Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Going His Own Way - Interview with Jake Scott

He marvels at Lynne Ramsay, would star Michael Fassbender in his dream project, and is altogether very serious about film. Jake Scott’s directional debut, Plunkett and Macleane, was brutally slashed by the critics. Over a decade later he is biting back with his second feature ‘Welcome to the Rileys’.

Jake Scott is talking about his inevitable attraction to film directing: “It’s a bit like being in a Butcher’s family…Scott’s Butchers and Co.’ His father is, of course, Sir Ridley Scott. Jake was raised in a home rich with cinematic influence and is one of five in his family to take up the vocation. He expresses how fortunate he has been: “Some dads play football with their kids and take an interest in them athletically, or through musical instruments. His way was through film and art, so there was guidance in that sense’

He initially “fought against” the desire to direct, and trained as a set designer, but it’s just something he loves. Had he not gone down this route he would have been a painter. He developed a creative eye by being a successful commercial director for years. Given such a unique background, have the various presumptions and judgements about his abilities been a challenge? He admits it can be a “fucking nightmare! It can fundamentally dismiss anything you might have to offer of your own, you find yourself judged, and react and rebel against that. But I think I’ve managed to find my step now. The main thing is not to be bitter, I think that’s poisonous.”

He describes his debut as a: ‘A very flawed film. I wasn’t ready to take on something big. I didn’t know how to deal with the problems and critically they had a right go at me”. His deems his second feature to be more personally rewarding. Welcome to the Rileys is a subtle, understated drama about a married couple struggling with the death of their teenage daughter six years earlier. Doug (James Gandolfini) is a man estranged from his wife and driven to adultery through his loneliness. His agoraphobic wife Lois (Melissa Leo) is confined to the home they share in American suburbia. Doug travels to New Orleans for a plumbing convention where he meets teenage prostitute Allison (Kristen Stewart). She bares a resemblance to the teenager he has lost and the two of them form a platonic bond. Doug becomes fixated, borderline obsessed, with helping her, as if to find some form of closure for his endless suffering.

The characters drew Scott to the script: “As a character study I thought it had a lot of potential. People often assume that in the mid-west of America people attend shrinks all the time. The reality is that many ordinary people must face such tragic circumstances alone.” Ordinary people dealing with impossible events is so endearing because of his extraordinary upbringing. He admits he’s had: “An unusual life that is almost removed from reality’ and has “witnessed things that are really amazing. In some ways, the more grounded and based in reality those struggles are, the more I’m drawn to it”. There is a total absence of judgement for any of the characters. He says he: “Needed to tell the story without any, and was trying not to ask the audience for any sympathy.” He wanted to give a realistic insight without sentimentality.

The cast had the freedom to improvise and would explore possibilities on set before filming. “It was a different way of working for me, and quite an exposed way of working”. Scott had to deal with three strong styles of acting: “James is a method actor, arriving on set prepared and delving deep into character. Kristen is not professionally trained and works with her instincts instead, which, for her strong and challenging role, worked in her favour.” Kristen Stewart was hired pre Bella-Swan-era and Scott was unaware of her tendency to twitch. He found her twitchiness to be appropriate for the role: “A lot of the young prostitutes are like that, they are very uncomfortable in their own skin.” Melissa is a very experienced stage and theatre actor, who was always very level and discerning. Rather than trying to cope with this, you had to work with it, and it worked well”.

Has he formed is own style and voice now, through this second feature? Will he continue to produce character-based films? “I have definitely found my footing, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider doing a thriller, but I am drawn to this sort of material and I think I will avoid anything with too defined a genre.” Who and what inspires him? “Filmmakers who are daring” he responds. “Steve McQueen is a brilliant director. Lynne Ramsay is also a brilliant filmmaker, to do these films takes a lot of tenacity and discipline and commitment. These directors have a defined and clear voice. I always marvel at them and wonder where it comes from.” He asserts that “without a doubt” Michael Fassbender is his favourite actor and would star in his dream project. Tilda Swinton is his most admired actress.

His favourite film of all time is Federico Fellini’s 8½, and he is a huge fan of Bergman. Most recently, he was very impressed with Drive: “cinematically, there was nothing new, but the director and the cast made a really unique piece. It was a Western, but built around an emotional connection”. Next on his agenda is a film about Jeff Buckley. He feels: ‘Very connected to Jeff and the tragic story of his struggle. I hope we will be shooting in May in New York. I suppose it’s a Rock n’ Roll biopic, but it is more than that. It’s about a spiritual journey.”

Welcome to the Riley’s is released on DVD on Monday 27th February

 This interview was written for Front Row Reviews by Sarah Holland/ The original interview can be found here

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