The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is Playing in Theaters
The Hobbit's Hunks I: Orlando Bloom
(from Sag Harbor Onlin3 12/20/13)
It’s an amazing statistic. In its first weekend in theaters nationwide, The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug bested the second-place movie at the box-office, Frozen,by a whopping $51 million. Among the theaters that contributed to its $73.6 million gross was the UA Southampton 4, where there have been repeat viewers at both its 3-D and 2-D screenings. That nearby theater will surely continue do boffo (an industry word!) business through the holidays. There are many reasons that the second part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s marvelous fantasy classic–a prelude to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy–is attracting so many viewers. One reason that is getting little mention is sex appeal. Lost’s lovely Evangeline Lilly has been added to male-dominated cast, playing an alluring elf who is not in the book. And those who look past the nonsexual Bilbo, Gandalf, and Gollum, who are front and center, will notice that several of the male characters, who come in all shapes and sizes, are played by hunks. Several months ago I was sent by the Australian magazine FilmInk to participate in an international press day with three of them: Lee Pace, who plays Thranduil, the Elvenking; Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves who are on the epic journey to reclaim their fortune and kingdom (which requires they battle the dragon Smaug on the Lonely Mountain); and heartthrob Orlando Bloom, who was so appealing as Thranduil’s elf son Legolas in Jackson’s Rings trilogy that the director inserted the character into his new film although he isn’t in Tolkein’s book. Next time I’ll post the roundtables with Pace and Armitage. The following roundtable was with Bloom, who was rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for Broadway at the time. I note my questions.
Q: So you’re back to play Legolas. Did you expect it or was it a surprise? Did you jump at it? Were you hesitant?
Orlando Bloom: It was all of the above. I sat down with Peter Jackson, and my first thought was, “This is great!” I thought it would be great returning to Peter’s world. But my next thought was, “How will Legolas feature in the story because, of course, he’s not in the book. How’s that going to work?” But Peter had a very clear vision for the elves world and how Legolas’s story would intertwine with the story of Thranduil [Lee Pace], his father. I also was a little apprehensive that it was treading ground previously tread. But that was only a fleeting thought, because I love the character and I love Peter. And I love New Zealand. So those are three pretty big boxes to check. Peter gave me my start in life, you know. He plucked me out of drama school, pretty much, and put me on the map. He gave me the opportunity to play a crazy mad cop in Zulu, which I just did in South Africa, which was amazing for me. He also gave me the opportunity to go to Broadway. In many ways, I’ll always be grateful to him. So if he said, “Just start jumping in a circle,” I’d say, “How high?” So it was: here we go back to New Zealand for eight months, and we’ll figure out how it’s all going to come together. It was exciting and wonderful.
Q: Is that how Peter Jackson typically works, expecting things to come together?
OB: It’s a unique way that Peter makes a film. In his creative process, which involves a lot of preparation, he explores things on the ground and finds more things in the mining and all those things start to move, develop, and grow.
Q: And did things come together with your character to your satisfaction?
OB: Yeah, I had a great time. I wasn’t entirely sure how my character’s and the elves’ stories were going to play out, but ultimately I’m really happy with what we did. The elves of Mirkwood are unique. They’re not run-of-the-mill. I think Tolkien said the elves of Mirkwood are less wise, more dangerous. It’s kind of true. I see them as being militant. Legolas, who is a Mirkwood elf, was always different from the Rivendell elves. He’s got a bit more of an edge. His father Thranduil has an edge, too. They’re not messing around. The journey that Legolas goes on in the second and third Hobbit movies leads beautifully to his journey in TheLord of the Rings trilogy. You can see why he would go on the Rings journey and became a member of the Fellowship of the Rings. The writers and the creators of this world, and Peter as a director, really thought that through. They’ve had one eye on Tolkien and his world and maintained a healthy balance of integrity with that, while taking some creative license to make the story entertaining for a mass audience. I think the second movie is riveting, a really exciting film. If you think of the stories, the threeHobbit movies as one, this is the middle piece that you want to ride to the closing in Part III. I’m excited to see what this second movie brings.
Q: Has Peter Jackson’s style of directing changed since you last worked together?
OB: No, he’s remarkably the same. Of course the world is bigger–the technology of the world that he’s created down there has advanced at an alarming speed–but in terms of his personal demeanor and character, he’s still very youthful. Peter’s a wonderful man who has a childlike quality, which I think is what you see in his movies. He’s like a big child; he likes things, he collects things. We get on pretty well because he’s got a funny sense of humor that reminds me of my mates at school. We discussed scenes prior to shooting. For big moments, we would always have good conversations before we shot them. There was always an opportunity to bring up what we wanted to change. At times things developed really nicely through conversation. I went back for reshoots and I did a lot of stuff that played interestingly that had come up in conversation.
Q: Would you say you’re a different actor from when you did the Rings trilogy?
OB: I would hope I’m a different actor from the previous trilogy, which I did years ago. I would say that a lot of what I’m doing in The Hobbit is what’s being provided for me.
Danny Peary: In the trailer, you suddenly appear with a bow and arrow. Is that Legolas’s entrance into the movie?
OB: How did you know that?
DP: I guessed. I assumed your character would make a grand entrance.
OB: It’s quite a cool entrance with Legolas confronting Thorin with his drawn. I kind of appear from behind.
Q: Did doing action scenes come back to you easily?
OB: I went back and did some training with the bow and arrow and some movement training, and horse riding. I spent about five weeks doing that. It was great, because it was a refresher and a reminder of what we had done, a great way of getting back into the character. I still have fun with a bow and arrow.
DP: In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, your character reminded me of the supercool, smoothly-moving master swordsman in The Seven Samurai.
OB: Funny you should say that, because that was one of the big influences on the character from the get-go in The Lord of the Rings. I love looking into the movement of elves and how they carry themselves with grace.
DP: Did Peter Jackson ever mention Akira Kurosawa’s film to you?
OB: Yeah, I’m sure he did. We watched movies all the time and we talked about film, and he provided a really great platform to experience and talk about stuff. I can’t remember talking specifically about Seven Samurai but I know I did watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if that had been on his recommendation.
Q: Legolas has a love interest in this film, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.
