All of Us Strangers
Photograph: Searchlight PicturesAndrew Scott and Paul Mescal in ‘All of Us Strangers’

‘All of Us Strangers’: Andrew Haigh on the surprising London locations behind his ghostly love story

The Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal love story was filmed in some unusual spots

Phil de Semlyen

Andrew Haigh’s (‘Weekend’) emotional, near-indefinable and multi-BAFTA-nominated new film ‘All of Us Strangers’ – a ghostly story of love and loneliness set in an eerie but very recognisable London – lands like a blow to the solar plexus. You think you have its measure, even as lonely screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) embarks on a journey back into his own childhood, searches for a sense of himself, and falls hard for his mysterious neighbour (Paul Mescal). Then the credits roll and you find yourself sobbing on the floor. And, well, maybe you didn’t.

It’s a movie, in other words, that contains an ocean’s worth of emotional undercurrents. And if you’re a Londoner, you can double that. Adapting Japanese novelist Taichi Yamada book ‘Strangers’ and switching its Tokyo setting for London, Haigh creates an almost imperceptibly off-kilter London of soulless apartment blocks, disconnection and loneliness, and adds a wealth of autobiographical detail to the story. For all that, it’s a London film that’s full of love for its setting – and it’s the adopted home of its filmmaker, who was born in Yorkshire, lived in the Midlands for a time, but has lived here since graduating uni aged 18. ‘I love it in London,’ he says. ‘You have your history around you, your life growing up.’

All of that personal history is poured into ‘All of Us Strangers’, which completes the filmmaker’s loose trilogy of films about love, alongside ‘Weekend’ and ‘45 Years’ before it. ‘Those two are about the beginning and end of love, and this one is about its power and – not to sound idiotic – its cosmic importance,’ says Haigh. To make it, he did something almost unprecedented and filmed in his own childhood home, as well as another old haunt. As he tells Time Out, the ghosts were behind the camera, as well as on-screen.

1. The haunted East End tower block

‘All of Us Strangers’ introduces Andrew Scott’s struggling screenwriter Adam as the (almost) lone resident of a new apartment block. ‘Initially, we chose a building in Vauxhall,’ explains Haigh, ‘but it was run by a multinational corporation and they would never let us [film] there’. Instead, the exteriors of Adam’s tower block were filmed at a new tower in Stratford, East London. The buzz of the city is seemingly just out of reach for the lonely writer. ‘The rest of London is out there, but it feels a bit distant,’ says Haigh. ‘I liked that feeling for the character: it should be great, but the building is not embedded into London yet and that can feel especially isolating.’ 

2. The entirely fake stoner apartment

Confined spaces being fiendish to film in, and Adam’s apartment not being palatial, Haigh opted to film the interior scenes – where Adam and Harry hang out, have sex and get stoned – in a specially reconstructed ‘flat’ on a Wembley Park Studios soundstage. ‘Your brain just adjusts to it,’ remembers Haigh. ‘You’d walk in and think: oh yeah, we’re in an apartment.’ Plates of Adam’s actual views were projected onto the windows. ‘I hate green screen,’ he notes, ‘but you can’t shoot on a 22nd-floor apartment because they’re not very big and I wanted the light to move. Everything in this film is a representation of how Adam is feeling: the light and the movement of the clouds is all part of it.’


3. The nostalgic ’80s family home

A time-travelling train journey into the suburbs of London takes Adam back to his childhood home, where his mum and dad (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are there to welcome him. In what may be a movie first, these scenes were filmed in Haigh’s own childhood home in the London suburb of Sanderstead: ‘I left that place when I was eight or nine and I’ve never been back,’ he says. ‘You see Adam lift up a photo [when he’s trying to find the house], and that’s a photo of me and my mum, with Claire Foy in place of my mum – I used that photo to find it. When I walked in there again, it felt like a haunted house.’ Strangely, the filmmaker’s old boyhood eczema broke out during filming. ‘I thought: maybe it’s the fucking house!’ laughs Haigh. ‘The film is about how we store traumas, big and small, and it felt like my body was physically reacting to how I felt when I was younger.’

4. The full-on, legendary dream club

To break him out of his isolation, Harry takes Adam out for a ketamine-fuelled night on the tiles. The club they wind up at isn’t specified – there’s a deliberate vagueness to ‘All of Us Strangers’ London settings – but it was filmed at another old Haigh haunt, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. ‘I spent many nights there in the ’90s,’ says the director. ‘We saw ourselves as gay indie kids, so I’d go there and to Popstarz and Ghetto behind the Astoria.’ The 50-year-old has mostly given up on clubbing these days, but still knows what feels real and what doesn’t. ‘I wanted to get across what it’s like to be in a club: it’s exciting and you feel together, especially in a queer context, but it can be complicated too.’ The result was two 12-hour days, with proper disco tunes booming out and a sweaty crowd of up-for-it background actors to make it all look real. ‘It’s exhausting and it’s so loud, but it’s the only way to do it,’ says Haigh.  


5. The eerie, unsettling Tube carriage

‘All of Us Strangers’ isn’t Haigh’s first foray into London locations. His 2009 debut ‘Greek Pete’ was filmed quasi-guerilla style in Soho, and at one stage, ‘Weekend’ was going to be set in South London (‘I wanted that to be a tower block too – there was one near Clapham Junction – but we couldn’t get the money in London,’ he explains). It was, however, his first time experiencing that old staple of romcoms, thrillers and action movies: a scene on London Underground. ‘I wanted to use the Central Line, because it has the right glass [for the reflection shots] but there’s loads of people on it all the time, so we did it on the Waterloo and City Line,’ he says of the scene in which Adam travels across the city. ‘It’s closed on Sundays, so we filmed then. The track is so bumpy to film on that by the end of the day, everyone was feeling sick.’ 

While he has nothing planned yet, it’ll take more than a spot of motion sickness and a few other logistical trials to stop Haigh returning to London for a future project. ‘It’s expensive to shoot in and it’s complicated and there’s no fucking parking anywhere,’ he says, ‘but I love London so I'm sure I'll film here again.’

‘All of Us Strangers’ is in UK cinemas Fri Jan 26. Read Time Out’s review here.

    You may also like
    You may also like