A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is in Australian cinemas from this week and I spoke to Italian director Luca Guadagnino about his latest film…

Matt:  I vividly remember your 2010 film I Am Love and it was a breakout film for you that got a lot of international attention.  Did you find your life changing a little after that?  People were a lot more interested in you and your work?

Luca:  For sure.  I Am Love gave me the confidence to manage my work and not necessarily follow the rules of Italian cinema.  The film allowed me to travel the world and make new professional relationships.

Matt:  The film is loosely based on the 1969 Italian-French film Swimming Pool.  What drew you to the screenplay and made you want to bring this story to the big screen once again?

Luca:  I was attracted by the possibility of revamping the movie because it had a quartet of people entangled in their own nostalgic desire for one another.  I felt it was still relevant today and that audiences could relate.  

Matt:  In my review of I Am Love, I wrote about the stunning visuals.  I feel like I could say the same thing here.  I noticed a lot of shots of body parts here – torsos, feet, teeth and so on.  What draws you to that particular imagery?

Luca:  Because I’m a pervert (laughs).  No, I consider myself a “voyeur”.  It’s a movie about desire and how we latch onto and covet other people.  I’m so fascinated by the motion of human bodies and they are truly fabulous objects to portray in film.  My next movie is going to feature a lot of dance because I’m a big fan of musicals and again, it’s going to be about bodies.

Matt:  I love the way the camera often zooms in or zooms out.  Again, I’m really curious to know your mindset when using that particular technique?

Luca:  It’s a question of taste.  On one hand, there were a lot of films in the 1970s and 1980s where zoom replaced the normal travelling shots.  It was a cheap way of avoiding scenes where you had to put a track down and push the camera along.  That costs time and money.  The zoom became a shortcut for many years.  You might remember Death in Venice or The Innocent by Luchino Visconti.

On the flip side, you have Stanley Kubrick using zooms in The Shining but for the opposite reason.  It wasn’t to save time and money but it was to express something strongly.  This I endorse.  It’s like an ultra-vista attitude and I love it.  In my next movie, I’m only shooting it with one lens which will be a fixed lens.  I have a lot of discussions with myself about how to shoot a movie and which lenses to use.  You’ve touched on a delicate subject.

Matt:  You’ve worked several times now with Tilda Swinton.  Given her increasingly busy schedule, was it easy to get her on board this time around?

Luca:  Tilda is a friend, a sister, a partner.  You never take her for granted but we are always looking for projects that we can work on together.  She’s been in high demand for 20 years but she has a great sense of partnership and I’m really humbled to say that she enjoys working with me.

Matt:  It’s funny though how she hardly talks for the whole movie due to her voice.  What made you incorporate that particular plot device into the script?

Luca:  It was an idea that Tilda had.  She wanted the character to express and communicate in a way that wasn’t verbal.  That led to a great physical performance by Tilda.  It was an inspired idea and I embraced it as soon as I heard about it.

Matt:  The opening the film is so free of dialogue and the wham, in comes Ralph Fiennes who never shuts up for the whole movie.  What was it like for Ralph trying to stay so hyperactive and energetic throughout?

Luca:  We all have friends like that (laughs).  Ralph is such a sublime actor.  He has an amazing concentration when he works.  His character has a manic attitude to life but Ralph’s performance is so balanced and precise.  It’s about being high, low, high, low.  Harry can be sombre when he’s hit by an emotion.  

Matt:  Who came up with dance routine?  Was that something you helped with or his own creation?

Luca:  That was written into the script.  We discussed it a lot and Ralph wanted to hire a choreographer who he’d seen on stage in London.  Her name was Ann Yee.  We discussed in both technical terms and conceptual terms what we were looking for from that scene.  We needed Ralph to find a level of confidence and looseness that reflected his life.  It was psycho-analytical choreography.  

Matt:  You tease the audience with brief flashbacks of Harry and Marianne and their previous life together.  How do you decide what exactly to reveal?  Some filmmakers might leave out the flashbacks while others might spend a lot more time in that area.

