On the eve of the UK release of Ben Wheatley’s eagerly anticipated filmed adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel, HIGH-RISE, I am exclusively posting the entire transcripts of a series of interviews that I conducted with the cast and crew of the film for the British Film Institute film magazine, Sight and Sound. The magazine’s editor, Nick James, has kindly given me permission to post these in full, extracts of which can be found in the April edition of the magazine. The content of all these interviews remains the copyright of Sight & Sound.
Thanks: Nick James at Sight & Sound, Ben Wheatley, Luke Evans, Zoe Flower, Alaineé Kent at RPC, James Rocarols (co-interviewer), Justine McGlone (for transcribing everything!)
Interview #3 – Luke Evans
Stats: Recorded 14th August 2014 – Audio recording 16:21 – Luke’s caravan on-set at Bangor Leisure Centre, Northern Ireland
S&S: Your character is an interesting one and must be fascinating to to get into because you’re sort of impulsive, and you’re the one who indulges in his animal side but at least he challenges the system whereas Laing is sort of detached and observes it.
Luke Evans: Yeah yeah, he absolutely does. He’s the agitator, he’s the one who brings up the questions and as much as he’s slightly crazy, I think he has moments of absolute pure clarity in this insanity. Which is an interesting thing to play. Very interesting, he’s sort of the gut of the storyline. He’s the one that has the animalistic feeling about him and he’s passionate and his emotions are driven from this, right inside him.
S&S: Has it enabled you to have quite a lot of fun with the role, as well, I guess?
LE: A huge amount yeah.
S&S: It looked like it from the scenes we were just watching.
LE: Yeah, I mean that’s quite a pleasant one. There’s quite a lot of, much darker stuff that he does, but it’s it’s been really challenging because it’s just so different to everything I’ve done before. Which is sort of why I wanted to do it.
S&S: How is it different to other things that you’ve done?
LE: Well it’s so off the wall, I mean the subject matter is, there’s nothing straightforward about the storyline. About the characters and the dynamic between the relationships between the people and just the whole idea of you know the social hierarchy. So all of that creates a very interesting back drop, it’s a very interesting thing to play. It’s dealing with the 70’s.
S&S: How did you get to become involved with the film? Was it just like an audition or did they know your work and chose you?
LE: Yeah, Ben wanted to meet me. So we went for a dinner. Yeah. That was it.
S&S: Simple as that, okay.
S&S: All of the characters go on this deterioration in a way and the fact that you’re filming out of sequence means that you have to plot yourself where you are on the graph each day.
LE: Yeah, I mean we had to start right at the end of the film, and I just get more deranged and crazy and bloodied. I’m a total wreck. We had to shoot that in the first week. It’s very difficult because you have to really know or at least have an idea of what level ten is, so that you can then start back tracking and work out what level, like today is a very happy, sort of crazy, funny scene but there’s a very different level to where I am at the end of the film so, that was a challenge in itself, was just sort of pushing it far enough and hoping that I’d done it, gone to the level I wanted to go to. And then you’re constantly referring back to shots that we did so that you know you can sort of give it some sort of journey. But Ben’s great. Ben knows when he’s got it. It sort of helps a lot especially on something like this. I think because of his editorial background, he just knows when he’s got what he needs up to the level that he needs it. But often what we’ve been doing with Wilder, because he’s very unpredictable, just everything about him is unpredictable. There’s a lot of Oliver Reed I’m channeling for this role and…I just thought he was very right, that this is a man who’s got this sort of fire in his eyes and you know you’re talking to him and you’re not sure whether he’s gonna punch you in the face or knock you out or, or buy you a drink and have a great night, want to play some darts, I mean that’s a really interesting thing to play so because of that personality, I can play scenes ten or I can play scenes at one and still get the same story over but in a very different way. Or start at one and end at ten or start at ten and end at one. So we’ve tried all of those things and there’s been scenes where that’s been absolutely like the license has been mine to choose.
S&S: Have you departed from the script or done improvisation? Gone on in a different direction and does Ben encourage that?
LE: Yeah, loads. Yeah, yeah loads.
S&S: But, like you say, it suits that character.
LE: Totally, yeah and it’s that sort of film anyway. It has that freeness about it and the lucidity. When you’re working with a director who works very closely with the writer, who is his wife, you know there’s mutual respect there and they know we’re not going to ruin the script and so if you move it around a little bit to make it sound a little bit more right for you, then they’re totally up for that. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.
