying in. I have some film I have yet to develop that I’m dying to see so it’s only frustrating in that regard, but obviously the most important thing is staying safe.

     

    When did you first start to create?

     

    I’ve been writing poetry ever since I was gifted a book of D.H. Lawrence poems when I was in the fifth grade. My sister and I grew up making short films. We would each write and direct a short and have my parents judge them without telling them who did which one.

     

    I would guess you were raised in a creative family? 

     

    My dad is a musician and an artist. He made really cool Baquiat-style paintings when he was younger. My dad plays bass and is currently in a surf rock band called ‘Chum’. He was in a New Wave group in the 80s when he was in high school called ‘Basic Elements’, then a grunge band in the 90s called ‘Bottom 12’ (there were twelve people in the group). My dad influenced me most as an artist by introducing me to good movies when I was younger. It’s not every parent that shows their seven year old ‘Boogie Nights’ or Robert Altman movies, but seeing these types of movies when I was so young really shaped my taste and I’m forever grateful to him for that.

     

    You also began collaborating with your sister, Kansas, early on?

     

    My sister and I have been working on films together practically our whole lives. We were making all kind of things. Shorts, music videos, mockumentaries, etc. We unfortunately lost them all when our computer crashed. I still struggle with other people seeing my work, especially when it comes it my writing, but I’m excited to release all my work that is currently in post.

     

    I understand said you write everyday, have you ever thought of publishing your work?

     

    I often write just to clear my head, but will also work on poems or scripts for future projects. I’m currently working on compiling all my poetry together to release my first book. I’m not currently working on a novel, though I do have a few short stories and poems I feel I could expand into one.

     

    What writers do you love?

     

    I love the Beatniks, especially their poetry, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in particular. I also really love Kurt Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Frederick Seidel, Leonard Cohen, Fitzgerald, Richard Brautigan, Stefan Zweig and Dorothy Parker.

     

    I’ll get on to your work as an actress, but you’re also a documentary filmmaker? Go on.

     

    My background is in journalism so I’ve always been conducting interviews. Documentary work seemed like a perfect way to combine journalism and film. I like to profile people who don’t have that much information out about them. I met Ivy Nicholson, former countess and Warhol Superstar, on the subway in Los Angeles and found her fascinating. I went to her house in Long Beach to interview her for Mondo. I prefer to film documentaries about specific people rather than events. I was the features editor of my high school paper, then once I left school at sixteen, I interned at a magazine and got a job at the local newspaper. I always preferred doing feature pieces, which I get to continue doing with my work as a documentarian, except now I get to pick my subjects opposed to being assigned them, so it’s even better.

     

    What documentaries inspire you most to follow suite?

     

    I’m obsessed with Les Blank. His films inspired me to do documentary shorts in addition to my features. I love how he films his subjects. He shows exactly what is going on without feeling the need to explain it.

     

    What documentary projects are you currently working on? (or were before the days of COVID-19)

     

    In March I was in New York and got to interview Robert Lund, Zoe Lund’s ex-husband. I’m also currently directing a 50-years-later follow up to the 1967 doc ‘Mondo Hollywood’ and the official doc for The Partridge Family Temple, a cult that worships The Partridge Family. They’re a cult that worships the Partridge Family, that I am actually a member of. It was founded in Colorado in the late 80s. 

     

    What is your main focus – does acting, filmmaking or writing hold a sway over the other?

     

    I enjoy all three outlets immensely. I love how I am able to make films in between acting jobs, but, again, writing is something I do every single day.

     

    You starred in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, as one of the Manson family no less – can you tell me how that came about?

     

    Being in a Tarantino film has been a dream of mine since I was six. My sister and I would act out the sword fight between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu for our parents and their friends. Quentin is such a nice guy. We approached him at a screening shortly after it was announced he was doing a Manson movie. We just asked him if he thought we looked like Manson girls and he said he’s make sure we were in that audition room. We totally assumed he’d forget, but nine or so months later the casting director called us.

     

    You started early…

     

    ‘Kill Bill’ was the only one of his movies I saw at that age, but I saw ‘Death Proof’ when it was released on DVD. I had to be eight or so. Once I saw that one, I went through them all. ‘Inglourious Basterds’ was his first film I saw in the theatre.