Luca:  There was a lot of collaboration with the cast and crew.  We had longer flashbacks in the script but we shot the scenes on the island first which gave us the luxury of knowing what we needed to fill in the gaps.

Matt:  I’ve been to Italy before but not to the island of Pantelleria.  How did you settle on that location for the film’s setting?

Luca:  I knew the place.  I went there when I was 15 years old for a holiday with my sister and I went back a year later with friends from school.  I remember the landscape being tough, relentless, beautiful and scary.  There were all these contradictory emotions that had stuck in my memory.  I felt like I needed a place like that so that it becomes a character that is going to shake up their neurotic quartet.  

Matt:  The film started in Venice and has done the film festival circuit.  Are there plans to take it to the United States for a wider release?

Luca:  We sold the movie everywhere in the world long before Venice.  It opened in Italy back in November and it came out in the UK in February where it did well.  We open in Germany and France soon and then we go to America after that for a May release.


The Daughter

The Daughter is about to be released in Australian cinemas and I caught up with director Simon Stone to chat about it…

Matt:  You’ve appeared in TV shows like Blue Heelers, you’ve been in movies like Balibo and The Eye of the Storm, you’ve directed theatrical productions, and now here you are directing a feature length motion picture.  It’s a pretty good resume for someone your age.  Is this the career progression you always had planned for yourself?

Simon:  No, not really.  I wish I could travel back in time to when I was a 16-year-old and tell myself “hey, those things you were daydreaming about on the way to school… well, they actually happened.”  It’s very exciting.

Matt:  I guess you could say the creation of this film started more than 100 years ago with Henrik Ibsen putting pen to paper and writing The Wild Duck.  What was it that made you think it’d be ripe for a modern adaptation?

Simon:  It’s a very touching story about a family trying to stay together amidst the revelation of long buried secrets.  It’s classic story material.  I wrote a contemporary play based on Henrik Ibsen’s work which really connected with audiences.  The idea of then turning it into a film was a slightly easier decision than had it been taken from the original material.  The play was effectively the “road test”.

Matt:  You’ve got Jan Chapman here as a producer – a woman who has been Oscar nominated for The Piano and also involved on films such as Love Serenade, Lantana and Bright Star.  How valuable is she to you?  What can she offer as a producer?

Simon:  She knows how good films are made and she’s been involved with making several of them.  You get some great juju from her.  A common theme in my career is that I love to put myself in a scenario where I could look like a complete idiot because everyone around me is so much more talented.

Matt:  A lot of actors who direct often put themselves in the movie as a way of helping improve their chances of landing acting gigs down the road.  Did you give it any thought yourself?

Simon:  No, not at all.  I don’t have any ego from an acting point of view.  A joy that I’ve gained in my career is helping other actors find moments of great truth and vulnerability in their performances.  I admire actors because they’re always putting themselves in a situation where they could fail in the hands of the wrong director.  I much prefer to be a position where I can try to make sure that the position is not a horrible one for them.

Matt:  At the start of the year, I’d never heard the name Odessa Young and now I’ve seen her deliver two great performances – here and in Looking For Grace.  How did you discover her for this role?

Simon:  A friend of mine had worked with her on a short film and she mentioned her about 18 months before we shot The Daughter.  I remember the name because it was so unique.  I got her in for a workshop for the film and I could see that she was amazing on screen but I didn’t think she was right for this particular role.  Her agents convinced me to give her another look and so I sent her an email telling her to go completely in the opposite direction of her normal instincts when playing the character.  She took up the challenge and she really transformed during the audition process.  She’s one of the most extraordinarily skilful people at becoming someone else that I’ve ever worked with.

Matt:  You’re a 31-year-old directing your first movie.  What’s it like giving instruction to the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto?

Simon:  The thing that people often don’t realise that great actors like Geoffrey, Sam and Miranda are desperate for people to direct them.  If you’re an actor going “what should I be doing on the next take?” instead of thinking about the content of the scene, you’ll end up repeating the same performance throughout your career because people are too scared to direct you.  It’s why I became an actor in the first place.  I like transforming, changing and discovering things that I didn’t know I was capable of doing.  