OB: She has the responsibility of being the sole female elf, aside from Galadriel [Cate Blanchett]. Tauriel is kind of a rookie elf. She’s a willful and kind of petulant and does what she chooses to do, which is something Legolas is both excited by and annoyed by on some levels. There’s something rather attractive about that quality that she has. I always thought, wow, if you were an elf and lived for eternity, those feelings you have would be very deep and rich, and not as fleeting as ours. It’s a very different kind of thing. I wouldn’t say it’s an elven love story, I’d say it’s an interesting connection between them. There are some complications to it. I think their story along with the father-son dynamic, acted with Lee Pace as Thranduil, plays really well and adds interest to Legolas’s story and the film’s story.
DP: What role does the father-son relationship play in the film?
OB: It helps us see why Legolas goes on to be a part of the Fellowship. That’s important because in those films you wonder why he would leave his elven world and go on the journey. I think the clever way we play out this father and son story explains a lot about who Legolas is and why he would go off. It’s a struggle. I think the father-son dynamic is for most actors, most men, not too difficult. It doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination. Having the responsibility of my child now has put a lot of life into perspective –it has been a really wonderful thing–but I’m not sure having a son is necessary to understanding fathers.
Q: As an actor, do you still like taking risks, liking starring in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway?
OB: I feel like I’m taking quite a lot of risks, including playing Romeo on Broadway. It’s my Broadway debut, and I’ve never played Shakespeare before. Of course I went to drama school but I’ve never actually mounted a production of Shakespeare and doing it in front of a live audience eight shows a week is, I feel, like climbing Mount Everest on my own. And I’m excited by it. Anything could happen…which is kind of cool. I think that taking risks keeps me young and sharp. I think that pressure is what keeps me going. It keeps me hungry and eager to try different things.
In Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Pom Klementieff proves that you don’t necessarily need to speak to get the viewer’s attention. Surely the young fashion model turned actress confirms that an image can be worth a thousand words of dialogue. There are many startling images in Lee’s surreal remake of Park Chan Wook’s cult favorite, but among the ones you’re most likely to remember are those of Pom as the silent Haeng-Bok, who at first is a sweet-looking temptress with an umbrella and later morphs into the villain’s lethal, kinkily-garbed companion/henchwoman. If you’ve been wavering about the seeing the violent, twisted film, which is still playing in Manhattan and in various theaters on Long Island, Haeng-Bok beckons you to take the plunge. The actress herself was championing the movie at this brief roundtable in New York a few weeks ago. I note my questions.
Q: Have you seen the original 2003 version of Oldboy?
Pom Klementieff: Yeah, of course, it’s one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it many times. I first saw it in theaters in Paris when I was 16. It was the first time I was going to movies on my own, and I loved it. I wanted to be inside that movie. The director Park Chan Wook is Korean, of course. My father is Russian and French, but my mother is Korean, and I think that was my link to the movie.
Q: Do you think the Asian roots of the original are preserved in the new version?
PK: When I read the script I was afraid that the American version would be more puritanical and the ending wouldn’t be as strong, but not at all. It’s even more twisted. It’s good.
Q: Tell us the casting process.
PK: It was so funny. I had an audition thanks to the producer Roy Lee, who’s American but has Korean parents. We were doing a remake of a French movie and he told me about this audition. I auditioned for the casting director, and when I was leaving, Spike Lee entered the room. And I was like, “Oh, my god, it’s Spike Lee!” And he said, “Can you please do the audition in front of me?” I was wearing a training outfit and had to show some martial arts movements. I had been training in Paris, and I was not that good. But I was okay. I also read some lines. As you know, Haeng-Bok doesn’t speak in the movie, but he wanted to know if I could actually act. So I did that, and he said, “Ok, the character is feminine and sexy so I’d like to see you in another outfit. Maybe you can go home, change your outfit, change your makeup, and come back. The assistant of the casting director will drive you home and we’ll wait for you.” I said, “Yeah, of course, yeah.” I was staying with a friend and didn’t have keys to her place, so I called her up to let me in. And it went to voicemail. “Crap! I don’t care, I’m going to buy a dress, some lipstick, and high heels.” Everything takes forever in LA because it’s so spread out, but we had to be as quick as possible so I bought everything in one store. I bought a dress that was short, tight, had cleavage, and was really sexy, and red lipstick. When I came back, Spike said, “You look like a totally different person.” I said, “Thank you. I look like a whore now.” I think he laughed, and he said, “Can you please do the lines again.” So I did them, and the casting director was punching him and asking for improvisation, so I was improvising the character. Then Spike thanked me and asked me questions about my family and what I thought of the first movie. Something happened that I felt was special, you know. So I put my sneakers back on, and we thanked each other and I left. And one day later he called me and we had tea. He talked about the movie and shooting in New Orleans, but he didn’t say, “You’ve got the part,” so it was weird. I was thinking, “Maybe I’m so stressed out that he told me I got the part but I didn’t actually hear him.” And so I went back to Paris not knowing anything. Then I got an email from the casting director saying, “You’ve got the part.” Yeah! She was like, “Don’t get too excited because now you have to get a work permit and visa.” But I got them!
Q: So how was it working with Spike Lee?
PK: It was great. Spike loves actors and you get to be in constant conversation with him about your role. He knows exactly what he wants but he likes to give you freedom, so that you can really add your personal touch.
Q: What about Josh Brolin?
PK: It was great to work with Josh, too. Josh is nice with everybody on set. He’s really generous, because I asked him during rehearsals to train with me sometimes, and when I was stressing out, he was always telling me, “It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”
Q: Did you get to hang out with the cast?
PK: We went to a casino together, but most of the time I was hanging out with the stuntmen, training with them and talking to them. They were like older brothers who were stuck in my room. I was stressed out because I wanted to be good enough for Spike and I wanted not to hit Josh in the face. I was practicing with sneakers, and I knew that I would have to do the movements wearing high heels, and that’s superhard. It’s hard to be a woman and badass at the same time!
Q: Haeng-Bok makes several appearances in the film but I wonder if there were other moments that you shot that ended up on the cutting room floor?
PK: Yeah, maybe, I don’t remember now. I don’t have one of the lead roles. I play a supporting role. So I shot a lot of things, but the movie focuses on the lead actors, you know what I mean? What’s funny is that twenty years happen between the beginning of the movie and when Joe is released, and during that time Haeng-Bok doesn’t age. It’s because I’m Asian, you know! [Laughter].
Danny Peary: The role of the villain’s henchman was changed from male to female in this film, so what is the on relationship between her and him that was created to justify this? I think there’s a lot that happens off-screen between them.
