Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview with David, Alastair Mackenzie on Perfect Sense

The string of press interviews conducted at the UK release of "Perfect Sense" are now slowly starting to be released. One such group interview can be found on the Herald newspaper website. Content is free and open to anyone who registered, and I strongly encourage you do so. That said, here is their interview with cast of Perfect Sense, including comments from composer Max Richter as well as David, star Ewen Bremner and Alastair Mackenzie.

Perfect Sense reunites McGregor not only with his Young Adam director Mackenzie, but also with Trainspotting co-star Ewen Bremner (who plays a fellow chef) and with his real-life uncle, Denis Lawson (who plays the restaurant’s owner).

Cast and crew gathered on the red carpet at a packed Festival Theatre to give the EIFF its first buzzing event of 2011, and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive, despite a few damning reviews in the UK press.

The film is produced by Glasgow based Sigma Films, the company behind the award-winning Red Road and Mackenzie’s previous films, Young Adam and Hallam Foe.

After the screening, a press conference was held in the Empire Room of the Festival Theatre. David Mackenzie, McGregor, Bremner and Lawson were joined by actor Alastair Mackenzie and composer Max Richter. Here is an edited version of what was said.

Question: Ewan, you’ve just seen the film for first time: what did you think of the finished work?

Ewan McGregor: It’s quite gobsmacking. I loved the script really dearly, and I liked working with David on our first film together, so I was delighted to be doing that again. What David does afterwards with it is extraordinary. It’s a good script on the page, a really good script to read, and a really extraordinary film to watch, so it’s gone beyond my expectations. I think it’s wonderful. I’m really happy with it, really proud of it.

Q: What culinary preparation did you do to play a chef?

EM: I visited three different kitchens. Mainly I worked with Guy Cowan from Guy’s in Candleriggs in Glasgow. He was on set with us. Food stylists would prepare some of the fancier stuff and then Guy orchestrated it. We came up with some dishes we could prepare, so did them with Guy in his kitchen until we knew what we were doing. I was really pleased to see that it did look like we knew what we were doing [laughs]... I spent a night up Monachyle Mhor, which was really interesting, a different kind of restaurant. And there was another one in Glasgow, The Buttery. It was really good – we got a flavour of it.

Ewen Bremner: It all had to be choreographed quite cleverly so that the camera caught the good stuff because, with the food, the moment passes very quickly: you’re putting something on a plate or you’re putting the finishing touches to something or you’re timing two dishes to come out at the same time, so that we can meet in the same place.

David Mackenzie: Yes, because you’re fitting dialogue in there as well.

EM: When David said “cut” everybody started resetting the stuff because the props guys couldn’t possibly keep up. Everyone was in charge of their own food prep on the set. It was nice that. It was as busy between takes as it was in the takes.

Q: Is it challenging to film in Glasgow?

DM: Live locations that you have to control are definitely things that are challenging. But basically it was not problematic at all. We were very lucky that some of the streets we could close down were around the area of Wilson Street in the Merchant City, which has not got a lot of traffic through. So we were able to have a run of it for quite a while. That was geographically very close to the restaurant anyway. Tontine Lane, at the back of where the restaurant and Eva’s house were, that was another controllable area. It’s a kind of funny lane that people go in and out of - a bit kind of bam central, but it was all right really.

EM: Often when you’re filming in the city, you can come up against people who don’t want you to be filming there. Sometimes people park their cars where you don’t want them and you can find yourself in angry situations with people who don’t want to be stopped. Fair enough – it’s their city and they’re going about their daily business. But we didn’t come across any of that, really. It was very friendly.

Q: Why is Glasgow an ideal cinematic city?

DM: You can get a lot without having to travel far. There’s a lot of scale; there’s a kind of modern urban place there; there’s a lot of texture from the old there as well. You’ve got the amazing river running through it. It’s got a lot that you need in a controllable, central area, and compared with doing any urban stuff in London, it’s a breeze… We really wanted to make Glasgow look like a modern, cosmopolitan, European city that didn’t really feel it was one particular city. We wanted it to feel like it could be anywhere, really. It had an identity of its own but it doesn’t really need to be set just in Glasgow.

Q: Ewan, do you enjoy filming in Scotland?

