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Bunny & The Bull - Paul King interview

Bunny & The Bull

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PAUL King, the writer-director of Bunny & The Bull, talks to us about making his feature film debut, creating such a visually distinctive look for the film and why Paddington Bear will be his next project…

Q. Bunny & The Bull is one of the most visually distinctive films of the year. How did you go about creating the look?
Paul King: People always say that to Noel [Fielding] and Julian [Barratt]: “You must just think of this stuff all the time?” And they reply: “No, it’s f**king hard work!” I sort of started with those Martin Parr postcards and I was really interested in old holiday snaps and how you remember things that you don’t even necessarily remember from your childhood. You go: “I remember that room and that toy…” When actually, you remember the picture of it. So, kind of that idea that people dream in black and white, which I don’t actually believe. I wanted to set a film in boring postcards because you see all those road movies and there’s always the sunset and the ocean and kids on a bike making love in the sand. It’s all very Hollywood-ized.

Our holidays aren’t like that… or at least mine aren’t. Mine are shit! It’s much more boring postcards and getting stuck in a left luggage locker room overnight. I was then pointed in the direction of this guy called Xavier de Maistre, who was like this philosopher who was stuck in prison in the 18th-19th Century who tried to write a guidebook to his room called Voyage Around My Room. It’s basically the idea that you don’t need to go to Tibet for spiritual enlightenment… you can find it standing on your sofa instead of a mountain. That seemed really interesting and that informed the flat… so I thought it would be interested to set a movie in old postcards and souvenirs and it got a bit more elaborate as it went on.

Q. Did you look to any other filmmakers for inspiration?
Paul King: I remember an early film memory was also watching an old documentary about Citizen Kane and how it talked about how he tried to change the look from each part of his life. So, when he’s being quite abusive to his wife it’s all low angles and big shadows and quite film noir-ish… I also love the Martin Scorsese story that he changed the ring size in Raging Bull depending on [Jake] LaMotta’s psychological state. Somebody told me they did the same thing in About Schmidt… that after Jack Nicholson’s wife dies all the walls are moved back. I love Alexander Payne! But it felt like there could be something really good about trying to go: “This is my character’s psychological state…” And you pick it up subliminally through the sets. It’s a lot of things jammed together.

The beginning of the story, too, when he’s trying to anecdotalise his life… it’s really late ’70s Paddington Bear – it’s like a children’s book, it’s cardboard cut-outs and 2D, before slowly getting more batty. Sorry… I’m just talking. But this is a strange looking film, I think… hopefully it’s not too wilfully obscure. I didn’t want to say, “look at the beautiful visuals” and then lose sight of the characters. I wanted to take people with us. I really like the idea that when he’s fighting the clockwork bull at the end, you literally have a bull with a steam iron for a nose and light-bulbs for eyes, and then suddenly there’s a shot of a real bull and people go: “Oh!” I like the idea that he’s gone so far into his head that he’s kind of shut off reality and eventually he’s forced to confront it. I love that moment.

Q. As you say, you have to be prepared to go on the journey with the characters and there is a real intimacy between them…
Paul King: Yeah, although they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people ask why these two guys are friends. I suppose it either works for you or it doesn’t. But I like the idea that when you go into a relationship with someone there’s always the dodgy person that you ask: “Why are you friends with that person?” And you go: “Oh what, Danny? He’s great! He’s a mate from way back…” Brideshead Revisited was a big model for me… that youthful love friendship where it takes you a long time to realise what a shit ball somebody is. I think Bunny is fun.

Q. And he has a basis in reality?
Paul King: Yeah, Simon Farnaby’s grandfather was a big reference. He was this big alcoholic gambling addict. Simon told me all these stories because we’ve been friends for ages, but it’s kind of based on the idea that everyone loved his grandad but granny was like: “This guy’s a nightmare! He’s always stealing money and always getting pissed! I’m the one who has to look after him when he falls over.” They found a tunnel that he’d created through to the pub next door once he’d died. He had a little hatch through the wardrobe. They’re those people who seem really fun for five minutes until you realise they’re a mess. I’m sorry to say that about Simon’s grandad, of course, but it was that idea.

Q. Was it difficult for Simon to play a character that was so close to his own grandfather?
Paul King: No, I think it was quite easy. I don’t think it was too much of a stretch. And Ed [Hogg] is really like his character with a lot of the ODD stuff. A lot of the stuff I’ve done before is quite improvised, so I really encouraged everyone to improvise because I was so nervous that this was my first script. We found a lot of stuff that way. Ed can’t be in a room with the sockets switched on. He has to go round and turn them off. So, a lot of little details stemmed from things like that and they became a double act. They were really funny. They lived together for the shoot.

Q. Did you feel much pressure going into this as your first feature film?
Paul King: Huge…. enormous. A lot of it was because we didn’t have a lot of money. I think we had less per episode than [The Mighty] Boosh. The main difference was that the Boosh guys write their scripts and I read them and they’re such good writers. They’re so funny that you piss yourself when you read them. Then, in the weeks you’re making them, you go: “I might be tired of that now but I remember when I first read it I loved it.” You keep the faith that way. But this was all mine and there was nobody to ask: “Is this what it should be? Does it look like it should?”

So, it was a bit lonely. But Simon is such a good friend and I had so many good friends in it, lifelong friends, that having them come up to me and say: “Yeah, this is pretty funny.” That was helpful and encouraging. Of course, we were trying to strike a different tone with this. Hopefully, it’s not one of those terrible British comedies based on a TV show that outstays its welcome. Hopefully, it’s got a bit more narrative and stylistic ambition. I hope you get into his head.

Q. What’s been the most pleasing reaction you’ve had?
Paul King: Obviously, you read a great review and feel like you’re on top of the world. And then someone doesn’t like it and you go: “Oh shit…” To me, the best thing that we’ve had reception-wise is that we’ve been to a couple of European festivals in Rome and Seville and what’s really nice is that they’ve never heard of The Mighty Boosh or me and it’s really just people who have entered because it looks interesting. And it’s gone down really well. It’s great to have a virgin audience… and see them laugh and get the serious stuff as well. So, those were the most surprising things.

Q. You’re now also writing the Paddington Bear movie… how is that progressing?
Paul King: I am. I’ve been writing Paddington Bear… I’d heard about the movie and I loved the idea. I love the style of animation and I really wanted to meet the makers. But they didn’t know me and hadn’t heard of me or anything, so when I said I was a really big fan of Paddington they were like: “Yeah, as is everyone we’re meeting!” But I said: “Come and have a look at my film!” Because I’d shot 10 minutes of it and it looked exactly like Paddington Bear. They then said: “Oh, this guy really is that weird!” So, I think I scared them into letting me have a go at it.

Read our review of Bunny & The Bull

Read our interview with Edward Hogg and Simon Farnaby