The Guardian (UK)
Robert Carlyle / Antonia Bird interview
August 5, 1999   |   Original Source

MC: Well I’ve got approximately a million more questions but I’m not going to ask them because it’s up to you and if you don’t ask good questions I’m going to jump in with my own so please fire away everybody.

The music on Ravenous

Question 1: Can you explain how the musical collaboration came about between Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman on Ravenous?

AB: Michael and Damon had worked together on a benefit album I think for people with Aids and it was a whole group of Noel Coward songs that celebrity musicians had done versions of. I can’t remember which one they did. But anyway it didn’t turn out very well and they weren’t very happy with it but they really enjoyed working together.

This was quite a fairly high budget studio film, one of the biggest places where financiers want a say, after casting, is music. I thought Michael would do a fantastic job but I wanted something else, I wanted it to have a real modern feel to it. I didn’t want to go as far as Jake Scott on Plunkett and MaCleane, but I just wanted young audiences to be able to groove with it, not to feel alienated, and because they had worked together before that’s why it happened really. It was a really good collaboration. I leaned a lot from it.

RC’s previous theatre work

Question 2: Robert, do you want to direct films, and do you want to get back on stage again?

RC: I started off in the theatre and the last time I performed in the theatre was 93/94 and to be honest it’s going to be another 10 years at least before I even think about it. I love theatre I really do. Well maybe I should say I did love theatre. I went a long time performing and stuff and not feeling quite ready. I started directing in about 91, and as soon as I did I thought I don’t want to go back again because I just enjoyed the bigger picture of the whole thing. So I worked a way like that for about three years with a theatre company in Glasgow.

The problem for me as an actor in the theatre was that if theatre was supposed to be about suspension of belief – in that you walk into that theatre and you agree to suspend your disbelief for one or two hours – that only works if the actor is doing that as well. I was looking out and seeing you guys. I found it really difficult to get the fourth wall thing and forget the people were there, and I found myself watching the glint in people’s glasses and becoming fascinated. To be honest I don’t think I was any great shakes as a theatre actor because everything I was doing was really small in size – intimate. I was maybe performing on stage and doing a scene and thinking that was really good and then I’d get no reaction whatsoever. If you’re in 2,000-seat theatre and I’m doing something at this level here with my eyes no one’s going to see it, and that was the problem for me. I couldn’t throw it out and I found it really difficult to do that, so I suppose the answer is I’m not going back to the theatre I don’t think.

Directing is a different kettle of fish because I enjoyed directing in the theatre very much and I’ve been offered a couple of things in film to direct in the past few years. But since we have got this company together [4Way Pictures – Mark Cousins, Robert Carlyle and Antonia Bird] maybe directing something will be something I’m thinking about in the next four or five years.

MC: You’re the first actor I’ve ever heard who’s said they prefer film to theatre.

AB: I just have to say, I didn’t know this about you the reason why I wanted to move from theatre to film was about seeing what was in actor’s eyes.

RC: That’s what it’s all about.

AB: That’s exactly why. We’ve never talked about that before.

RC: It’s funny because you’re on a film set it seems very false, of course it’s false because of the big cameras and lights etc, but I find that it easier to forget, I don’t really notice the camera.

RC and AB’s working relationship

Question 3: Do Antonia and Robert have a good relationship already and will that be affected by being in a company together?

AB: The whole point of forming a company with Mark and Robert is precisely to have a place where you have support creatively where you can actually produce each other’s work and produce the work you believe should be out there interacting with an audience and so it’s the best possible thing that could ever happen as far as I’m concerned.

RC: Yeah I feel the same about that. I feel very safe about that to be honest. In the same way that any movement go on and flourish is because you get on and you trust each other and I think that this platform for us now is tailor-made really. For instance directing film the biggest problem for me is actually production because I don’t know anything about that and generally actors and producers don’t get on that well because they’re looking at the thing in two entirely different ways. So at one point Antonia said to me “I’d like to produce your first film she said and of course I’d never really thought about that. Of course that makes total sense because Antonia knows that side of the business a hell of lot more than me. So it seems a safe thing to do.

The plot evolution of Ravenous

Question 4: How did the plot of Ravenous evolve from the first director?

RC: Milcho Manchevski who was the original director has a vision of the whole thing was an awful lot darker than they had bargained for that’s basically what was going on there. He’s seen very very dark. In simple terms Manchevski was looking at Deliverance, and Fox were looking at Scream.

AB: The truth is the plot didn’t change at all.

RC: It didn’t really change it’s just about how you light it and all these things. Of course the time we were filming Ravenous, Scream comes out and everybody’s loving it and so they want that again because that was successful they wanted a little bit more money.

AB: In all truth there’s no way you could have made this script into Scream. It’s just not that kind of script.

Casting Safe

Question 5: Antonia, how did you find Aidan Gillen for Safe?

