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Perfect Sense - David Mackenzie interview

Perfect Sense

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DAVID Mackenzie talks about some of the challenges of making Perfect Sense and reuniting with Ewan McGregor.

He also talks about some of the sexuality in his films, his experience of working in Hollywood with Ashton Kutcher for Spread and why he’s happy to be back in Glasgow.

Q. We spoke recently about shooting You Instead by being in the moment. I’d imagine making Perfect Sense required a completely opposite approach?
David Mackenzie: Kind of, yes. Perfect Sense is about these bigger themes so it’s impossible not to take on board that… I always find that if you have a scene where someone is doing something violent or whatever, even though you know it’s make believe it affects you as a director, it affects the actors, and it affects everyone around you. So, whatever the scene is about, even though you know you’re in the safety of the world of fiction, it still kind of creeps out at you. That’s why it was nice to go from Perfect Sense to You Again because it felt nice to feel young and having fun again. I don’t mind absorbing those vibes occasionally [laughs].

Q. Did it help to be reunited with Ewan McGregor, who you’d previously worked with Young Adam?
David Mackenzie: Yeah, very much so. It was really good to work with him again and I think both of us would like to do it again. I think there’s a sort of sense that there’s a continuing journey there. So, we’ve talked about the idea of looking for another project. It’s not become anything yet but I’m very keen and he’s said to me that he’s very keen.

Q. Something lighter?
David Mackenzie: I don’t know actually. Judging by the things we were talking about, probably not [laughs]! I think something a bit more rural is where we’re at currently. But where it’ll be lighter I’m not sure.

Q. And how was working with Eva Green?
David Mackenzie: Very nice. I think Eva is a very special actress and I think she’s got lots to offer and also she’s not like other people in some ways. She’s a different animal. I mean, I wouldn’t want to offend her by saying that but there’s a sort of playfulness to her and a sort of shyness and interesting complexity that I think is very nice and very appropriate for the part. I’d like to work with her again.

Q. What was the biggest challenge for you in making Perfect Sense?
David Mackenzie: I think the challenge for me was that in some ways it’s like a big old-fashioned disaster movie or event movie and it’s quite high concept. But right the way through I was trying to do it in a very minimal way and not just because the budget wasn’t massive; I don’t like the idea that… I have this sort of theory that with American movies the bigger, louder, faster they are, ultimately the weaker they are… the more puff and grandeur the less substance in some sort of way. So, this was a chance to try and tell something fast, epic and human on a very sort of intimate scale. That’s what the film is trying to be and I think it’s pretty successful at doing so. Having said that, just holding onto that idea of not going too big at certain points and keeping it minimal, did prove to be a challenge.

Q. Were you aware of the film Blindness and did you take a look at it for technique?
David Mackenzie: I looked at Blindness in order to avoid doing anything like that. It was a film I wasn’t really aware of when I attached myself to the project and then people kept saying to me: “Oh, you should see Blindness.” I was like: “Oh f**k…” There are some themes, or there’s one sense that’s involved, but then I saw it and thought it wasn’t anything I really needed to worry about. It’s a completely different movie. So, I did have a look but I didn’t borrow any techniques.

Q. How demanding was it on your actors?
David Mackenzie: I think there were times when it was quite demanding. It was quite intense. In its own way it’s an apocalyptic kind of thing and I think when you start thinking about those things, it’s pretty intense.

Q. You mention Hollywood and you dabbled with it by directing Ashton Kutcher in Spread. How was that experience?
David Mackenzie: I did. It was kind of extraordinary to be in LA, or actually in the heart of Hollywood, which is where I was living, making a film about the heart of Hollywood. It was sort of another kind of immersion experience for me and to have an excuse to be in that little bubble for a while was quite nice. So, strangely enough I thought I was going to stay and then I came back to Glasgow for just a little while and my urge to return to LA completely evaporated. There’s something about LA… it’s quite good on beauty, light and pleasure and all those kind of things, but it’s not that good on soul.

And then you come to a crappy old place like Glasgow and it’s quite good on soul; it’s not good on much else, but it’s good on soul. And you suddenly realise how much you miss soul. I arrived in early October and there was sort of the smell of the coal smoke and there was something very evocative about that, as well as going to a nice warm pub and seeing your mates. I was like: “I’m not leaving here…” And then immediately the opportunity to do Perfect Sense came along and I thought: “Well, here’s a movie I can make here.” But my brief stint there was a good experience and when the right project comes along I’ll go back.

Q. What was it about Ashton that made you think he was right for the role? It’s quite a brave departure for him…
David Mackenzie: Well, I was employed by a company that Ashton’s involved in, so he was sort of there before I was. But it seemed like it wasn’t that far away from him in a way. It was kind of interesting. It is that side of Hollywood… all these pretty wannabes going there to try and make their fortune and not quite getting where they want to go and having to live off the edges of it as a result. It’s a very real… it’s the reality of most people’s lives in LA I think and that doesn’t seem to get… obviously, there are films like Shampoo and American Gigolo that form almost a sub-genre, but it doesn’t get explored that often in a funny kind of way. So, it just seemed there was a kind of wit to it and an authenticity… the guy that wrote the script had lived that life himself and it seemed very close to Ashton and have something slightly comedic to it that I liked, but with a moral tale twist.

Q. That has some sexually frank content in, as did Young Adam and now Perfect Sense. How do you tackle that as a director because you seem fearless in portraying it on-screen?
David Mackenzie: Well, I always think that the thing about sex is that we all do it, and it’s something that happens to us all the time. I’ve always felt that the majority of portrayals of sex in movies have been somehow coy or dishonest about these things, and so I always try and use sex scenes to push the story in some way forward and deal with that collision between two people. It feels to me that it affords narrative opportunities. In a way I feel like I’ve been there and done that.

I’m quite happy that You Instead, for instance, nearly has sex but doesn’t quite show it. It’s slightly unconsummated. But I haven’t had a problem doing it and I also like to think that I deal honestly with every other theme in a film as well, so that’s just an extension. As I get older… when I was younger I wanted to be honest about stuff and Young Adam was particularly about this guy whose decline is charted by this series of increasingly kind of alienated sexual relationships and I kind of wanted it to be like that and I wanted it to be really frank. But there is a point where, if you’re sitting there with your wife or whatever, in the audience, maybe that’s a bit embarrassing for an audience. And I don’t know if I necessarily factored that in. I’m not intending to embarrass an audience, I’m intending to deal with the material as openly, honestly and un-coyly as possible. But I definitely don’t feel as though I have any axe to grind on that subject. There’s a couple of sex scenes in Perfect Sense, as you say, that are very much about the sensuality of what is happening and they’re essential to the story.

Q. Moving back to Glasgow, does it make it harder to make films given that funding may not automatically be place?
David Mackenzie: Well, we have a production company in Glasgow and we’ve taken over this old town hall where there’s a hub of activity… a number of production companies are there and hopefully a kind of symbiotic energy. So, that’s something that’s quite exciting. We’ve been able to make You Instead and Perfect Sense out of Scotland during the economic downturn, so for us it’s been OK. I have no idea what’s happening next, but so far it’s been OK. I don’t think making films in Scotland is particularly different to making films in England at the moment… you work with the broadcasters, we worked with the BBC on the last two and some regional screen agencies, and patch these things together. So, that’s kind of how you do it in the UK and it’s still functioning in some way or another.

Perfect Sense opens in UK cinemas on Friday, October 7, 2011.