Following the success of their debut feature, Boyfriends, in 2000, British directors Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter returned in 2002 with Lawless Heart, an intricate study of modern relationships told from three different perspectives. Jason Wood caught up with Neil Hunter in a special interview for kamera to mark the film’s release on DVD next week.
Jason Wood: Viewing the DVD extras, and particularly the interviews with the cast, what really comes across is the communal camaraderie. Is this something that you recollect fondly, and how did Tom and yourself you attempt to inspire this?
Neil Hunter: I don’t think you can force camaraderie. I do remember on the shoot vaguely noticing that everyone seemed to be having a ball, apart from me. Which is appropriate, since I’m supposed to be the one worrying, while they get on with it. Obviously, we had a bit of history with some of the cast, and that helped a lot – they knew we trusted them, and maybe they trusted us a bit. I think everyone sensed – this would include the crew – that we were relaxed about giving a fair bit of rope, and they had the opportunity to do some serious work, and to make a serious contribution. I always thought it was a genuine communal effort – we’d started the ball rolling, but it was a real pleasure to sit back and watch other people taking it over. I think the toughness of the shoot might have helped a little too…
JW: Bill Nighy is particularly good value. How did you initially come to work with him on the project? And though it seems unfair to single him out from the other cast members could you talk a little about his qualities as an actor?
NH: We met Bill through Harriet Walter, whom Tom has known for some years. We had a coffee with him, told him the general idea and process, and fortunately he was up for it. Interestingly, all the actors we worked with – whether the original ones from the work shopping days, or the actors who joined us later – were most excited about working with Bill. Actors seem universally to admire him. What he brings is wit, inventiveness, a lightness of touch, a suggestiveness of a more serious edge – I find almost everything he does interesting in some way, and often unpredictable. And for all that, if adjustments were needed, he could deliver them like a precision instrument.
JW: Along with the sense of camaraderie, the other obvious aspect that emerges from viewing the DVD is the shared sense of pride in the film. Dare I ask you attempt to explain this sense on behalf of your actors?
NH: I think it goes back to that sense of ownership, resulting from the workshops we did all those years ago, when the actors helped create the characters and therefore the film. There’s no question that the actors who went through the whole process and were able to do the finished film, feel unusually connected to it – and rightly so.
JW: Similarly, how do you view the film retrospectively – and do your reactions to it alter with time and subsequent viewings?
NH: It is the case that at the time, you’re not necessarily sure what you’ve produced. For example, before the film’s premiere in Locarno, I was puzzled by a critic’s question about Stuart, the guy who’s died. Only when I watched the film that afternoon did I become fully aware how central, emotionally, he is to the whole thing. This was the effect of a relatively recent (script) decision to end on the home movies in which he features so prominently. You do learn a lot about the film from people you talk to, and even critics. Then a few months later, you get heartily sick of it and don’t want to hear any more. Which is where I am now.
JW: Two things struck me very clearly when re-viewing the film. The first was the fact that though you take an innovative approach to narrative and structure, you do so with great subtlety. The second was the wonder of Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography; particularly the way he uses different camera techniques for different stories/characters. Could you comment on both of these aspects?
NH: Yes, the subtlety was a decision: I don’t particularly embrace films that shout their formal cleverness from the rooftops; and we were determined that the most important thing was the emotional content of each individual story. That favouring of subtlety also extended to Sean’s cinematography – both in the use of colour and camera styles in the three stories, the idea was to push things only up to the point where people might notice, and no further. It may be a lack of boldness, but I always had the feeling, with this film, that any ‘screens’ that came between the viewer and the characters would harm it.
JW: Great care has obviously been taken with the presentation of this DVD. Are you hoping that the film will find new audiences on this format, and is it also a way of furthering the curiosity of those whose interests were pricked by the cinema release?
NH: I know the distributors are hoping the film will find a new audience. I always wondered if it might be a film people would want to see twice – certainly my mother needed to see it twice to begin to understand it – and there’s quite a lot of buried stuff that we knew people would never be able to get on a first viewing. "One for the DVD" was a comment that came up a few times on the shoot, and in post. It’s supposed to be richer on a second viewing, so we’ll see.
JW: This film marks your second collaboration with Tom Hunsinger following Boyfriends. Could you talk a little about the working dynamic and the possible third collaboration that I understand you are currently working on?
NH: The basic thing is, he works with the actors, I work with the crew. Up to a point. The big decisions are made in pre-production; on the set, we’re just trying to be sure we’ve got what we need. As for the dynamic, I tend towards order; Tom, the other thing. Right now, we’re getting near a first draft of a script tentatively called "Sparkle" for BBC Films – which we’ve work shopped with six actors we like – including Bill Nighy and Harriet Walter. By the end of the second or third draft we should have some idea what it’s about.
Lawless Heart is out on DVD on 28 April.