One-To-One: UK Star Of Tomorrow director China Moo-Young talks to John Maybury, whose work includes Edinburgh opener The Edge Of Love, 2005 hit The Jacket.
China Moo-Young: What's the difference between working with Hollywood and British producers'
John Maybury: To be honest, none. Now in this country, as soon as you're above $2m (£1m) you're answering to some sort of American requirement. I was working with Capitol Films [on The Edge Of Love] and I was surprised I was suddenly dealing with what I'd consider the language of a Hollywood studio.
It came to me as a Keira Knightley project but I offered the Caitlin Thomas role to Lindsay Lohan. For various reasons she couldn't do it so I went to Capitol and said I've lost Lindsay but I've got Sienna [Miller].
This was three weeks away from shooting and I needed an actor.
Moo-Young: Did you have a list of candidates'
Maybury: No, I never have a fallback plan. I believe the film gods will look after me and the person who should play the part will end up playing the part.
Moo-Young: I agree. Actors get the parts they're right for.
Maybury: But the first thing the people at Capitol did was get Sienna's
numbers. Sienna has done a lot of work but she's never been in a
blockbuster. And obviously Lindsay's numbers are astronomical because she's been acting since she was a child in big Disney movies. So I immediately lost about £400,000 of my budget.
Moo-Young: Have you ever felt pressure to cast certain names in your films'
Maybury: I really didn't want Keira Knightley for The Jacket. I met all the young actors in LA - Liv Tyler, Sarah Polley, Anna Paquin - they were all up for the film. Then I get a call saying the financiers can only make this film happen if you have Keira.
The part was of a young American waitress in Vermont. I met her and I asked her why I should have her and she rather cleverly said, 'If I don't do this, I'll be stuck in corsets for ever.'
Moo-Young: People always ask me what's my style, what kind of films do you make' And I always think the subject should inform the style. My favourite film-makers make films in all sorts of genres and all sorts of styles.
Maybury: But you are pigeonholed - I was 'dark and arty'. On the one hand they come to you because you do that weird, dark, arty stuff but then they try to squeeze every drop of that out of you. 'It's too weird, it's too arty, make it more commercial.'
That was the Hollywood experience for me. The Jacket tanked at the box office and I destroyed any chance of a Hollywood career. The best thing was I didn't get superstar status, I'm not face down in a swimming pool, I'm back in the UK where there are constraints and commercial requirements but you can make something with a bit of balls.
Moo-Young: Things come out of constraints, don't they' You have to work out the best way to do something with what you've been given.
Maybury: Derek Jarman [with whom Maybury started his career] was a really good reference. He never made anything for more than $1m (£500,000) but if you've got a restraining order on you, you also have phenomenal freedom. The freedom that comes with a low budget is really important. Obviously you want to upgrade in terms of scale and if you want certain actors you need more money, but you're right - it's crucial to restrain yourself.
Moo-Young: You've said you like to bring the actors into the creative
process. Is that your favourite aspect of film-making'
Maybury: I love actors. If you give them ownership, they're creating the role and you're helping that. Shooting is one of my favourite moments because it's a collaboration. It's as though you're throwing a party and you want everyone to have a really good time so they all show off, and then you take all the credit. But I love editing too because you can create a movie from nothing. And you can work with editors who'll come up with something you've never thought about.
Moo-Young: You're working on Wuthering Heights and Natalie Portman has just pulled out. How difficult is it to cope with setbacks like that'
Maybury: Natalie was very honest and said she didn't feel confident about doing the accent, which she'd been concerned about from the beginning. I'd already signed up Michael Fassbender as Heathcliff before Cannes, and he was being called the new Marlon Brando in Cannes [where he appeared in festival hit Hunger] so it's those film gods again.
When they first approached me they wanted it to be a weird, dark version of the weird, dark tale. We were going to have an all-British cast, maybe unknowns. And then they said,
'We've just set up a meeting for you with Natalie Portman.' I thought, 'Hmm, she's not exactly unknown, is she''
Moo-Young: You directed a couple of episodes of Rome for HBO. What were the main differences - other than budgets - between working on TV and film, and how did the experience compare'
Maybury: It was a dream come true. I originally told my agent, 'No! I don't do television.' Then I thought, 'Are you mad'' I loved the series - it was like [1970s UK costume drama] Upstairs, Downstairs with togas.
And it was working at Cinecitta where some of my favourite films were made. They use two crews, simultaneously making two episodes. You have the entire studio at your disposal - so 400 extras, two camels, horses and the prop makers and costume makers.
It's like going to film school with a cast of thousands. I did feel like an adopted child in a family who didn't really want me because they'd all been working together for so long, but I seduced them. That's part of what being a director is about - seduction, and making the family, the crew, get on.
To see China Moo-Young's profile, click here.
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