'The Look of Love' Director Michael Winterbottom (Q&A)

Michael Winterbottom TIFF - P 2013
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Michael Winterbottom TIFF - P 2013

The former Golden Bear winner opens up about the perils of improv, naked women and why Berlin is a party town.

BERLIN --The Look of Love, Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of British adult-magazine publisher and entrepreneur Paul Raymond -- starring regular collaborator Steve Coogan alongside Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Tamsin Egerton -- marks a return to dramedy for a director who works across all genres.

Winterbottom’s modern take on the King Midas story, which sees Raymond become one of the richest men in Britain at the cost of losing those closest to him, lands in Berlin after an outing at the Sundance Film Festival. Winterbottom, a festival-circuit regular with Golden and Silver Bear awards from Berlin on his shelf, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about creating strong female roles in a film set in the world of pornography, curbing Coogan’s natural drive to improvise and why pulling his projects together can be a "random" experience.

THR: How did you come to this project?

Michael Winterbottom: I’ve worked with Coogan before and enjoy working with him. We’re always looking for ideas to work together on. He came up with the idea of doing a film and did a quick impression of Paul Raymond, and it seemed like a good idea.
THR: How do you explain Raymond to audiences outside the U.K. who might not be familiar with him?

Winterbottom: He made money from property, pornography, clubs and entertainment. But really, in a way, if we talk about his career a lot, it’s slightly misleading about the film. The film is really more in the end about his relationship with his wife, his daughter and [1970s British sex symbol] Fiona Richmond.
THR: Were his publications a big part of your youth growing up?

Winterbootom: [Laughs] I was aware of them, like anyone. I didn’t have a massive connection with Paul Raymond, but it was definitely Steve’s idea. I’m blaming Steve.
THR: You’ve worked with him three times now, on 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip. How’s your working relationship?

Winterbottom: Obviously, quite a lot of things are improvised. This is slightly different, because although there is quite a lot of improvisation in it, there is also a lot of plot. With the Raymond film, it goes from 1958 to 1992, and it does try and chart briefly his move from stage hypnotist to club owner to theater producer to property owner to magazine publisher -- so there’s a lot of stuff to get in.
THR: Did you have to rein him in at all?

Winterbottom: Well, yes. The shoot is busier, because the shoot is more fragmented. We had that problem with 24 Hour Party People and with Look of Love. We’re covering 30-odd years, so one day you’re shooting 1958 and the next it’s 1976; sometimes it’s on the same day. When you come to the content of it, whether in the script or in the editing, if you go off on one long ramble you’ve still got all the other aspects of his life to cover. It’s tricky to get that material and organize it into a coherent shape.
THR: How did you approach working with your actresses, given the nature of the subject?

Winterbottom: The Paul Raymond world is a world where he made lots of money from naked or semi-naked women, with clubs full of men watching women as objects of desire. But what was nice about the shape of the film at the end is that the three women in his life do not end up as simple objects of desire. They’re really strong characters. The heart of the film is really those three women.
THR: You’re a prolific filmmaker. How do you choose what to make?

Winterbottom: There are some films you really want to make that never get made, because I also have to persuade a financier that they really want it made, too. For me, it’s about whether the film seems interesting at the beginning, and then, after a year or two of developing, does it still seem interesting enough that you want to make it after all that time?

THR: How hard is it to get film projects off the ground in the current environment?

Winterbottom: It’s random from my point of view anyway. The angle I look at it [from] is sometimes you have a film and think, "That should be easy," and you struggle; other times it all comes together.
THR: IFC Films took U.S. movie rights to Look of Love in a deal with StudioCanal. How important is it to get a U.S. deal?

Winterbottom: Obviously, you want audiences everywhere to see it. I think there’s a disproportionate emphasis put on whether America takes a film or not. I remember when we started Revolution Films, we’d get half the budget out of America -- and you just don’t get that these days. So, financially, it has become less important.
THR: Do you like Berlin?

Winterbottom: As a British film, a European film, it’s much easier to get everyone to go to Berlin. So all the cast and crew can go, and we can have a big party in Berlin. So it’s fun. The first film I made [Butterfly Kiss] was selected for Berlin, and since then I’ve been a few times, so I’m hoping we’re going to have a good, enjoyable night out.