Chris New and Tom Cullen as Glyn and Russell in Weekend
Andrew Haigh's latest second feature film is being released across the UK on Friday 4 November; a snapshot into the weekend when Russell and Glyn meet and the strange, exciting way in which a couple can connect in their first hours together. Shot entirely in Nottingham over a couple of weeks last year, we caught up with Andrew to dig a bit deeper into why Weekend is making waves with the critics and across the Atlantic...
Weekend is a window into the very first sparks of a love affair - was it difficult to express something which is so often very personal?
It was quite hard. I think we’ve all experienced that – or most people have – first kind of meeting with someone, and that spark, and that fear. It’s quite terrifying sometimes but also incredibly exciting as your emotions are all mixed up at that point. I was just trying to be honest with these two people, how they react and struggle to portray themselves to each other.
When I wrote it I almost ignored that it would be in the cinema or that it would ever be seen by anyone! That’s the best way for me to approach it so that I can be as honest as possible -worry about the reaction later on. Also, I had to not worry about it being too messy; those kind of relationships are messy and complicated and can seem a bit strange. They don’t all end with roses and cheering. Whenever you watch dramas about romantic entanglements it always follows such a course that nobody ever experiences in real life. Weekend was about playing around with that notion and trying to subvert it a little bit.
Did the film draw from any personal experiences you’ve had?
It’s not autobiographical but there are certainly elements of me in both of those characters, the situations and feelings and insecurities and all those things. It’s funny because you don’t ever really get to see your friends in that really personal environment; when you get together with someone you’re always very alone with it. Actually, I’ve not really thought about it like that before, but it has to come from personal experience because you never see anyone else doing that… Not that I’ve had lots and lots of weekend length relationships!
Lenton Flats, home to Russell
There aren’t that many gay love stories on celluloid, certainly not as the central theme – did you feel you were breaking any taboos?
I always get really frustrated that there isn’t more of a similar thing on screen with the depiction of gay relationships. I wanted to do something different because it’s odd to me how few films there are like this that get made. We’ve been trying to think of the last British film about gay people that’s been in the cinemas, and Beautiful Thing is the only one – that was fifteen years ago! I think the problem is that the people who finance films say “oh, we’ve done that now. We’ve done Queer as Folk and we’ve done it with Beautiful Thing – there’re no more stories that need to be told about gay people…” Which is obviously ridiculous because gay people have loads of interesting stories to tell. There’s also the fear that no-one will go see it, so you have to kind of break through that a bit.
Were you worried that the homosexual element of the story would put a lot of cinema goers off?
It’s tricky ground. I could have watered things down to get more of an audience perhaps but I felt that if I toned elements down then it would have been a less successful film because people would have realised that I wasn’t being authentic. I just had to not worry too much. Let’s face it, a bunch of straight lads are not going to see this film on a Friday night. That’s never going to happen so to pretend that we could get that audience by not having the sex scenes would be ridiculous. My hope was that gay people would go see it, and that other people would go and see it too, people who are open enough to get it.
How hard was it to cast the central characters of Russell and Glen - they have such a good chemistry?
I spent a long time casting and with those two when they were in a room improvising in the audition there was just a spark. I think more than anything it was an intellectual spark: in reality, when you actually meet someone, that’s what attracts you to them, an intellectual excitement and you’re fascinated by them and they’re something new and something different. And also, I think the thing about chemistry is that it’s also about just being a good actor. Everything about the atmosphere on set was about making their relationship feel natural - they got on really well and it was fun. It was scripted but they were also encouraged to improvise when they wanted to, so for the three of us it was about creating a little unit together and they were free to try whatever they wanted. We tried to make it feel like an exciting endeavour and with that comes a spontaneity and with that then comes a chemistry and it all helps to create what you see.
The film took just over two weeks to shoot – was that a choice or due to budget restrictions?
Seventeen days, yeah, but if we’d have had more money we probably wouldn’t have shot for any longer. We tried to create a certain type of intensity that we thought would reflect on the screen. Most scenes were one shot and it wasn’t a crazy schedule with us working twelve or fifteen hour days or anything. People on film sets make it harder than they need to – they need to relax and enjoy themselves more instead of screaming and shouting!
What was the hardest thing about making Weekend?
I think the hardest thing for me was writing the script and getting the money, but when you start shooting you kind of shut your eyes, jump in, keep your fingers crossed and do the best you can! It’s all kind of a daze because we were shooting this time last year and then we were screening it at SXSW in March, it was a really quick turnaround.
What made you pick Nottingham?
I’d only been to Nottingham twice before – I spent a drunken NYE there about ten years ago – but I knew I didn’t want to shoot it in London. You can be gay and not live in London, even though people don’t seem to think that exists. I don’t think if you’re not from Nottingham you would necessarily know it was Nottingham, it was about setting it in a city that could be anywhere in the UK that isn’t London or Manchester. Nottingham is good because it’s quite big, it’s got an interesting cultural scene and it’s got a gay community. It’s not a backwater but it’s not London. Also, I love going to cities that I don’t know very well and visually it was really interesting to me.
A film that I love is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning which was shot in Nottingham in the sixties. I love that film so I wanted Weekend to be, in a way, an update of that film, a modern version… or a weird upgrading of it. I watched SNSM a few weeks ago and you see the chimney with smoke coming out of it and it’s interesting as you get to see how Nottingham has changed which is really interesting.
After the success at SXSW, you’ve had incredible reviews upon its general release in the US, with the New York Times and Bret Easton Ellis, amongst others, raving about it…
I saw that tweet, it was amazing! I was, like, “Bret Eaton Ellis!” It was the coolest tweet, I want that on my wall somewhere. It feels amazing because you really don’t know and I haven’t actually watched the film since SXSW because I find it really difficult to watch a film once I’ve made it. You just don’t expect the New York Times to be talking about it and for a film like this it helps it enormously because it puts it out there. It’s been doing really well in America - it’s just brilliant and certainly not what we expected.
Are you raring to go on your next project?
It’s hard… I’m working on my own stuff which isn’t written yet because it takes me so long to do stuff. I’ve got some scripts I’m being sent but I don’t want to do anything just for the sake of it and I’d love to make a film next year but if it’s not right then I’m happy to wait. It’s about making the right decision, it’s so important that what I do next is the right thing. I don’t want to make a film that’s the same subject matter or the same world as Weekend. I think some of the themes that exist at the heart of the film will probably be in everything I do but the world will be different.
I have to mention this - I noticed a LeftLion sticker on the door of Russell’s flat…
That’s cool – I didn’t realise that!
Was it already there then?
No, we put all of those things on. Most of our crew were from Nottingham, they just brought stuff in to decorate the back of the door… that’s cool.
Andrew Haigh will be at the gala screening, with a Q&A, of Weekend on Tuesday 1 November at Broadway. Weekend is released nationally on Friday 4 November.
Official Weekend website