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44 Inch Chest - Malcolm Venville interview

44 Inch Chest

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MALCOLM Venville talks to us about the pressures of making 44 Inch Chest, the follow-up to Sexy Beast, as his feature film debut. He also chats about working with a cast that includes Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Ian McShane, some of the movies themes, and why Keanu Reeves is next up for him…

Q. How do you think audiences will respond to something as volatile as 44 Inch Chest?
Malcolm Venville: I don’t know actually. There’s people who are going to love the movie and there’s people who are going to loathe it. It’s speaking to a particular kind of audience I think. The big question for me is whether women are going to like it. It’s very difficult for me to comment on that. But it’s been interesting to hear the reaction I’ve been getting from some women.

Q. In what way?
Malcolm Venville: Well, it’s a film about a big man who is brought to his knees by a woman. She’s, in fact, the most resolved character in the movie. So, I always thought it was a film about the power of a woman.

Q. It will, of course, be accused of being misogynistic by some people…
Malcolm Venville: Yes… but any man who takes his fists to his wife… it’s catastrophic, especially in this day and age. And I think the lead character [played by Ray Winstone] knew that. He knew the moment he hit his wife he’d destroyed his life, his marriage, his family… everything. It was a gargantuan error and he’s feeling the remorse of that when we pick things up.

Q. Was there ever a sense that you should leave the scene depicting the beating out?
Malcolm Venville: I had a lot of problems with it… the scene was much bloodier and I had a lot of problems during the editing from various sources but managed to keep it in. It was a struggle.

Q. How tough was it balancing that violence with some of the more romantic and vulnerable moments?
Malcolm Venville: What was interesting about 44 Inch Chest was that it showed how vulnerable a big man can be. It was effortless for Ray to tap into that. But the thing about Ray is that he’s very open and free as an actor. He can access his emotions… and that was a great revelation to me, watching him go to various places. And then when we cut, he’d be like: “What are we having for lunch?” He’d switch off and switch on and show tremendous range and control. He’s a regular bloke with a massive amount of acting capability and experience.

Q. Do you think this role will still surprise a lot of his fans?
Malcolm Venville: I think so. I think weakness and vulnerability are really exciting challenges for actors. I think the weakness and vulnerability of this character was two-fold: it was laced with incredible violence and danger – or at least the potential of it. So, it’s a strange couplet.

Q. What do you think the film says about masculinity and the male ego?
Malcolm Venville: I think it shows how incredibly vulnerable we are in love and marriage, and how frail and fragile relationships can be – how dangerous love can be. I think when you’ve been in a marriage for 20 years, it can be a very tricky place.

Q. So, how was the first time experience for you?
Malcolm Venville: It was great. I’ve been doing commercials for years and years and I’ve worked on a few movie projects that have fallen apart. But I’ve prepared myself very well for this. I got to know the material well. But being a commercials director is like going to the best film school. I knew lensing, I knew blocking and lighting and I knew a lot of post-production, so I felt prepared.

Q. Did it help that the film is set in such an intimate environment? Or was that more of a challenge in itself?
Malcolm Venville: It was more challenging because with film you have the ability to move from one location to the other and it has a dynamic and a shift. So, it was intense being in one room with all those sweaty egos rubbing against each other [laughs].

Q. And yet you give it a huge sense of identity. I read that you were inspired by the likes of Hitchcock and Bertolucci, and I detected a Tarantino/Reservoir Dogs vibe…
Malcolm Venville: Well, it’s impossible not to be influenced by Tarantino. He’s so pervasive and he’s got such a strong voice in film. I have a soft spot for Hitchcock… I love his movies. They originally inspired me to direct.

Q. Does this set a record for the amount of F-words and C-words in a movie?
Malcolm Venville: I’m not sure, actually. I spoke to a few director friends of mine who, when I told them the amount of C and F-words, they were a bit jealous [laughs]. But I’m not sure. We never intended it to be quite so sweary. But the actors loved the words. It was difficult taking them out of their mouths once they’d said them.

Q. Are you expecting any backlash about that?
Malcolm Venville: I’m surprised how conservative it is out there right now. There’s definitely an audience I’m trying to speak to who comprehend what we’re doing, and understand the tone of what we’re doing. But I keep forgetting there’s that part of the population that is still Mary Whitehouse-esque.

Q. How was working with John Hurt and Ian McShane?
Malcolm Venville: Incredible. But the thing about working with these actors is that the script is the controlling element. All of the directions are in the script, so it’s just guiding the actors and directing them. So, an actor like John Hurt, who has done 110 movies… I’ve never done a movie, so asking him to do something differently can be quite interesting. But there’s a psychology you need to adapt to. That said, they’re brilliant actors so it’s very rewarding. They’re all tremendous stars and none of them are method. They act, they stop acting… have lunch and start acting again.

Q. Did you find yourself just hanging out with them a lot and picking up anecdotes?
Malcolm Venville: It was such a confined set that it was impossible not to. It’s fascinating hearing John Hurt’s recollections of working with Sam Peckinpah or Michael Cimino or David Lynch. So, it was a real learning experience.

Q. Did any one story stand out?
Malcolm Venville: My favourite one… and it’s really not very direct. But McShane was telling me about Victor Mature when we used him in the Samson & Delilah scene. He told me that Victor Mature wanted to join a club in Hollywood that didn’t allow actors. And he replied: “I’m not an actor… I’ve done 40 films to prove it!” [Laughs]. But McShane and John Hurt… they knew Joe Orton and the old filmmakers. They knew the old brigade, so there’s a rich heritage in these guys that infuses the film in my opinion.

Q. Is it next stop Hollywood for you? I hear you’re working with Keanu Reeves next?
Malcolm Venville: Yeah, I’m starting a movie called Henry’s Crime with Keanu. I’m off to New York soon to start prepping on that. It’s sort of a romantic comedy, dare I say. Keanu plays a character called Henry who is jailed for a crime that he doesn’t commit. But while he’s in jail he decides: “Well, I’ve done the time, I may as well do the crime.” So, he comes out of jail and decides to rob the bank that he went to jail for not robbing. Vera Farmiga and James Caan are also in it.

Q. Is that a different experience so far to 44 Inch Chest? Does it feel like a big step up?
Malcolm Venville: Definitely. But it’s an independent movie and Keanu’s producing it. It feels great to be working with him on this because he offers you a lot of protection. It can be quite a vulnerable lifestyle being in independent film… you don’t know if you’re going to get the movie finished even when you’re making it!

Q. What made you want to become a director?
Malcolm Venville: Well, I started off as an apprentice toolmaker in a Land Rover gearbox factory in Birmingham, so God knows how I made it down! I became a photographer. But I had profoundly deaf parents, you see, and I think that helped me visually get into photography. So, I had some success as a photographer in London and then went to commercials, documentaries and music videos with the goal of making a movie.

Q. Will you continue to make commercials and videos?
Malcolm Venville: Yeah… I think commercials are a great experience, especially with good ones. You get to work with some interesting people – cameramen, editors, musicians. It’s a great way of keeping your craft up.

Read our review of 44 Inch Chest