The Cottage - Paul Andrew Williams interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
PAUL Andrew Williams talks about choosing The Cottage as his follow-up to London To Brighton, the many horror nods it contains and why originality is difficult to find in any film genre.
He also talks about his real-life brother, working with Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison’s breasts and coping with the pressure that came with the critical success of London To Brighton.
Q. The Cottage is a very different film from your debut, London To Brighton. Did you always have a desire to do a horror film?
Paul Andrew Williams: Not really out of any massive desire to do one. I’ve always wanted to do different stories. I’m always one for when I’m working on it – writing it and getting it into pre-production – saying: “Let’s not put this into a box or a genre.” Let’s just say we’re making a film about two brothers. Of course it’s horror, bearing in mind what happens to them. But it’s always on the story and not trying to pick a genre because then as soon as it’s made then everyone will obviously put it into a genre and compare it to other films that are in that genre.
Q. It does contain a lot of nods though…
Paul Andrew Williams: Of course, definitely. It’s an homage to all the clichés that are in all those films. I hope we haven’t spoofed anything because I don’t think it’s a spoof movie. But we are aware of those other films, what they do with machete, the lighter and the “don’t go out there or you’ll die” kind of thing. One interesting thing I’ve noticed, though, is that loads of people are finding loads of nods to loads of films. Now I’ve got some that I’ve tried to do but there are so many that I don’t even know all of the films and I don’t know why. But it’s great if an audience thinks you’ve picked them out specially to do something with them.
Q. Do you think it’s hard to come up with an original idea in this genre?
Paul Andrew Williams: Well, obviously every now and again horror does come up with something original. Shaun of the Dead is a great film. It’s hard to come up with an original idea of any genre. I’m so aware that almost all of the things that happen in this film are just not original because there’s been so many of these slasher/bogeymen/“he’s going to catch you and cut your head off” kind of films that I’m just kind of trying to let everyone know that I know.
Q. What made you put the surprise cameo after the end credits?
Paul Andrew Williams: You mean Steven Berkoff? It was purely because that’s what happens in these movies. You know, you think he’s dead, you watch the credits and then suddenly he could be alive or there could be another one. It was purely for that reason – just because I thought after you have the heavy metal/murder then you have the little thing that makes people think there might be a sequel.
Q. Did you tell Mr Berkoff he wouldn’t appear until then?
Paul Andrew Williams: I think they did [pauses]. I just told him he wasn’t going to be the star [laughs]. But he was very willing. I think it’s more of a cult thing because people do stay behind. My dad said: “What did you put it there for? No one’s going to bloody see it!” But he doesn’t understand. I think it’s like a little secret thing. I remember seeing it at the end of The Matrix sequel [the trailer for the third film]. But it’s rather like having a good massage by a prostitute – um, but please don’t put that because I have a girlfriend [laughs].
Q. Do you like horror films in general?
Paul Andrew Williams: I don’t actually tend to watch horror films anymore. My girlfriend really doesn’t like them and I actually don’t like being scared very much now. I used to think it was brilliant. When you first started watching 18 certificate movies it’s because you can’t get an 18 out and you had to wait outside the video shop and pay someone to get it for you. I remember doing that for Return Of The Living Dead 3. I remember getting someone to get it and being so excited to see it. I wonder if I watched it now whether it would stand up to the test of time.
Q. Do you have a brother yourself? And did that influence the dynamic between the two brothers in the film?
Paul Andrew Williams: I do and I f**king hate him [laughs]. No, he’s lovely. He lives in Gibraltar and he’s coming over next week to have a look. Sibling relationships are always quite interesting because there’s a bond that’s always going to be there. Arguments are different because you’re always sure that at some point you’ll get back together. But at the time you can be as vitriolic as you want. It’s like when they’re having the argument and they’re passing the cigarette – it’s the sort of thing they do because they’re so used to each other.
Q. You wrote this with Reece Shearsmith in mind, so how did it feel when he actually accepted it?
Paul Andrew Williams: Well, it was weird because I wrote it with Reece in mind and then we asked somebody else to do it, or the producers five years ago asked someone else to do it, and then they pulled out of it. Then we went to Reece and he thought it was fantastic. But it didn’t happen. Then when it started to happen and people were putting money into it, they said: “We can’t sell Reece…” So, we looked at someone else and that didn’t work, so I said: “Look, we’ve got to use Reece.” And then we did and my God, I’m so grateful for him doing it. It’s just how films work, though. When you see a finished film it’s not often you hear the story about how that cast came about. It’s always crazy. It’s very rarely: “Him, him and him.” But I’m so, so pleased we got the cast that we did.
Q. How did you come to Jennifer Ellison because I understand her role was originally written for someone much older?
Paul Andrew Williams: It was originally cast for an older woman and there was an older woman cast in it but I’m not allowed to say who. She was a very well-known actress. But it didn’t work out and it was suggested that we had to use someone young and sexy because that will get money. So, they gave me this list and it was just f**king rubbish. There was one name on it and that was Jennifer’s and I thought there was something about that accent that I really liked, and something about her. I thought she had a likeability about her.
The whole thing about [her character] Tracey is that of course she’s got to be ridiculously offensive but she also had to have even the tiniest spark of likeability. So, she came in and read and she was so great. But she’s so pretty and she’s such a nice person… she’s so much more than the mags she did years and years ago which, I think, unfortunately will haunt her quite a while.
Q. I noticed that you decided not to have her run around in her underwear like a genre cliche. Was that a deliberate decision?
Paul Andrew Williams: I think so. When we hired Jennifer, obviously she’s got big breasts and lots of men want to buy Nuts and Zoo and magazines for that very reason. So I don’t need to flag up that she’s got that. But she’s really a nice girl, so why would you want to do it for doing it’s sake? I’ve read lots of articles that say such horrible things and it really f**ks me off actually. But she wouldn’t have done it anyway. We talked about it but I don’t think she needs to use her sexuality to try and get work.
Q. Will you do a sequel to The Cottage?
Paul Andrew Williams: To be honest, I don’t know if I’d want to do one. It has a fin at the end because I thought it would be quite funny. Actually, one of the sound mixers in post-production said he thought it should have a fin, so I thought it would be brilliant. I have an idea of where it would be but I don’t know if I’d want to do that sort of film again. Not for a while.
Q. How are you coping with the pressure that came with the acclaim and expectation that followed London To Brighton, when your reputation shot through the roof…
Paul Andrew Williams: Yeah, it shot from nothing to you know… I never asked for that pressure, honestly. But I do take pressure very seriously and I put a lot on myself to be Rocky. When London To Brighton came out I had no idea it was going to be like that. We just made the film because we wanted to make a movie and the snowball went ballistic. It was extremely great, it was extremely flattering and it changed my life completely. But those labels that were given to me, which were obviously very good labels, were not labels that I asked for and not labels that I could necessarily live up to in everyone’s eyes.
So, it’s interesting doing this film because I just realised that all I can do is make things that I believe in and feel I can do a good job with and feel proud of – and not make a film for critics or for any one individual. I just have to do what I think is best and some people are going to really like the film, and some people aren’t: some people are going to watch The Cottage and say: “Where’s the shaky camera and where’s the serious nature?” But it’s not that film. It’s a totally different movie. I almost wish that people could go to this film and forget that I’d made London To Brighton. But then I think the audience will maybe be different anyway, so you’ll get a lot of people going that don’t even know I did London To Brighton. In fact, most people who go to this probably won’t give a f**k who the director is [laughs], so they’ll take it for what it is.