Lynne Ramsay: Exclusive pre-Cannes interview

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Dave Calhoun gets the early scoop on Cannes contender, 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

The only British director competing for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (ends May 22) is Lynne Ramsay, the 41-year-old Scottish director of ‘Ratcatcher’ (1999) and ‘Morvern Callar’ (2002). Ramsay’s new film, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’, is a US-set adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s bestselling 2003 novel, which offers an American woman (Tilda Swinton) in the years after her son commits a high-school massacre – and from the perspective of letters to her estranged husband. It’s Ramsay’s first film for nine years after her plans to direct her own script of Alice Sebold’s book ‘The Lovely Bones’ were rejected in favour of a big-budget effort by Peter Jackson.

We have to wait until Cannes to see ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ – but I hear it’s different from the book?
‘Right up front, I said to Lionel Shriver that I wouldn’t use the letters, so the structure is different. But the spirit is similar, and Lionel loves it. It’s a nice companion piece. Books and films are different, and it’s a bit of a tome, that book – it’s more than 400 pages, and we had little money.’

How was it getting behind the camera after almost a decade?
‘I loved it. The prep was a nightmare because the finance was touch and go. But once it was up and running it was great. We shot in America and some of the gaffers had done “The Godfather” and the script advisor had done a couple of Terrence Malicks! They were top-notch people working for no money at all. It was like making an American indie, I guess.’

Tilda Swinton is the lead, and she’s a producer too. What was her role?
‘There are more executive producers on this film than I’ve had hot dinners! Tilda was the first person I sent the script to at the beginning and she got back to me within 20 minutes. She took me by the scruff of the neck and we met up and, all credit to her, she was attached from then on. But we weren’t sitting writing together for years. It’s been a real slog for me and my husband, who I wrote the script with. We’ve been the ones the longest on it, developing it.’

Confusingly your husband, Rory Kinnear, shares his name with the actor. Even IMDB mixes them up.
‘Oh no, he’s been really pissed off with that actually!’

He’s now calling himself Rory Stewart Kinnear, I notice, to make the distinction.
‘He had to do that, to be different, and I don’t think his mum and dad would want him to change his name! I thought he could be Rory Ramsay, which sounded cool to me, like a rock star! He’s the person I trust the most in the world, and he happens to be a really great writer too.’

We Need To Talk About Kevin.jpg

Did you crack on with ‘Kevin’ straight after you stopped working on ‘The Lovely Bones’?
‘After “The Lovely Bones” I was a bit shell-shocked for about a year. It’s hard when you are led to believe you’re writing something which could be strong. Just to get into all that political bullshit was disheartening. It knocked me for six because no one was telling me what they thought about my script and it seemed they just wanted a replica of the book. It would have been nice to know that a couple of years before!’

When we spoke in 2002, you were writing the script, the same year the book was published.
‘I picked the book up when it wasn’t finished. Then when the book became big, it turned into a different thing and it became one of those Spielbergian things [Steven Spielberg was one of the producers] where it was thought Peter Jackson was better for it. I thought the book’s second half wouldn’t work as a film.’

If it’s any consolation, the finished film was pretty bad.
‘I kind of thought it would be, if he followed the book exactly… But, yeah, I spent a lot of time and effort and thought it was bloody great. You make a film in your head and then you don’t actually make it…’

You were emotionally attached…
‘Yeah, and also I was co-writing it with my best friend, Liana [Dognini], who I co-wrote “Morvern Callar” with, and she died. She needed a liver transplant, and she was so young. It was a traumatic time, and then my dad died. I went through a bit of a rough patch after that.’

It sounds like you’re happy with the new film though.
‘It’s good to finish a piece of work and feel satisfied, and to think about the stuff that matters, rather than all the bullshit. It was a struggle to make: it was a bit “Fitzcarraldo”, and that felt unfair after what I’d been through – but that’s fine. Every filmmaker goes through this, they just might not take as long as me! I’ve seen it all now, but I’m sure there’ll be another surprise next time!’

'We Need To Talk About Kevin' opens in the UK on September 8

Author: Interview: Dave Calhoun



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