Q&A: Ken Loach

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CANNES -- Ken Loach is a Cannes veteran, having previously negotiated the Croisette's famous red carpet more than 10 times. He won the Palme d'Or in 2006 for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and a jury prize in 1993 for "Raining Stones." Loach talks to The Hollywood Reporter U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about making a film with a famous French soccer player who became a legend at Manchester United, why humor is important and whether this is his most mischievous movie to date.

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The Hollywood Reporter: You've said the film wouldn't have come about without the involvement of French soccer star Eric Cantona. How so?

Ken Loach: Eric got in touch with a French producer called Pascal Caucheteux, who got in touch with us here at Sixteen Films. Eric was interested in doing a film about his relationship with the fans. He had one particular character idea and we agreed we'd have a go at it. We thought it was all a wind up at first because he (Cantona) is such a special footballer and a remarkable guy. We scratched around and tried to find an idea we could use. The next thing that happened was that Paul (Laverty) wrote a character called Eric Bishop and out of that came the idea that Eric Cantona would be this character spiritual guidance.

THR: Everyone in the U.K. and around the world knows Cantona as a footballer. But he is now establishing himself as an actor and film producer. What was he like to collaborate with?
Loach: It was very good. He had seen one or two of the films we'd (Loach and Laverty) done before and we seemed to be on the same wavelength. We all really enjoyed the idea of sending up the public persona of Eric Cantona. He was very mischievous as a player and especially with the hacks (journalists) who wrote the back pages, so we had great fun with that side.

THR: How would you describe the process of marrying your established skills as a filmmaker and the acting chops of Cantona, who also happens to be an exec producer?

Loach: It was very simple and very straightforward. We kept it as a surprise for (lead actor) Steve Evets that Eric was going to be in it. We wanted the surprise to be as real as we could make it. Steve (Evets) was so knocked out that Eric Cantona was in the same room that it helped launch the whole sequence of scenes with Eric in them.

THR: Did you shoot the initial scene with Cantona first to maximize the surprise?

Loach: We shot the whole film in sequence, so no. But we did have to smuggle Eric on to set in a blanket to keep it a surprise. That is not an easy thing to do because he is a big man to hide.

THR: The film is written by Paul Laverty, with whom you have previously collaborated. Is it like working with an old friend now?

Loach: It was like that from the beginning. He lives in Madrid so we don't meet as often as we would like. But most days there are lots of texts flying back and forth between us.

THR: Laverty says you both decided you wanted a bit more mischief in it after the previous two "tough" movies to keep you sane. Did the levity keep you sane during the shoot?

Loach: Even if you are doing quite harsh films, the actual process doesn't mean people are walking about with long faces. The key moments can be very serious but you have to keep a sense of levity because there are always long, hard days making a film. The long, hard days are the same whatever kind of film you are making.

THR: Would it be fair to describe "Looking for Eric" as the most lighthearted movie you have made to date?

Loach: I don't know, I didn't really think about it (when I was making it). "Riff Raff" and "Raining Stones" had a lot of humor in them. There's always an element of humor in my films.

THR: Your films always carry a strong sense of working class Brits. Is this simply a source from which you take inspiration?

Loach: Yes, it is certainly that. People's comic maturity tends to shine through working people more than people shielded from the harder bits of life. Extreme circumstances make comedy more intense, I think.

THR: Steve Evets really shines as a messed up postman in this film. How did you go about choosing Evets for the role?

Loach: We cast the net very wide indeed as always. The one defining factor we had was that the actor had to be from Manchester. At the time of Cantona playing at Manchester United, the club was only just about to begin its growth into a global brand. It was important that the actor came from Manchester and knew that time.

THR: Evets holds his own on screen with Cantona. Was there a moment when you thought, that's it, Evet's our man for the job?

Loach: It's always clearer in hindsight than it is at the time. But for me it is a very gradual process and I'm not very good at making first decisions on casting. We probably met six or seven times altogether, doing little pieces of dialogue and scenes, trying to throw things at Steve. Each time he came up trumps.

THR: The list of backers for this movie is almost as long as the cast list. What is it like being an independent film director in the current economic climate?

Loach: That's really (producer) Rebecca O'Brien's province. But that has always been how we have done our films together. It looks a bit comical to have all those people at the beginning rather than one main backer. But it means no one has sufficient power to enforce cuts or changes. It keeps the autonomy to make the film with us. And that is the way I would have it every time.

THR: You've brought many movies to Cannes previously. Do you like it as much as they like you?

Loach: The audiences are always very warm, or at least that has always been my experience, touch wood. It's that mix of a marketplace and out and out showbiz glamour. You tend to have good conversations with journalists and people write about films in interesting ways. It's very hard work and they really work you for three days.
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