S&S: Everyone says it’s enjoyable! It hasn’t been oppressive in any way being in such a confined space with this material?
LE: No, I’ve always left him on set. I never take him home. It’s just not the sort of character you want to really take home! It’s a very stark moment. But it’s a very interesting experience and also Ben allows you to see some footage, so I’ve seen some of my big moments and that’s an interesting thing. I’m not used to doing that that’s been interesting for me to see and be slightly shocked at what I’ve done, in a sort of wow, who is that. Which is a nice thing. With somebody like Wilder, he’s nothing like me I can tell you that. Nothing at all, so it’s great.
S&S: Did Ben suggest anything to watch beforehand or was there anything he said oh you might want to have a look at this?
LE: I watched all of Ben’s stuff! I read the book. He did mention a couple of films, I can’t remember what they were now. I did see them. But we talked more about characters really, and character reference and my idea straight away was Oliver Reed, he just felt like Oliver Reed.
S&S: They always used to say Oliver Reed loved children, as well, didn’t they?
LE: Yeah, he had a very childlike mind. Yeah and that’s the thing in the film, the kids love him and he’s really fun and he’s naughty. He is quite naughty. So I actually did a lot of research on Oliver Reed. That’s probably where my most research was done, on him. Watching interviews and footage of his work and that really helped. Even when you’re watching me your heart is racing, thinking is he gonna punch that guy.
S&S: You just don’t know what he’s going to do next.
LE: It’s fantastic though, that sort of self confidence but not in a, he’s quite charming with it kind of way, and I guess that’s also playing Wilder, you know as much as he’s a bit of a rapist and he’s a bit of a drinker and he’s left his wife and two children to look after themselves and he’s got this crazy idea of making a documentary, you know he’s a bit of a player but there’s something likable about him as well and I think that’s always interesting to play the black and the white of the character so that people can be going oh he’s actually quite lovable in a way and then you think fucking hell he’s just gone and raped Charlotte Melville and there’s all of that stuff going on.
S&S: Yeah the audience has to have that struggle in them where they see that there’s something slightly enticing about the complete freedom and lack of inhibition that goes on in the high rise and especially within Wilder. At the same time the audience needs to know.
LE: And it’s not just the audience you watch, Laing says that brilliant line about Wilder that he’s the sanest man in the building. He actually says that line and you’re thinking wow what did you see that nobody else did. There is some beautiful moments in the film, which you’ll see, there are total moments of absolute peace, silence, and saneness which is you think wow he’s actually got that in him.
S&S: How were your final scenes with Jeremy Irons?
LE: Oh gosh…that was a good day.
S&S: Quite a different death scene to the book ?
LE: Yeah, I think so. It was quite violent, quite vicious. It’s not just his death, it’s then mine. Yeah that was a full on day. And I’m literally like a shell of my former self, completely crazed, trying to find my wife and barefoot, top covered in blood, muck, and dirt. Eyes bulging from being bashed with a BAFTA and then being beaten up by Royal with his walking stick, which was fun! But no it came off very well. I mean at that point in the film you must be like when is this trip going to come down from the pinnacle because it just, it’s a huge trip, it’s mental.
S&S: And that was your first week!
LE: That was my first week. Fucking hell.
S&S: So that’s quite an entry isn’t it? Did Jeremy Irons plunge himself into the physicality of his role pretty well?
LE: Uh yeah, I’ve still got the scars hahahaha. He broke his stick on my back yeah, yeah, yeah he went for it. He’s old school. Yeah, I just went with it too. I’m not going to complain. It’ll be a good story one day in my memoirs.
S&S: So you haven’t got that much left to film now?
LE: Yeah, still got some very big scenes to do though. Really big scenes. The heart of the film, I think, is still to be shot believe it or not.
S&S: That’s good that they’re still building up to that.
LE: Yeah, I think it’s because we all trust Ben so much and it sounds like such a cliché but I’m not blowing smoke up anyone’s ass. He really does give you the sense of you just trust him. He knows what he wants and when he’s got it we just move on and I’m not used to working like that. So that’s been an awfully refreshing thing to experience on an hour by hour basis. You’re just hanging about when you’re not on set and when you are on set it’s like he’s got it great we’re moving on. It’s great.
S&S: It’s been a fast, but not fast paced, a very constant pace…?
LE: Oh no, this has been fast, faster than I would ever have expected.
S&S: Eight weeks? Is it eight weeks?
LE: No, six.
S&S: Six weeks. Yeah, that is fast.