     

    Which of Tarantino’s films are you most fond of? 

     

    ‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’ is my favourite I think, and not just because of the experience on set. I think the story is really original and heart-warming. The amount of detail that went into the sets is amazing. ‘Death Proof’ is probably my second favourite. I would definitely love to be in a movie like that. Even though he didn’t direct it, ‘True Romance’ is my absolute favourite Tarantino adjacent film, and is probably in my top ten favourite movies of all time.

     

    I understand you have experience in playing one of the Manson family? You do have the innocent yet dangerous look of one one of the Manson ladies… is that fair?

     

    Yeah, that’s fair. Funny enough, I actually played a Manson girl in a reenactment on the Canadian history channel. I usually get type-cast as that kind of role and I love it.  My sister and I are also often cast together as Grady Twin type characters, or were before she dyed her hair blonde.

     

    Random question, but as I’m currently loving his memoir – would you ever work with Woody Allen?

     

    I would definitely work with Woody Allen. I think he’s a genius. ‘Play It Again Sam’ and ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ and two of my favourite movies.

     

    Would his ongoing allegations put you off?

     

    No, not if I thought them to be innocent, which in this case I do. I feel a great deal of empathy for people who are always made out to be evil in the eyes of the media, and would never let it change the way I treat a person unless I’ve had a negative experience with them myself.

     

    In my opinion, people like Woody Allen and Kevin Spacey have been caught in the crossfire of the ‘MeToo’ movement. How do you feel about it?

     

    I would have to disagree with you about Kevin Spacey, but that wouldn’t keep me from watching a movie he’s been in. And of course the movement is a positive thing. My only issue with it is when people don’t separate art from the artist and refuse to screen a Polanski film, for example. Not that I condone what he has done, but his work should speak for itself. That being said, I think it’s great that people like Harvey Weinstein are being sent to prison and others [like him] are unable to find work in this industry. The ‘MeToo Movement’ has been vital in making the entertainment industry a safer place and I’m very happy to be starting out in a time where people are being held accountable for their actions.

     

    Another topic – you have a great admiration for Abel Ferrara?

     

    ‘Ms. 45’ was the first movie I saw directed by him. It blew my mind and sparked my fascination with Zoe Lund, who actually wrote ‘Bad Lieutenant’ along with Ferrera. After that, I would say ‘Driller Killer’ is my second favourite movie of his. I definitely like his earlier work better but am still a fan of later ones like ‘King of New York’ as well as his documentary work.

     

    Do your on-screen experiences ever get under your skin?

     

    I haven’t had the opportunity to play that emotionally demanding of a role yet, but imagine when I do it might be hard to shake the distress after the cameras stop rolling.

     

    What is the film industry like?

     

    Actors have a lot of down time so it’s important to have other hobbies or projects you can work on in between jobs. Obviously, it’s a very competitive industry with a lot of rejection involved, and it’s important to understand you might not be the best fit for every role.

     

    How does an actress deal with rejection, which, there must be a lot of in the film business?

     

    I comfort myself in knowing I tried my best and probably just wasn’t the best fit for the role. The rejection doesn’t bother me, especially because I have so many other projects I’m working on myself.

     

    Do you have any other ongoing acting projects you can talk about?

     

    I’m currently not working right now and auditions have been slow the past two months for obvious reasons, but I’m very eager to work on another film soon. A few projects I’m in are in post, so there’s something to look forward to.

     

    What does a character need to make a part interesting for you these days?

     

    Originality.

     

    What are your main obstacles as an artist?

     

    Film funding. I shoot mainly on 16mm and the costs add up.

     

    Have you ever had the need for a day job, or has working as an artist always been self-sufficient?

     

    I’ve had jobs before but the last few years acting has paid the bills, but I love to work constantly so if something came along that sparked my interest and had flexible hours I wouldn’t refuse.

     

    And finally, what do you miss most in the days of COVID-19?

     

    I miss taking Townes on playdates with other dogs.

     

    Parker Love Bowling’s quarantine movie recommendations:

    “Some movies I’ve seen for the very first time in quarantine that I recommend would be:

    Successive Slidings of Pleasure

    Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

    Insignificance

    The Lair of the White Worm

    Holy Mountain

    Eyes of Laura Mars

    The American Friend

    Repulsion, and

    The Day of the Locust.”