AB: I’ll tell you what I did to find the actors. I mean Kate Hardie I’d already worked with twice before and had a relationship not too dissimilar to the one I have with Robert actually, and I wanted to cast an ensemble cast around her, and the way we did it was just by meeting lots and lots of people who were recommended, or maybe a casting director recommended him. I can’t remember.

I know we had some workshops. We had people came and talked and I got stuff out of that but then we had a workshop situation where we would and that’s when I found out that you were going to be Nosty. Aidan was part of that process. Just stood out like a beacon really. A really interesting actor.

Being a woman director

Question 6: Antonia, could you say any more about being a woman director in boys’ movies?

AB: Well, you know I said that quite flippantly they are boys’ movies and they’re not. There is a lot going on for me as a human being. The films I try to do are about people and situations that touch on our lives in some way. It’s impossible to get films about women financed. I would love to be making films where strong women are central characters and I just haven’t managed it yet. I’m working on it like crazy and that’s not to do down the films I’ve done – I’m insanely proud of them, and I don’t think of them as boys’ films I think about them as films about … the boys.

MC: There’s a tiny moment in Ravenous where the only person who hasn’t eaten of the flesh it seems is the woman who works out the gate. Was that in the script?

AB: No!… That was my proudest moment after the fight. I put that in. I had two producers screaming at me when I was trying to shoot that scene, “We’ve gotta break for lunch! We’ve gotta break for lunch” I said “No, I’m shooting this shot.” I love that shot it gives me a kick.

Hamish Macbeth

Question 7: Acting is a form of therapy. Robert, is it true you like the role of Hamish Macbeth the least, and is that because it lacks edge?

RC: I don’t know if I’ve ever said that actually. To a certain extent it’s probably true. There are a lot of considerations here it’s BBC, Sunday night TV so you’ve got an awful lot of restrictions on you rightaway and to a certain extent quite rightly because you’ve got a lot of people tuning into the TV at that time of the week and lot of kids and you’ve got to be careful what you’re throwing out at that time.

What I tried to do with Hamish was to subvert it as much as I possibly could, bringing in the hash smoking and all these wee things I thought were nice. I also tried to go for his problems with women and how he couldn’t really relate to them. That seemed to me to be quite interesting. Of course Hamish stands and falls on the scripts. With six episodes of Hamish Macbeth there are five directors six writers. To try to get continuity each week is nigh impossible, so these restrictions were very difficult.

It’s not a thing I’m most proud of but it’s not something I’m ashamed of either. Within that genre and within that context I think we did alright.

Making, and marketing, a populist movie

MC: It must be a similar sort of problem for you Antonia to try and straddle popular work but work which isn’t just formulaic, not to say that Hamish Macbeth was, but that it had an edge to it.

AB: I am a popularist! I really want to make films which millions and millions of people go to see. The difficulty is persuading the marketing people of the companies which distribute your work that the film is worth spending money on and selling. That’s where it’s difficult because I think audiences are much more intelligent than the industry tends to take them for and I think people are quite hungry for interesting edgy films. There is a lot of good easy stuff that you can go see and not worry about, but I think people like stuff they can think about as well and they just don’t get a chance to see it, particularly in this country.

RC: This is going back a bit but there’s so much to do with marketing with any movie. But with Ravenous it had bookends on it – a scene on the beginning and a scene at the end – and it was a modern scheme. There’s this party of skiers and one breaks their ankle and so they go “Oh we need to camp here tonight” so they sit round the campfire and they go “Do you know any ghost stories?” They swap stories and someone goes, “Actually there is this place called Fort Spencer just round the corner…”

And at the end of the film you go back to them all sitting round the campfire ready to go in the morning, but this guy comes out of the distance to rescue them and who’s the guy? Boyd. And these were the bookends.

Now I looked at that and threw it away. You don’t need this because the story is good enough in itself. They wouldn’t let this go, and the reason they wouldn’t let this go was because marketing had decreed that they could only sell this film with a modern image. In other words they wanted Ravenous hats, puffer jackets and ski-wear. That is absolutely the truth.

AB: It’s like getting people into the cinema under false pretences. It’s like when you see the trailer for so many Hollywood pictures and they tell you the whole story in the trailer, and you think that’s really good but that’s all there is there’s nothing else. So they get famous people to cameo in these bookends and people are going to go and think they’re going to see Drew Barrymore in a ski-suit and they’re in fact gonna see Ravenous. It’s a bit bonkers.

MC: It is a hard film to sell, Ravenous, because it’s unusual it’s a mix of several genres. I know there are a lot of people from Fox here tonight.

AB: They’ve got a great campaign going for here. It’s completely different from the States.

MC: How is it different?

AB: Much better. For a start they’re not selling it as a comedy. Great Improvement. They’re going much more for the horror market which I think is where it has to be pitched if we’re going wide to multiplexes.

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