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Son of Rambow - Garth Jennings interview

Garth Jennings directs Son of Rambow

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GARTH Jennings talks about directing the labour of love that was Son of Rambow, what he did or didn’t learn from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy experience and why getting Sylvester Stallone’s endorsement was the icing on the cake.

He also discusses the film’s path to release, from Sundance to the London Film Festival, and why the pressure has started to cease as it finally gets a release.

Q. You’ve kind of arrived at Son of Rambow in reverse, by which I mean you did your big film first [Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy] and then went to a much smaller film…
Garth Jennings: Yes but we’d never intended to. We’d got Son of Rambow ready and even began casting it. But then Hitchhiker‘s turned up on our desk and it was too good an opportunity to refuse. But certainly as far as career paths go, so far it’s been fairly wonky [laughs].

Q. Did working on such a big film provide you with a lot of experience and lessons to bring to Son of Rambow? Did you learn a lot from the experience?
Garth Jennings: Actually, no. I think what we learned from the big film was that we don’t need half as many people as we seemed to have around us. We’d done so many music videos and had developed a very hands-on kind of working style and a team of people that we were very confident to work with in all the other departments that going on to Hitchhiker‘s we suddenly inherited from the studio an awful lot of things that we thought we needed, but with hindsight realised that we could have done with in own simple way and still come out with the same thing… if not more. We’d just have been more of a commando unit, I suppose. So, we just went back to that when we did Son of Rambow. We couldn’t have afforded a big crew anyway, but it’s just so much more fun to be actually doing things yourself rather than being behind a monitor where everything has an assistant to the assistant taking care of everything for you. For instance, we got rid of all the playback units. No one could watch anything back. There was nothing. You just had to sit and watch next to the camera just like the good old days.

Q. I imagine that you felt the pressure of opening a big movie like Hitchhiker‘s, with all of its box office expectation, but is Son of Rambow more nerve-wracking for you given that it’s such a personal film?
Garth Jennings: I tell you when I was really worried out it… that’s when it was first ever shown in Sundance [in 2007]. We’d only finished it the week before, so no one had seen it. We cut it over here, watched it here and so were terrified that it’s first public screening was going to be at such a prestigious and important event like Sundance – because that was hopefully where we would sell it. And because of the whole process of mixing and all that stuff, we’d seen it so many times ourselves that we really thought we’d ruined it. So, that was terrifying. But when it played, about halfway through we knew it was going the way we wanted it to [with audiences]. But we could still never have predicted the deal that followed. It was marvellous.

Since then, because of all the legal requirements that were required [with the name etc], we were able to take the film to a number of other festivals in some really lovely places and got that wonderful reaction that we wanted it to get. We’d been making it for that reason. So, in a way, no one knows what it can do at the box office but I don’t feel I need to judge it by that, which is quite nice. I now know that the film works. I don’t have any control over whether people will go and see it. But we’ve done our bit.

Q. I imagine that securing the endorsement of Sylvester Stallone [the original Rambo] was also a lovely feeling?
Garth Jennings: It was great, especially as he was the reason we started making films. We thought: “Let’s make one of his films…” And that becomes your career and then you end up making a film about the effect his film had on you personally, so to have him say “I like it” [mimics Stallone] was really great.

Q. He recently raved about it while in the UK promoting the latest Rambo…
Garth Jennings: Did he really?

Q. He said he’d be happy to do anything he could to support it…
Garth Jennings: Oh that’s great. You’ve got to love him. Even though I wasn’t that mad on Rambo 4… I thought it was kind of a bonkers movie. But I still can’t help but love him.

Q. As such a huge fan of the original Rambo, did you find yourself getting excited when he announced that he’d be revisiting the character again?
Garth Jennings: I didn’t actually. I had that thing of… you know when your dad tries to show off? You’re like: “Dad, don’t do that in front of my friends!” But then again he’d handled it really well with Rocky 6 because he really did play on the fact that was big, he’d lost it and was out. There was never any attempt to make out that he still had it. Whereas with Rambo, I felt that he couldn’t still be a deadly assassin. And all those things like the British commando [mimics the shouting and laughs out loud]… it was like “oh dear”. Saying that, it is what it is… but I still love that first one. It’s a cracking good film.

Q. How easy was it to find the boys, Will Poulter and Bill Milner, because they really are key to its success?
Garth Jennings: They are and everyone knows it as well. You can write the best script and have the best cinematography and all the tricks but if they’re not right – and they’re the hardest thing to get right – you might as well not bother. It took five months to find them and we were going to the drama groups in schools and after-school theatre clubs, places like that. It just took ages but once we found them it was the easiest decision. We’d found good kids but then they walked through independently and it was a classic case of: “Well, he looks exactly how we imagined he would look…” Neither of them had any previous experience and they were always asking things like: “So what do I do? What’s going on? How will I know to start talking?”

But it was really lovely because they were really naive and yet really confident in themselves. They come from really solid families who aren’t interested in pushing them. They were equally curious to come along and see what it is that people had invited them to. And that was great because if you haven’t got the pushy parents, that means you’re dealing with a really solid kid. When they go home at night they have the right kind of backup; not like: “This is your career…” That would be awful because they’d be much more self-conscious and you wouldn’t get what you end up with in our film, which is two lovely people just becoming great friends. And that’s what they’ve become in real-life; they’re best mates. It’s amazing to shoot something like that because you can just see it going down onto the camera. They had it. They’re so easy to watch.

Q. Did you find yourself being over-protective of them during some of the more physical stuff?
Garth Jennings: Not really, no. Partly because I would have loved to have done the physical stuff myself as a kid [laughs] and partly because they were loving it as well! It was kind of like: “Go on then, in you go!” Actually, sometimes they’d say: “It’s a little bit cold in here [the lake]…” But I’d be: “Get in! You’re alright!” [Laughs] It was more like being with your own kids, saying: “You’re fine, it’s summer, get in there…” Of course they had their families and guardians, so no one was ever out of their depth or in any danger.

Q. Finally, if you could revive anything else from the ’80s what would it be?
Garth Jennings: Ooh, I don’t know. I just like the music… the trouble is they are reviving the ’80s. They’re doing it all the time. Do you know what? I’m really happy for it to be where it was. I’m happy for it to stay in the ’80s and to do something else now. I think I’m done with that.

Read our review of Son of Rambow

Read our interview with Jessica Hynes