Interview: Justin Pemberton, director of Capital in the Twenty First Century
1 July 2020
Adapting one of the most groundbreaking and powerful books of our time, Capital in the Twenty First...
On His Formative Experience of the Theatre
“Growing up in Glasgow in the 50s, pantomime was obviously a big thing. I remember my first visit: there was a guy on stilts –at least I hope they were stilts – I was maybe 4 or 5, started greeting. I supposed that stayed with me, I’ve always been quite a reserved person, but the idea of performing was totally out of the window after that!"
On the Difference Between Film and Theatre
"I’ve always associated theatre with danger, it's a different language to film. The major difference for me is that on a film set is that you have control – you can stop and start when things aren’t working. The sense of performance is also different: actors in a film are “behaving” rather than “acting”, putting on a pretence – at least in my films, I asked the actors to indulge in a level of behaviour which is natural and human, something you can't often say of the theatre. Theatre is never “finished” like a film is – it can be endlessly revisional, night after night. Which scares me!"On Adapting Local Hero for the Stage
“The first thing I had to ask is “what is the film about?” and to me, Local Hero is elusive. Obviously, Mac goes through something, his character changes, but here aren’t so many dramatic situations you actually see changing him – it’s something to do with osmosis. And this certainly wouldn’t work on stage.
Mark Knopfler always says “It’s about a beach. That’s it" – he insists on that. And he’s true to what he delivers in the movie, and in these new songs for the musical. In the film, he created a geological hum, created the place as a character – and that’s another challenge – imbuing the stage with the character of the beach, the physicality, the atmosphere.
The stage musical format forces us more on to the characters, maybe allows us to explore something different.”
On Working with Mark Knopfler
“Mark ended up on location in the film – he put the ceilidh band together, with some local musicians, some people he knew. It was a luxury for him, but set his mode of working – he felt he was part of the team from the word go. It was also what let him really understand the place – and he made those rocks sing!”On Casting Burt Lancaster
“When I was working on the script, I happened upon an article in TIME Magazine on Burt Lancaster – it was early in the process, and I hadn’t even started thinking about casting – and Burt talked about his greatest regret: not making a comedy. It just clicked for me right then! From then on, Happer's voice was his. David Puttnam met him at an awards ceremony – when he was doing Chariots of Fire, and Burt was doing Atlantic City – and made a deal!”
On Shooting Local Hero
“There was a nice company atmosphere to the whole shoot, all on location – the cast got on well. Peter Riegert (Mac) even had a pretty convincing Scots accent off-camera – though it may have been the 42 year old malt! I know for a fact that most of the crew also count it as their most enjoyable experience of making movies, especially in Pennan. It was an enjoyable shoot for everyone apart from me!
We had a wonderful generation of Scottish actors – we had too many good actors on that film, and couldn’t use them all! That’s where the little incidental scenes, like the guys in the ceilidh, came from.”On That Ending
"The film that I wrote ended up in Mac’s apartment – the polaroids he took wouldn’t even last two summers in the Texas heat. I was laying it on thick! We had some test screenings in America, and there were problems – one guy grabbed me on the way out of a cinema saying “You’ve got no right to play with the American movie hero like that! An American hero doesn’t just look out of his window in the fog."
The studio told me they’d “let me” reshoot the ending. Their idea was that Mac is on the chopper, flying away, and what does he do? He jumps off that chopper.
They said "Think about it Bill...”
I thought “I’m not going back to that beach!”
Puttnam told me I had the night to think of something better – we were sharing a car with the execs to the airport the morning, and he said “You have to tell them something in that journey that will make them leave you alone.”
I remembered I had shot for a while before shouting “action” when Danny and Mac first drove into the village, and had a shot of the empty town with the phonebox in it.
So Mac was calling the village. I laid it on thick of course – told them how many emotions this would bring out – it seemed to work. Maybe they were quite pleased to not have to spend another half a million dollars, so we got away with it!
I’m still a little unsure as to whether it’s a cop-out or not…”
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