     

    Photo by Joel Hudson. 

     

     

  5. Ruth Paxton: “I have a hunger for beauty, and want to be responsible for it”

    Leave a Comment

    Ruth Paxton is one of the most talented and interesting, not to mention award-winning, Scottish filmmakers and screenwriters of her generation. In 2013 she was named in Canongate’s FUTURE 40, a list of Scottish storytellers predicted to dominate the next 40 years of creative life in Scotland. In a lengthy chat, originally prior to widespread UK lockdown, we discuss Ruth’s (very) early days as a child director, how being ‘death aware’ and her own mental health has shaped her work, and the projects she’s determined to pick up once COVID-19 has subsided. Even Lars Von Trier gets a mention.

     

    As it’s everywhere, can I ask how you are currently in this widespread lockdown – how does it affect your own creativity and working practice?

     

    I’m quite used to working from home, as typically, the majority of the time I’m writing.  I’m a very introverted person, I’m not mega social and I don’t have children so the shape of my day-to-day doesn’t feel dramatically different; but I miss my friends, family and my boyfriend, and I hate not being able to go to the cinema or to restaurants and cafes.  I’m taking long walks around Edinburgh, exploring inner-city graveyards.  I was due to go into pre-production last week for a feature shooting in May which has obviously been postponed so I’m using the extra time for prep, while moving forward with the development of other projects and the writing of a feature with the BBC.  My cinematographer (and creative soul mate) David Liddell and I have been hanging out on Zoom on Friday’s talking through our plans for various projects and sharing imagery and existential thoughts about death.  I’m thoroughly enjoying these digital salons.   

     

    You’re originally from Edinburgh but I understand you’ve lived and worked in Glasgow.

     

    I am a daughter of Edinburgh, and I’m back home now.  In 2015 I moved to Glasgow and lived in Govanhill for two years, and I’ve spent chunks of time based in Glasgow for work.  People I love live in both cities, so each is dear to me.  I miss Rogano’s (up-market oyster bar).  And cocktails at The Anchor Line, and on a purely shallow level, Glasgow has a ‘Cos’ store.  But Edinburgh is home.

     

    Do these settings influence your work differently?

     

    I can’t say they do especially.  Although my 2014 short film ‘PULSE’ was written specifically about my experience of Glasgow during an especially destabilising bout of depression.

     

    What kind of role did cinema play in your upbringing? You’ve said you’re drawn to fairytales?

     

    Storytelling was a huge part of how I built relationships with family and friends, how I played.  I made up games in the playground (that only I knew the rules to).  I directed (poorly developed) plays in my back garden, which I put heavy pressure on the neighbours to pay a pound to watch.  I regularly asked my Grannies to go through old family photos and tell me everything about all the faces.  And my earliest memories are my Dad’s made up bedtime stories for my brother and me, ‘Ruthie and the Dolphins’, ‘Ruth and Louis visit the Observatory’ etc.  I also remember knowing when he’d skip pages in well-loved storybooks because the narrative didn’t make sense. 

     

    When did film come into play?

     

    Both my parents, and their parents were really into cinema.  Film was a constant in my upbringing and I’m often struck by how deeply rooted film viewing was in the context of my relationship to family and friends:  it was a Saturday night in, a Sunday afternoon ritual, a celebration, a present.  It was also (and still is) a way for us all to be together.  I love how encounters with film can be both very communal, and intensely personal experiences.   I love fairy tales, but what writer doesn’t?  I think I’m especially attracted to stories that take characters into the woods, to work shit out.  You could find that theme in all films, really.  

     

    So it’s obvious you identified with storytelling at a young age – can you remember the kinds of things you were watching that sparked that in you?

     

    My dad says I was born exaggerating.  Ha.  I’m told I swerved baby talk and just went for sentences.  Which was freaky, as I didn’t grow hair until afterwards.  By 2 years old my Granny Paxton had me reciting [Robert] Burns atop the kitchen table for a captive audience, who just wanted their dinner.  In terms of storytelling, I understood quickly, never to let the truth get in the way – which meant I tested boundaries early on and fabricated a lot.  I’ve always been strongly attracted to drama, to needing to understand why people do the things they do.  And I hunted.  I rifled.  I negotiated pocket-money raises.  I asked questions.  I put myself at the centre of things.  I learned that if I was very quiet, and stealthily passed round the crisp bowl, I could interlope at parent’s parties – way past bedtime.  I do have a stark memory of watching ‘EDWARD SCISSORHANDS’ and recognising it as the voice of Tim Burton – I think that’s the first time I understood how a director could really ‘author’ a film.  I remember first relishing the unquantifiable warmth of accomplishment, having put something out there that wasn’t there before, that rich satisfaction of self-expression.