PK: It’s nice that the writer, Mark Protosevich, whom I love, turned the role into a woman, adding another woman to the movie. I wanted to be in this movie and couldn’t have if the part was a guy! I think it’s interesting that there’s a girl instead of a guy, and that she’s stayed for twenty years with this crazy guy and they have this strange relationship going on. She is dedicated to Adrian, serving him and giving herself to him until it turns out really badly. I think it’s a crazy, abusive, twisted relationship. Sometimes you stay in an abusive relationship; it’s happened to everybody, I think.
DP: Is their relationship is sexual?
PK: I think so. There’s kind of an S&M atmosphere. But we didn’t show anything in the movie, no real sexual stuff, so everyone can imagine what he wants–which is good.
Q: Were you fine having no dialogue?
PK: I’m such a bad actress that Spike Lee said, “Oh, no, she’s not going to talk.” [Laughter].
Q: For someone who doesn’t say a lot, she has a very menacing presence on screen. She’s also very unpredictable for people who don’t know the story and are really not sure who she is and what she’s going to do..
PK: I think it’s what I brought to the role personally. I did things without really thinking about it. And it was about a crazy look, too. Her crazy outfits speak for themselves, I think. She’s a weird character, kind of mysterious.
Q: How challenging is it to find a complex role as a female?
PK: I don’t know. There are more and more interesting parts for women and every role is complex. It’s never easy, you always have to add layers.
Sophie Kennedy Clark who plays the young Philomena Photo: DP
By Danny Peary
Philomena, a highly-recommended crowd-pleaser that is playing at the UA East Hampton Cinema 6, boasts of a director, Stephen Frears, and male lead/screenwriter, Steve Googan, who each have a legion of fans, me among them. But certainly its top drawing card is its beloved leading lady, Judi Dench. I expect Dame Judi will collect some best-actress nominations for her standout performance as Philomena Lee, a goodhearted, religious Irish-Catholic woman who asks a discredited BBC journalist (Coogan as Martin Sixmith, author of the nonfiction bestseller, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee) to help her find her son–who the callous nuns at her convent gave up (sold) for adoption fifty years ago. It is a flawless, triumphant portrayal. But surely we wouldn’t care so much about her Philomena if not for supporting actress Sophie Kennedy Clark’s emotionally-charged performance as theyoung, unmarried Philomena who toils in the convent laundry to be near her child, only to have him sent away. Clark deserves a nomination or two herself. A few weeks ago I took part in the following roundtable with the delightfully gregarious Scottish actress. I note my questions.
Danny Peary: I’ve read about your audition for Philomena. It’s a great story worth repeating…
Sophie Kennedy Clark: Ah, right, here’s my audition story. I basically found out that there was a part for a young Judi Dench, so I thought I’d just go in, meet Judi Dench, do this nice little scene, and have the casting director say, “Okay, great, thanks very much.” But I got a call-back and found out I was meeting Stephen Frears. So I do this nice little scene again for him, and he goes, “Was that your interpretation of an Irish accent?” I’m thinking, “Well, Stephen, I’m a big fan of your work, lovely to meet you, have a nice day!” I thought I could at least put the idea of playing the part out of my mind, and carry on with my life.
Then I found out I’ve got a third audition. Now I’m thinking that he’s just toying with me, but I’ll go along anyway. It’s self-preservation when I go in thinking I’m not going to get a part, and I don’t tell anyone I’m auditioning because I don’t want them to keep bringing it up when I don’t want to talk about not getting a job. So I kept the auditions forPhiomena a secret, and I went for the second callback. This time they told me that I was going to be doing the scene where Philomena has just watched her child taken away. Now, at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, you want to play a scene like that as much as getting a hole in your head. Losing your child!?! I’m not a mother, so I had never had a child or lost a child. To do the script and Philomena justice I knew I was really going to have to commit to it, but it was quite nerve-wracking knowing I’d have to completely break down in front of strangers. At the time I’d never met Philomena and didn’t know Stephen well enough to feel I was in safe hands.
They’d rented out a big room below the casting office for me to do that scene. So I knocked on the casting office door and the casting director said, “Sophie, I’m afraid they’ve given the room away.” I knew it! She told me not to worry and then I heard Stephen’s booming voice from inside the casting office, saying, “Bring her in anyway!” I’m like, “Hi Stephen, nice to see you again.” He’s like, “We don’t have the room downstairs but you’re going to have to do something, aren’t you? Well, why don’t you just give birth instead?” He now wanted me to do the scene in which Philomena gives birth to Anthony! As an actress, you have to go, “Yeah, of course, I was working on that scene, last night. Let’s do it, Do you want me to do it here? Here’s fine. Do I go now?” And Stephen tells me to begin. Now he’s sitting there with a handheld camera. I put my head back, my legs akimbo, and I looked up and thought, “I’m going to so make him regret this. I’m going to scream the bloody roof off!”
I had to commit because I’d have looked like a fool if I didn’t. So I worked myself up, put myself into it and started screaming. He really left me out there, and there was a moment when I was looking at him and thinking, “Seriously?” Then after quite a long time, he said stop. I ended up with my body shaking and in a fit of tears. I could barely speak, so I just got up and walked out of the room. I had almost completely lost control because of where I put myself in my head, and of the very unnatural position I put my body in–because I was not really giving birth. I had plans to get coffee with friends afterwards, but I had to very quickly cancel because I looked like a train wreck. I was thinking, I never want to think about this again–but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it since. So that was my audition for Philomena. As luck would have it, two weeks later I got the role.
Q: How many takes did you have to do when you actually shot the birth scene?
SKC: I did it three times. The first time was kind of a run-through. The second time they told me Philomena was on set–and for me it was game over. The weird thing is that I’m not a crier. My friends believe that I don’t have tear ducts. But then I found myself in that situation and the tears came really easily. Acting for me is being remotely human. When you’ve got your legs up and nuns are there and they come towards you to plunge a forceps between your legs, that will make you scream! It was so clinical and horrible being in that room with those utensils. They didn’t have breathing exercises back then so the only advise you were probably given was stay alive. I mean it was monstrous. And that was in the 1950s, not even that long ago! So Nymphomania seemed a bit like a walk in the park.
Q: Had you already worked with Lars von Trier on that film when you did this audition?
SKC: I was in the middle of filming Nymphomaniac when I got Philomena. That was a thrill. Proud parents! They couldn’t really tell their friends, “You know, Sophie’s in Nymphomaniac.” My father said, “Well she’s in a convent now!” My mom is a big fan of Judi Dench, so she was very happy, too.