Matt:  I liked the fast pace of the film in the early stages.  You move quickly from character-to-character, from subplot-to-subplot to create that backstory before we move into the meatier part of the film.  How easy was it to find that right pace?

Simon:  That’s a really good question.  It was something that didn’t exist in the script.  When it was cut together the first time, it was depressing how long-winded the introduction was.  I left Australia 3 hours after we finished shooting to go to Amsterdam to produce a play.  It gave me plenty of time to think about the edit and when I came home 2 months later, I had this idea that everything overlapped at the start.  It would be a good way to show the connectedness of these characters in a film that highlights the connectedness of their fates and destinies.  It also gives the audience a sense of security that something will actually happen in the movie.  

Matt:  Your film was selected to screen at the Toronto Film Festival – a great honour in its own right given they only select a small percentage of films that are submitted each year.  What was that experience like?

Simon:  Toronto was amazing because it was just off the back of having been to the Venice Film Festival.  I was like “oh wow, this is really the film world”.  The extraordinary thing when you go to festivals is that you get to meet the audience that is watching the movie.  It’s amazing to see their reactions.  It was deeply moving to see how the film affected them.

Matt:  What are the plans going forward?  Anything you’re working on at the moment?

Simon:  I’m currently halfway through directing a play in Germany and I’m taking a quick break from it to do publicity for The Daughter.  I’m then doing a play in Amsterdam, London, and doing an opera – all before August.  I’m writing a TV series, preparing film, seeing what happens next, trying to have a relationship, trying to stay connected with life… I’m in an incredibly lucky period of my life where I get to experience a whole lot of things that others don’t.


The Oscars are over for another year and here’s my wrap…

Oscars Competition

A big thanks to the 64 people who entered by 16th Annual Pick The Oscars Competition.  No one managed a perfect score and that was largely due to Mark Rylance winning best supporting actor.  Only 3 out of 64 saw that coming.  Three people were tied on 5 out of 6 – Sarah Ward, Prue Knox and Robb Musgrave.  It came down to the tie-breaker question and Sarah Ward took the honours by being the closest to predict the age of the best picture presenter.  78-year-old Morgan Freeman did the honours.

Oscar Betting & Tipping

I can only laugh when I think of my Oscar bets this year.  I had $300 on Spotlight in October 2015 and $300 on Mark Rylance in early 2016.  I’d written both bets off but somehow, they came through with the goods today.  I finished with a profit of $1,325 which is my largest win on any Oscars ceremony in 20 years.  Suffice to say I was pretty damn excited.

Here’s a look at my cumulative Oscar betting…

1996 – profit of $750 – won on Susan Sarandon
1997 – profit of $300 (cumulative profit $1,050) – won on Frances McDormand
1998 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $800)
1999 – loss of $250 (cumulative profit $550)
2000 – profit of $620 (cumulative profit $1,170) – won on Kevin Spacey and Michael Caine
2001 – loss of $190 (cumulative profit $980) – won on director Steven Soderbergh
2002 – profit of $480 (cumulative profit $1,460) – won on Halle Berry
2003 – profit of $275 (cumulative profit $1,735) – won on Catherine Zeta-Jones and Adrian Brody
2004 – profit of $150 (cumulative profit $1,875) – won on Sean Penn
2005 – profit of $214 (cumulative profit $2,089) – won on Hilary Swank
2006 – profit of $350 (cumulative profit $2,439) – won on Reese Witherspoon
2007 – profit of $1,463 (cumulative profit $3,912) – won on Eddie Murphy at Globes, Alan Arkin & West Bank Story at Oscars
2008 – profit of $268 (cumulative profit of $4,280) – won on Tilda Swinton and the Coen brothers
2009 – profit of $253 (cumulative profit of $4,533) – won on Mickey Rourke & Kate Winslet at Globes, Kate Winslet at Oscars
2010 – loss of $830 (cumulative profit of $3,703)
2011 – profit of $30 (cumulative profit of $3,733) – won on Social Network at Globes, Tom Hooper & King’s Speech at Oscars
2011 – loss of $640 (cumulative profit of $3,093) – won on Jean Dujardin at Oscars
2012 – loss of $850 (cumulative profit of $2,243) – won on Ang Lee at Oscars
2013 – loss of $72 (cumulative profit of $2,171) – won on Matthew McConaughey at Globes and Oscars
2014 – loss of $50 (cumulative profit of $2,121) – won on Eddie Redmayne at Oscars
2015 – win of $1,325 (cumulative profit of $3,446) – won on Mark Rylance and Spotlight at Oscars

I wasn’t quite as successful with my overall tipping.  I managed 16 out of 24 but was one of the few to nab all 4 acting categories.  

