Harry Macqueen’s first film Hinterland (read our review here) is a heartfelt, emotional road movie in which two old friends, played by Macqueen and singer Lori Campbell (read Lori’s interview here) escape London for a weekend of nostalgia, reconnection and possible romance against a dramatic Cornwall backdrop. Rhythm Circus sat down with Harry to talk Linklater, low-budget filmmaking and the English Countryside.
Your first film was back in 2008 on Me and Orson Welles which was of course directed by Richard Linklater…
Yeah, that was crazy. I think his body of work is just so wonderfully eclectic and he just sort of always strives to reinvent – whether he’s reinventing himself or reinventing cinema, he’s always pushing the boundaries. That’s to be applauded and a very difficult thing to do over the space of a 20 year career.
It was my first job out of drama school and I had about ten lines which were virtually completely all cut, but you know that’s the name of the game really. It was incredible because it was a big ensemble piece and we basically recreated Orson Welles’ version of Julius Cesar in this theatre on the Isle of Man, so we all lived on the Isle of Man for a month doing the play and filming it which was a remarkable experience. I got to live with some of my favourite actors – Eddie Marsan, Christian McKay who’s now a really good friend of mine, Zach Efron, people like Claire Daines which was quite crazy. It was remarkable. And just working with [Linklater]… I don’t think I could have possibly asked for a better director to work with straight out of drama school.
Did he influence your decision to eventually go into directing?
I don’t know whether he influenced my decision to go into directing as a kind of side step from acting. That was something I very much wanted to explore at some point in my career anyway. I wasn’t anticipating doing it this early on if I’m honest. He certainly inspired me to go out there and do it. I mean, he made his first film with no money and on his own and he is sort of the godfather of modern independent film in my view. He’s an inspirational guy and the way he works is really just great. He has a lot of fun which I think is really important. I took that on board certainly.
His films are inspiring as well. I think – very lovely of Sight and Sound to do so – when they reviewed Hinterland last week they paralleled it with Before Sunset in it’s themes and the way it explores interaction. I think that’s what Linklater is really amazing at. He’s just interested in humans interacting and the beauty of that and I think that’s also what I’m interested in so he was certainly inspiring on that level.
HM: The origins are all over the place. I knew right from the start that I wasn’t going to have a lot of money to do it. That was a consideration! But I knew I wanted to make a very intimate film, because, coming at the project as an actor with virtually no experience in writing or directing for the screen, I knew that I had to play to my strengths in a way. That’s what I’m interested in and that’s the kind of project that I really like to get involved with as an actor. I knew I wanted to make an intimate relationship piece; I wanted to explore love and being in your twenties, that period which most people go through to a degree where you’re trying to work stuff out and haven’t quite got there yet.
I was also aware that I really liked road trip movies and that I could shoot one quite inexpensively. To be honest, it was a lot of different things that all came together. I suppose the starting point of it was that I knew I wanted to write a little love story and counterpoint it against a really dramatic, wide, huge, epic landscape. So that was probably the seed of it I think.
Thinking about that mid-twenties mindset, it’s a time where it does become harder and harder to stay in contact with friends from your childhood and teenage years. For some people thinking back to a simpler past can be quite intense or unpleasant. Is that something you wanted to explore?
Yeah definitely. I think it’s certainly a film about the past and nostalgia and the yearning for when things were really easy, as they were for most people when they were kids. It’s a journey back into two characters’ past. I definitely wanted to look at an old friendship and going back to a place that means a lot to you and it’s changed for whatever reason and as you find out, you’ve changed too – as you say that’s not always a particularly exciting or happy experience. It can just exemplify what has changed in the time in between you being there. Buildings can change, people can change, the landscape changes.
I was interested in making a film that speaks to people our age because I think being in your twenties in England is actually quite difficult at the moment. It’s financially really tough; jobs are nowhere; political parties are – in my view – pretty similar and nobody really knows who they’re voting for. I think there’s a lot of frustration that people of our age feel. I’m not suggesting in any way that it’s an overly political film, but I think that it certainly has a political context as far as I’m concerned.
It begins with your character Harvey and his old friend Lola, played by Lori Campbell, driving out of London which I found to be quite significant particularly since this is one of the only films where the drive through London is filmed accurately in terms of the geography!
(laughs) I’m glad you said that. In a review I read the other day someone was saying that it started wholly inaccurately! It definitely doesn’t! It annoys me – it probably annoys you too – when you see a city you know very well and you’re like “No! That road doesn’t lead there!”