Philomena hugs her son.
DP: Do you think that Judi Dench’s older Philomena is consistent with the young Philomena that you play? Do you see a believable transition?
SKC: I can almost watch the movie objectively because I don’t look at the young Philomena and recognize me. I have a different accent, and I’ve never had short hair. So I look and sound completely different and I am playing Philomena with a certain naiveté, and when I see Judi’s style and her face shape and that she also plays Philomena with a certain naiveté, I think the transition goes nicely. I’d like to think it does.
Q: When first seeing the film, were you so pleased that you were able to translate the character that you didn’t worry people may think you are not glamorous?
SKC: Ultimately, my job as an actor is to be a chameleon, and I feel the only healthy relationship an audience member has with me as an actor is believing I am my character. I felt that the way I appeared in the film did justice to the situation that Philomena went through and to everything that this film teaches people. That Philomena felt I was doing a good job for her was at the forefront of my mind. I know that she has seen the film four times now and absolutely loves it. She’s very pleased with both Judi and me, which is very important to both of us.
Q: Did you talk to Judi Dench about playing a younger version of the woman she was playing?
SKC: I actually made the decision not to speak to Judi. It was not because I haven’t wanted to speak to her forever and always, because she’s amazing. I decided it was best not to speak to her–and Stephen Frears felt strongly about this, too–because she plays Philomena at a stage in her life where she has been so shaped by what happened to her, whereas I play her at a point where she’s very raw and naïve. Those girls in the convents didn’t know anything. They didn’t have access to any kind of information, so what they were told they believed. The only person that I felt could really give me the information that I needed was the real Philomena. So I made the journey to her house in London to meet her, and she very kindly invited me inside for a cup of tea. It was difficult because I knew I was going to be asking her incredibly personal questions. I was meeting someone in her eighties who had been through an incredibly tragic circumstance, so I was nervous speaking to her about it. But she was so open and lovely and accommodated all of my questions very, very honestly. It was quite emotional because what happened still makes her well up. She still goes over this situation every day in her mind. I was asking her about certain types of situations with the nuns and her relationships with them, asking, “Why didn’t you just run away?” Because these days, kids fight back. She was like, “Don’t you worry, I’ll put in a good word for you with The Man Upstairs.” I was like, ” You’ll what? You’re still talking to Him?” She was like, “Yeah, He owes me one.” I was like, “He owes you one? I’d say He owes you quite a few!” It was amazing to realize that this woman still has a sense of humor, because through religion she found forgiveness–and if we can find forgiveness in any realm of our lives, we can go on living. That’s why I feel that in addition to telling Philomena’s story and the [harsh] truth, comedy is so important because that’s who she is, too.
Q: Why do you think she was able to walk away from what happened and not be totally scarred or damned by it?
SKC: Philomena’s faith wavered for a long time. She said that she always still prayed, always had faith, but she started to heavily question some of the lessons she’d been taught and the reasons behind some people’s behavior. Her “therapy” came from her becoming a psychiatric nurse and speaking to many other people who had gone through equally terrible things. She realized that it was not her faith that was the problem. What had happened was the problem, and that didn’t mean she should lose her faith. What happened to her in the convent didn’t cause her to demonize religion. You’ve got to give it to the woman to be able to find goodness. The “religion” she experienced was awful, but as a psychiatric nurse she got to understand psychology, and I think for her that was very important. Philomena is an incredibly strong-willed woman. She and Judi Dench, two women I’m completely in awe of, taught me things that I’ll try to have for the rest of my life.
Q: Did you look at pictures of her as well, when she was your age?
SKC: She was in a convent when she’s like 18, 19; it’s completely mind-boggling. I’ve seen one or two pictures. The picture of Anthony as a two-year-old! When you see that little face and know the story, I defy you not to weep.
DP: Philomena left the convent and eventually married and had a daughter. We learn in the movie, in a scene with Judi Dench, that the young Philomena enjoyed the sexual encounter that led to Anthony’s birth. I doubt if you asked her this, but do you think Philomena had premarital sex again?
SKC: I think she probably did. She said the sexual experience she had at the fairgrounds was the most amazing thing, like with a knight…
DP: But she was always told by her parents and the nuns that she had sinned, and she believed that.
SKC: Maybe when she was getting married again, she looked back and said it wasn’t a sin. You can rationalize it more when you’re slightly older and you’ve lived a life, as opposed to when you’re a child and have no access to any kind of information, and have no family to tell you otherwise. You believe what you’re told. Once these girls, who have no families and no money, are stripped of the title of Mother, they don’t have anything. I think when they move on and meet other people, they will try to block all that out. So I can’t say for sure, but I believe she would have had sex again before marrying.
Q: Have you had experience with nuns?
SKC: My experience with nuns is very minimal, although my sister went to a Catholic school for a while. I’m Protestant; my mother is Protestant, my father is not so religious. My mother’s always dragged my brother, sister, father and me to church every Christmas. She a practicing Christian and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t particularly want to go to church. We all had to go, wherever were in the world. Now my father seesPhilomena as his opportunity not to go. He does send me texts now and again, still seething he is at the Catholic Church. But I feel this is just to get out of going to church with my mother. He says, “I’ve seen that film Sophie did. I’m not going anymore! She’s like, “We’re not even Catholic!” I’m now used as a scapegoat! I think this film brings to life a very extreme side of religion. My sister’s experience with nuns was not like Philomena’s, but it was atrocious. She won’t be very happy to read what I’ve said. Oh dear, she just got married, so she’ll have my guts for garters, I swear!
Q: Will your parents see Nymphomaniac?
SKC: I’m sure they will. I think they’re curious, like the rest of the world, after seeing all those little snippets they keep on releasing. They are something I didn’t really want to ever discuss with my parents, to be honest. I don’t know if you’ve ever discussed your orgasm with your parents, but I certainly haven’t.
Q: You’re also going to be in Brad Anderson’s Eliza Graves.
SKC: I made that in the summer. It’s also wonderfully different. I’ve been very lucky that it’s been a really diverse year. I’m doing a bit of repetition though, only doing movies with Sirs and Dames. Eliza Graves has got Sir Ben Kingsley and Sir Michael Caine in it. along with Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, two fine, fine British actors. Getting to work opposite Sir Ben Kingsley was astonishing It has a real corker of a script and is wonderfully fantastical in that Edgar Allan Poe way. It was a lot of fun being the ultimate weirdo that is within us all. She’s a lunatic. It wasn’t much of a stretch!
