Tribeca: Andrea Arnold Explains Why She Disliked Her 'Wuthering Heights' Adaptation

Andrea Arnold

The 'American Honey' auteur told Ira Sachs that she nearly cast a non-actor in Michael Fassbender's 'Fish Tank' role: "I had my eye on a bin man in the park."

Andrea Arnold was not pleased with her last film, Wuthering Heights.

“People keep saying one day I will come to like it,” she told Ira Sachs in a Monday afternoon discussion at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. “It was a difficult experience making it, for various reasons. I find it hard to look at it.”

The filmmaker said she is always initially inspired to make a film after envisioning a specific image. For her adaptation of the Emily Bronte classic, it was “a misty moor on a day when the earth and sky are merging, and there’s a big animal climbing inside of the moor. But you went in and saw that it was a man, carrying rabbits on his back. It was pure and beautiful.” However, “when we got to film it, we had half an hour to get it before the day was over. It was bright sunshine and blue sky, and we had about three rabbits.”

“I felt so unhappy, [but] I did use the shot,” Arnold lamented. “What can you do at that point? You can’t because you’re working with a whole team of people and there’s money.”

Additionally, “It was a very difficult time for me, that film. I was in a dark place," she said. "When I think about how it was, it’s associated with some personal stuff.”

Her upcoming film, American Honey — starring Sasha Lane, Shia Labeouf and Riley Keough as a crew of teens who sell magazines across the Midwest — is her first to be filmed in the U.S., and she’s proud of it.

“[It] is the most ‘me’ I’ve ever been. It felt like a nice thing,” Arnold reflected. “There are times you’re trying to trust yourself, but you’re second-guessing yourself as well. This time I really did.”

To prepare for the A24 release, which will first debut at the Cannes Film Festival next month, the filmmaker took six or seven solo road trips to foster her own emotional connection with America. What shocked her most about seeing America this way? “Some of the poverty in some of the places really shocked me," said Arnold. "It seemed more intense than Britain. There was a town I went through in the South — I did a lot of driving in the South, I loved the South — and I was quite upset by what I saw: closed factories and shops, huge poverty. I guess I didn’t know that, to the degree that I saw it. And drugs ... loads of drugs.”

The arthouse auteur admitted that “lots of the people I make the films about probably won’t see my films,” but still, “I want to show those worlds. I’m always hoping for more compassion for the people I’m showing. … I’m not trying to please anyone. I’m trying to show, but not please.”

The cast of American Honey features many young unknown actors, whom she gave day-by-day directions and script pages to stay somewhat on track. “I really do think I pushed it. It was very tough, there were scenes when I had loads of non-actors and we were running out of time, and I thought, 'I really don’t know how I’m going to get this done,'” Arnold said. However, “I love chaos because it brings life. … I like to be surprised on set.”

One memorable role in 2009’s Fish Tank was initially set for a non-actor. “I was actually going to cast the Michael Fassbender role as a real person — I had my eye on a bin man in the park,” she said. “But he’s supposed to be a bit older and all-knowing, and the combination worked well.”

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