MUSE: Luca (Geza Rohrig) is considered to be one of the greatest artists of his generation. At the peak of his career, he is lauded, feted and collected by all. However, the side effects of his newfound fortune and fame have left him agoraphobic, crippled by depression and battling with his demons on a daily basis. However, a chance encounter brings Luca back from the edge. The question is, can he stay there?
TAKE ONE is delighted to share our interview with Director Candida Brady and Titus Oglivy, discussing her most recent film MUSE – starring Geza Rohrig, Alison Doody and Rupert Everett. Associate Editor Elle Haywood meets with the pair before their screenings and Q&A at the Cambridge Film Festival to discuss the details of the film, the topic surrounding the story and their personal investment into the film.
Elle: Welcome to the CFF, and thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. Do you want to talk about how you kick-started the project, what made you want to make this film?
Candida: Yeah that’s a very good question actually. I suppose from my first film, Trashed, I realised what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be, so, I sort of kept – I suppose I wanted to make movies that had a social message, I think probably because the whole process is so hard. I wanted to do something that I feel good about at the end of it as well, that was going to sort of help in some way. I mean, obviously as well as having a good story. So you have to start with a good story and take it from there. I’m trying to think what actually started me off on the path with Muse. Possibly the story, but then, actually, becoming very aware of the huge issue around men committing suicide in this country in particular, and wanting to sort of look at that as a topic, because I found it really shocking that, in particular, 84 men a week commit suicide at the moment, and it’s the biggest killer of men under 45. So that was, I think, my primary motivation.
Elle: Was there anything, in particular, that kind of sparked the idea for it or did you build it around a concept of you knew wanted it to be about an artist? How did that process come about?
Candida: Yes, it was – funnily enough I wanted to sort of show that loneliness affects everyone, and so I think that’s how I ended up with an artist actually is the fact that y’know, fame can also be very isolating, so that *was the thinking behind it* and also how the story *ends*. So, sort of also, I think, the layers of it are that possibly that creativity can help you out of these times as well, without kind of giving too much away.
Elle: And, obviously, it looks into like depression and agoraphobia between the two of them. Is there … I’m trying to think about not giving too much away with it. Obviously there’s a figure as well, an unusual figure in it. Is he supposed to embody those mental health aspects, or is it he’s supposed to be an enabler of Luca’s mental health?
Candida: [laughs] That’s a tricky one to answer, that, because I think…
Titus: He’s both actually is the answer to that question.
Candida: And I think he’s also guilt, but again I think that might – it’s difficult because you don’t want to give away the – but there’s also that he’s possibly a manifestation of Luca’s guilt about some things in his life as well.
Elle: I found that the sound is very crucial in the film as well. Like there’s a very kind of like tactile nature to it in terms of its – the silence can be deafening, but then it’s very kind of like, almost like Foley moments, like the paint on the board and the brushstrokes. Did you know what it wanted to sound like, how that feeling, was that part of it?
Candida: Yes. Very much so, because obviously the deafening silence [laughs] and the ticking clock and I worked very very closely with our sound designer, Lee Charallah, who’s fantastic, so he recorded and also did the Foley, so we really really wanted to make that a big part of it.
Titus: Funnily enough, when we – over the weekends when we weren’t filming, Lee – I mean you’ve seen the film and the extraordinary location that we had. Lee went in there, just on his own, and recorded for hours, just the sound of the building. It was extraordinary. He said y’know, “Is there gonna be anybody here?” “No it’s completely empty.” “Can I have the keys?” and then he went with his microphone and just literally caught the sound of the buildings in different places. And how old is the place? What, 12th century?
Candida: Yeah, originally. 14th, I think, and that newer bit’s 16th century.
Titus: So this 14th-century building, it made noises.
Elle: Yeah I can imagine!
Titus: It was amazing, absolutely amazing.
Elle: Did you have an idea of the location beforehand or is this just like from research and finding a specific place?
Candida: No absolute – Google God, actually [laughs] one day!
Elle: Oh really? [laughs]
Candida: I mean I had an idea, but I didn’t – he had to be in a particular place but I was literally just looking at pictures and suddenly found it, and knew that was where I wanted to set it so you know.
Elle: And did you guys spend a long time like scoping out the place and getting a feel for it or did you just know once you’d found it that it had what you needed?
Candida: Yeah, I mean I went and spent a bit of time there without a doubt, ‘cause obviously you want to make sure but one of the locations was a bit of a challenge to get [laughs] a camera in, so, you know you haven’t got this flexibility of a studio where you can take down a wall. It was Titus on the floor –
Candida: In fact, actually were you on the loo, in fact?
Titus: I was.
Candida: I think you were sitting on the loo.