Spike Lee’s highly-anticipated English-language reworking of Park Chan Wook’s 2003 cult classic slips into theaters in New York this Wednesday. Yes, this alternate-reality film about an amoral alcoholic (Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett) who is kidnapped and kept in solitary confinement for twenty years without explanation and then seeks revenge, is just as lurid, violent, and twisted as the original. But not drowned by the overflowing testosterone is the delicate flower played by Elizabeth Olsen. Nothing was expected of the younger sister of the Olsen twins when she came upon the scene, but since turning in an award-worthy performance as the star of Martha Marcy May Marlene, she has been in demand. In Oldboy, she gets a choice part, Marie, a kind young woman who helps and grows close to Joe as he searches for the grown daughter he hasn’t seen since she was three. Olsen was recently in New York to promote the film’s opening, and I participated in this roundtable with her. Following the Q&A are my exchanges with Michael Imperioli (who plays bartender Chucky, Joe’s friend since high school), a tight-lipped Spike Lee, and screenwriter Mark Protosevich. I will be posting a roundtable with Pom Klementieff (who plays Haeng-Bok, the villain’s henchwoman) in December.
Elizabeth Olsen Photo: DP
Q: What attracted you to working with Spike Lee on this remake of a popular Korean film?
Elizabeth Olsen: If you get the opportunity to work with Spike Lee, it’s not something you think twice about. Especially on this film. People have seen and are aware of the Korean version, so if there is going to be an English-language, Americanized version, you need to have a director who has his own style. I think that’s important for this remake—or reimagining. The moment this movie begins—and I’m thinking of the way it’s colored and the camera angles–it’s Spike Lee film..
Q: Had you seen Park Chan Wook’s 2003 movie before you were offered the role?
EO: I wasn’t offered it. I was captivated by the story and especially the script, which gives us an amazing shock. Then within a few hours I saw the original movie and it was even more traumatic. It was amazing how different they were in telling the story but they had the same heart. Then I tried to get the job, I wasn’t offered it.
Q: So what was it like to work with Spike Lee?
EO: Spike’s amazing to work with. It’s a process and it’s an experience. He collaborates with every single person that is around him. And from that, he always knows what he needs and what he wants. The first time I met him, he pointed at the script and said, “What do you think about this scene?” I said, “But I’m not in this scene. What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, do you like it?” And I said, “Am I allowed to say something about it?” Then I said, I don’t really think the scene needs that part of it.” And he made a little note. He just really cares about everybody’s opinion. He and [Director of Photography] Sean Bobbitt really just played around with ideas. It was like a playground for them.
Q: How surprised were you that this is an American film but didn’t change many of the most shocking elements of the Korean movie?
EO: There’s no reason to make the film it if you’re not going to do the story. Nathan Kahane, the producer, said, “I’m not going to make this movie unless I do it right.” There’s no point to remake it if you’re not going to try to make it as edgy as the other one.
Q: I won’t say what it is, but there is something just as shocking but different at the end of your film.
EO: In the Korean film, there’s hypnosis used to magically erase memories. Ding! For some reason it works so well in the original but an American audience would kind of be, “Are you serious?”
Q: You’re breakthrough film was Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which your character escapes from a cult, and you starred a psychotic victim of child abuse in Silent House. And now you’re in Oldboy. What do you find appealing about dark films and appearing in them?
EO: My dad likes to call it “the bottomless pit of sadness.” I think Jessica Lange said that once, and my dad took it as his own. Honestly, the first five or six films that I did, I did because I wanted a job and wanted to be a working actor. I’d audition and I’d be offered the part, so why would I say no? The concept of ‘no’ wasn’t there. Silent Housewas just “Okay, cool, you’re giving me a part.” But I don’t find playing such roles harmful to me. They’re accessible to me. I love horror movies and audiences. There’s something really fun about the group experience. Even on something like this, when something grotesque happens or something scary pops out, people have some group reaction, and then everyone laughs because they feel so stupid for getting scared in the first place. I think there’s something really fun watching movies like this in a community setting. Movies with dark themes are fun, no matter what the movie is, if you can be shocked or surprised. I think there’s something about the brutality and the violence in Oldboy that’s imaginative. It’s bizarre and weird and a little heightened from reality. No one’s shooting at each other and there’s nothing about it that would remind you of what you see on the news.
Q: What is it that makes some dark films fail while others become classics?
EO: I think it has to do with it being something new. You can remake Carrie, for instance, but the reason why [Brian de Palma's] Carrie was Carrie was because it was groundbreaking. It could still be a great new story to tell people who haven’t seen it, with great actors and actresses, but the reason the original was a classic was because there was nothing like it before.
Q: Does your dad object to your being in dark films like this?
EO: I don’t think anyone in my family agrees with my role choices except maybe my brother, because he’s a big film guy and he’s a writer who sees a film from the perspective of the story. My dad and I have a very happy relationship and just laugh about it. I remember having a conversation with him when I made Martha, because he wanted to visit the set and I thought…well, that wouldn’t be such a good idea. I don’t remember what our conversation about this film was. Oh my god, did I even tell my dad? [Laughter]. I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t think I told my dad the plot of this story, or anything except for the fact that I don’t want him to see it because of…obvious reasons. He’d have to close his eyes for a long while, quite a few times.
Q: Did you object to the nudity or discuss it with Spike Lee?
EO: For Spike, it was pointing to a page and going, “What do you think about that?” I had read my contract and it gave me a lot of protection over certain things, and some not. For me, I’d rather do a scene in which my character is nude that will later make people feel terrible having seen it, than to do a scene where I’m jogging on a beach in a bathing suit, which, to me, is gratuitous titillation. The nude scene in Oldboy helps the movie move forward and manipulates the audience without them knowing it initially. I think that if the audience doesn’t watch Marie and Joe connect in a physical way, they won’t have the same reaction later. The impact won’t be the same.
Danny Peary: In the production notes it says that you “understand why Marie is initially drawn to Joe, despite his bizarre behavior and bizarre story.” Marie is drawn to him, but why does she fall in love with him? Or does she?
EO:. For the purpose of the story, there are innate connections between people without their realizing why. There’s something to be said of my character in general. Marie just knows there’s someone who’s too scared to ask for help, and she likes giving help.
DP: She reads the letters he wrote while in captivity, written by a loving father to a daughter, so do you think that is why she is so drawn to him?
