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Taking The Plunge

Ahead of The Deep Blue Sea’s closing night slot at the BFI London Film Festival, producer Sean O’Connor talks about making the jump from TV to feature film producing and working with the great Terence Davies.

Given that LFF closer The Deep Blue Sea is based on a West End stage play [written in 1952 by Terence Rattigan], it is appropriate that the film began to take shape over a dinner at favourite London theatrical crowd haunt, Joe Allen.

“To begin with we didn’t talk about the project at all, we talked about our favourite films, Brief Encounter, Now Voyager,” says producer Sean O’Connor [the film’s other producer is Kate Ogborn] about his initial meeting with British film legend Terence Davies, whose last fiction film had been House Of Mirth in 2000, but whom O’Connor had in mind from the outset given his penchant for telling stories set in the 1940s and 1950s about women. [One of Davies’ best-loved films is Distant Voices, Still Lives, set in that era.]

“And then we ordered another bottle of wine, and the restaurant was getting empty and Terence offered to read the screenplay, which he had written the first few pages of. And I thought, you are a really idiosyncratic character, but I really like you.”

Those idiosyncracies continued into the casting process. “We came up with a long list of actors, big stars, but Terence said no to every single one. He selects people by instinct. He doesn’t care what they’ve done, it can be a short film or Gone With the Wind.”

When it came to casting the film’s protagonist Hester, a woman who leaves her conventional marriage to be with her young RAF pilot lover, Davies had a clear picture in his mind, he just had to find the right actress.

“One day, Terence rang up and said he had seen this old film on the telly, Swept From The Sea, and that it had this girl in it, Rachel Weisz. I said, that’s Academy Award winning actress Rachel Weisz, she lives in America, she’s not going to do our little film. And he said, well she’s luminous, she’s wonderful. So we tried it. Terence rang her up and she loved it.”

O’Connor was working for TV production company Talkback Thames whilst developing the project, before taking a leap of faith and quitting his job. “I left my job on the Friday and started pre production on the Monday,” says O’Connor with a laugh.

He has now developed a taste for feature film producing and has two projects in development, one with Irish novelist Edna O’Brien and a second feature with the Rattigan Estate, both of which will be produced for his company, Camberwell Films, which he named after the area of London where he lives.

Meanwhile, he is excited –and nervous – to hear people’s reactions after the LFF screening tonight.

“It’s a period British film that is not suffocated by nostalgia, that is as relevant now as it was in 1952, and I hope that comes across. There is a lot of love out there for Terence. He has a lot of very passionate fans. It will be interesting to see if they are still out there, and if there is a whole new set of fans.”

Artificial Eye releases The Deep Blue Sea in the UK on Nov 25.

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