Happy-Go-Leigh

8 Apr

Really fascinating article about Mike Leigh, director of Happy-Go-Lucky (and a ton of other films). His directing style is bizarre. And awesome.

Beginning below. Full text here.

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interview_leigh

MIKE LEIGH
[FILMMAKER, PLAYWRIGHT]

“I HAVE TO GET OUT OF BED EVERY DAY TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.”

Qualities Mike Leigh looks for in his actors:
Focus
Intelligence
A sense of humor
Non-overwhelming confidence

Born in 1943 in Salford, Lancashire, Mike Leigh began his career as an actor, theater director, and playwright before moving into television and, eventually, film. Over the course of more than three decades and more than twenty films, Leigh has earned himself an international reputation for his bracing, bittersweet dramas about quotidian British life. Despite their perpetually gray English skies, pasty-skinned protagonists, and often minimalist plotlines, Leigh’s movies appeal to a broad audience. His exploration of social relationships extends well beyond the narrow confines of middle- and working-class England. Secrets & Lies (1996), which stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as an optometrist and Brenda Blethyn as her housewife mother, concerns a woman’s search for her roots; Naked (1993) exposes the destitute and painful realities of urban life with its tale about a mixed-up drifter’s misadventures in London; Bleak Moments (1971), which concerns the financial struggles of—and awkward relationships between—a group of young city dwellers, contains heart-wrenching insights into social isolation.

Instead of coming to rehearse and shoot a film with a prewritten script, Leigh works closely and intensively with all of his actors—from the main roles to bit parts—developing characters, scenarios, and dialogue over months of solo and group improvisations to build a finalized screenplay. Actors seem to love the director’s way of involving them so integrally in the process: “I first worked with Mike Leigh in 1980,” Blethyn says. “He likes you to invent the whole history of the character, and I’ve done it ever since.”

A vociferous supporter of the British film industry, the director, unlike many of his British filmmaking colleagues, hasn’t been lured to Hollywood. “Given the choice of Hollywood or poking steel pins in my eyes, I’d prefer steel pins,” Leigh once said. He continues to make movies in the U.K., and, in recent years, started writing for the stage again. Two Thousand Years (2005), a play exploring Leigh’s Jewish roots, received its world premiere at London’s National Theatre. I met with the director last April during his visit to the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival.

—Chloe Veltman

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PS I highly recommend Happy-Go-Lucky if you haven’t seen it.

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