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Franklyn - Gerald McMorrow interview

Franklyn

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRITISH director Gerald McMorrow talks about making his big screen debut with the visually distinctive Franklyn, a thriller set between London and the alternative reality of Meanwhile City that finds four lost souls on a collision course.

The filmmaker talks about how he went about creating the stylish look of the city on a limited budget, as well as working with a cast of the calibre of Ryan Phillippe, former Bond girl Eva Green and Control star Sam Riley.

Q. Franklyn is one of the most visually distinctive British films of recent years. How easy was it to make?
Gerald McMorrow: Well, like any independent British film, it had its tricky moments. My job was made easier by being involved with [producers] Jeremy Thomas and Alexandra Stone. I think Jeremy is one of our most unique producers and perhaps the last bastion of the independent cinema. He also has the added skill of being able to get something off the ground and made. I knew this was a rather strange project and that it doesn’t really fit into a specific genre or category… and that can be tricky for marketing. But you can’t worry about that. You have to let the film become what it is, and not let the simple fact that a bunch of guys can’t think of a strap-line for the poster put you off.

But then if you look at Jeremy’s track record – he’s worked with the likes of David Cronenberg and Bertolucci… I was very, very honoured to be working with him and eventually very thankful too, because it’s largely down to him that the finished version is as it was written originally. We had three years of development but it’s been worth it.

Q. How did you go about creating such a distinct look on what must have been a limited budget?
Gerald McMorrow: Well, we didn’t have a lot of money [laughs]. But I’ve said this before, it’s a collaborative process and even though I had a fairly clear idea of what Meanwhile City should look like, and some rules and regulations that governed it, it was people like my costume designer [Leonie Hartard], Director of Photography [Ben Davis] and production designer [Laurence Dorman] that helped make it possible. Basically, it could have gone one of two ways. We knew there was a horrible chance that we didn’t get it exactly right and we’d gone to another post-production facility that didn’t take it as seriously as Doube Negative… if one person slipped it, it could have ended up looking crap! And these things can slide away very easily.

But Leonie did a wonderful job with the clothes and the costumes of Meanwhile City because it could have looked like a fancy dress party! She adhered to a colour palette based on that very creepy kind of Caravaggio/Dickensian feel. We employed a very medieval period look which was all very deep reds, dark greens, hard light and a lot of shadows. And everybody stuck to that. We also searched for our locations extremely carefully because the one thing you don’t want to see after you’ve prepared so much is a location you’ve used appearing everywhere, such as in episodes of Casualty or Trial & Retribution.

So, it was our job to go a little off-piste and to try and find unique places. We shot at places like Greenwich Naval College, for instance, and while it has been used before, we tried to find a different way in.

Q. The casting is also pretty impressive for a first-time director, what with the likes of Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green jostling for position alongside Control’s Sam Riley. How easy was that to pull off?
Gerald McMorrow: [Laughs] Well, as with finding budgets, casting is even trickier for independent films, that aren’t studio-led, especially when you have a set of actors who are all very busy on other things. It makes scheduling rather difficult and it’s important to keep four people very happy. But, again, it was because of their enthusiasm for the project that it came off, as well as being one of those strange situations where it all slotted into place. It’s as if there was a higher power at work [laughs].

Eva Green was on board from the beginning and I was always attracted to her because she is that person. I’m not sure where else we could have gone. She pulled off that creepy serenity that is Sally brilliantly. Sam [Riley] originally came in, weirdly, for the role of Preest and it was before we’d seen Control. But he was so obviously Milo when he walked in. And he and Eva make a really, really good pairing. They’re both kind of shadowy book-ends in this film. It’s so obvious they belong together but God knows what their relationship will be like!

Q. And I would imagine that willingness to do their bit extended to Ryan Phillippe who even performed all his own stunts?
Gerald McMorrow: He loved it. The guy is this incredible actor. He’s done something like 32 movies but everyone goes to Cruel Intentions… no one seems to realise just how diverse he is. And the choices he’s made are really, really interesting [The Way Of The Gun, Stop-Loss, etc]. Everyone seems to have this shorthand with him that has him pegged as a sun-kissed Californian kid. But he’s a very smart guy, and has this background on the wrong side of the tracks Philadelphia. And he had quite a bit of fun with this character [Preest]. He got to leap about in a big coat but at the same time did have this sensitive, thoughtful side , and I think he enjoyed both sides of that. He also forced me to make sure that I told everyone that he was doing his own stunts!

Q. Where do you intend to go from here as a director? What’s your next step?
Gerald McMorrow: It’s incredibly easy to get pigeon-holed. But with everything I’ve done, I’ve always ended up going in the other way around. I think of the story first and if it happens to need robots or aliens, or needs to be set in the future, then that’s what happens. What you don’t want is to end up being inundated with horror and sci-fi because what’s important is the story.

So, if that’s a simple drama with real people, then so be it. I’m attached to something right now, in fact, which is an interesting little thriller set around London. Of course, if something comes along that requires $300 million of CGI then “yes please, bring it on!” But it should be totally governed by story. Coming from the world of TV commercials, you really do become aware of how easy it is to be put on a shelf – you can be a good director who works well with angry mums, or: “We’ll use this guy because he’s good with pasta!” In fact, one of the things I’m writing at the moment, I’ve just realised is going to have to be animation. So, the story comes first and then you find a way of presenting it.

Read our review of Franklyn

Franklyn photo gallery