Earlier this week I got to speak with director John Crowley about crafting and styling this film, about the differing acting styles of Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana, and about one key scene in which all of the themes come together.
Be wary of small-ish spoilers, but here’s some of what Crowley had to tell me.
We didn’t set out and say “Let’s have steely greys and blues everywhere” but it was something that developed as the surveillance theme suggested certain locations as being appropriate for the film. To give you an example, it was scripted that we shoot in the Emirates football stadium. Had they played ball, that would have had a very particular look. We then went off to Chelsea, where I was quite keen to film for that West London geographical location, and that had a very different look to the colour scheme of our film.
We wound end up going to Wembley and I wasn’t too keen on it at first – it felt too big, it felt like an international stadium, I had to just embrace those things that didn’t feel quite right – but when we were actually shooting there, I saw the quality of how it turned up in the camera. Norman Foster’s architecture lends itself to this quite high-sheen surveillance state aesthetic that was threading its way throughout the film.
Claudia [Rebecca Hall’s character] is a slightly OCD, squeaky clean person who would notice if one book on the shelf was out of place. You can see her character in her apartment in all of the glass. It was down in Canary Wharf and that felt to me like a different side of London to anywhere else, appropriate in trying to show as many different contemporary sides of London that would lend themselves to observation as possible. There’s a certain coldness to the apartment, certainly to the way that we’ve dressed it, an emotionally arid quality to it that felt appropriate to that character and where you join her, having had this relationship in which she feels that she was the sole damaged party.
Likewise, Martin [Eric Bana’s character] feels like he was the sole damaged party – his marriage is gone, this relationship is gone. And so he’s in this flat he’s rented with bubble wrapped paintings leaning against the wall. These are the places where we meet these people before they gradually start to move back towards one another.
I don’t put parameters on a scene when I’m working with actors. I met Eric and Rebecca separately but when I saw them together, when we did a week’s research about four months before we shot the film, when we were reading the script together every day and they were immersing themselves in the world, they struck me as being like a pair of racehorses. They’re both tall, elegant people and that wasn’t intentionally chosen, they just happened to be. The thing that drew me to Eric was that he has a wonderful physicality as an actor. This character needed to have that, somebody you would feel had been on the Sculling team for Oxford or whatever, and that it was just there, that it didn’t feel like an actor really trying to get it right just for this role.
And Eric also has the ability to express a lot of internalisation with very little vocal expression. He’s a very different kind of actor to Rebecca who, I think, is a wonderful stage actress. Wonderful film actress as well, but she can turn a line amazingly, pivot on one word in a line and express the meaning of it. Trying to marry those two disparate traditions felt right. And the actors felt, in a curious way, quite similar to one another, as creatures.
When we were in that a cold anonymous hotel room with glass on all sides, we were trying to photograph memories in it, first of all, and the playfulness. The walking on the feet moment was something that, after about fifteen minutes of us just shooting a variety of stuff, Rebecca just did. It was quite playful. She just stood on his feet and started dancing around and it felt right because of the shape they both are, and it felt like a really nice memory to hold onto, amongst the other things we’d shot.
Thematically, that scene, it felt like a very useful way of trying to land so many things that were going on in the film in one place. One of the things that appealed to me about the script was the way this story set out to rhyme private morality with public morality. Not say that they are the same, necessarily, or that one is the expression of the other, but the way in which these two characters are naturally quite private, are suffering a great deal of pain and misinterpreting what one another is going through, and are then caught up in this situation where the legal system has a broken off, secret bit that’s open to abuse or shady dealings, people obfuscating. To be able to have their secret relationship be their trump card, to have nobody else in the world know that they had spent a night in this room, to go there and for him to have to explain to her why they were going to have to compromise and for her to challenge it, and actually realise within the scene that he’s not just a shallow shit, it’s that he cares too much, maybe cares a bit too much about her… it’s a fulcrum scene.
You go out with a script that has to be thematically coherent but when you go slightly off piste on set it’s like going fishing, you’re hoping to bump into certain accidents. When you see the footage, certain things will stand out to you as being better. The unhappy side is when you don’t get enough of this, when the core isn’t strong enough you’re not feeding it into something.
At the start, as I come from the theatre as well, Rebecca and I would go off on one talking about intentions and how to get under the skin of the script, and Eric would just sit there, quietly. Now, he’s very quiet anyway – he’s the strong, silent type – and when I would direct him, what was quite disconcerting would be that he’d say very little. Usually, in my experience, when you’r directing actors and they’re saying very little it’s because it’s not chiming with them, they’re thinking “Fuck. Am I going to tell him that this makes no sense to me?” I would always have to ask Eric “Does that make sense?” and he’d go “Hm hm” and then he’d do it and it would all show up. He was just simply listening. But the first time he did sit with Rebecca and I when we were unpacking scenes, he sent me an e-mail afterwards saying “I loved it and watching Rebecca and you bore down into the meaning of a line was fascinating.” This was about bringing those two very traditions together. He’s pure film and he loves to be directed. With Rebecca, we would talk and she’d love to do a swift turnaround into takes so she wouldn’t lose the feeling of it, it’s closer to music or her being a jazz player; with Eric, he’d sit, go quiet and I’d let him run. He’s like a long jump runner who needs to get it in his sights and then off he’d go.
Thanks again to John for talking to me. Closed Circuit is in UK cinemas now and it’s probably not at all what the trailers would have you think it is.
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