Titus: There was one shot in the bathroom yeah
Titus: Because when we first got there we thought – there’s an apartment, which is part of the building – and we thought shall we put Geza in the apartment. It’s a beautiful apartment. And we sort of ummed and ahhed, ummed and ahhed, and he took one look at it and said “this is perfect.” And he was definitely aware of the building in the apartment.
Candida: So he came. He really got into character by being, in, you know, part of it –
Titus: He could have stayed in a local, very nice, hotel. Nope – he wanted the apartment.
Elle: Pretty much kind of like embodied the character within it and just kind of took it on board?
Candida: Yeah, 100%, yeah.
Titus: I don’t know if you remember, the scene in the bathroom? That’s his bathroom.
Elle: Oh wow! [laughs] Fair enough! So did you – how, in terms of casting as well, did you know that you wanted Geza, did you know at first? Was he on your mind for the film or…?
Titus: Absolutely. I mean his performance in Son Of Saul was…
Candida: Extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary and what he does ‘thinking’ is exceptional.
Elle: Did you, like, did you send the script over first to look through it or did you spend a lot of time doing read-throughs or was it very kind of just got the ball rolling with the process?
Candida: No, he said I had him on the first page [laughs] So yes. No, obviously he’d read all of it but yeah he clicked, he just instantly clicked with the character so…
Elle: Yeah. And how did you both get working on the project together, did you…?
Candida: We’ve worked together for 25 years! [laughs]
Titus: Shall we let this cat out of the bag?
Candida: Yes, you can –
Titus: We’ve been married for 25 years as well.
Candida: [laughs] So it’s very much a –
Elle: A dual investment into it.
Candida: Yeah, absolutely. Although I mean, Titus has a completely separate career in television so he directs and produces and shoots for telly as well. But, for his sins, he also works with his missus [laughs] in films as well.
Elle: Did you find that like crossed over at all, like bringing in your knowledge of like TV into film? Obviously it’s a very different process but is there elements that cross over?
Titus: It’s a very good question. Technically, yes. But in a lot of aspects, no.
Candida: Although both of us have a sort of documentary background and I think that’s terrific training. It teaches you so much and you have to be really quick with docs, you have to make a decision, you know – if you’re standing in a landfill in Lebanon you’ve gotta just [clicks fingers] go, make a decision about what you’re filmmaking…
Titus: When we’re making a film together and people say “what have you done? What have you done?” and you say “OK yes we do make television, just don’t tell anybody.”
Candida: [laughs] As a joke! That’s a joke! [laughs]
Elle: Yeah I guess that means being very like observational and like concise with your filming.
Candida: No it really helps, and in terms of budget, you know, it means that you don’t spend – you know what you want, is what I’m getting at. Neither of us spends a long time kind of considering stuff, it’s all in the prep. So that really helps you save money, which is, I’m afraid what we all have to do in filmmaking these days!
Elle: That’s very true. But I guess that makes the whole process even tighter?
Titus: Because Candida knew exactly what she wanted, all the shots had been mapped out, you shot this in how long? How many days?
Candida: 17 days. So, you just – but as I say, it’s all won and lost in the prep. But I also did the costume on this, and the design, because, you know, it was there, the building was there, you know it just, it just sort of all happened.
Elle: Do you find that less stressful having like, so much involvement in all of the aspects because you know what you want from it?
Candida: I did with this project, because it allowed me to work much more closely with Geza, so it was a very very small, you know, as you can see from the credits [laughs] a very tight unit, and everybody knows what’s going on at any minute so we were all working together I think much more fluently. So it was more like a documentary crew.
Elle: Yeah. Do find that there’s a place in the film market/landscape for the movie because it’s building on such an important and topical issue, does it feel like the right time of a film like this?
Candida: I hope so, I think it’s a subject that really needs to be talked about, and I’m hoping and I really feel that things that have been going on at the moment. Men have feelings too.
Titus: Thanks babe [laughs]
Elle: It’s such a crucial topic, and to choose to invest your time, creativity and money into this subject as a film is so thoughtful, and I believe it will have a strong effect on audiences. I myself took 15 minutes or so afterwards to just sit alone and to contemplate and reflect on the film. There was a lot of gentle silence as people took in the film.
Candida: A girlfriend of mine actually burst into tears because of a lot of trauma in her own family, she said it affected her in a very good way. She applauded me for making it, so that means everything, you just need one reaction like that to know it’s been worthwhile.
Elle: Is that what you hope audiences can take from it as well? Even if it’s personal or a family member or friend, do you believe there’s a shared message to be heard?
Candida: I hope so, I really do. We are all affected by it I think. I don’t know many people, even if it’s not immediate family, there’s something to take. I think talking about these subjects – this is what film can do. It can bring about things that are sometimes very difficult to talk about.
Titus: Candida wanted to paint a picture for it. I think that’s what she succeeded as well. Within the location of the set itself. What she’s done, how she’s painted a picture is every shot of what Luca is going through.