EO: Yeah, she reads the letters and becomes invested in his story. I think once you know someone’s history, you’re able to excuse them for things they do in the present. You can justify it for them and you want to help them more, because you care about them in that way. That’s how I thought about their relationship. It was important, especially in comparison to the Korean film, that Marie have psychological reasons to find something hopeful in this man. It’s for her own sake, too.
DP: If Joe tell Marie the big secret, will she be devastated or take it well?
EO: It’s a really scary thing, it’s really dangerous territory. When I’m asked how I prepared to play Marie, I say, “I didn’t have to prepare much of anything because it’s one linear trajectory.” She does deal with traumatic things, obviously, but it’s different. To me, if she had that information, it will be hurtful.
DP: In the original, the girl does share that information.
EO: But then she takes him to a witch to make him forget. I don’t think it’s something Marie is capable of accepting. It doesn’t seem right.
END SPOILER ALERT
Q: If you could travel back in time to the Golden Age of American cinema, what are some roles that you would love to say yes to?
EO: My goal as a little girl was to dance and sing and act, all three, because my dream was to be to be one of Frank Sinatra’s leading ladies. I didn’t realize that the musicals I was watching were old, made at a different time. So when I then saw Frank Sinatra as an old man, I was literally heartbroken. I was so upset that my parents didn’t explain that to me.
Q: You have said your role model as a young girl was Michelle Pfeiffer.
EO: She was an inspiration. I saw all these movies with her, and I thought, oh my god, she can do anything. I thought it was so cool that she was Catwoman [in Batman Returns], and gets a pink leather jacket, and is a teacher, and is a great mom. And there was something about her beauty that I was just drawn to. But I could never imagine myself having the career she has had. Mine has been nothing like that.
Q: How different an experience was making Godzilla than making Oldboy and smaller films?
EO: Not that different. I thought it was going to be, but it wasn’t. I just had a very obnoxious-looking trailer that I never really hung out it in because I don’t like hanging out in trailers. I thought the crew was going to be obscenely big. And the crew was very large, and there were a lot of trucks parked in various places, but I knew all the cameramen, I knew the staff, it was the same group of people I’ve worked with before. You deal with the actors, you deal with the camera, and it is the same. The only difference was that I was that at some point I was on a really tall building. But it’s always all just make believe.
Q: How hard is it to find a complex role for a woman, in Hollywood?
EO: I don’t know. The roles that I’m chasing right now aren’t necessarily so complex. Honestly, I’m getting excited about playing the Scarlet Witch [in The Avengers: Age of Ultron] because she’s really complicated. It’s really fun stuff. I’m kind of tired of playing versions of myself. Doing something like that seems a lot cooler!
Danny Peary: Your character’s kind of neutral in the entire film, but then all of the sudden, you see Chucky as a young man and he was a total jerk. Did that surprise you?
Michael Imperioli: A lot of people as young men are total jerks. I was a jerk as a young man. I can look back at some of the things that I did and my friends did. Being young sometimes is very difficult and you do things that you wouldn’t do anymore. Hopefully you can evolve and get past those things, though some people probably can’t.
DP: Is Chucky as an adult the same as he was back then, but we just don’t see it?
MI: No. I wouldn’t say that. You stand in a river, then you stand in a river a year later, it’s different. It’s the same river but it’s not the same. I would say he’s a little bit like that.
DP: I don’t agree with you about his being different. That he’s just like he was back then is apparent when he uses the word “whore” to describe the villain Adrian’s sister–when she did nothing to deserve being called that.
MI: Well, just because he uses that word, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the same person.
DP: I think he is. I think that when he uses that word we are no longer meant to care if anything bad happens to him.
MI: You don’t think he changed as an adult and is any nicer now?
DP: Before he was imprisoned, the adult Joe, his childhood friend, hadn’t gotten any nicer, so it make sense that Chucky is also unchanged.
MI: It’s a good argument. But for me his role was about how he was going to help Joe reconnect to his life. He’s thinking, “What can I do to help facilitate that?” He’s asking himself, “How has the world has changed in the twenty years Joe has been away? And how is Joe’s ability to navigate the world going to be impeded?” A lot of it is technological.
DP: In conceiving your character, did you ask Spike Lee questions?
MI: My questions were about what Chucky believes and does not believe about Joe’s story. Also does Chucky wonder what Joe did to deserve being locked up and tortured? Why did it happen? SPOILER ALERT Never in a million years would he think what they did in high school would add up to be the reason things happened later. END SPOILER ALERT
Danny Peary: This is a very stylized, very heightened film, but people involved with it did some serious research about prisoners in solitary confinement. What real stuff did you want to come out of this film–perhaps about morality?
Spike Lee: I’m way past telling people, journalists, what the take-away of a film is. I just want to serve the script the best way possible, using people’s skills as actors and filmmakers. Josh did research. He didn’t want to just imagine what it felt like to be locked up, so he talked to people who had been locked up. I know he talked to one of the “Memphis Three,” who was locked away for many years. Based on his performance, I think that research paid off.
DP: Revenge heroes are problematic to begin with, but when you talked about Joe while making the film, did you refer to him as a hero or as the protagonist?
SL: I never looked at it like that. That’s me. I was never a big fan of Deathwish or Dirty Harry. They’re good films but I never saw Joe as one of those cats. He wasn’t just going out and wiping out people indiscriminately. He’s had twenty years to think about it. That made a big difference to me.
Mark Protosevich Photo: DP
Danny Peary: Journalists have been calling this–and the original Oldboy–a horror film, but is it one?
Mark Protosevich: I don’t think I’d refer to this or the original Oldboy as a horror film. I would definitely put it more in the “psychological thriller” category. The goal of horror films is to scare and unsettle people. I don’t think we’re trying to scare anyone. Horror films usually are violent and dark, and though this film is that, I wouldn’t classify it as horror.
DP: Joe is an immoral, amoral character who goes into a hotel room for twenty years and comes out wanting to do violent revenge on who imprisoned him and at the same time be tender to his daughter. Talk about his transformation from one person to another.
MP: When I first started writing the script, when it looked like I was going to do it with Steven Spielberg, I wrote down my thoughts on what I wanted the movie to be. The two key words that I wrote down were Redemption and Revenge, which in a lot of ways are contradictory. Redemption is this admirable pursuit that generally brings out the better aspects of one’s nature, whereas revenge generally leads to the satisfaction that one gets inevitably from bringing up the darker aspects of oneself. In my mind, I liked the idea of someone, after his release from the prison, struggling with darker and lighter pursuits. I think Joe is in some ways trying to be a better person, but in other ways he’s intent on punishing those who punished him.
