Classic TNC Interview
Jason Isaacs: "But the hardest thing about the film wasn’t the making of it, it is exquisite and so well realised, it is how do you describe to people what the film is about?"
SKELETONS | Dir. Nick Whitfield - UK
Edinburgh International Film Festival | 2010
Some times luck just happens to be on your side and during the 2010 Edinburgh Film Festival, we seemed to be having nothing but luck. At a press screening of THE DRY LAND, I was fortunate to be sat behind JASON ISAACS' who was a judge at the 2010 EIFF.
Taking the opportunity to talk to him just after the film followed into one of our more organic interviews. As a student he as no stranger to Edinburgh's world-famous Fringe Festival. The actor was also representing British Film 'SKELETONS which was nominated for the Michael Powell Award and directed by Nick Whitfield.
What was it that drew you to this film by a first-time director Nick Whitfield?
Well, you know I was sent this script and it was a small part in a small film and there was a link to the short film Rebecca that he did with the same actors and I was completely mesmerised. I had never seen anything quite like it frankly, I thought it created a whole world that was completely realistic, surreal and fantastic, and then I was intrigued by it and then I read the script.
How did the full-length script differ from the short film?
It’s very rare that people are able to explain the short film into a feature and make it work. But he’s kind of expanded the world and it seemed completely familiar and I bought the premiss of the entire thing and suddenly I would step back for a second and I found it totally hilarious and emotional.
Why did you say yes to the film?
It was an easy decision to go and make it and when I said was interested in making it and be part of the gang everybody tried to put me off. ‘You know they have no money…you will have to live in a cottage with the actors and the crew, cooking your own food…’ and all that stuff.
But for years I’ve been coming to the festival staying in a one bedroom flat and the only thing that is ever interesting in the work. But the hardest thing about the film wasn’t the making of it, it is exquisite and so well realised, it is how do you describe to people what the film is about? You have to describe it as a hybrid as if Terry Gilliam directed Becket or it’s Derrick & Clyde at the hands of Mike Leigh, you keep coming up with these completely unsatisfying cross-breed suggestions and try and let people know what type of film it is.
All I can say is that is should be seen by as many people as possible. It is so British and such an idiosyncratic and I hope it gets an audience. If the question was what made me want to do the film then the answer is just to watch the film and see. And I was afraid I was not going to be able to come up with a character that fits into that world because Ed and Andy created such a believable universe that I thought I was going to be walking on eggshells to try and create a third character that wasn’t the short film.
"There is no part of this that doesn’t make me laugh but it's not an out and out comedy."
Is Skeletons part of this new wave of British Films like last years Michael Powell Award winner MOON Dir, Duncan Jones?
It is peculiarly British and I don’t think anyone but Nick could have come up with the idea and directed this. One of the odd things for me is that am normally full of suggestions on set why doesn’t this happen or this person character might want to do this. This is so uniquely his that I was kind of dumbstruck by it.
Do I think its MOON? I don’t think it's anything. It's not a noisy film, MOON was a magnificent film…This is not noisy like that it is like a spiders web incredibly delicate and you either submit and surrender yourself to its surreal internal logic. When I went to see a screening of it a few weeks ago from the very first frame of it I was in that world and loved it.
I thought that trains and train tracks played an important role in the film?
It was beautiful to walk through the old stations and for all of it it felt timeless. It’s not specifically anytime, its not the 50s or the 30s. And the technology and design of the contraptions that they use to go into peoples closets and seek out the skeletons were just endlessly quaint and funny. There is no part of this that doesn’t make me laugh but it's not an out and out comedy. In the same way that the timelessness of the trains and the train station and peoples clothes was perfectly all judged to not be in a world on its own. Yet at the same time, it feels familiar and fabulous in the true sense of the word.
Do you also get to use quite a strong northern accent?
Well, I had to come up with something, I had to come up with a character. They called him the colonel so I thought ok maybe he was in the army and I gave myself this ear to ear scar, I don’t know how visible it is on the big screen, which gave me a voice of a man who had had his throat cut. There is something beautiful about him he’s paradoxically strict and a disciplinary and they are terrified of him, but he absolutely loves him like a father, and he needs them.
I understood it emotionally and you try to deconstruct it intellectually and it all of a sudden starts to fall apart. I just had to come up with something and as soon as I started speaking, as soon as I found a voice for him, and a look for him – the fact that he never takes his cap off ever even when he goes to sleep – as soon as those early decisions where made, that Ed and Andy who play the main characters, where very welcoming and we felt like a triangle. They have been a pair for so long, they are a duo in real life and they perform together and they have done for years. but something just felt like it worked and if it works for an audience as it felt like it worked in the set, sometimes it doesn’t, but I think this one does, but then am slightly biased.
And finally, the music from the film is pretty unique and is almost a third player after the actors and the script do you think that helps the film?
I think it does, its a very small film with only a few actors and its a house and a landscape, which he shoots in an epic way, you get a sense of Britain in a strange way. This kind of uniquely bleak and lonely landscape and the need for connection in people from the way that he shoots the countryside. I think it’s one of those things when you soot a film your not entirely sure how things are going to go together, but every element of this has been so finely judged that it just works.