After the acclaim surrounding a film like My Name Is Joe, other actors might have sat around anxiously waiting for Hollywood to call. Instead PETER MULLAN directed Orphans, the darkest, funniest movie about a family funeral ever. Scotland's most independently minded filmmaker speaks his mind while, over the page, The List also talks to Orphans' star, Gary LEWTS. Words: Rob Fraser Photograph: Chris Blott
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PETER MULLAN IS NOT ONE TO MINCE WORDS. This becomes apparent when it‘s pointed out that the occasionally surreal imagery in his directorial debut ()rp/mns might come as a surprise to anyone expecting My Name Is Joe I].
‘I can see people reacting badly to the different styles there are in the movie. and I don‘t fucking care.‘ he says with typical candour. ‘They‘re appropriate to how the characters were feeling at the time. It was never a genre piece. it was never going to be easily pigeon-holed; that was quite deliberate. There‘s this nonsense talked about “Oh you‘re a Jock. you‘re a Brit. therefore you must make a social realist film“. Well. fuck off — I‘ll make any damn film I want.‘
The film he has made —- a tragic comedy about a Glaswegian family devastated by their mother‘s death —— is as l‘unny. moving and inventive as any you‘re likely to see this year. Its bravura visuals and wild but perfectly
judged shifts in tone are the product of
Mullan‘s desire to emulate the best work of his film-making heroes. ‘Bunuel. Fellini. Bergman. Kurosawa. Chaplin. Keaton. Scorsese. Kubrick and Stan Laurel.‘ are among the names he rattles off as inspirations. but it was never his desire to imitate any one of them.
‘l‘m not keen on referential stuff saying “look where I got this scene from“.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s more a case of aspiring to a standard that these directors have created. If they have one thing in common. it‘s that they‘re maver- icks. and I admire that. I don‘t want to be a Spielberg or a Lucas ~ fuck making franchise films.‘
The fledgling director feels that too many of his contemporaries concentrate on transatlantic influences when there are rich resources to be mined closer to home. ‘l‘ve always loved liuropean film. When I was in the film society at (ilasgow L'niversity. and I got to see Fellini and Fassbinder. they had as big an influence as Scorsese and the early (‘oppola movies.‘ he enthuses. ‘.Vluch as I loved Taxi Driver. Bill Douglas had just as
much of an impact. Lyndsay Anderson‘s If
was a huge movie for my generation.
8 THE lIST t-‘ESAnr 1999
‘These days. because there‘s no money to be made from being European—inf]uenced. a lot of Brit directors are only too happy to say it was the Americans who shaped their entire being.‘ The reason behind this state of affairs is a simple one: fear. ‘They don‘t want to mention any names that might frighten off a producer. It‘s all assimilate. assimilate. I don‘t like the idea of trying to please — “I‘m making a Scots western. I‘m making a film noir set in
Camden" ~ id rather they just made films of
This desire for independence from and antipathy towards the Hollywood establishment means we won‘t be seeing Mullan gracing too many blockbusters with his presence. A major supporting role opposite Kevin Spacey in the forthcoming lrish comedy drama()r(/inurv Decent (‘riminu/ was enough to convince the actor that mainstream movie stardom isn‘t for him.
‘The experience in Dublin has put me off
working with Hollywood actors. becatise culturally I find them really alien.‘ Mullan explains. ‘For me. they live in a completely upside-down world. liverything we would regard as inconsequential and trivial. they regard as of paramount importance. Namely the size of a Winnebago. mobile phones. personal assistants ~ all that comes first. Acting and learning and atmosphere are way down their list. l find it very tedious. even though you get paid a lot more money to do it.
I‘ve not spent all these years enjoying myself
'For Hollywood actors, the key to great acting is being able to cry with a limp. The very idea of trying to remain true to a character is ridiculous to them.’ peter Mullan
and trying to learn. only to end tip in a kindergarten. babysitting fragile egos.‘
Surely the pros of appearing alongside screen heavyweights would outweigh the cons of their prima donna behaviour"? Not for Mullan: ‘There are no American actors out there now that I‘m dying to work with. I don‘t think. “Jesus. these people are really on the edge. or breaking new ground“. They‘re all
just doing the same shit that they‘ve been doing for the last 30 years. For Hollywood actors. the key to great acting is being able to cry with a limp. When they see a film like My Name Is Joe or Orphans. they keep asking “how do you do that?" because they don‘t know anymore. They don‘t understand it. They‘re completely motivated by their career. their franchise: they become a piece of property very quickly. The very idea of trying to remain true to a character is ridiculous to them. They seem to think “you‘ll never make a living doing that. my dear“.‘
Again. it‘s continental avenues Mullan is most keen to explore. finding more common ground across the (‘hannel than he ever would across the pond. ‘I recently did a day‘s work on a film called The ll'rnng B/mule. with Daniel Auteil. and it was fucking excellent. No tantrums. no bloody egos. and it was a breath of fresh air after lreland.‘ he recalls. ‘liuropean actors share a common goal: do good work and have a laugh. For me. that‘s where the future has got to lie. making contacts in France and (iermany and Italy. Because. unless we all band together. I‘m afraid Hollywood is going to eat us all alive.‘
With awards for both acting and directing under his belt from film festivals and critics‘ circles around the world (though not. disgracefully. a BAFTA nomination for his performance in My Nan Is Jm’). Mullan seems set to be a major player on the European film scene well into the new .Vlillennium. He‘s taking nothing for granted. however. least of all his current “can do no wrong‘ status.
‘lt‘s always terrifying when you see those “talents to look out for in the year ahead“ things. You think. “Fuck. is this the kiss of death or what'."‘.‘ And as for the fleeting nature of fame'.’ ‘When we were doing ()rp/nms. my producer said I was on the Internet. I was delighted. until I found out I was on a “Where Are They Now?" Website. (‘heeky hastards.‘
Where is he now'.’ At the absolute peak of his powers.
Orphans opens in Scotland on Fri 23 Apr. To win tickets to the premiere and party, see page 112.