Oscar Results

The winners in the major categories were as follows:

Best Picture – Spotlight
Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Best Actress – Brie Larson (Room)
Best Supporting Actor – Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies)
Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Best Original Screenplay – Spotlight
Best Adapted Screenplay – The Big Short
Best Animated Feature – Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film – Son Of Saul
Best Documentary Feature – Amy

It’s also terrific to see Mad Max: Fury Road nab 6 awards in the technical categories – more than any other film.  It’s amazing consider it’s an Aussie action reboot.  Who have bet on that a few months ago?  The big surprises of the night belonged to Ex Machina winning visual effects and Spectre winning best song.

Chris Rock was a strong host and had plenty of material in light of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.  That’s it from me.  I look forward to doing it all again in 12 months!

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl recently picked up 4 Oscar nominations.  While he was visiting Australia, I spoke with director Tom Hooper about his film.  You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  We’re in the midst of awards season and so I have to start out with a lighter question – where do you keep the Oscar that you won for directing The King’s Speech? 

Tom:  I know a lot of the Brits like to keep them in obscure places like the loo but I keep mine on my mantelpiece next to the fireplace.

Matt:  I remember your reaction as you jumped out of your seat with excitement after finding out you’d won.  What was going through your head in the few moments before they announced the winner?

Tom:  It’s nerves but not like you expect.  As the weekend progressed and it got closer to the ceremony, I got more nervous about the thought of winning and giving a speech live in front of half a billion people.  Minutes before they handed out my award, I was sitting there thinking this was ironic because I’d made a film about a guy who was terrified of public speaking.

When my name was called out, it was like a bolt of electricity had shot though me.  I went up to the stage and I remembered some advice that Ricky Gervais had given me.  He said that if you can get to the microphone without falling flat on your face, then you should relax and remind yourself of what you’ve achieved.   

Matt:  The Danish Girl had been floating around for a while with different directors and different actors attached.  How did it end up in your lap and what convinced you it was the right project?

Tom:  I fell in love with this script back in 2008.  I was in early talks to direct The King’s Speech at the time.  I have a wonderful casting director, Nina Gold, who has cast almost everything I’ve directed.  She said she knew of one great unmade script called The Danish Girl.  It was the most beautiful script.  I completely fell for it and it reduced me to tears when I first read it.  I then wanted to share how much the story moved me with the audience.

My seven year involvement makes me a bit of a newcomer on the project.  My producers have been fighting since 2000 to get this brought to the screen so it’s been a passion project for us for many years.

Matt:  You’ve worked with Eddie Redmayne before in Elizabeth I and Les Miserables.  Were there a lot of actors in mind or was Eddie always the guy?

Tom:  I actually imagined Eddie in the role the first time I read the script.  Back then, they said I’d never get finance for a film with the unknown Eddie Redmayne in the lead role.  That amuses me now because he won the Oscar last year and he’s now in a very different place.  I’ve always found his acting so emotionally raw.  It was actually on the set of Les Miserables that I slipped him the script in an unmarked brown paper envelope.

Matt:  It’s a role that requires full frontal nudity and there are many actors in Hollywood who would say no to such a part.  How did you approach that with Eddie?  Was he up for it all the way or did he take convincing?

Tom:  I was clear that I wanted to do that from the very beginning.  He asked that before I showed it to anyone, he could see the edit first and approve it.  I stuck by that.  He never questioned it aside from that and he was very brave about it.

Matt:  She’s been around for a little while but it’s been a breakout year for Alicia Vikander.  She’s picking up a lot of award season attention for this and her performance in Ex Machina.  How did you get her on board? 

