Citeşte acest interviu în româneşte aici.
I've spoken in Cluj with Harry Macqueen, the director of Supernova, an astonishing film with Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, that I've seen at TIFF 2021 (to be distributed in August 2021 in cinematographs all over Romania). We talked about his past experiences as a writer, actor and movie director / producer, about his present and even future projects. Despite being nervous at first in his presence, I've realized that being really in love with the things you do for a living implies also talking passionately about them. I guess this passion is what made this interview unique.
Alberto Păduraru: Harry Macqueen in the flesh here at TIFF 2021. You're 37.
Harry Macqueen: Yes.
A.P.: And you have graduated The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
H.M.: That is correct, yeah. Yeah.
A.P.: In 2008?
H.M.: I know, it is a long time ago, isn't it? (laughs)
A.P.: Yeah. (laughs) So, just as an actor, right?
H.M.: Yeah, that is true.
A.P.: And how did it come to writer, producer, director etc.
H.M.: Well, I was an actor, a professional actor for about 5 or 6 years and then I realized that I want to tell my own stories. Yeah, I think acting is great, but you always have to be given permission to work and I was frustrated by that a little bit, and wanted to start telling my own stories. I always knew that at some point in my life I would try and make a film. Uhm... yeah, and so I decided to do that in about 2003, yeah.
A.P.: Is it Hinderland?
H.M.: Hinderland, yeah. That is right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A.P.: Let us move to your debut as an actor.
A.P.: It is Me and Orson Wells, yeah?
H.M.: That is correct, yeah.
A.P.: Directed by?
H.M.: Richard Linklater.
A.P.: So, your role there was John Willard, from Broadway.
A.P.: He himself is a writer and producer...
H.M.: That is right, yeah! (laughs) Well researched, yeah.
A.P.: I was just trying to link if this debut as an actor has made you realize that you...
H.M.: You know what? I have never thought of that, that is a very interesting thing. He was a writer and director, yeah. And it was such a long time ago now... But yeah, I suppose it did maybe have an effect on me. The interesting thing about Me and Orson Wells - maybe you know this - is that it was shot by Dick Pope, who shot my film, Supernova. Yeah, yeah.
A.P.: That is very interesting, very interesting. So, you do somehow recall your first role as a sign for what you've become...
H.M.: Maybe! Yeah, maybe! I think I knew I wanted to be a writer and director before that, but that really is interesting, thank you for reminding me! (laughs)
A.P.: Now about Hinterland - your debut as a writer and director - you were also starring.
H.M.: Yeah, that's correct.
A.P.: That one has a mellow light-hearted story about reassembling childhood memories together with your friend. So it is clear that it has reached astonishing praise at Raindance Film Festival (Best British Debut) and Beijing Film Festival (Best Debut Film). And I was wondering, what is it like to be writer and director of something you are starring into. What is like your colleagues, is this a power position? Do you see it as maybe somehow a God complex or something?
H.M.: (laughs) Well, it is really difficult doing all of those jobs at the same time, and I would never do it again. Uhm. But I had to do it in that case, because it was the only way to make the film. As you might know, we made that film with no money at all, and it was only six people involved in the entire film.
A.P.: Yeah, very close and personal.
H.M.: Very close and personal, yeah. But yeah, I don't want to be in my films as an actor, so... (laughs)
A.P.: Ok, so - linked to the question before - are you anchored in your vision as a director, or are you prone to notice your soft spots in terms of acting. It's about that possible God complex I was mentioning about, in Hinterland specifically.
H.M.: I think in reflection on that project, it was a mistake to be in the film as well as directing it, because obviously you can't be in two different places at the same time, and it's very very difficult directing the film. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of brainpower, and when you are also in the film, that's a really really challenging thing to do, yeah. So, hopefully it wasn't too much of a God complex, but... (laughs)
A.P.: Yeah, yeah. I am just curious, maybe I am wrong with that, but seeing Supernova, I have to ask... Were you acting at that small dinner table scene?
