Movie Interview by Reece De Ville
Question and answer with director Douglas McGrath and actors Charlie Hunnam and Jamie Bell.
The character of Smike involves a lot of physical dexterity, how difficult was it for you to get into the part?
JAMIE BELL: It was fairly difficult as I'd lose about 3 foot to get into the position. By the end of the first week it was pretty bad, my ankles were all swollen. But as a dancer I'm pretty used to it.
DOUGLAS McGRATH: May I say how on behalf of Jamie how committed he was. If you watch him you'll see how he's standing on the sides of his feet, all the way over on the side. The only way he could keep his balance was to throw his body from side to side and very quickly you notice how it throws your back out. We had to teach him some stretches and make sure that in between filming, he did stretch. We'd see him standing in position as Smike and we'd think 'we've killed him!' The film's about child cruelty, but we thought we'd better draw the line!
Did you leave anything out that you really didn't want to, scenes wise?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: Yes it was painful, but going in I knew that was the job. So, it was painful but I accepted it. And it wasn't as painful as I had written about. I always knew that the film wouldn't contain all of the characters, and would only serve as a walking talking supplement to the book. You hope that it is pleasing on its own terms.
Am I right in saying that the UK version is 25 minutes longer than the US version?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: No. They're both exactly the same length. It's the time change!
Obviously Nicholas isn't gay, but isn't this a love story more about Nicholas and Smike than it is Nicholas and Madeline?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: Everything that happens to Nicholas is only able to happen out of his relationship with Smike, which is almost a father-son relationship. At the beginning of the film, Nicholas is a boy and dependent on his father, he loses his father and feels more a child than ever - he says this at one point in the film. But then he acquires a dependent of his own, he finds this young boy who needs his help. And in caring for Smike he becomes, in many ways, a father himself. So, it's that kind of unconditional love that a parent has for a child that exists between them. That's what I think.
What was it about Charlie and Jamie that made you cast them?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: In the case of Charlie, we spent a long time together. And he had a dynamic quality that was mixed with, superficially, an innocence that we wanted for Nicholas. I felt it was very important that the actor playing Nicholas be the right age, as they never seem to get that quite right in other productions. We had a fantastic time together, and we needed someone strong to guide us through all of these weird characters, and he seems to have a sincerity and sweetness that was really important.
In Jamie's case, I had seen BILLY ELLIOT and he came and we talked. Christopher Plummer said to me the thing that I felt best explains why Jamie is so good in the role, which is when I told Christopher that I had cast Jamie, he said "Great". I said why is that? He said "Because he's from the North and he'll play it tough. He won't ask for any pity from the audience, but will get it by playing it straight". I saw a lot of Smike's before Jamie, and not one came close as no one played with the truth of the part.
When Jim Broadbent is clobbering people over the head, did he actually hurt anyone?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: Well, we place the camera well so you never see the contact and Jim learned to play it well. The sound effects make it seem grislier than it is.
CHARLIE HUNNAM: Well, once I didn't hit Jim as I should have done and I had to face him at lunch!
How do you work around noises such as airplanes, cars etc on location shoots?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: Well, in the death scene which we shot on a long track and the whole scene moves closer and closer, as I didn't want to break the scene up as I always feel the audience senses a cut and you always want the audience to witness a cut when you want them to feel something different. Here I wanted to be floating slowly towards them to reveal this thing that Smike was trying to say. It was about a 3 minute scene, so I'm setting off going slowly and about 10-15 feet in - we were in Amersham which appears to be on a flight path to the rest of Europe! - and we didn't get one take without an aircraft going over Smike's head. It's like he died on the runway! Ultimately, what we had to do was a loop on that scene. And it's a tribute to Jamie and Charlie that you can't tell.
CHARLIE HUNNAM: We did a lot of looping. About six hours a day for five or six days. Pretty much every exterior line.
DOUGLAS McGRATH: I remember there was someone on a motorbike and you're really just at the mercy of it.
Charlie and Jamie, you both share something in common that you've both become successful with one hit show/film each. Are you always aware of trying to avoid being a 'one hit wonder'?
JAMIE BELL: It's very difficult if you've created an image for yourself when you're 13 and you need to move on from that. You're always trying to choose roles that disassociate you from previous roles, you know, not to be always viewed as that kid from BILLY ELLIOT.
CHARLIE HUNNAM: Although QUEER AS FOLK [TV series] was pretty successful, I wasn't exactly inundated with scripts. When you're starting out you just do the work you can get and read everything.
What are your next projects?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: I have COLD MOUNTAIN coming out for Christmas, which I've just been filming with Anthony Minghella. I play an American Civil War soldier, that's why I've still got a slight American accent!
JAMIE BELL: I've just finished a movie called UNDERTOW directed by David Gordon Green.
DOUGLAS McGRATH: And I've just finished a script about Truman Capote in Kansas - "In Cold Blood".
Jamie, Stephen Daldry started your career for you, how much of an influence is he on you?
JAMIE BELL: Oh, he's been a big influence on me. He reads a lot of my work and tells me what he thinks. It's his fault (laughter) and without him I wouldn't be sitting here today. It worries him that in such a powerful industry he needs to protect me maybe.
How much room was there for improvisation?
DOUGLAS McGRATH: It's funny, as normally you would encourage improvisation. The business with the door (a diversion is created using a door to assist Nicholas in rescuing Smike), I just couldn't figure out until we got on set. It was Kevin McKidd's idea to sing Ilkly Mor Bar Tat in the bar as a distraction, and we just worked on it and it came out ok. I just love when people are gifted enough to come through with things.