EM: I always love coming back up. I think this was the fourth film I’ve made in Glasgow. It’s nice to be at home. I don’t come from Glasgow – I’m from further north – but I enjoy being there. I find that it’s more and more of a pleasant place to be. I enjoyed a lot of the restaurants in the West End… We went down the Byres Road with Eva, we did the Chip... We were staying quite local, and we wandered everywhere. That’s another thing about Glasgow: in this experience, I was cycling everywhere because I had to ride a fixed gear bicycle in the film, which I hadn’t done before, so I had to practice that. So all during our rehearsals – we had two weeks of work before we started filming – I was just cycling everywhere. And I loved it. It’s a good city to cycle in; you can get anywhere on a bicycle in Glasgow. Nobody ever noticed me on a bicycle in Glasgow, which was quite a revelation. I realised that that’s quite a good way to travel around.

DM: And as a result, Ewan has built four new bikes since...

EM: It’s totally changed my life...

DM: The reputation of the petrolhead McGregor has now been turned into the leghead...

EM: I’ve always been a bit of a leg man…

Q: The film contains intense crying scenes – one of hardest things to do on film. Ewan, you always seem good at them, though.

EM: I’ve got a great deal of pain to draw on, you know? Deep emotional pain [laughs]. No, it is quite a difficult thing to do, but the most difficult thing about it is worrying about it beforehand, because that’s what screws it up. It is difficult because when you’re approaching a scene like that, the worry is that you won’t be able to get there, and that worry sometimes means that you won’t. You have to allow yourself the time, and you have to have a director who allows you the time to get there, and you just work up to it. It’s probably the only time for me when, before the scene, you just make sure you’re in your own quiet space and start… making yourself sad, I suppose. Then if you’re sad enough, you play the scene and it comes.

Q: What message did you take from film?

Alastair Mackenzie: Seize the day. Carpe diem.

EM: I always thought from when I read it that it wasn’t a kind of hopeless film. On the contrary, it felt to me like... hopeful. When you think about what happens, it doesn’t seem hopeful but I always felt that the sense of it was quite hopeful.

DM: I hope that it comes across as a life-affirming film. That’s what I’d like it to be. Obviously you can’t force an audience to have an emotion, but I’m hoping that the experience of the end of the film is sort of a combination of the tragic elements that are happening and these deeply powerful human connective elements – and romantic and love elements – that leave the film and the audience on a positive note.

Denis Lawson: It was interesting seeing it for the first time tonight, and knowing that sense of the human spirit and how we cling on and survive. The survival of the species, in a way; the way that we will hold on to anything we have and keep going. And so it just seems curiously an optimistic film.

EB: To me it’s like a fairytale for grown-ups, in that you’re being told this story and it’s almost… not a cautionary tale but in the same way that fairytales for children are believable, this is like for the apocalyptic age, the PlayStation civilisation.

DM: A fairytale for nihilists.

DL: It’s almost Biblical, in a way.

Max Richter: I feel like it is a positive story. It’s very hopeful. It’s a kind of love-conquers-all story, which I think is a wonderful sentiment.

Q: Denis, how was it working with your nephew?

DL: It was such a pleasure and an exciting prospect. What I remember most particularly is walking into the make-up trailer the first day we were going to work together, and Ewan was in the chair. And that was a bit weird: what’s Ewan doing here? And in his usual fashion, he went “Hello Uncle Denis!” So we got ready and left the trailer and walked onto the set. And then it was just like so natural, the most natural thing in the world. Things just dropped into place. It just felt so easy. It was great, a lovely thing to do.

EM: It’s been a long time coming. I’ve always wanted to work with Denis. He’s directed me twice, in a play and then in a short film shot in Edinburgh… I wondered what that would be like, but when we did the play and got in the rehearsal room, it was completely normal.

Q: There are a lot of apocalyptic films about at the moment. Are they telling us we’re all going to die soon?

EM: Like Hollywood would know!

DM: There’s a lot of uncertainty about things going around at the moment. People are questioning a lot of things that they haven’t questioned before and asking about the sustainability of human endeavour. I think all of us were conscious when we did this movie that we didn’t want to make it a genre piece in those terms or to be bombastic about it, and for it to be slightly more metaphorical and poetic in its telling. But if there is a convergence of interest in these things, I would guess it’s because people have doubts about “project humanity”.

Perfect Sense will go on general release in UK cinemas on October 7.

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