     

    Coming to you and your career as a filmmaker, how you do overcome the restrictions which you face?

     

    Filmmaking is a complex landscape depending on who you are, where you come from, what opportunities you have, what your goals are and what compromises you’re willing to make.  I’ve made sacrifices, but I’m grateful for my drive to create, my voice and for all the support I do receive.  I am who I am due to the unwavering belief in my ability of family, friends and collaborators and I feel very lucky to be able to pursue a career in film, because, while it’s extremely challenging, it’s a dream too.  And great parts of my happiness and identity are about telling stories and making things.

     

    Is writing a work more difficult than directing or is it all a process you find a breeze?

     

    Writing tends to be more agonising.  I doubt myself more often when I’m writing than I do when I’m directing, probably because it’s a slower process and less collaborative.  Both writing and directing are really hard when it’s not ‘working’ or flowing, and really rewarding when it is!  To quote Dorothy Parker, “I hate writing, I love having written.

     

    Its a cliche in almost all interviews with creatives – but do tell me about your biggest influences to make you spark into life and maybe try to emulate…

     

    Irvin D. Yalom.  Frances Farmer.  Caravaggio.  Artemisia Gentileschi.  Mental Health.  Scandals.  Survivors.  Abandoned spaces, derelict homes and sunken ships. Victorian mourning rituals.  Death scene photography.  Alexander McQueen.  Mid Century design.  Steven Klein.  Elizabeth Taylor.  Voodoo dolls and Mother Russia.  The Baroque Age.  Roman, Greek and Egyptian Mythology.  Golden Era Hollywood.  Jane Campion.  Early Tim Burton.  Bodies.  Gustave Dore.  Motherhood.  Frank Sinatra.  Frida Kahlo.  Jacques Audiard.  Aubrey Beardsley. Opera. Shakespeare.  Tallulah Bankhead. Paolo Sorrentino.  Nina Simone.  Mid-century design.  Boxing.

     

    I was delighted to read you like like the work of Lars Von Trier (a favourite of mine) What is it about his works that you admire? 

     

    Von Treir’s cinematic imagery is almost always somewhere among my visual references for all of my projects.  I admire his eye and visual style, very much.  There’s a very specific, recognisable rawness about the emotion in his films, which I’m a sucker for.   I can’t speak for his methods, but I’ve heard the stories.  I admire that he shares of his own experience of addiction and mental ill health. 

     

    I’ve heard you say it’s important to be nice to your cast – can you ever see yourself in taking a different approach if you may not be getting from them what you want?

     

    If I’m not getting what I want from an actor, then it’s my job as a director to find more effective ways to elicit the performance I believe they have it in them to give.  And I have no problem pushing people.  Niceness is compulsory, as is honesty.  Creative people can’t make good work when they’re afraid, hurt or disrespected. As someone with a Mood Disorder characterised by anxiety, I take all possible measures to cultivate a harmonious set where people feel safe and valued.   

     

    You directed the actor Maxine Peake with your work ‘Be Still My Beating Heart’ – how did you find working with her and what did she bring to the film?

     

    It was an absolute pleasure.  She taught me a great deal, and gave me a number of gifts with her characterisation of Diana.  She’s an obvious talent, she’s a heavyweight artist and of course I felt super privileged to work with her, to bond and make friends. I think Maxine and I learned that we could trust each other very quickly and were able to communicate on an unusually deep level, by being totally honest and pure with one another.  I sensed a kinship with her before I met her and I want to work with her for years to come. I wrote BSMBH with Maxine firmly in mind for the role of Diana.  I wrote Maxine a letter, and was extremely glad and blessed that she responded to the material and me, and accepted the offer.

     

    How do you go about getting the actors you want?