Tom:  I think she’s going to be a huge move star.  She’s done 7 films in rapid succession over the last couple of years.  What’s great about The Danish Girl is that the story is as much about her as it is about him.  She really illuminates the love story at the centre of this film.  She has an unconditional love for her husband.  She supports him even though there’s a risk of losing her husband.  Gerda is never the victim in the film and she’s always a strong, inspiring woman.  That’s not easy to do.

Matt:  You mentioned that the film is as much about Gerda as it is about Einar.  Was that always the intention?  To find a balance between their respective stories?

Tom:  Yeah but when you’ve got Eddie Redmayne playing one lead and you’re looking for another lead, it’s intimidating.  Eddie is so gifted and he disappears into his roles.  I was lucky to find Alicia to balance Eddie because there aren’t too many young actors who could go head-to-head with Eddie.

Matt:  The film is based on the 2000 novel David Ebershoff which in turn was loosely based on actual events.  Was the focus on remaining faithful to Ebershoff’s novel or were details changed to make it more like the actual story of Lili and Gerda?

Tom:  Good question as it’s a bit of both.  David’s novel is the reason we’re here with the film but the real story was extraordinary.  Writer Lucinda Coxon changed a few details to make it closer to reality.  I was staggered in 2008 when I looked up Lili Elbe online.  There wasn’t a lot of information and much of it was inaccurate.  It was if history had marginalised this extraordinary story.  I actually thought Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s was the first person to have gender confirmation surgery.  I had no idea that it happened in 1930.  It made me think that history has a tendency to “bake in” the prejudices of the time and so maybe that’s why this story was kept hidden from view. 

Matt:  There are a lot of emotional sequences in the film with characters blubbering and crying.  Does it take a lot of work to create an environment for that to occur?  Or can the actors just turn the waterworks on at the click of a finger? 

Tom:  Ironically, I probably spent more time trying to suggest that they didn’t cry.  Crying is not hard for these actors because they are so good.  It was more about choosing the moment for those emotions and then balancing that with humour and levity.  When you go on a journey like this, a little humour helps open your heart.

Matt:  To ask about the set design, how easy is it to recreate all of Einar’s and Gerda’s paintings that we see throughout the film?

Tom:  It’s a funny story.  I started out being very purist and saying that I was only going to use the real Gerda Wegener art and the real Lili paintings.  I was told this would be difficult as they’re mainly in private collections and it would be expensive and perhaps impossible to get our hands on them.  About a month before the shoot, my wonderful production designer, Eve Stewart, sat me down and told me very gently – “you do realise that it’s not Eddie Redmayne in the Lili paintings?”  I then got very embarrassed and realised we needed to do our own versions based on the real things but obviously with Eddie Redmayne’s Lili at the centre.  We tried all kinds of shortcuts like blowing up Eddie’s face and doing photocopies of the paintings but the key to getting them right was to get Eddie to sit and pose as Lili and do the portraits in the old fashioned way.

Matt:  I’m a big fan of composer Alexandre Desplat and I was reading that he can put an entire film score together in a matter of weeks.  What was your approach in creating the right music for this film?

Tom:  I was very lucky to get Alexandre.  He won the Oscar last year after being nominated 7 times previously.  It was hard to get the score right and it was a long journey.  The thing about music in a film is that it’s the one element that’s not actually in the room with the characters.  It’s put on by the filmmakers afterwards.  You have to be very careful what you’re saying with the music because if you make it too dark, what are you suggesting about the transgender journey?  If you make it too light, it’s not capturing the pain.  The essential thing with the score was to balance the pain and the joy.  To show that this journey in the 1920s was provoked by anxiety but it also opened the door to a happiness and a contentment that you may never imagine possible. 

Matt:  As always I like to finish up by asking what you’re working on at the moment?

Tom:  My mum lives in South Australia so I’ve spent some time there celebrating Christmas.  Now I’m back to promoting the film and taking it around the world.  I think the last country we visit is Japan in March.  I can then get stuck into my next movie.  I am close to lining something up but can’t say anything just yet.