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Never Let Me Go – Mark Romanek and Kazuo Ishiguro interview

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DIRECTOR Mark Romanek and author Kazuo Ishiguro talk about bringing the novel, Never Let Me Go, to the big screen.

Romanek also reveals how he tried to stay true to the imagery and style of Kazuo’s writing, while Kazuo reflects on some of the film’s themes and what they say about human nature. They were both speaking at a press conference held during last year’s London Film Festival.

Q. Mark, this was a labour of love for all concerned. Can you talk about the sense of responsibility you felt when transferring the story from book to film?
Mark Romanek: I think we were all united in a common love for the book and we were all bonded in the goal of trying to do justice to it. We tried to transfer what was so moving about it on the page without messing it up. It was a very collaborative process.

Q. And how did you feel adapting the book when you had Kazuo Ishiguro alive and well? Did you feel any pressure? And was there any that came with being an American director making a film that’s set in Britain?
Mark Romanek: Well, I started with a really beautiful adaptation by Alex Garland. It seemed very solid and well thought out and I had the same emotional reaction to the script that I did to the book. I tried to not start every morning kind of crippled by fear and the responsibility of doing justice to the book I loved. I tried to focus on the tasks at hand because it just isn’t a constructive way to think about it… although, occasionally I did. I also had an enormous amount of help. This was a very collaborative process. I wasn’t brought in to behave like the auteur of the piece, whatever that means.

But that speaks also to the quality of authenticity or Englishness. I mean, I feel I have an affinity for English things. I’ve spent a lot of time here, I went to school here briefly, I’ve lived here on and off – I live here now actually. But I also thought a lot about Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, which depicted my childhood and adolescence in the suburbs of Chicago and I thought it was unbelievably authentic… and he’s Taiwanese. So, sometimes I guess someone from the outside has a perspective on things [that may be different]. But as I say I was helped enormously by the all British crew whenever I was sort of slipping up.

Q. Kazuo, apparently you’ve said that you wish you could cut 100 pages out of your novel now that you’ve seen the film, you’re so impressed with it?
Kazuo Ishiguro: Yeah, not only that but I also felt I’ve learned a lot about this story from watching the film and, in particular, the performances of the actors. It’s a fantastic screenplay. But that’s not amazing in a way because there’s only one of me when I’m writing the story and I can’t pay attention to all these characters – what they might be thinking and so on – because I have other things to worry about. So, to have a situation where you have very creative, highly talented, highly intelligent actors pondering for hours and days about each character… they’re bound to find new things and interesting, profound new discoveries.

So, for me it was a wonderful revelation watching the early cut. I think I learned a hell of a lot about this story. But I think that’s how it should be. I don’t feel… people have said all these flattering things about the book but I don’t think this story should be a fixed thing. I feel more like a songwriter – I’ve written a song that I want people to take into new areas and do their versions of… new versions.

Q. Mark, can you talk about your visual approach? You said you were trying to film it as an allegory to Ishiguro’s writing…
Mark Romanek: I mean, initially it’s just an intuitive thing. You picture images and you picture the tone of it and I felt on the second reading of the book that I could really clearly see the film. Then I read in an interview that Kazuo felt very influenced by certain Japanese cinema, perhaps even more than by other authors, so that sent me a on a journey of just immersing myself in Japanese cinema and Japanese ideas of aesthetics and art. I tried to overlay a sort of British story with some sort of quality of the simplicity that you see in Kazuo’s writing.

It’s an extremely deceptive simplicity but there’s a beauty to how he writes. The truths in the film can be quite disturbing, and they are disturbing, but he writes them so beautifully that I felt it would be too harsh or too blunt if the film were sort of a naturalistic kind of film. I wanted it to be quite beautiful. So, we all worked together to try and make a very romantic and aesthetically pleasing film that is delivering these very disturbing truths about our condition.

Never Let Me Go, Photocall

Q. Kazuo, what does this story say about free will?
Kazuo Ishiguro: Well, from the inception of this story when I was writing the novel I wasn’t interested in doing a story about the triumph of slaves over a cruel system. I was interested in trying to find something that paralleled our natural kind of human lifespan and how we couldn’t really escape from the fact that we’re actually mortal… that we would all move from childhood, to adulthood to old age. The question was: “What do human beings do? What’s most important for human beings when they realise time is running out?” Is it within human nature to then seek revenge on all enemies? Do we want to accrue private possessions? What do we want to do in that situation when time is running out?

I think, in a sense, this story was trying to be positive on life and human nature… to try and say as convincingly as possible, that people – when they feel they’re trapped and they’re time is running out – the things that become important are things like friendship and love. If someone feels they’ve done the wrong thing to somebody close to them, they’ll want to put it right before it’s too late. If two people have loved each other all their lives but haven’t acknowledged it, they want it fulfilled even if it’s only for a short time. These are the things that come to the top of the pile for people as human beings.

So, I guess that was my intention and I believe that the people who made this film wanted to say the same thing as well, which is why the emphasis falls very much on how people cope with their fate, and accept their fate. They [the characters] do have these myths about maybe cheating death or deferring it but I think that’s why the story is the way it is. This isn’t a story about people running away or escaping; it’s really looking at what happens to us as human beings.

Read our review of Never Let Me Go