May 122013

Chris Elena recently had the pleasure of chatting with Rufus Norris, the director of Broken (in cinemas May 16), a film he was a huge fan of. Check out the interview after the jump.

Chris: I tried to look through your IMDB page before we spoke to see if this really was your feature debut as a director. To be honest whilst watching the film I was astounded that it really was your first directed feature film.

Rufus: There’s a funny thing about IMDB, I’m credited with acting in various B movies in the 80’s and 90’s, which uh, I gotta find out about! Broken is my first feature film. I come from a theatre background and film is a recent crossover.

Chris: Did you shoot ‘Broken’ on film or digital?

Rufus: It was shot on 35 (film).

Chris: I thought so, as the film looks immaculate. Not that digital film-making doesn’t generate amazing looking films; but Broken looked and felt very cinematic. Seeing as almost every film is shot on digital these days, I wanted to know the motivation behind shooting on film, especially being a first time director. What compelled you to go for the art form that everyone’s steering against due to time and money constraints?

Rufus; I’m sure most people when they make their first feature for very romantic and unconsidered reasons want to shoot on 35mm film because it’s the medium you’ve grown up with, and it makes you feel like you’re actually making a film. But in the end some films have environments that are suited to digital. I mean digital cameras are incredible these days, and with post production you can make a film look like anything.

This is my first film, and the most important thing for me is that I have a D.O.P that I want, and he works he way that he wants and does his job well. In our case, I did my research, and he works so well on 35mm. I basically said, if that’s what you think then I trust you and I’ll do everything I can to ensure we shoot it as such. So really, it wasn’t my decision. It was my decision to let the guy who knew what he was talking about make the decision.

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Chris: In my opinion Tim Roth is one of the greatest actors working these days; but it seems recently he hasn’t been utilised for his subtlety. He’s been buried under lots of make-up or donning odd accents. When you were directing him, were you hoping to gather that subtlety from him?

Rufus: Roth is known over here for being in Tarantino films. They’re not caricatures, but they’re fairly strong characters that he’s playing in those films, and there’s no place for that in a film like this. But often those great actors do get typecast based on their apparent strengths, much like Roth. With this character, Archie (Roth’s character in the film), he’s, like an Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird type person; loosely of course. You then think to yourself in terms of casting, who is going to be something quite different from that but have the same level of heart.

Chris: In terms of the screenplay, did you get Mark O’Rowe’s adapted screenplay first or the novel by Daniel Clay?

Rufus: I got the book first; before it was even published. Mark and I had a lot of back and forth’s whilst he was writing. He’s a very smart writer and knows a lot more about film than I do; so in a lot of ways he was a great source of education.

ChrisWhen directing Rory Kinnear (possibly most well known for his role in the recent Bond film), did you base his performance on someone you had known in particular or did you just simply go by the screenplay’s description? How did the directing process go in terms of crafting such a performance?

Rufus: Well, Yeah I think we all know people like that, that are kind of terrifying. You know, those neighbours from hell types. I have a neighbour who isn’t particularly easy to deal with. But the thing here is, this is a character, a man who is grieving. He’s lost his wife recently and he’s trying his best to raise his three daughters. Every decision he makes is in protecting them and looking out for their best interests. He’s terrified for what could happen to them. His aggression is unsociable but you have to stand in his shoes.

We had to find that actor that was capable of such a task ;who had terrific emotional depth. With Rory Kinnear, it comes down to typecasting. He’s balding a bit and he’s a quiet guy, so hey, let’s stick him in Skyfall as the quiet one who wears the suit and tie. But in theatre, he’s recognised as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Even at the moment he’s playing Iago in Othello at the National theatre. In that scene, no one has a better reputation than his. In a strange way he’s better known than any other cast member in terms of stage acting. Regarding films, I believe his time will come. He’s not leading man material in any traditional sense, but he’s an absolutely phenomenal actor. When it came to me directing him, we went by the script and I basically pointed the camera at Rory and let him do his thing.

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Chris: When in development stages of this film, were there any recent films in particular that you had seen and wanted to model that same look for this film? Or did you strictly go by your perception of the screenplay and surroundings.

Rufus: What’s that wonderful, wonderful Australian film,..Animal Kingdom? I was reminded of that film when we were developing the look for this film. Visually it’s in no way associated with that film but just in terms of, being an independent film; quite off key yet still recognising itself as a film about family.  It’s also that domestic feel we tried to capture with Broken. The approach I took I think mirrored Animal Kingdom in the way that the camera really responds to the scene as opposed to the other way around, especially in a close knit domestic setting.

Chris: Funnily enough I was going to mention it reminded me of Andrea Arnold’s Red Road and also This Is England.

Rufus: Wow! I love Red Road. I think it’s Andrea Arnold’s best film, so I consider that a great compliment.

Chris: The one question I’m sure you’re ALWAYS asked the minute people saw this film but it can’t be ignored, the casting of Eloise Laurence as Skunk, the protagonist. She really carries this film with that powerhouse performance, and this is her acting debut as well?

Rufus: She is an absolute natural. I can’t take credit for her performance at all; but what I can take credit for was not giving up when choosing the right girl for the part. We saw a little over 850 girls for this role, and we just got very lucky. She’s actually the daughter of a friend of mine who plays Mrs. Buckley in the film! But I don’t know what it is. She’s able to work with the camera on her without being self-conscious, I don’t think I know enough about film to know how that works. But we needed someone to come in and say “bullshit” to all our pre-conceived notions on who we thought this character was, so a real dialogue can result and she can make the character her own.

Eloise however wants to be a screenwriter, she doesn’t seem to interested in a future in performance. Her parents have turned down all other roles since, so I think they’re really helping push her into the right direction that closely resemble her dreams of being a writer.

ChrisIt’s been more than a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time and answering these questions in great detail. I loved the film so very much and I’m just glad a film so fixated on restrained storytelling is being released at a day and age like this.

Rufus: Thank you so much Chris.

Broken will be released in Australian cinemas on May 16th. We’ll have a review of the film up soon.

By Chris Elena.