LE: It’s extraordinarily fast, but even his pace on set is fast. But I guess coming from the editor’s background he knows the shots he needs. He’s editing every night. He’s got the film already up to where we finished last night.
S&S: Oh really, okay?
LE: Which is an incredible thing. I mean it’s raw footage three hours long and it’s not the shot that he would take but that’s what he’s got so he gets to see what we’ve done. Which is an amazing thing to work like that.
S&S: Well, I mean it helps you as an actor move on to the next. Do you ever watch a bit and think oh yeah I’m not sure about that?
LE: Umm only everything I do!
S&S: Very self critical?
LE: Unfortunately, yeah. It’s an actor’s prerogative I think.
S&S: Same as some directors, I think sometimes its difficult for them to watch their film back as they know it too well.
LE: Yeah, you’re always self-critical and I’m a perfectionist.. I have a real tendency with anything in my life, I’m like I could have done that better so I’m watching, I mean there was some scenes where I impressed myself. I was like fuck where did that come from, and then others, other scenes you’re just looking, think yeah I could have done this. I trust him, he’s going to make us all look good. And it’s only your opinion and when you’re in a film it’s very difficult to look at it from the outside because you’re so in it and it’s very difficult. I mean I try not to do it and I try and appreciate just the journey and enjoy it. It takes four takes, four times to watch a film before I can actually sit and watch it like my mother would watch it or my mates would watch it.
S&S: Has dressing in the 70’s styles been fun too?
LE: Yeah, I mean I love it. I feel like I’ve got a complete mask almost where I’ve got this moustache, it’s completely different to how I look and then on top of this character that I’ve decided to portray in this certain way I feel like I’ve got a lot of very heavy duty tools now that are allowing me to just, just go nuts. And it’s really fun. It’s really, really fun. And especially when I hear Ben giggling sometimes, I know I’ve done something right. I’ve pressed the right button there. His dark laugh.
S&S: But yeah I guess he’d really want to encourage you to take on those aspects of the role, wouldn’t he…?
LE: Yeah, I mean he’s really got to go there with of all the characters, I think Wilder is the one that is just so primal.
S&S: That’s the thing with the book is that it’s like almost three parts with the three main characters really. You know, the three main protagonists.
LE: Well, they’re almost parts , different parts of Ballard, aren’t they?
S&S: Almost like different parts of the building, really as well.
LE: Completely. They’re representatives of the different classes and cast very well. I mean I’m super working class, Tom’s from Eton and Jeremy Irons is Jeremy Irons so you know.
S&S: But where else would he be but at the top?
LE: It’s very well cast. So when does this come out?
S&S: Well, we have no idea basically, but we suspect when the film comes out. I would imagine. But we don’t know for sure. I did something with Ben last year and that still hasn’t been published so we’ll see.
LE: He’s going to be huge and I think he’s in complete control of where he wants to go.
S&S: This is that stepping stone.
LE: It is a stepping stone but I also feel like it’s a stepping stone that he’s put down.
S&S: Oh no absolutely.
LE: You know what I mean, it’s like he’s choosing where he goes and how he crosses that river. If that’s a metaphor.
S&S: His work is doing very well in the States too, certainly SIGHTSEERS did well and DOWN TERRACE.
LE: I think probably more than we realize and you know there’s big people there that they really know who he is like Scorsese…
S&S: Absolutely, yeah. He spent some time with Scorsese recently.
LE: And you know my American team, they think he’s the next big thing.
S&S: But you’re right. I think he’s going to choose his steps carefully, isn’t he. Which is good.
LE: He’s not a sellout. I don’t think he’s just going to take the cheque. He doesn’t have that ability. He’s too honest. He’s too sincere. It’s about the work it’s not about the big money. And if that comes with it, all the better. But I think he’s got a real pure passion about what he does. He lives and breathes it. And just to be around that is always a very nice feeling.
S&S: And the fact that, Amy is such a good screenwriter as well. They make such a good working collaboration.
LE: Maybe I hate the comparison but I feel like I’m meeting the young Peter Jackson when Peter started working a very long time ago but there’s no Pete now he’s making these big movies. It feels like that passion, that person who wants to keep hold of what he does and have control over it. Obviously Pete’s wife was involved in everything he does so these comparisons I’ve drawn from them, it almost feels like maybe this is what Pete was like when he first started out, you know.
S&S: It’s a good correlation, yeah yeah.
LE: Yeah, so it’s interesting. Interesting stuff.
S&S: Well, thank you very much indeed for your time.
LE: No problem.