Glen (Chris New) and Russell's (Tom Cullen) memorable "Weekend"
...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.
Earlier this week I sat down with the writer/director Andrew Haigh, at a West Village coffee shop to discuss his glowingly reviewed debut WEEKEND which opens in limited release tomorrow. I'd been privileged to see the film early while serving as a jury member at the Nashville International Film Festival this spring, shortly after it had surprised at the SXSW Festival where it won the Audience Award. We followed suit in Nashville and handed it our Best Film prize.
Cut to: Months and months later where I made the enjoyable mistake of putting the screener in for a quick refresher before talking to the director. My intention was to just watch two or three scenes but the compulsively watchable romantic drama sucks you right in and I was nearly late for the interview. Weekend clocks a one night stand between nearly-closeted lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen, above right) and artist Glen (Chris New, above left) who meet at a nightclub. To their mutual surprise, the one night stand spills over into the next day...and the day after that? It's an unusually honest, beautifully acted little gem, easily one of the best films of 2011 and one of the best gay films in many years.
How did you cast this? No matter how strong your screenplay is, romantic dramas they fall apart without the right pairing of actors.
Andrew Haigh: [Pictured left] Absolutely. I was so terrified about it. We didn't have time or money to do a massive casting. I'd seen quite a lot, something like fifty people, and I was starting to get depressed. There were some great people but I just knew they weren't going to be right. And then Tom came in.
Tom's performance surprised me. Sometimes when people are playing introverted characters, it's a bit dull. That's not the case here.
He's got such an expressive face, I think. He goes from looking quite tough to looking really vulnerable, from really young and sweet to quite old with the weight of life crushing him. Tom thinks he gave an awful audition!
I have to know which scene.
[The director indicates a lengthy conversation on a sofa where Tom tells Glen about the unusual circumstances of his childhood before they have sex a second time.]
That was the scene I gave them but then I took the script away. Do a version of that. Sometimes actors prepare so well that it's hard to see what they're really like. I wanted to get a sense of the real person. Tom was great. Then I put him and Chris together. Chris is not like Glen but he's got an aggressiveness to him. It's sweet but he likes to push people continually to open up. I put them together and there was a chemistry between them, a spark of something. You could just tell they seemed to like each other and worked off each other's style.
The movie is bit explicit. Did the actors know to what extent before auditioning?
They knew from their agents that there was going to be sexually explicit material. You can't ask them if they're gay or straight, you know, in the audition. I just asked them how they felt about gay material. During rehearsals I talked a lot about it. I didn't want them to do anything they didn't want to do - that would have come across. It was just about developing the trust, I suppose.
Since you can't ask actors about that...
It's all been outed now anyway.
Are they both gay then?
No, Tom isn't. He plays Russell. Chris is. It was hard because Tom didn't want to talk about it. It's not an issue to him. He thought that people would think differently about him if they found out he wasn't gay. And people do think differently. Everyone is always very interested. Is he gay? And then when they find out he's not it's like wow, it's amazing he managed to play gay! [Pause] Welllll, it's not really that difficult to play gay.
That makes me crazy that whole 'They're so brave!' thing. But you as the writer/director... surely you had some preconceived notions. Did you want gay actors?
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...