Interview: Nick Hamm on The Troubles and “The Journey”

Posted on June 19, 2017 at 10:00 am

Nick Hamm directed “The Journey,” an imagined story about real events. Two bitter enemies, Protestant Ian Paisley (played by Timothy Spall) and Catholic Martin McGuinness (played by Colm Meaney), the bitterest of enemies, unwilling even to sit in the same room, managed to do what no one else had done for decades — to find a way to create peace in Northern Ireland after years of bloody battles. In real life, it took years. In the movie, time is compressed into one ride to the airport, shared by the two men and listened in on by a small group of very anxious government officials. But the spirit and even the language of the film accurately conveys the enormity of the situation and the statesmanship of the two men who discovered that no religion or political dispute could justify the terrible losses of The Troubles. In an interview, Hamm talked about the film’s relevance to today’s hyper-partisan conflicts around the world.

How do you find a balance between the familiar characteristics of these very well-known men and creating real characters?

We wanted to make it as accurate as possible. Both were well known but Paisley was a pretty iconic figure in English political life, known quite widely. The conflict ran for 34 years in Ireland. McGuinness in the later years of his career should we say was very public you know so people knew who they were. It was incumbent on us not to imitate but to get under the skin of them and I think that’s what Tim and Colm really do. Tim one of those extraordinary actors who melds into the character and he becomes and his kind of extremely fascinating process that we all went through. Tim is a 5 foot 8 inch Englishman playing this six foot massive Irish guy. But when we first showed it in Ireland, people thought he was completely bang on with Paisley. We had to make this people real because what you’re watching is the nuance of human behavior. You’ve taken away the normal activities that politicians deal with on a daily basis. You’ve removed the ability to speak to the media, to have an assistant, to deal with Congress, to be in a public situation, and you put them in a private situation. You strip from them all of that then is about how they deal with the domesticity of that situation, as though we are in the back of the car with them.

It all feels sadly timely with the way we see sharp and angry political divisions around the world.

Spot on. That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about two people in real life who came together and reached out beyond their base, beyond their own constituency and risked sacrificing their own political life for the betterment of other people. That really happened and their relationship opened the door into the Northern Island peace process which really stopped people killing each other. This was not a fictionalized event. This happened. It was real and the bombing stopped, and in that sense it is a great political story. It is a unique political story.

All over we see a climate of intransigence, tribal loyalties and politicians just appealing to their base. The left is as bad as the right. There’s no condemnation of either side. They both are as bad. Both sides looks for constant reaffirmation from social media, constantly feeling that only they know the way forward, and that is the way of madness. And it’s weird how it’s grown. So the argument of the movie is: now more than ever you need leaders who can take their base and can take their constituents and can move and reach out across that divide and actually do something. We need politicians who can do that now.

So yes, it is a message but we didn’t start like that. We just started by telling this story to celebrate what they’d actually achieved. And it was in the most extreme circumstances. It takes a huge amount of magnanimity to be able to to have your political beliefs and then just understanding that other people have different perspectives. There’s no such thing as political absolute truth. Your version of a blue sky is different from my version of blue sky. There’s no society in the history of the world, in the history of civilization, in which absolute truth has survived and existed and people ascribe to it.

I went to see McGuinness before we started shooting and talked to him for a couple of hours. He talked about his relationships with the IRA and the British government and he talked about one particular journey that they took, because politicians from Northern Ireland were travelling together for years and then denying the fact that they were on the same plane, even getting off the plane at separate times so that people wouldn’t see them laughing together, wouldn’t see them talking together. Did you know at the peace talks neither party sat in the same room? I find that the most extraordinary thing. You had flown to Scotland, the British government is putting you up, you’re staying in the same hotel, but you wouldn’t even eat in the same bloody restaurant and you won’t meet in the damn room together. So when Paisley actually said he was going to fly back the British government put him on a plane and and McGuinness went with them and that was the first time that they actually started to acknowledge each other. McGuinness said that Paisley had never even acknowledged his existence before that. Two days later I talked to Paisley’s son, and he was on the plane, and he even took some film of it, but his story was completely different. And that was when I knew that no one has the truth entirely.

This week, the British Embassy in Washington is putting on a screening at the institute for Peace
I think a lot of Congressmen and Senators are coming and senators. I think it will be fascinating to see. We actually had it in the House of Commons and here we are debating a film about the nature of terror a hundred feet from wher a week later all the flowers would be piled up for the death of the policeman being stabbed and here I am in two days time going to Washington to show the movie to members of Congress and you had that terrible atrocity just happen there. It seems like a lot to ask of a movie but I hope somehow we can be a reminder of what is possible if people find that what they have in common is more important than their differences.

