LGBT+ History Month 2021
"I ALWAYS BASE MY CHARACTERS ON PEOPLE IN MY LIFE, AND OVE THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS HAD STARTED TO MEET OTHER TRANS FOLK, PRETTY MUCH FOR THE FIRST TIME."
TNC Archive 2016 interview originally published ahead of the films World Premiere at BFI Flare 2016, London.
As dawn creeps across London, two lost outcasts meet in the darkness, more afraid of themselves than each other. As the sun begins to rise, and the veil of night is lifted, the pair are forced to look at themselves and face the harsh reality that life is sometimes what you make it, and that in the cold light of day, it takes more than the eyes to see inside a soul.
Hey Jake great to talk with you again, I have to ask, when do you rest?
Great to talk to you too and thank you for your unwavering support at The New Current! As to 'when do I rest'? Rarely!
I often feel that I have about ten years of catching up to do, so since transition I have been trying to squeeze as much into every day as humanly possible. I'm trying to step it up this year, and make two shorts, then the inevitable move to features..! So, no rest for me.
You continue to act and appeared as Henri in The Danish Girl, what was it like to be part of such a big film?
Whilst my part in The Danish Girl was small, the experience was one of the most amazing of my life. From the phone call telling me I had got the part, to the wig and make up fittings (I wore one of Eddie Redmayne's hair pieces!), being flown to Belgium and shooting in The Horta Museum, being directed by Tom Hooper, a private screening with my mother before anyone else, and walking the red carpet at the London Premiere in Leicester Square, it has been an absolute dream. And that's not to mention being invited to The White House in Washington, where I took part in a Q&A panel with Tom, Alicia Vikander, Rebecca Root, and the film's amazing producers, Gail Mutrux and Anne Harrison...! Truly awe inspiring.
Congratulations on your World Premiere of Dawn at this years BFI Flare how does it feel to have your film part of the festival?
Well, it is now my third premiere at BFI Flare, after they first supported my debut short, XWHY, back in 2012, then 'Chance' last year, so I am obviously very honoured to have such staunch support from such a respected and established festival and team. I aim to have my new film ready for Flare every year, in the hope that it will launch there, and haven't missed a deadline yet!
The reaction to your work continues to be huge, does it still surprise you how well audiences take to your films?
To be honest, it is always such a massive relief! Whilst it would be easy to fall into a formulaic way of telling the story, I love trying new ideas and styles, and finding the characters that might not often see themselves on screen, so it's always a bit dicey until we get the first feedback. Luckily, the Flare programmers have been so positive about Dawn, as have many of my US festival contacts, so I just hope it will go as far as Brace and Chance both have.
"'Dawn' is the film that most looks like the pictures I had in my head when I was writing it."
This is the 30th Anniversary of BFI Flare, any nerves setting in ahead of the screening?
I only usually get nervous a few hours before a screening, when I get a bit quiet, and a little bit jittery. Then there's the usual bit of presenting the film on stage, so that always gets the adrenaline going for me! Otherwise, I am just very excited about it, and I love the Southbank, so a drink in the sunshine before the screening, and I should be fine!
Tell me a little bit about Dawn how did the film come about?
I always base my characters on people in my life, and over the last couple of years had started to meet other trans folk, pretty much for the first time. One woman in particular really inspired me, and became my muse for Dawn. She was just an absolute paradox, this incredibly vulnerable woman with an inner strength that I had rarely seen, stubborn beyond belief, completely self involved, and utterly charming. She just made me want to put this character on screen. She was originally lined up to play the part, but in the end was unable to due to work commitments, and so the talented Nicole Gibson stepped in, and truly made the part her own.
What would you say was the most challenging scene for you to film?
Well, while writing the film, I had visions of stunning sunrises, clear skies, and lens flare all over the place, so we were obviously going to be largely reliant on the weather gods for that. The run up was pretty challenging: my ace cinematographer, Lorenzo Levrini, the best I've worked with, spent hours with me, making contingency plans in the quite likely case that it would be cloudy, or worse, absolutely torrential, but as luck would have it, we had three perfect sunrises, clear skies, and everything that we could have hoped for. The night shoots (2.30am-midday) were a bit chilly, but I have honestly never worked with such a great crew. Professional, cheery, and positive throughout. It was an honour.
How soon after meeting Nicole Gibson did you know she was going to be the Dawn you were looking for?
I have known Nicole for a couple of years now, and have always known that I would cast her in something. The first time we met was at an acting workshop, and I talked her into playing a stripper, on her first day at work, being sexually harassed by (my) strip bar owner. She was just a natural. She lights up the room when she enters, and has such charm, energy and warmth about her, that she really was an obvious choice. I will most definitely be working with her again, and have no doubt that she will go far!
Dawn reunites you with Harry Rundle from Brace, what was it like working with him again?
As always, an absolute pleasure. I had been pondering over who to cast in the role, and originally had someone older in mind, but the fragility and vulnerability that Harry brought to the character of Rocky in 'Brace' (the award winning, trans themed short film, co-directed by Alicya Eyo and Sophy Holland, made him an obvious choice to play Will in 'Dawn'. When I asked him, over a month prior to shoot, he accepted without question, and immediately began researching what it might mean to play a blind twenty something who has lost hope for the future.
Looking back would there be anything you'd do differently?
As with all shoots, there are things that looking back now, I would tweak, and certain shots that didn't quite come out as I might have liked, but we were working to such a tight schedule, with the light changing at a rather alarming rate, that I'm really rather proud at what we managed to achieve!
Now you can be reflective do you think you've been able to achieve what you set out with Dawn?
To be honest, 'Dawn' is the film that most looks like the pictures I had in my head when I was writing it. I think it gives a voice to two often unheard from members of society, and the fact that the two seem to complement each other so well in 'Dawn' is exactly what I was hoping for. My two leads were stunning, and more than lived up to their roles, and with my usual team of editor Giorgio Galli, and composer Justine Barker, who truly outdid herself, and new producer Kat Holmes, I really couldn't be happier with how the film turned out.
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your film?
All of the trans women I know are these beautiful, striking women, who more often than not don't seem to realise how stunning they are, be that due to their experiences growing up, abuse during transition, or insecurities built up over years of living in the wrong gender. I just wanted to tell a story where all of that insecurity and concern about the aesthetic was removed, and Dawn would just be 'seen' for the beautiful woman that she is inside, and treated as such by Will. That he too is a lost soul, just wanting a woman to take the time to 'see' him for the man he is just seemed to make them a rather fitting pair. Lost at dawn on a park bench! It would be great if just for once, we could all just see the person inside, without the walls, facades and the pressures of 'looking good'. If that's people's take away from 'Dawn', then I will be happy!