Director David Mackenzie Exclusive Interview – MISTER FOE

     September 5, 2008

Written by Charlie Mihelich

David Mackenzie’s “Hallam Foe” was released last year in the UK to widespread critical acclaim. Because of the positive buzz surrounding the film, Magnolia Pictures is gearing up to release the film stateside under a new, more-palatable-for-North-America title in the hopes of garnering the same kind of acclaim and in the hopes that it can bring people to the theaters. Having seen the film, I must say I think it has a shot.

Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is a deeply troubled youth with a dark past who has withdrawn from the world. He spends most of his time in exile in a treehouse behind his family’s Scottish manor, spying on his father (Ciaran Hinds), sister and his stepmother (Claire Forlani). Initially Hallam comes off as extremely creepy, but as the film develops it is clear that whatever happened to him is not his fault, and it definitely gives some method to his madness. After an encounter with his stepmother, Hallam runs away from home to Edinburgh, where he spends his time climbing buildings and spying from rooftops. He sets his sights on a beautiful hotel clerk (Sophia Myles), and his voyeuristic relationship with her suddenly becomes very personal.

It sounds strange, and it is, but the film works because it is multi-layered. Hallam is one messed up kid, but he just needs someone to nurture him back to health. The film explores loss, sexuality, psychological complexes and relationships from an intimate perspective, and is never exploitative or glossy about the real life consequences of the character’s actions.

In addition to “Mr. Foe” star Jamie Bell, I also got a chance to sit down with writer/director David Mackenzie, who talked about making the film, differences between UK and American rating systems, and working with Ashton Kutcher in the US.And if you’d like to read my interview with Jamie Bell, click here.

Collider: So what about this book made you want to translate it to the screen?

DM: Well it was written by a friend of mine, so I knew about it before it was even written, actually. I knew it was about a troubled adolescent and Edinburgh rooftops, and those were the two things I kind of latched onto and I thought, ok, there’s a strange, sort of, otherworldly movie vibe, you know.

Collider: At moment during the development was there that kind of “Aha!” moment that Jamie would be perfect for the part of Hallam?

DM: Quite early on, because Jamie was sort of on our radar, starring in a film we were producing. You know, you need someone who can bring humanity to this awkward character, and someone who could embrace the physicality of the role, so Jamie was a natural fit. We arranged a meeting and he was into it.

Collider: So he wasn’t put off at all by the voyeurism element of it?

DM: Well, obviously not, but as he read the first two pages of the script, he was saying “Oh, well this is odd”, but when you get deeper you realize he’s an interesting character, and most films wouldn’t have this kind of character as the main character.

Collider: You had some gorgeous set pieces in the film, like the city of Edinburgh. Were there any obstacles to getting to shoot on the rooftops and in other areas.

DM: The filming permits work a little differently over there, and you don’t have to go about it in the same way. Health and safety issues are obviously something you have to worry about, but we were very lucky because we found this rooftop, and there was a lot of flat area to it, and it is much less treacherous than it appears to be in the film, so we used that and it worked out really well.

Collider: Once Jamie was attached to the film, did everything else fall into place as far as casting was concerned? After that, was it easy to get Cieran, Claire, and Sophia?

DM: Jamie was on it for longer. You know, from the beginning of the development, but things kind of came together after that, so yeah other people wanted to work with him.

Collider: Are you getting a wide release over here?

DM: I think it’s a relatively limited release. Something they call a “platform release”, and if there’s a good response to it, then they’ll take it wider.

Collider: Do you think a lot of that depends on the rating you get?

DM: Actually, I don’t even know what the rating is, do you know?

Collider: You know, I would think it would get an R, but who knows with the MPAA.

DM: I think it’s probably an R. I don’t think it’s anything less, but I also don’t think it’s anything more. You know, since Magnolia is not a studio, they might choose to put it out as unrated. I don’t really know how that works.

Collider: Well I’m pretty sure unrated can only apply to DVD releases. All films released into theaters have to have some sort of classification, from G to NC-17, I think.

DM: It’s all very confusing.

Collider: Assuming you get an R-rating, and you’ve mentioned your target demographic is “15 year old boys”, is that an obstacle?

DM: It is an obstacle, yeah, and, well I don’t know…R means they can go with their parents or another adult, right? Yeah…well, it just depends.

Collider: Some theaters are pretty lax about age distinctions, but in the last few years they’ve really tightened up.

DM: Well in that case we’ll just have to see. You know, I’ve tried to make the film as honestly as I can and I actually don’t think I can take it down to PG-13 very easily, so I guess they’ll have to wait until they’re 18 if they can’t get someone to take them, or wait until it comes out on DVD.

Collider: How different is it in the UK? Can anyone go see an “18” film?

DM: No, actually, it’s much more strict! So no one under 18 can go see the film. If we were under that, it actually would have been much more successful, and I’m kind of learning these lessons as we go along.

Collider: Well, I think in order to have the realism of the film, since sex is such an important part of Hallam’s development, the film would kind of seem empty without it. Kids aren’t stupid, and they know that PG-13 isn’t real life. Sex weighs heavier than violence with the MPAA.

DM: Well, what’s equally weird, is that in the UK, you’re legally allowed to have sex with someone who is 16, but you can’t watch sex until you are 18.

Collider: So your next film is called “Spread”, with Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche, is this a much more upbeat comedy, or does it have some of the same dark undertones.

DM: Oh, it’s got plenty of dark undertones. It’s not actually a comedy, really.

Collider: Oh, well it’s being described as a comedy.

DM: I mean, there are some comedic elements, but it’s, but I think it’s one of those things that you have to call a “dramedy” now. Well, you know it’s an interesting departure for Ashton and I really enjoyed working with him and making you know, an American movie about LA.

Collider: Would you like to make more American movies, or do you like working in the UK?

DM: I like both, really. I like working on a variety of projects, but I’ve enjoyed working here, and I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done in the UK, but I just wait for the right project to come along.

Collider: Is it strange revisiting “Hallam Foe” a year later?

DM: It’s quite nice, actually. You know, it’s some degree of closure, and it would be really nice if “Hallam Foe”…I mean, “Mister Foe”…is able to find an audience in the US.

Collider: Well I think it will. It’s nice when distributors revisit a film because it means people liked it and they think it has a chance over here. It gives the film a second life.

DM: It’s great, yeah, and if that second life comes…I mean I’m not expecting it to break box office records, but if the film could find an audience…it will find an audience, whether it’s three or more, but I don’t think there’s anything particularly inaccessible about it in its Britishness or Scottishness.

Collider: No, I don’t either.

DM: Well good. I hope it goes over well.

“Mister Foe” is currently playing in limited release.

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