H.M.: No, no...
A.P.: So it's a lookalike maybe...
H.M.: Yeah. Maybe, I don't know who are you thinking about, I'll have to rewatch the film, to look up which person was there at the dinner table but no, no, I wasn't there, no...
A.P.: Now moving to Supernova as I was saying, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. This is also a mellow family story, which is basically timeless, if it hadn't been for the LGBTQ+ couple which poses the question nowadays. It is an issue and I am digging that you've presented it in such a suave way, not disturbing at all, not in-your-face, a normalized detail, it doesn't add up much to the story itself.
H.M.: Hm, yeah. Yeah.
A.P.: I am telling you this because I feel like - I've seen many movies at TIFF 2021 - that many have this accent on a political agenda with LGBTQ+, very in-your-face, very poignant and maybe unnatural. Your film is very suave, how did you manage that?
H.M.: Well, I think that it was always... It always seemed very interesting to me that we can make a film in which the central relationship is a gay relationship, but the film doesn't talk about that in any way, It doesn't mention it, as you said, it does not inform the plot or the narrative, it's just presented as a very natural thing, because it is a very natural thing. And in a way I think that is quite political, but it's political in a very quiet way. Which I think other LGBTQ+ films tend not to be - which is not better, nor worse - but I think naturally, gay cinema tends to be about that period of finding your sexuality, or coming out. And I realized there wasn't any films about romantic, mature, same-sex love, and I think it was an original thing to do to me.
A.P.: Ok. I am telling you this because I've read many reviews about your film, and most of them were pointing out the thing that gay relationships are normal in that society. I thought it is not about that, I didn't see the movie with those eyes.
H.M.: That's good, thank you, that's actually very flattering. I think you shouldn't even notice it because it should be so naturally presented in the story that it's just... it's irrelevant...
A.P.: Exactly. So you have also a history in acting in short films, in The Dark Room, The Drift, Blackbird, and you also have a documentary - A Tale of Two Thieves.
H.M.: That's right, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's correct.
A.P.: I'm asking you... is this a kind of coincidence that you have acted in so many short films, or do you have a preference for acting in such films. And if so, why'd you produce only full-length movies?
H.M.: I think when you're acting - unless you are extremely successful and famous - you don't have much choice. When you are starting out especially, I think you tend to do a lot more short films than do feature films. Uhm, so that would probably be the reason for that, but I've done quite a few feature films as well as an actor. But as a film-maker, I've just never been interested in making short films. I like short films, I like short stories...
A.P.: And acting in them also...
H.M.: Yeah, yeah exactly. I fact - I'm just reading a book of short stories now (opens bag) - I am into short movies, short stories, literature and films, but for the films that I make I am much more interested in watching characters develop in a much much longer period of time. That's what interests me as a film-maker, and I am less interested in making short films, yeah.
A.P.: So, since you're so young - because I can assume that as a director...
H.M.: Yeah, right, still older than you (laughs)
A.P.: Yeah, yeah. For sure, for sure. Actually, I'm just turning 21 today.
H.M.: No way! Today?! You kidding me?
A.P.: No, no. So, it's the best gift I could ever ask for.
H.M.: Aw, happy birthday man!
A.P.: Thanks. So - since you're so young, and since you've graduated such a prestigious institution (The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London), I am curious to know what influences you've had, what idols.
H.M.: Oh, many, many. I think... I get inspired by lots of things honestly, and by meeting people, people like yourself. I get a lot of inspiration from real life and I am inspired by books I read, you know, art, photography... In terms of film-making, I suppose I am most inspired by humanist film-makers, I love people that write and direct their own films, I think that... I find that really inspiring. By people like... I love Michael Haneke, Yasujirō Ozu - the Japanese director, Kelly Reichardt - the American director, I love her, Joanna Hogg - the British director, I mean... so many. Yeah.