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Interview: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon on “The Big Sick”

Posted on June 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm

Emily V. Gordon wants you to know that her father did not cheat on her mother. You might think that he did because in the movie Gordon wrote with her husband, Kumail Nanjiani, about their romance, movie Emily’s father, played by Ray Romano, confesses that he had an affair. But Gordon and Nanjiani explained in an interview that the overall story is true, and Nanjiani plays himself, but some elements were compressed or heightened for dramatic purposes.

This part is true: Gordon met Nanjiani when she was in grad school studying psychology and he was a stand-up comic. Very early in their relationship, she suddenly became critically ill. This is probably the only romantic comedy in history to have its female lead spend half the movie in a medically induced coma. And that’s not even the couple’s biggest obstacle. Nanjiani’s Pakistani immigrant family wants him to marry a girl from their religion and culture. Gordon’s character, Emily Gardiner in the movie, is neither. He hasn’t told her about the parade of eligible girls his mother has “dropping by” the house when he is visiting his parents. Movie Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, breaks up with Nanjiani just before she gets sick, and then he meets her parents (Romano and Holly Hunter) for the first time at the hospital. The second half of the film is a different love story, between Nanjiani and Emily’s parents. “And then we get to really, really play and create these really fun people,” she said. “My parents are lovely but it would have been a more boring movie.”

“This is obviously very, very autobiographical,” Nanjiani continued. “I would say my character is probably closer to how I was then than Emily is.” “I would say your character is pretty clueless, and you’re not as clueless,” Gordon added. “We had a lot of fun arguments like: character Kumail is a lying asshole, but the real Kumail is just a liar.” “Yes, just a liar. And clueless. Judd would ask me what I thought was going to happen, what the plan was when I was dating Emily. And I was like, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.’” Gordon, whose terrifically funny and wise book Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero reflects her training as a therapist and her insight as a writer, said, clearly not for the first time, “Not deciding is a decision. People don’t realize that not making a decision is a decision in itself.”

Nanjiani and Gordon worked on the script for three years, sending drafts to Apatow, who guided them on tempo and character. “We would write down the truth of things and then he would advise us: ‘You could really turn up the drama here, you can change the situation here and kind of make this resonate more.’ So we would show him what the truth was and then he would help us figure out ways to make it more cinematic, ways to make it more dramatic, more funny,” Nanjiani said. The biggest departure was in the portrayal of Gordon’s parents. Apatow was especially helpful in providing feedback on the story’s structure. “He was like: ‘this much will be Emily and Kumail, this much should be them separated, this much should be the hospital, this much should be the surgery.’ He just drew these lines separating each section and we took a picture of it. And then when Michael Showalter came on as director, he said, ‘Kumail in Emily’s room, that’s the center of the movie so everything has to come before come after it.’ So we moved everything around that point because that’s the point of no return. That’s when I realize that I’m in love with her and that I had made a huge mistake.”

Gordon described working with Showalter. “He’s all heart, that’s what’s great. And he wears all his emotions on his sleeve. That’s his strength in a way. He is so amazing to watch because he’s passionate and invested in the story. And he was always very open to collaboration. It wasn’t like he was ruling with an iron fist, ever. Everything felt like a collaboration. He had no ego about collaborating. That made me feel so safe and confident in giving him our story.” Nanjiani said that Showalter showed them how he was subtly using different color palettes for the different characters, even different camera movements. “And Mike is very good at guiding you between movements of the movie, with silence or just following a character for a little bit or whatever it, is he’s very, very adept at switching gears for the movie in a seamless way.” Showalter is especially gifted in casting even the smallest roles and because they shot in New York they were able to find superb performers from theater whose faces were not familiar to movie audiences.

Nanjiani said that writing the film helped him to appreciate and understand his parents’ reaction to his wanting to marry Gordon. “When people from a different culture come here you want to hold on to your own culture but you also want to be your own person. It’s a complicated thing and you do lose something going against the wishes of your parents and your culture. But ultimately it has to be a personal decision.”

Nanjiani is an experienced performer, including three seasons as Dinesh on “Silicon Valley.” But this role presented some new challenges for him, with some dramatic moments and with the difficulty of reliving some of his most painful experiences on camera.

“I hadn’t ever taken any acting classes so I started taking acting classes to sort of prepare for this. I just knew that there was this big thing coming up and it was going to be very difficult and challenging. I wanted to take some of the guesswork out of it because what I knew was comedy acting, where you can go on instinct and as long as it feels funny it works. I knew this was going to be different, especially separating the reality from the movie character and also dealing with some very painful memories. I wanted to get the tools to be able to go into different emotions because I knew that this was a very low budget movie and we had to learn work really fast. If I had to be sad in the scene knew I knew that I had to figure out how to do that like quickly.”

“And if may say,” added Gordon, “Old Kumail from the movie would not have done that. He just would have been like, ‘I’ll figure it out.’”

Originally published on Huffington Post.

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