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An Education - Lone Scherfig and Matthew Beard interview

Director Lone Scherfig

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DANISH director Lone Scherfig talks about making An Education and recapturing the spirit of a pre-Swinging ’60s London, while one of her stars, Matthew Beard, discusses getting into character. The pair were talking at a press conference held during the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival.

Q. Why did Lynn Barber’s memoirs prove irresistible?
Lone Scherfig: I loved the tone and the characters. They’re all very different and they’re all very typical for their time. When you read the screenplay you feel like meeting them and getting them off the page and on to the screen.

Matthew Beard: Well, obviously my character wasn’t part of the main theme of Lynn Barber’s book but I just thought it was nice to see a sort of male teenage character that wasn’t either a complete jock or a complete nerd. I’m somewhere in between who is actually quite nice. So, that was it really.

Q. Were you or are you a rebellious teenager?
Matthew Beard: Well, I’m still in education so I suppose I can’t really claim to have broken out of the system. I’m really not. I’d like to make up some story that I was… but I wasn’t. I’m at university now and I like it! I’m enjoying it. But I have the opposite regret to Dominic [Cooper] in that I look back and think of all the possible opportunities that I had for rebellion and didn’t take any. As Nick [Hornby] has said, education was sort of the smallest part of my education. So, I probably should have taken more advantage of those.

Q. Lone, I thought the period was well captured. Had you had 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. Matthew, how much did getting into costume inform who you are? And is there anything you’d have like to have kept?
Matthew Beard: Well, I had everything a size too short which instantly makes you look funny – especially somebody with my unfortunate limbs! It makes you immediately more awkward. One of the big things was the material… I was literally always hot under the collar and sweating and not comfortable, which was good for the character. Tucking trouser legs into your socks when you’re cycling… there are loads of little things you can play with that help to inform a character like Graham.

Q. Matthew, who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Matthew Beard: People like Paddy Considine. I’m from up north, so any northern actor who makes it is a hero of mine. I just watch all films… any type of film and admire anything that anyone does really. It sounds really sickly but it’s actually true because when you’re young you have this amazing, idealised notion of what it’s going to be like to be an actor and how you’re going to approach things. But then you get on set and it doesn’t ever work out like that and you slowly, gradually build an appreciation for anyone who can pull off an amazing performance under pressure and under time constraints and all sorts of other things. It definitely warps your opinions of other actors, I’d say.

Q. Lone, how was workng with Peter Sarsgaard as the only American on set?
Lone Scherfig: He’s an unbelievably good colleague. He set a high standard for work ethic from his very first day. He never complained, was never home sick, never jet-lagged… nothing. He set a really good example. I’ve talked a lot about the discipline and high, high skills of the British actors as seen from my Danish point of view. But I also have to say that Peter is unusually intelligent, humble and a good friend to everyone.

Read our review of An Education

Read our interview with Carey Mulligan