A.P.: So, you've also seen a model in Linklater?
H.M.: Yeah, definitely. I loved working with him. I think he is a really really lovely relaxed guy, he is really fun to be around, and you can't help but be inspired by the films that he makes because they're so... there's so much variety in his films. And the way he started making films, his first film was very inspirational to me, because he had a small amount of money and a lot of... you know... a lot of desire to make it, and he just got up and made it, I think that's really inspiring. Yeah.
A.P.: Cool, cool. So, I wish to tell you this because I've seen Supernova two times already, liked it a lot. The perspective in the movie... I've somehow thought of someone older directing it... That you should be someone older basically, because it's very calm and settled, and so is your debut movie. Is this a statement, such thing as a possible signature of yours?
H.M.: It's an interesting question. I think... I think it must be in a way, I mean I love all types of films, I really do, and I am trying to make something next that's actually very different to this, but I think there's something that links both of the films that I've made, and - as you pointed out - they're both hopefully kind of quiet and poetic, and the camera is very still and the focus is on the performances, I think that's stuff in other people's cinema that I love, I think I want to do lots of different things, work in lots of different ways, but I think the common element of my films would always be the characters at the heart of them, I come from an acting background, not a film-making background and I think looking at and exploring complex, interesting characters is really what inspires me, yeah.
A.P.: And about that acting background, which derived into film-making background... Back in your childhood days, did you know you were prone to become an actor/director/writer? What did you want to become?
H.M.: Well, my uncle is an actor (and he's actually in the film, he plays the guy with the beard) and I guess when I was a kid I always grew up watching him on the stage, and it always looked like a lot of fun, so I wanted to be an actor from a... yeah... really young age I think. And then as I got older I also realized I was interested in film-making and writing, but that came a bit later. But I think I always wanted to be an actor. Uhm... Yeah, so... Yeah.
A.P.: That's cool, man. And... the last question I have for you - if you have a yet unknown future project of yours... would you like to reveal some details about it?
H.M.: Yeah, well, I'm in the very very early stages of writing it... uhm, so... I'm trying to work out what it is. So I can't honestly say too much about it, because I haven't really figured it out, but it's gonna be very different to the films that I've made, yeah. It's gonna be much more... It's gonna be towards the genre, you know, so I'm working on something that's more like a psychological horror film.
A.P.: Wow, wow. That's cool. I was preparing to ask you: Does it have anything to do with the short stories book you're reading? What's that.
H.M.: No, it doesn't, it doesn't. But you should read... So, Raymond Carver, he's one of my favorite American writer, he writes novels but he's most known for his short stories, and this book of short stories, called Short Cuts, was made into a film. You should see it, it's absolutely beautiful. These stories are amazing, I really recommend his work, yeah.
A.P.: So, you've seen the movie...
H.M.: Yeah, Short Cuts, you should see it, yeah.
A.P.: It's kind of a cliché to ask you, but what do you prefer, the book or the film?
H.M.: Oh, the book, yeah, yeah.
A.P.: Not this, but... in general, like...
H.M.: Oh, I see. I think I prefer books.
A.P.: I was thinking of Trainspotting, you know? I love the book, but the movie there is otherworldly.
H.M.: Yeah, amazing right.
A.P.: It's a bit of an exception for me.
H.M.: Yeah, have you seen the film Under the Skin? With Scarlett Johansson.
A.P.: Heard of it...
H.M.: You should watch that, because it's amazing, but if you watch it and then read the book - it's a very good example of how you adapt something, because the book is so different to the film, but the film is unique, just so beautiful in its own thing. I recommend watching it.
A.P.: Right now I've caught you in a phase where you like psychological horror movies, yeah?
H.M. (laughs): Think so, yeah, yeah.
A.P.: Thank you very much.
H.M.: No, thank you very much. Hey, happy birthday, man! Have a good day!
Listen to this interview in English here.