Interview: Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek [Part 2]
Interview: Never Let Me Go director Mark Romanek [Part 2]
After the Telluride Film Festival premiere of his latest film, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview director Mark Romanek for a long-form interview. It was a collaboration between Alex from FirstShowing and myself, which explains how we were able to get so much time with the filmmaker.
Mark Romanek is one of the best music video directors to come out of the 1990′s. His videos have included Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”, “Scream” – Michael Jackson’s grammy award winning collaboration with sister Janet Jackson (at $7 million, one of the most expensive music video ever made), Janet Jackson’s “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”, Johnny Cash’s gut-wrenching cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”, En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind”, Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut”, Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”. His 2002 feature film One Hour Photo is probably best known for Robin Williams’ dramatic turn. While the film is beloved by cinephiles, it pretty much went under the radar of mainstream audiences. It did however gain Romanek a lot of the respect in the movie industry. His follow-up, a big screen adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel Never Let Me Go, premiered at the 37th Telluride Film Festival. The book was named one of TIME’s 100 Best Novels (from 1923 to the Present), featured on many top ten books of 2005 lists, and a finalist in the National Book Critic Circle Award.
We ran the first part of the interview yesterday, click here if you missed it. After the jump is part two of the chat, where we talk about the casting for Never Let Me Go, deleted scenes, what’s up next, the state of the music video industry, clarifying the Guinness Book of World Records-perpetrated lie that he was responsible for the most expensive music video ever made, why Michael Jackson/Janet Jackson‘s “Scream” cost so much, the wonders of creative producing, and what he thought of Joe Johnston‘s The Wolfman. Hit the jump to read the interview.
Question: I was going to ask if there was anything cut from the film? Because I would have loved to have watch an extended piece of each of those time period sequences because I just wanted to sit in each world and watch them, the characters, grow.
Mark: Well, I’m a big proponent of leave them wanting more. But Alex’s script is pretty concise. There are very few scenes that we shot that aren’t in the film. Some of them were. There are a few scenes that were entire scenes unto themselves that became part of a montage. Like there’s the scene of the children watching an old movie. In the book, at the end of the film they start screaming and applauding. They go, “Again! Again!” and they rewind it. And you get the sense that this is the only film that they have and they just watch it over and over. So that was a whole scene. And the song is wonderful. It’s a George Formby song called “Count Your Blessings and Smile.” There’s a line in it, “One day we’re all going to die, so count your blessings and smile.” It was like it was the theme of the film basically. Maybe that will end up on the DVD. Right now it’s still in the film, but it’s part of a montage. And there’s a wonderful scene with Charlotte Rampling and Hailsham where she’s teaching these 12-year-olds a too-graphic version of a sex education class using a skeleton as a teaching aid. And that’s in the film. But that, again, was a whole modular scene unto itself with dialogue and there’s a beautiful version of it. But it seemed misplaced, and it’s just part of a montage again.
Most of the extra stuff was from Hailsham. There’s a really cool scene where Kathy, when they’re told about…they’re talking about the children that went beyond the boundary and they found the kids with their hands and feet cut off tied to a tree. Then I shot a nightmare scene, a very simple, brief, horrifying nightmare scene, that Kathy has of imagining herself tied to a tree in a forest with barbed wire and realizing her hands are cut off and then waking up. And it’s pretty great, but it seemed off topic to the love story. But there wasn’t a lot of stuff we cut out of the other two sections of the film. Alex wrote a very concise, precise series of beats and that’s what we filmed.
Question: Could you talk a little bit about the casting of the film? Everybody in it gives a wonderful performance and it’s one of those films that has great performances all across the board. And it’s interesting because you’ve got three time periods? So how did you approach that when you went into casting? Did you know that these actors were going to play the later two time periods or did you? Do you know what I mean?
Mark: Yeah, I always knew that we needed to find actors to play the later two. You couldn’t switch three times. You would lose the track of the people. Andrew Garfield was always the one to beat to play Tommy. I saw lots of great young actors, but I was sort of like, “If we can find someone better than Andrew, fine. But until then, it’s Andrew.” He didn’t know that. Because I saw him in this great film called “Boy A” which I really recommend your readers see. It’s a kind of perfect little movie.
And his performance in that is just as breakthrough and astonishing as Carey’s was in “An Education,” it’s just fewer people saw it. We had a lot of trouble finding Kathy. We had to start the film on a certain date in order to make what they call in England “half term” so that the children would be out of school and we would be able to actually cast enough children who aren’t in school. So we had this start date that really we couldn’t move, and we were having trouble finding Kathy. Peter Rice was running Fox Searchlight at the time. It’s now run by Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, but at the time Peter was running it. He was in Sundance and he saw “An Education” and he sent me a forward email that said, “Hire the genius Mulligan.”
Mark: Later we were talking about it and he said, “You know why that was such a brief email?” And I said, “No, why?” And he said, “Because I sent it to you halfway through the film.”
Mark: He didn’t even wait for the film to be over. So we knew who Carey was and were interested in her, but she was doing a play in New York and so she couldn’t really audition. And to be honest, she wasn’t a big enough name. We thought the studio’s not going to finance the film with her even if she’s good. But the head of the studio himself was telling us, “You hire her, you’ve got a greenlit movie. That’s how good she is.” So Allon and I flew to New York and met her. And, again, she kind of had the part before because we saw “An Education” by then. And she kind of had the part before we walked in the room, but we went to meet her. And she just read the narration to camera. She didn’t even really…she did one other scene. But it was an unusual audition in that respect because we were never going to film that. Although when we saw her we thought maybe we should, but we never got around to it. So then we found our Kathy.
Then because of that, Keira Knightley’s agent. Keira was sort of hovering around the project, but it wasn’t urgent for her. Keira’s agent contacted us and said, “I hear Carey’s going to play Kathy in your film.”
We said, “Yes, we’ve cast her.”
“Well then Keira will be very interested in playing Ruth. Would you be interested in her?
I went, “Fuck, yes!”
Of course, I guess, they’re good friends. And I think Keira not only liked the role and liked the idea of playing with Carey, but I think maybe wanted to help Carey out. She ended up not needing so much help.