45 Years writer-director Andrew Haigh on how the movie came about
Andrew Haigh might be younger than the length of his characters' marriage in his new film 45 Years, but that didn't stop him seeing the universal appeal of the story to all generations.
The 43-year-old North Yorkshireman, whose last film 2011's Weekend was about the start of a relationship, says the source material, David Constantine's short-story In Another Country (first published in a literary magazine in 2001), just really spoke to him.
"There's just something about the idea of the power that can come from the past and really dramatically affect the present," he says down the phone-line from Los Angeles, where he's been jetting to and from during the recent Awards Season, thanks to success of the film and its leading lady Charlotte Rampling.
READ MORE: Review: 45 Years
She plays Kate Mercer, a woman whose 45th wedding anniversary to Geoff (Tom Courtenay) threatens to be overshadowed by the news that the body of his former girlfriend has finally been discovered. It's a revelation that has the pair of them beginning to question their own and each others' actions and feelings, as well as their partnership.
"All of us are struggling to understand our lives and wondering if we made the right choices," says Haigh, "Were they the best thing we could have done? Are we happy? Does our relationship work? All those are the kind of questions that we all ask – regardless of age. However, somehow, having the characters aged in their 70s made those questions all the more important."
He says he deliberately didn't have any particular actors in mind for the film ("because if they turn around and decide they can't do it, you just feel really depressed"), however he knew casting would be absolutely key. "Especially when doing a story about a people in a relationship, it was fundamental that I cast the right people. Finding them was absolutely the most stressful part."
Haigh admits to spending a long time thinking about it and deliberately cast Kate first because so much of the story is told through her eyes. "It was a great relief when Charlotte said yes and then that Tom quickly did the same. I just had to take a gamble really – I'd loved them both as actors before because they seem to have such interesting dynamics and characteristics about themselves as performers and people. It also made sense to me that they would work together well.
When asked if he thinks 45 Years is a film that could have been made a decade ago, Haigh delivers a considered response. "I've noticed in the last couple of years it has felt like more films are being made about an older generation, although not necessarily aimed just at an older audience. When I was making this, I didn't think about making a film for an older audience, but rather one about two people who are older.
"That's the funny thing with western culture, we try and ignore the fact that we get old and die. We seem desperately terrified of getting older and cinematically people have not wanted to tell those stories, but of course it's essential we do. Most of us, if we're lucky enough, are going to be old and are going to have to look back at our lives and ask ourselves whether they have meant something and enough to us."
45 Years was a tale important enough to him that it had to be told in cinemas, Haigh adds. "Even though it's not a widescreen epic, it is relatively challenging and needs engagement with the audience. With TV, people answer their emails while 'watching' and go and make a cup of tea. What I love about the cinema is that you put someone in a room and hope they are going to stay there for an hour-and-a-half to two hours. I like TV – making it, watching it [Haigh was an executive producer on the HBO series Looking], but, in the end, there's still something really, really powerful about film."
Haigh learned that lesson from one of the best cinematic storytellers – Ridley Scott. As an assistant editor on the likes of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, he might have spent his days "locked up in a room somewhere", but those experiences taught him first-hand how stories are put together. "You get to see directors making choices and why they make them. There are definitely different constraints and desires between TV and film. I think, as a film director, you definitely have more control and I like having more control."
But while Haigh might be a self-confessed control freak, he admits to being fairly flexible as a writer-director. "Once I get on set I'm happy to change anything that needs changing in a script. You can think a scene is perfectly done when you write it, but when you go to film it, you might listen to it and go 'oh no, that just doesn't work' or 'it's not giving me what I need for it to work'. I think it is always about collaboration. If something works or doesn't work for the actors, you have to take that into consideration. Making a film is not the same as writing it on your own in your bedroom. "
In 45 Years, that collaboration extended to allowing Courtenay to have his beloved Hull FC coffee mug on set and in shot.
"He loves Hull and was obsessed by them. But really Tom would have loved to have added a swear word every time his character talked. So everytime you do hear one in the movie, he probably added that in."
45 Years (M) is now screening.