Are you a Londoner yourself?
I am now. I’m from Leicester originally but I moved down here to go to drama school about eight years ago I suppose and I’ve been here ever since. Yeah, I guess I kind of consider myself a Londoner. I can’t see myself moving out too soon.
The dichotomy that you create between ‘the city’ and ‘the countryside’ is pleasantly symbolic in terms of what you’re trying to say about the characters and the ability to communicate with each other…
Thanks, yeah. If the film is about ‘escape’ and ‘freedom’, we certainly tried to examine that through the way we shot it. The London stuff tends to be more handheld and it has a quicker pace. It’s night time quite often; it’s neon and there’s big looming buildings. Whereas, as soon as they leave almost, we’re using a wide lens, taking our time with the characters and their relationship. We definitely tried to explore shooting the two things differently.
Cornwall is shot beautifully. How involved were you in choosing where you shot it?
One hundred per cent. I suppose the film is autobiographical in that the place where we go and the literal journey that they take is one that I have done my whole life. I know that part of the world really well. It’s a love letter to Cornwall in a way because it’s somewhere that I used to go on holiday with my family – and still do occasionally – and it means a lot to me. It’s just effortlessly dramatic and beautiful. A lot of credit has to go to Ben Hecking who shot the film because we really had no kit, a really shitty old camera and not a lot of time. I think what he’s managed to achieve with those constraints is pretty remarkable. It is certainly a visually beautiful film over and above everything else.
You touched on the low budget of the film there. You’ve certainly done well with the low budget and the short shoot. Did working within those limitations make it difficult? Did it give you inspiration creatively?
Yeah, both, actually. In a perverse way, there’s an immense freedom that you can get from having no freedom. Having no money takes away so many options – for kit, for what you can do, for where you can go – but I think that it’s important when you’re making a film for that kind of money that you have to look at those things as positives. It’s not so much ‘making the best out of a bad situation’, but you just have to be very focussed on where you’re going to go, what you’re going to do and how you’re going to frame the story. For me it was immensely freeing. We shot it in thirteen days which obviously quite quick and we managed to do it because we were incredibly free with how we filmed and how Lori and I performed in it too. We improvised quite a lot and we shot on the fly – it was a mumblecore-esque aesthetic – and I think that we wouldn’t have achieved that if we had loads of money.
It was a real blessing on this project to just be able to say “okay, we’ve got ten grand; what are we going to do with it? Let’s spend it in the best way that we can for the story” which didn’t involve a whole truck of lights and three cameras. You’ve got to work within your means. Shooting outside is quite often free and, if you go to the right places, often very beautiful. You don’t have to light it and you can work with a very stripped down crew which we did. It was a really great experience and I think it wouldn’t have been the film that it is if we’d had fifty grand to make it.
Yeah Lori’s a musician. She’s not acted professionally before so it was a big leap of faith for her and for me too. It was a really amazing freak occurrence; I had written the film but I was really worried that I was never going to get it made simply because I didn’t know how to find someone to play Lola. She wasn’t based on anyone and she was very specific in my mind, especially with the music aspect. I was living with my friend Rosie Morris at the time and I explained the problem. She just said, “You should really speak to my friend Lori…” So I phoned her and met her and it kind of went from there. It wouldn’t have been the film that it is without her. It was a pretty intense experience for both of us but we’re good mates now!
So, what have got anything lined up for your next film project?
HM I’m tentatively writing something else. I’m kind of snowed under at the moment doing this so I haven’t been able to focus as much as I’d have wanted to. But yeah, I’m going to write another film I think and see how it goes. I’ve been trying to finish a play for a while and I’ve got a bit of acting coming up. Yeah, I’m trying to keep busy but I think I might need a holiday. Not that I can afford one! (laughs)
Finally, where can people see Hinterland?
The film opens on 27th February, next Friday, at The Curzon Soho, London. It’s showing there for a while, I think! I’m doing a Q&A on the opening night and then I;m touring it around the country, so I’m doing Q&A screenings at The Ritzy in Brixton on Sunday 1st March and then I’m in Leicester and Truro and Falmouth the following week and there’s a few more dates to be confirmed. The film is also released on Curzon Home Cinema from 30th of March so it will be available for everyone. So essentially it’s got a UK release digitally through the Curzon as well as showing in their cinema.
I’m off to phone Lori now.
(laughs) Send her my love!
Words> Andrew Wilson
Hinterland is in cinemas and on Demand through Curzon Home Cinema 27th February (Buy Tickets)