You mentioned that they had ideas that they wanted to bring to these characters, and Anne, especially, is unreal in this movie. What did she bring to this role that surprised you, if anything?
What I thought was interesting is that she knows, because she has such extraordinary screen experience, she knows the level at which, and she knows where, to pitch it. Which is remarkable, because watching it in the room may not necessarily be what transmits on the screen. So actually, when I watched the dailies, I could then see that she had pitched it absolutely right. That, for me, was astonishing. You’re surrounded by so many unhelpful influences in the moment of shooting the scene, because you’re there with the whole crew and there’s so much going on, and you’re already thinking about the next scene, and you’ve got it in your head, and you’ve got to hold everything together. You try and focus as best you can on performance, but you’re also thinking of a million other things that are happening in the frame. But Annie really knew where she pitched it, and she was right, and that gave me great confidence. I could totally trust her to know where to [pitch it].
Did you learn that after just a few days of being able to look at the dailies? Because that seems like such a surreal thing for a director, to be as dialed in as you are on the set and have an actor give a performance, and a tiny alarm bell or something goes off in your head where you’re like, “I’m not really sure if that’s right.” But then when you check the tape, it actually is right. That’s got to be destabilizing in a small way, right?
Well, but it’s also, you’ve got to find humility as well, because if an alarm bell rings, then you’ve got to get the take that you feel is right for yourself. So you do the versions up to that point. That version, then the ones in between, and then you stop at the point where you go, “I think we’ve got it.” And then when you watch it back, then you think, “She was right. She was right. [laughs] She was right.” And then I was able to go to her and say, “You’re absolutely spot on.” I think that relationship of mutual respect actually is very good for a working relationship, because then Annie is like, “See, I told you.” [laughs] But in the kindest way possible.
Because, as you say, she is a larger than life character. We have such an extraordinary twist in this movie. It would be very easy for this to suddenly become a little arch, a different kind of movie, if we lean into that. And I had the same conversations with Shea. There is a version of alcoholic, Boston ex-cop, shouty dad, which we really wanted to steer clear of because we’ve seen it a million times before. And I just trust him to be able to find that. He’s the one telling me, “Yeah, I think we want to be in this space. We want to be exploring this,” and we’d let him then explore it because — and I’m grateful for them. These are intelligent actors who want to dig deep, and they’re not going to settle for … there would be guys who’d be like, “Oh, you want me to come for eight days?” They’ll come in for eight days, just shoot this stuff, “we know how it goes, see you later.” But they really wanted to find something truthful and original.
Can you tell me what the toughest part of the process of making this movie was for you?
I mean, there’s so many. I mean, we shot through Covid. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of people say the same thing, but it does have an impact. Everybody coming in early to test twice a day, having to wear a mask between. So an actor can’t see my face when I’m trying to explain an idea to them, so a lot of the body language is lost. Having to be super vigilant, having to have doors open. The whole thing was … it was an extra pressure when we were already shooting in minus, I don’t know what it is in Fahrenheit, but in the UK, it was like minus 10 degrees. [Editor’s note: That’s 14 degrees F.]
Also the problem is we shot everything on location, and if you’re in a small location and the camera doesn’t fit in the room with the actors, you have to open the doors to shoot through a door. Well, then it’s like shooting outdoors, but the actors are pretending they’re indoors in a nice, cozy kitchen. I mean, that has an impact on the body. You don’t want them to be thinking about, “I’m freezing.” You want them to be thinking about the scene.
It was also the first time I’ve worked in the States, so I relied heavily on the crew and the producers to help me through that. Which wasn’t actually so problematic, it was just about understanding a new system. It took a little bit of time. At the time, I would say everything was problematic, just because it was such a pressured environment. [laughs] We had 26 days to shoot this movie in so many different locations. Because with “Lady Macbeth,” of course, I’d had the same amount of time, but I’d had one location and four actors. This was a much bigger scale and I was learning on the job.
Thankfully, there’d been enough time between the two movies for Ari Wegner and Nick Emerson, my two closest collaborators, the cinematographer and the editor, to have gone away and made like 10 movies in that time. So they could come back with all of that rich experience and bring it to this film, which was very, very … it was vital, really.
“Eileen” is in theaters now.