His name may not be immediately recognisable but Hossein Amini has penned some very well-known lms. James Mottram speaks to him about

making the leap to directing with his debut The Two Faces of January

H ossein Amini bustles into a Berlin hotel, mildly l ustered after a demanding day of interviews. This, after all, is largely new to him. For the past two decades, he’s been letting others do the talking, at least to journalists, as he gradually cultivated a reputation as one of Britain’s most respected screenwriters. Beginning with period dramas Jude, The Wings of the Dove (for which he gained an Oscar nod) and The Four Feathers he has more recently gained kudos for Nicolas Winding Refn’s cult noir Drive. It was enough to get him a shot at directing his i rst feature.

Adapting Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel The Two Faces of January is actually something he’s wanted to do since he was at university. ‘It was the i rst thing I read that I really wanted to direct,’ he says. Re- reading it every i ve or so years, he never lost his love for the story about an American couple (here played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) and their increasingly deadly relationship with a tour guide (Oscar Isaac) they meet while holidaying in Athens. ‘It was those three characters. They just got under my skin.’ When it came to dictating the style, he was largely inl uenced by Plein Soleil, the 1960 adaptation of Highsmith’s book The Talented Mr Ripley, rather than Anthony Minghella’s more famous 1999 i lm of the same name. ‘I loved The Talented Mr Ripley, but I thought one of the things Anthony Minghella did in that was try to understand the characters, and one of the things I love about Highsmith is that she doesn’t really explain why people do things. There are these lurches of irrationality and they suddenly do these inexplicable things.’

Amini was born in Iran, where he lived until his family moved to England when he was 11, and it’s not hard to see why ‘Hoss’ (as everyone calls him) was taken by Highsmith. Like her characters, he’s well-spoken, highly educated and carries an air of mystery though in truth his path into i lm was far from exotic. He penned spec scripts, won an agent and then spent a year bombarding the industry with his work, until a commissioning editor at the BBC read one of his screenplays and took him on. Still, the 48-year-old Amini revelled in his new-found role as director. ‘The idea that I’d got up and didn’t have to go to a computer and write was such a pleasure! I i nd writing really hard. Just very difi cult. I need to get a good night’s sleep.’ The unexpected problem, he said, was cutting it all together. ‘I struggled with a lot of snow-blindness. My own insecurities, you start projecting that onto the i lm. It’s hard to i nd the good things when you’re hating it so much!’

With his i rst directing gig now under his belt, it’s back to the day job with Amini adapting John le Carré’s book Our Kind of Traitor for director Susanna White. ‘I love watching movies. That’s as close as I can claim to being a director,’ he says, modestly. ‘I love telling things in pictures. But I feel like a writer. I still feel like a writer because I think I’ve been doing it so long. Writers are very different, personality-wise. But I love the directing experience and I’d love to direct again.’

The Two Faces of January is on general release from Fri 16 May. See review, page 52.

15 May–12 Jun 2014 THE LIST 25