Out filmmaker Andrew Haigh, on the upcoming ‘Looking’ finale and how his buzz-generating hetero-marriage character study ‘45 Years’ is really a sequel to ‘Weekend’
In 2011, openly gay writer/director Andrew Haigh made a splash in the film world with Weekend, an instant LGBT film classic about a pair of gay men, Russell and Glen, who meet, fuck and connect deeply over the titular time frame yet part by the end. (Dallas Voice named it one of the top 10 films of the year.)
The bittersweet film and its characters resonated so strongly that many fans have hoped for (and stirred rumors about) a sequel. Haigh, though, thinks that might already be the case.
“I’m convinced that 45 Years is the sequel to Weekend,” Haigh insists, referring to his long-awaited follow-up feature.
He must be joking … right? After all, 45 Years — based on a story by David Constantine, “In Another Country” — stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as Kate and Geoff Mercer, a childless couple in their 70s about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. When a letter arrives, informing Geoff that the body of his previous lover, Katya, has been found in Switzerland, where she went missing decades back, he becomes possessed by her memory, while Kate makes a discovery or two that threaten to undermine their relationship.
“In a weird sense Weekend and 45 Years are similar films dealing with similar issues and themes,” Haigh explains, “just in a very different context. Certainly Glen might not tell Russell about his past, because when they met he was trying to redefine himself. Every time you forge a relationship, you say, ‘I get to start again and show you the person I want to be.’ If there’s something in your past you want to put behind you, there’s a chance you might not discuss or talk about those things and suddenly 15, 20, 30 years have gone by. The tragedy of 45 Years is this couple does love each other, but this thing has come up and made the ground incredibly unstable and fall away. And it doesn’t need to.”
Courtenay, who played gay in 1983’s The Dresser opposite Albert Finney, and Rampling, a muse to gay French arthouse director Francoise Ozon (Under The Sand, Swimming Pool), snagged Silver Bear awards for their performances at the Berlin Film Festival in February and are being touted as possible Oscar contenders. (The film has been released in L.A. to qualify for an Oscar bit, but won’t open until early next year in Dallas.) “I would love to see Tom and Charlotte get nominated,” Haigh opines. “Of course, it would be amazing and they’re incredible in it, but its such a strange world, the whole kind of Oscar talk. You just need to let it happen and if it does [win] it’s a lovely pleasant surprise.”
Happily married to author Andrew Morwood (they’ve been together for a decade), Haigh got his start as an assistant editor for director Ridley Scott. He first came across “In Another Country” thanks to its publisher, who also sent over the story on which Haigh’s 2009 short film, Five Miles Out, was based. Haigh made his feature debut that same year with a documentary, Greek Pete, about a London rent boy, but only got around to reading Constantine’s story when shooting Weekend a couple of years later.
“It lodged itself in my brain,” he recalls. “I was like, this is the film I want to make next, and even though people tried to convince me not to do it, to make another LGBT-themed film, I decided to do 45 Years.” (He’s currently at work on another non-gay project, Lean on Pete, an Oregon-set coming of age story adapted from a 2010 Willy Valutin novel.)
Like Haigh’s previous works, 45 Years is distinguished by long takes, naturalistic dialogue and even a sex scene … although nothing quite so explicit as the blowjob famously depicted between Jonathan Groff’s Patrick and Raúl Castillo’s Richie in the first season of HBO’s Looking, which Haigh created and directed. Indeed, dressed in a flannel shirt, bearded, having coffee at NYC’s hip Marlton Hotel, the personable British filmmaker could easily blend in with the characters from the series, which ties up its two-season run with a special finale movie in April 2016.
“There’s a very good trick to make a blowjob look real, but I’m not going to tell you what it is because everyone will steal it!” Haigh laughs. “It’s very simple, and I actually discovered it on Weekend and I’ve used it for every blowjob scene I’ve done since. But the thing is — and I know this sounds pretentious — I don’t think of sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes. There has to be some fundamental story point, something happening between these two characters or changing something. In Looking, the scene between Patrick and Richie is incredibly important to their relationship at that moment. In 45 Years, it’s about something happening between Kate and Geoff’s relationship.”
As for Haigh’s signature long takes — he doesn’t shoot cutaways or “coverage,” as it’s known in industry-speak — he explains that “it’s about making a commitment early on to the visual style, and for me its worked well and gives the actors more freedom and lets them realize what they do in that moment is actually going to end up being in the film and not cut to pieces.”
Indeed, 45 Years’ most talked about moment is its final shot, a sublime tour de force that plays out during The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” About 10 takes were shot, the last of which was ultimately used and conveys everything the film is about through Rampling’s face and body language, while allowing for audience members’ personal interpretations of what’s happening beneath the surface.
“You get radically different interpretations of the film in general,” Haigh admits. “It’s always to me the point. The whole film is about revealing things but not everything, and it allows you to throw yourself in and come up with your own interpretation based on the kind of person you are.”
For Haigh, HBO’s cancellation of Looking last March due to disappointing ratings — the show that helped popularize the term “Truvada whore” (“Not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing!” he laughs) — could only be interpreted as a painful decision. Yet he maintains that the network offered to wrap up the show with a 2016 special from the get-go. “I would have been very sad if Season 2 didn’t get wrapped up,” he notes, “because Patrick was in flux making poor decisions and I wanted to finish his story. They wanted the show as much as we did to have a ending.”
While Haigh doesn’t share specifics about what will transpire in the finale, he does admit that had the show continued for more seasons, he would have entertained a crossover with HBO’s Girls, and for that matter, an actual Weekend sequel of sorts.
“I always thought that would be quite fun if we got to season five and had nothing else to talk about!” he grins. “Like Lena Dunham’s Hannah turns up in S.F. and hangs out with Patrick for a while, or Patrick goes to New York and bumps into Marnie. I also might have got Weekend’s Russell and Glen to be in the background of a shot, like sitting in a bar somewhere in the Mission. Nobody would have spoken to them, but you’d have been like, ‘Look, they met up again!’ If for some reason we have a Looking Christmas special 10 years from now, maybe I can put Weekend in there at the same time.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2015.