Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q: How emotional an experience was it out there in the
biggest shanty town in sub-Sahara Africa?
RF: It was a funny mix of feelings. On the one hand you
see the poverty, the lack of sanitation, the lack of electricity,
and you also - as Rachel was describing - get this extraordinary
spirit and vitality from the people. This is their everyday life.
Because we were on the receiving end of so much coverage of Africa
and the suffering and disease that’s happening there, you
can easily forget that there is a full life happening in these
countries. Yes you see terrible poverty but also there is a life
and a joy and a hospitality and a welcoming spirit that confronts
you as well.
As a Western visitor you think you are going to be shocked and
upset - often you are not, often it’s the opposite. I often
had moments of great elation by being welcomed. The sense of human
connection was very strong.
Q: Because you had worked together on Sunshine did that
help with your collaboration on The Constant Gardener?
A: I think the ice was broken on Sunshine which was
a difficult shoot in some respects. We had a lot more to do with
each other on this and I think we both loved our characters and
we loved the relationships. With Fernando, between the three of
us, what was great was that quite quickly there was an atmosphere
- which Fernando encouraged - of not being too reverent to the
text but being able to play around and improvise the dialogue
with each other. And that sort of thing depends on having quite
a strong degree of relaxation and ease and playfulness. We had
Q: Here you play another internalised character. You
are obviously affable and engaging so why do you think that people
see you as deeply internalised characters?
A: I don’t really know. I would say that the parts
that people associate me with are people with shadowy conflicts
inside them. But I don’t think Justin is repressed. He’s
a decent guy going about his life as a diplomat, I don’t
think he is a conflicted person at the beginning of the film at
all. Certainly he is not an extrovert.
A part comes to you and you like it... I read the book, I loved
it. I didn’t think of him particularly as an introvert,
I just thought here is this British nice guy diplomat who goes
on this amazing journey and changes and transfigures into something.
He doesn’t change his essential spirit but something in
him becomes more defined and stronger. So the appeal was not -
here’s another introverted part - but what a great journey
to go on.
Q: Is his great strength
and sadness that he falls completely in love with his wife after
A: Yeah, I also think that there were some scenes that
we have that were quite giggly and warm and friendly. There is
a bubble of energy and fun there.
Q: Danny Huston says he met Secret Service agents. What
A: We met a gentleman who had been a spy. I think it
may be the same man that he is referring to. I wanted to meet
some diplomats. The British High Commission in Kenya year ago
was extremely helpful in setting up the movie in Kenya but they
also gave me the chance to meet the real thing. They had some
strong opinions about the way Le Carré portrays the high
commission. I’m sure that John Le Carré would agree
that the tone or nature of the high commission that he writes
is a lot of people who tend to call each other ‘old chap’
and that doesn’t happen any more. I think the nuances of
hierarchy and class is of another era and if you meet diplomats
today it’s more about getting good people who are good at
getting things done...good communicators who are socially astute.
It was good just to get into the houses of these people and to
see their gardens. It was a huge contrast to somewhere like Kibera.
To see the way they dressed, very informal. None of the stereotypes
of the sort found in a film that Alec Guinness might have done
30 years ago. Very different now.
Q: How moved were you by what you saw in Africa?
A: Everyone felt affected in the way that you are talking
about but Simon quickly gathered the momentum that we were feeling
as a film unit and was the catalyst to form this trust which is
in action. That will be the result of the way we were affected
by being there.
Q: A lot of your films seem to be based on books, is
that accident or design?
A: I would love to do more original screen plays. in
fact I have done some since, the Merchant Ivory film called The
White Countess which is an original screen play and my sister
Martha wrote a film called Chromophobia and also I have done a
film called Land Of the Blind by a first time writer/director
Bob Edwards, with Donald Sutherland and Tom Hollander in it. I
have done lots of adaptations because I like the stories, there’s
no design in it, it’s just the way it happened.
Q: Are you concerned that Africa may be this year’s
A: One of the things I learned meeting with the high
commission is that a lot of work has been going on in Africa for
a long, long time - prior to the focus that we have seen in the
past few months - I think that will be ongoing. The British government
has poured a lot of money into Kenya. One of the things that has
been addressed is the level of corruption, which is a deeply sensitive
area but it’s something aren’t going to write about.
The visibility may come and go in different degrees, depending
on whether there is a G8 summit somewhere or a pop concert, but
it has been ongoing for a long, long time and will continue to
be. All the big aid organisations.. Medecin Sans Frontier, Unicef...
they are all out there and have been there for ages and have no
intention of leaving.
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