Follow Us on Twitter

An Education - Lone Scherfig interview

Lone Scherfig

Interview by Rob Carnevale

LONE Scherfig talks about some of the challenges of directing Oscar nominated movie An Education, working with Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard and why the London it depicts wasn’t yet swinging. An Education is released on DVD on Monday, March 8…

Q. What appealed to you about directing An Education?
Lone Scherfig: It was a really good script. It was a simple story that then has a lot of layers, a lot of wit, and a lot of emotion, so it was something that I thought I could spend a couple of years of my life making into a film.

Q. How was it creating the not so swinging ’60s?
Lone Scherfig: We very quickly found out that this was not the obvious swinging London you’d think. The ’60s didn’t really start until ’63 or ’64. But this period is interesting because it’s much more on verge of things. You’re in the midst of massive cultural change and that adds to the characterisation and to the visuals and the soundtrack.

Q. It’s a coming-of-age tale in more ways than one…
Lone Scherfig: That’s right. Jenny [Carey Mulligan] is coming-of-age, London is coming-of-age and people are uneasy because things are changing, but they also have a bright future ahead of them. You know this as an audience member, but Jenny doesn’t.

Q. Did you receive any advice from Lynn Barber that helped you capture the period?
Lone Scherfig: I haven’t done it by myself at all. I’ve been surrounded by a really, really good crew of all ages. I think it’s important to have a good age range in the crew so that some of us have experienced that period, or something close to that. But the script, of course, is really inspiring and you just have to trust that. Sometimes on film a glass can be as big as a car, so if the details are right, then they take up as much space on screen as the streets that we didn’t have a chance to show as London really has changed since then. We just worked hard to not just get things right and authentic, but also to make it consistent and visually right. For instance, there are colours that aren’t in the film that would have been there in reality. I think part of the look of the film not only has to do with the way it’s shot and lit, but also the lack of certain colours that give it a softness which really suits it because there’s more focus on the characters. For instance, there’s no yellow at all until we get to Miss Stubbs’ flat at the very end.

Q. How easy was Jenny to find?
Lone Scherfig: We looked through a pile of DVDs and Carey Mulligan was just the best one. She was always the favourite but she had to go through… I don’t know how many tests because it’s a big decision and the film is really dependent on her portrayal of Jenny. I’m so glad it ended up being her and that when we finally made the decision she wasn’t tired of us yet and she was still available.

Q. It’s an amazing performance… and she works really well with Peter Sarsgaard…
Lone Scherfig: They suit each other very well. Peter and Carey got along from the start. He is so open… there’s no vanity. He’s highly professional, technically really experienced and she felt in good company. He was a really good colleague for her. Later on, I think she suggested that he come and play with her on Broadway when her Nina in The Seagull was moved from the West End. So, they continued working together after our film.

Q. How did you find directing Peter’s performance in particular, because it must have been hard to keep him likeable at times? Yet people never judge him…
Lone Scherfig: Peter Sarsgaard is so experienced and he plays his cards brilliantly in this film, so you know you’re in bad company but you want to be because he is so exciting to be around, and he’s so loveable. He’s understandable and unpredictable and Peter handles that development really well.

Q. Am I right in thinking your husband is a psychologist?
Lone Scherfig: Yes…

Q. What would he make of Peter’s character? Would he have a field day on the couch?
Lone Scherfig: I’m going to have to ask him that! It’s a good question. But I think it helps that I’m older than Jenny’s character in that I can sort of sympathise with his wanting to be worldly and have all the privileges you can have if you have an education, which he does not.

Q. How was directing Emma Thompson?
Lone Scherfig: She’s just phenomenal. She comes in, all the scenes are shot in one day and she’s a machine gun. She’s not afraid of all the flaws that her character has. She’s sexy, experienced, funny and the character is totally racist. But she has some really witty, horrible lines and yet her performance is so deadpan and cool.

Q. What’s been the most pleasing or surprising reaction you’ve had to the film so far?
Lone Scherfig: I’m pretty surprised at how controversial the film looks from an American audiences’ point of view. That all the swearing, smoking and inappropriate people falling in love in the film gets to people in a way that I hadn’t predicted. To me, it’s a film about an odd couple, about love, about education, about England primarily… about the impossible situation that a girl like Jenny was in at that time. Of course, all of that is understood in America but what they see… or what steals the show there is that the film is controversial.

An Education is released on DVD and Blu-ray by E1 Entertainment on Monday, March 8, 2010.

Read our review of An Education

Read our interview with Carey Mulligan