DP: Did he read the Bible, the only book in his room for twenty years? You never see him actually reading it.
MP (laughing): I wonder if he did. It was never an overt aspect of the script. But I wonder if in Josh’s mind he did. I think that’s probably a question you’d have to ask him.
DP: I know you were inspired by film noir. But what about the book and movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Luis Bunuel’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, before the lonely Crusoe meets Friday?
MP: The Count of Monte Cristo is a good comparison. I’ve actually never seen Robinson Crusoe. I definitely need to look for that.
DP: What did you change from Spielberg to Spike Lee?
MP: Nothing really changed from the original treatment that I wrote. If you looked at that treatment, I’d say 90% of what you see in the film was in that original idea. Even at that stage, my first draft, I was trying to write a version of the movie that I would want to see. They can always ask you to change what you give them, but it’s hard to put stuff back in that you held out originally. You’ve gotta go balls-out on the first draft!
Add Stephen Frears’ Philomena to the list of possible Oscar contenders. It has a good shot for a Best Picture nomination, and I think it’s almost a sure thing that Judi Dench will be among the five Best Actress contenders for her spot-on performance as Philomena Lee, a devoted Irish Catholic who wants to find her bastard son that the convent gave up (actually sold) to a well-to-do couple for adoption fifty years before. The spectacularly versatile Steve Coogan (hilarious as a fictionalized version of himself in the brilliant comedy, The Trip, and off-putting as a manipulative egotist in the brilliant drama, What Maisie Knew) deserves a Best Actor nomination for playing ex-BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, who helps Philomena on her quest so he can tackle a “human interest story” for the first time. But I think Coogan has a much better chance of receiving a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for turning Sixsmith’s serious 2009 nonfiction book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, into an audacious mix of tragedy and good cheer. Additionally, Scottish actress Sophie Kennedy Clark might snare a Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing the young Philomena, who was abandoned by her parents when she became pregnant and wound up in a convent and toiling as a laundress with other young girls who had “sinned.” I will soon post a roundtable I participated in with Clark. For now, here is a roundtable I did with Coogan, who was in New York to promote the opening of Philomena this Friday. I note my questions.
Q: The convent where Philomena was confined and that sold her baby is in Tipperary. Did you film there?
Steve Coogan Photo: DP
Steve Coogan: We actually didn’t film in southern Ireland at all. We filmed in London, Washington D.C. and Northern Ireland, which doubled for southern Ireland. The abbey we used is actually outside London. Actually, the two buildings we used—the redbrick building where Philomena last sees her baby and the building where the nuns live–are about twenty miles away, but with CGI we stuck them together so you don’t notice on the screen.
Danny Peary: I love The Trip. That film and this film seem to have nothing in common but when you were writing about two ill-fitting travel companions again, did you find similarities?
SC: Of course they’re both road movies, in a way, so there’s that similarity. I never saw that parallel until it was pointed out to me. If it’s there it’s subliminal, because their executions were poles apart. On Philomena, we stuck to the script absolutely verbatim; there was no improvisation whatsoever. The Trip, which Michael Winterbottom directed, was almost entirely improvisation.
DP: So you weren’t drawn to making an entirely different trip, or road, movie?
SC: I was just interested in telling Philomena’s story, which I read in the newspaper and found very moving. I wanted to tell a real story as a drama. I didn’t see it as being especially funny, at first. But whenever I told people the story in a sentence, they’d say, “Oh, that sounds awful. Who’d want to go and see that?” Then I thought that since the story is so inherently sad, so tragic, introducing some levity would make it bearable. I wanted to somehow findin the sadness a way to lift people up. I didn’t want people to leave the cinema depressed but to feel positive and hopeful or inspired.
I wanted to tell the story about this odd couple, Philomena and Martin, looking for her son and thought about Missing, with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon looking for his son [and her husband], and how in their odyssey they learned some things about each other and about life. I thought that would work but I wanted to do something funnier. I looked at the newspaper photograph of Philomena and Martin sitting on a bench and they’re both laughing, like we are in the poster. The movie ended up being funnier than I thought it was going to be. When writing it, if it was clearly a funny situation we’d mine the humor, but we were very careful not to introduce humor into moments of real drama. If it was too much, we’d take it down a little. Sometimes we’d take the humor out of a scene entirely because we thought it would trivialize it. It was all about tone.
Q: A lot of the humor in your movie actually derives from unusual things Philomena says to people. How concerned were you not to make her come off as…
SC: Stupid? You have to be bold sometimes in terms of the way you write a character. You can gently mock a character that you later find heroic, that you then dignify. It’s okay to do that, and you should do that to lead the audience down the garden path. I want people to think Philomena is a slightly foolish, naïve, old lady. Then I can surprise them by showing that she has this special intuitive quality.
Q: How about her comments about having enjoyed sex when she was young?
SC: She didn’t know anything about sex, but I did invent it when she says, “Martin, I didn’t even know I had a clitoris.” The real Philomena never actually said that to me, but I thought it would be a quite shocking and funny thing if an old lady says that. The humor is not at Philomena’s expense, it’s at Martin’s. He’s this buttoned-down, middle-aged man and has discomfort with what she says. Actually, that did come from the truth, it wasn’t just a contrivance. Philomena is very open. For 50 years she didn’t say a thing, it was all bottled up, but now that she’s unburdened herself, it’s like deluge. She talks forever and can’t shut up!
Q: Judi Dench gives the film a lot of its humor and spirit. She of course can play comedy or drama.
SC: She was who we wanted to play Philomena from the start, and when the script was finished, I went to her house and read her the entire script out loud because of her eye problems. Judy was very enamored with it and wanted to play the part straight away, so we were fortunate. She’d worked with Stephen Frears before, so I knew that she would feel comfortable, which was important because she’s in her late seventies and playing the lead role was a huge task. When the script was printed out for her, it was in very big letters, almost like for a child, because her eyesight is so bad. But she got through it. I was intimidated and worried because I was going to be acting opposite her, but she made me feel very comfortable. She is a Dame, but I saw her struggling with the part just like any other actor, and I realized she’s flesh and blood!
Q: How was it working with Stephen Frears?