     

    One of my favourite parts of filmmaking is the collaborative process with Casting Directors.  I’ve worked with Carla Stronge on two projects now, including BSMBH – and delighted in both experiences.  Casting is a hugely psychological process and Carla understands my needs as a person and my taste as a director.  We share a language, as I do with the majority of my Heads of Department I work with regularly.  Good casting directors will put unexpected choices in front of you; they will push you to reconsider people who you might have dismissed too quickly.    

     

    Who would be in your idea cast – I read you have a great admiration for Marilyn Monroe… 

     

    Yes, I adore Marilyn.  She makes me very happy.  But I’ve never fantasised about resurrecting her for a role, though her emotional intellect and creative depths were woefully underappreciated and unexplored.  I do have a film I want to write and direct about a period in her life, and it’s almost impossible to think of who could play her. I think it would need to be a bold choice.  I’d have liked to work with Elizabeth Taylor and James Gandolfini, with Jack Nicholson in his wilder youth.  I’d love to work with Sarah Paulson and Tahar Rahim, and I think Emily Blunt is exceptional.   

     

    From what I’ve seen of your work, I get the impression your drawn to darker elements – earlier you mentioned depression, your mood disorder… 

     

    I’m into exploring emotional and psychological terrain, particularly with the aim of letting light into darker places.  I’ve been ‘death aware’ since I was young.  I’m very into death acceptance and the vanitas theme in art.  I have a mood disorder, which for many years was undiagnosed and not medicated.  I’ve had a nervous breakdown and subsequent periods of depression, of varying levels of intensity.  I’ve thought about suicide.  I’m sad more often than I’m not.  But once I learned about the power of radical acceptance, I learned how to live well, and I do for the most part! 

     

    You’ve said that films have a ‘purpose in life to improve emotional health’ – why – rather than films being a source of escapism? 

     

    I feel like I might have said that I feel my own purpose in life, is to improve my own emotional health and in general I believe that to be true for others but it’s not for me to say.  I think films are most powerful when they inspire love and ask you to think, feel, reflect, to change.  They can be escapist at the same time.  I’ve come to think of myself as a dramatist, or a storyteller.  I used to think it was assertive and meaningful to define myself rigidly as: filmmaker – which I am, I write and direct films.  But I’ve learned that I’m really just a creative person driven by a desire to absorb, understand, process, and tell stories with faith that I write drama and make work which affects people.  I’ve a hunger for beauty, and want to be responsible for it.   

     

    Could you ever imagine writing or directing a ‘Scottish’ comedy? I suppose my favourite, Scottish example, would be Peter Mullan’s Orphans – extremely dark subject matter but there are comedic or absurdist elements and laugh out loud set pieces in it.

     

    I love ‘ORPHANS’.  Most of the scripts I’ve written have similarly black, absurdist comedy moments peppered though, and I can absolutely imagine writing and directing out-and-out comedy.  I think I’m dead funny.     

     

    I understand you’ve delved into more experimental projects as a visual artist  – What about new art forms like virtual reality? Could you envision embracing that at some point?

     

    In 2018 I directed the performance in a VR project for BBC Scotland, produced by Ashley McPherson – about the experience of anxiety.  I still haven’t got my head around how it works, but the format is an excellent medium for demonstrating how VR can bring us closer to a character’s psychology – which I’m all for!   

     

    How important is your own personal life to you in your creativity? 

     

    It’s inextricable. 

     

    What makes you laugh? 

     

    Bob Mortimer’s ‘train guy’, my brother, and my boyfriend.      

     

    Tell me about your projects, plans, for 2020… what are you working on and what can your audience expect next? (COVID-19 submission willing)

     

    Before lockdown, I was due to go into production of a feature film, called ‘A BANQUET’ – a psychological horror film written by the exceptionally talented Justin Bull.  This project is produced by Tea Shop Films and Riverstone Films and we’re currently finalizing lead cast, via zoom auditioning. I’m in development with BBC Films on a Scottish feature I am writing and will direct called ‘THE FLAMING HEART’ – produced by Barry Crerar.  We’re at First Draft stage there. And I’m also in development with Film Four on an American-set feature film written by Deborah Haywood and produced by Linda Reissman, called ‘HERE, NOT HERE’ – which I will direct.      

     

    Ruth, thank you.

    Ruth’s work can be followed on her website and her social channels – Twitter and Instagram