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Notes On A Scandal - Richard Eyre interview

Notes On A Scandal

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RICHARD Eyre, director of Notes On A Scandal talks about tackling some of the more controversial elements of the film…

Q. How did you go about maintaining the wit of the film?
Richard Eyre: I thought the novel was very funny. Piracy or not, I think that Patrick [Marber] has robbed the novel of its wit while also injecting his own acerbic wit. But I also think that the wit of the film is very much due to Cate and Judi, both of whom – individually and collectively – have a very acute wit. And both of them have a very powerful way of looking at the world. Of course, it’s subsumed in their characters, but it does affect the way that they create their characters.

Q. When it came to staging the seduction scenes, what were your concerns and practicalities?
Richard Eyre: Are you asking about how we filmed sex?

Q. More than just that – also about conveying Sheba’s motivation for doing what she did?
Richard Eyre: One of the things I like about the film is when Bill Nighy’s character asks: “Why?” Sheba says: “I don’t know.” I think that’s great that the film doesn’t provide you with a neat equation, either moral or psychological.

But the answer to your question is that they were very grown up about it. After all, Andrew is 16 and there wasn’t a coyness or embarrassment. They just approached it as a professional task and the choreography of it was kind of surgical.

Also, Cate did something that I think was completely brilliant. She endows this boy with a great sexual allure. That’s her acting achievement – by making you believe in this passionate obsession that she has, she made him seem very sexy. That’s acting genius.

Q. You make so few films. Is that because the material must be particularly engaging to lure you?
Richard Eyre: I’d do more if I was asked! I used to make films for the BBC like Tumbledown, which was about the Falklands War. And then I went into a film monastery because I run the National Theatre. So, for 12 years I didn’t make a film.

I thought effectively my chances of making a film were over, but Iris happened simply because I was doing a play with Judi on Broadway. She’d won the Oscar. We were walking down the street and she literally stopped the traffic. We went into a diner to avoid the crowds and we were sitting there and I asked what she was going to do next. She said she’d been asked to play Iris Murdoch.

I asked who was writing and directing it, but she said she didn’t know, although she didn’t think they had anyone. She knew who was producing it, a guy called Jon Calley at Columbia, so I rang him and asked if I could put myself forward as director and writer. He said he’d let me know.

I thought that was the end of that. But three months later he called me up and said he’d like me to write and direct it. Actually, I think the Godfather of that was Mike Nichols, who’s a friend of mine. So that’s how I started to direct films again, and I’d love to do what Cate does, theatre and films. How lucky can you get?

Q. The film raises an interesting debate about the classification of a paedophile. In these circumstances, the law dictates that Sheba is a paedophile and yet the boy is 15 and very mature. Do you think the law needs a rethink on this issue?
Richard Eyre: I think it depends where you stand. If I was a 15-year-old boy, there’s absolutely nothing that I can think of that I’d want more in the world – if my teacher looked like Cate – to sleep with my teacher. It would be absolutely the apotheosis of my ambition.

But if I was the parent of that 15-year-old boy I would gladly slaughter her. I think as filmmakers we didn’t want to offer up neat moral, ethical or legal judgements on the characters. Of course, it’s against the law, the film isn’t saying this is a great thing. But it does say that it happens and over to you. It asks what your moral position is.

Q. Have you ever known a character such as Barbara in real-life? Dame Judi claims to have done so…
Richard Eyre: Yes, I can think of somebody I knew who used to work at the BBC when I first went to work there in 1978. She was a Barbara, a poor, miserable, lonely woman. She used to drive people away because her loneliness, her solitude was like a powerful smell.

Read our review of the film