SC: Stephen was there to serve the script, so he didn’t tear it apart. He helped us get it into a more clear and cogent shape. He helped elevate it and with [cinematographer] Robbie Ryan made it look beautiful. There’s a lot of two people talking in the movie, and it could have been dull. But it’s not, as a result of Stephen’s great work. I’m grateful because though I love doing improvisation with Michael Winterbottom, I’d written this and didn’t want anyone messing with my script!
Q: Since you collaborated on a script adapted from a non-fiction book, how much input did you have?
SC: I did most of the dialogue and character detail and Jeff Pope, my co-writer, helped with the structure, pace, and rhythm of the piece. There was some overlap but that was largely what we did. The script was based only a small part on Martin’s book; most of it was based on interviews I did with Martin. His book deals almost exclusively with the life of the missing son, but the son’s hardly in the movie at all–he’s a subliminal force throughout and you see snatches of his life on Super8. The Philomena who Judi Dench plays is much closer to the real Philomena Lee than I am to the real Martin Sixsmith. The movie Martin is really a distortion of the real Martin. For one thing, Martin is not a lapsed Catholic. I made him a lapsed Catholic in the movie because I’m a lapsed Catholic. The Martin I play is half Martin and half me, with my thoughts and cynicism. When Martin says “Human-interest stories are read by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people and written by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people,” that’s me at my most cynical. The thing is, you can accuse the entire film of being exactly that. I’m as guilty as anyone else, because Philomena is by definition a “human-interest story.”
Q: Is the depiction of Philomena’s son Anthony in the movie accurate?
SC: What we have about her son is all real. He was a Republican and became a Chief Legal Counsel to the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. He was a closeted gay and kept it quiet because of the politics of the time.
Q: These days there are many documentary and independent films about AIDS, but this is among the few films in a while that deals with AIDS. How important was it for you to touch on this topic?
SC: It’s important, because it’s easy to forget what a huge, huge impact the AIDS epidemic had in the 1980s. It was devastating and was turned into political football. I wanted to flag some things to remind people that your government under the Republican administration, withdrew funding for AIDS research. That did happen. It was a political decision that resulted in people’s deaths that needn’t have happened. A friend of my girlfriend’s mother died of AIDS then, and had she contracted it twenty years later, she’d still be around because of the advances in treatment. We didn’t want to make a whole issue of it in the movie, because we were talking about Michael’s life, but I wanted to bring it up and also point out why he was closeted. Part of the film is about sexuality and people’s difficulty dealing with it, and also how religion has difficulty coming to terms with it in an honest way. Philomena says, “We didn’t know about making babies.” Those nuns educated those girls, but they didn’t include sex education. It wasn’t accidental that there was no sex education, it was systemic. Looking back now, that seems insane. And you have to ask yourself how that came about. In my opinion, it was because of the distortion of some of the better values that religion should have imbued them with. I didn’t want to avoid those spiky moments in the script; I wanted to give some voice to them.
Q: How much research did you do in regard to the girls in the convent laundries at that time?
SC: Not a huge amount. I was aware of the laundries in Ireland, before The Magdalene Sisters, because my aunt in England voluntarily went into one of these places in the late 1960s. She was sent there because it was somewhere to hide while her belly grew and she had the baby. I was 7 or 8, and knew what was going on and I was embarrassed that my aunt had a baby and wasn’t married. It was a huge social stigma to have a child out of wedlock. It seems odd to us in this modern age, perhaps, but it was very, very real then. Being raised a Catholic I knew about those places and that they were dying out. The laundries in Ireland have always been an issue. I didn’t want to make a film that was a polemic attacking these archaic practices. Having the benefit of hindsight, it’s too easy to express some sort of conceited liberal-minded admonishment of people in the past. It has to go beyond that, although clearly I’m angry about some things. I wanted to tell the story of this simple, working-class Irish woman because there are many people like Philomena, including my mother and grandmother and lots of ladies in Ireland of her age. I wanted to celebrate those stoic, forgotten women who have sustained their faith and led quiet, unremarkable but dignified lives. It’s important that Philomena actually dignifies her faith, because I do point my finger at the Catholic Church. I made sure to distinguish between the hierarchy and institution and the ordinary people like Philomena, who are not only blameless but are the only real hope that the religion has.
DP: Martin has trouble containing his anger about what happened to Philomena, while she’s the forgiving and gracious one. My guess is that the average viewer is going to side with him and you. But do you want that?
SC: It’s an interesting question. I asked Philomena, “Do you forgive them for what they did to you?” And she said, “Yes, I do.” I thought, “Well, that’s very interesting, and that could be a very powerful moment in the film.” She told me about that decision to forgive; but given my creative license I have Philomena say it directly to Sister Hildegarde. Her daughter, Jane, who’s also portrayed in the movie [by Anna Maxwell Martin], stood next to her mother when she said she forgave them. She said, “I don’t forgive them.” I thought, wow, they both seem really comfortable with their opposite choices. She doesn’t but I do. That made me decide to put both choices the film next to each other. But I also wanted Martin to confront the people at the convent and say what the audience needs to hear, to give the audience that kind of rush. An audience would feel cheated if they didn’t have that cathartic moment. But, conversely, I wanted to contrast Martin’s anger with Philomena’s serenity. She tells him, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hating people, I don’t want to be like you.” And he’s suddenly humbled and reduced to almost a child. That was really important, too. I didn’t want to be prescriptive because there’s nothing worse than a film saying, this is how you ought to feel.
DP: Was Sister Hildegarde, who in your movie sold babies and even now thinks all the convent girls back then who had pre-marital sex and gave birth were sinners, real?
SG: Yes, she was a real nun there, but she died a long time ago. So that conversation [Martin and Philomena have with the elderly Hidegarde] in the movie never took place. People in the clergy and other people came out the woodwork and said it is an unfair representation of her, that she did some good things. Then, straight after that, lots of other people came out of the woodwork and said, “No, actually she’s the one who stopped me from finding my child.” There’s a big, big discussion going on in Ireland about this, even as we speak.
Q: Was the convent cooperative?
SC: When we tried to film, we told the church what it was going to be and asked whether they had any comments. And they didn’t respond to us in any way. They didn’t want to help. I actually went to visit the abbey. I had a conversation with a nun there when I was looking around. The word she used to describe me was “impertinent,” which is very telling. I pointed out that we’d asked in a phone call days before if they would help, and they made it quite clear that they’d have nothing to do with the film. Certain people within the church have been very contrite, but there are just as many people who are unwilling to accept that what is in film really happened.