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The Disappearance of Alice Creed - J Blakeson interview

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FIRST-time director J Blakeson talks to us about working with Gemma Arterton and Eddie Marsan on The Disappearance of Alice Creed and handling some of the movie’s more disturbing elements.

Q. I would imagine everything had to come together pretty quickly for Alice Creed. Did that help create a tighter bond between cast and crew while on the Isle of Man?
J Blakeson: We had a really good crew and I think it helped being on the Isle of Man because we were all staying in the same hotel, we all ate our meals together. They were also very sensitive to the fact that it was going to be very tough on the actors, so we had a talk about it before we cast anybody really. We outlined how we’d try and deal with those intense scenes because we shot mostly in script order. So, that first week was all about the abduction at the beginning of the movie. It was a baptism of fire for the actors, really… especially for Gemma [Arterton]. I think on the first day, for instance, she was carried through the set screaming and the second day was even harder. But the crew were extremely sensitive towards it.

Q. You mention baptism of fire. Did it ever feel like that for you, as a first-time features director?
J Blakeson: Well, there’s a real rush to making a film and as soon as you come home afterwards there’s a big crash down. Especially on something like this, which is really intense. You don’t realise you’re running all the time at such a heightened emotional level. So, when you finish it, you do feel a little low. The actors usually have something else to go onto, but I had to get on and edit it, so I was straight back into it.

Q. How much did you know about each of the characters’ back stories before you started filming? You don’t give the audience many details during the film…
J Blakeson: We gave them all back-stories. Often Eddie [Marsan] would come up with a question and it was more of a give and take. I did write character bios. But it was interesting because they ended up being very different from what their characters ended up being because as soon as an actor comes into the role they bring new things. And with Martin [Compston], for instance, I remember that when we auditioned I could see that his character annoyed Gemma. You could see him getting under Gemma’s skin with the bullshit he was spinning. She just wanted to punch him and that’s what we wanted. Having Eddie [Marsan] shout at her, for instance, was different again… because Eddie can be terrifying.

Q. And yet Eddie is a really nice guy…
J Blakeson: [Laughs] He’s like a big teddy bear!

Q. What appealed about Gemma Arterton?
J Blakeson: Even in the audition, you could tell she was quite gutsy and quite a feisty person anyway. She had a behind the eyes kind of feistiness that was essential to Alice Creed. If Alice was just a screaming victim, it would have been a really tedious film. You can easily get annoyed with a character that’s just screaming all the time. And you don’t want the audience to be annoyed with her; they have to be with her. I think people watching the film will be so glad when she smashes Martin on the head with a bucket because it’s the point at which you realise she’s going to try and fight back.

Q. The film is receiving its premiere at Southampton University. Does that mean you view it as a student film… something that appeals more to that age group?
J Blakeson: I think it will. I mean I studied film at university, so I watched lots of films at university, and then wrote pretentious essays about them. We had an arts cinema on our campus, so I went to film night there… I saw films as part of my course. People at university really want to go and see lots of films; they talk about films, they’re interested in films and so I think they’re going to be important. They won this [premiere] through social networking.

So when they see it, they’re going to tell their friends about it. And how many times, when you’re a student, do you get a film premiere in your student union? It should be great. Also, when you have a film premiere in Leicester Square, unless you’re Clash of the Titans, people are going to go: “What’s that? Oh, I’ve never heard of it!” So you won’t get the numbers. I grew up in Yorkshire and went to university at Warwick and if a premiere had come to either of those places, being a film geek, I would have loved it.

Read our interview with Gemma Arterton