Candida: Again this was sort of the metaphor of being stuck in your head, being stuck in the house and all of that it doesn’t matter where you are, if you are in that space it doesn’t matter how beautiful your surroundings are or how much or little money you have. We’re all in the same boat in that one.
Elle: That’s what’s so harrowing to watch, with the cinematography especially as it’s shot in the dark all of the time, you almost notice the innate details a lot more when the light shining on something of note. Because it is such a big house, the light does take up very little space with the darkness being overpowering. I suppose this then leads me onto asking, when did you know [the character] Grace was going to be a part of it, how much influence she would have? She’s a very interesting voice to have in it as well.
Candida: I just suddenly wanted an Irish voice actually. It was really weird. I wasn’t quite sure until; this film was a very strange process. It started out with Grace having a darker voice, and suddenly I wanted the lightness of an Irish actress. And Alison [Doody] just came into my mind and I think she is fantastic as well. What she has brought t it has just given it this wonderful juxtaposition to Lucas’ angst.
Elle: She has quite a lot of vocal prominence in the film, he seems to have moments of clarity after talking to her, it just feels brighter afterwards – for better or for worse. He seems to be able to do more afterwards, even if it doesn’t always pan out to something.
Candida: Exactly, so it’s the connection that energy that you get.
Elle: Is he also drawing on the pain from her as well? She causes pain while also bringing him hope.
Candida: [laughs] That’s very much the thought behind it, what I wanted to come across! Life, unfortunately, y’know, it ain’t straightforward. I wanted to throw all of those different colours in. I’m very glad you picked up on it!
Elle: One other aspect I found quite fascinating was, although it can be very bleak and harrowing – you also feel him fighting back as well when he is telling the spector to f-off, he’s almost frustrated at his own mental health. There is this self-awareness which I think is really important as mental health can be painted as quite abstract if you don’t understand it – but the fact he has his own conscious awareness of this speaks volumes. Is this something you intended?
Candida: What I think I was trying to get at, whether I do or not successfully. I kind of feel like that is sometimes part of the process of creation. You do have to have that self-awareness, you do have to have that struggle and where he ends up.
Titus: After all the research you’ve done as well, what becomes apparent is that just because somebody understands what they are going through, doesn’t mean that the problem is fixed.
Elle: Completely agree. Would you say this has inspired you to create more work along the lines of mental health?
Candida: Yes, I hope to do a lot of work with film, fingers crossed! This is a huge issue that is growing sadly and not disappearing. Another issue is talking and connecting, it’s what we are all losing. Although we are all connected, it’s becoming less. The whole sitting around a table and having a glass of wine together and talking about your day is happening less and less, or a lemonade – it doesn’t have to be alcohol! But you know what I mean. It’s so important and we all need that.
Elle: That’s quite profound you saying that in relation to the film, and Luca’s agoraphobia and the struggle to get out the door. People want to reach out to other people, not just physically get outside but mentally get outside too.
Candida: It’s that thing of smiling at someone every day and just doing something. The other day I was reading about a man who had been the getaway driver, who has been arrested over the county lines news, […] which was extraordinary. And he said he felt so isolated, he’d rather be a getaway driver than be sitting on his own in his house. That kind of is a perfect example of what we’ve been talking about.
Elle: Do you have your own message you would want to give to the audience?
Candida: Candida: Love really is the answer. The attachment scientist Louis Cozolino said, “we are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured”. There was a story about a young man who had tried everything to heal his anxiety and the one thing that worked was kindness. One of the things I was very affected by was having a conversation with, I haven’t really thought about it until just now it’s just come back to me, I was walking along the street and a homeless man approached me asking for money, I didn’t have any, so I went and got some from the cashpoint and went back to him. He was amazed and said, “no-one ever comes back and thank you so much, can I have a hug?” So I stood in the street and gave him a hug, I found it very affecting and he said: “I promise this money isn’t for drugs, I’m going to use it to stay in the hostel which costs twenty-five pounds a night”. He told me his whole story, which was that his dad, an ex-serviceman, committed suicide and that his mum had died of cancer and his whole life had gone into a spiral after that point. Also, when I said that he said to me “I won’t use it for drugs”, he said that because that is what people always say to him. I think it’s just an awful generalisation about people sleeping rough. I read about a poor woman the other day who had lost her home and had to keep walking all night with her disabled daughter because they didn’t dare stop to sleep at night. But I think I was deeply affected by the fact he said no one will touch me. And so it was that, which stayed with me.
Elle: That’s incredibly touching and beautiful – thank you for sharing that story. That’s a lovely humanising message. While the film itself is dark, it feels hopeful and brings a lot of light surrounding it as well – so thank you for making such an incredible piece. It’s been a pleasure for having you at the festival and for meeting with TAKE ONE.