As our final lead-up to The Hollywood Issue on Friday, we offer up an interview with the notoriously private Ben Whishaw, who — aside from his work in films like Skyfall and Cloud Atlas — will be appearing soon in Paddington and the supernatural drama Lilting. Lawrence Ferber tracked down Whishaw and Lilting’s writer/director Hong Khaou.
Lost in translation
Language isn’t the only barrier that stands between a gay man and the non-English-speaking mother of his dead, closeted boyfriend in Lilting.
The feature debut of Cambodian-British writer/director Hong Khaou, this elegant chamber drama stars acclaimed British actor Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas) as Richard, who enlists a translator and attempts to forge a bond with Cambodian-Chinese Junn (Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei Pei of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), the retirement home-bound, prickly mother of his recently deceased partner, Kai (Andrew Leung). Although Junn and Richard mourn the same person, Kai never came out or divulged the nature of his “friendship” to mom, and the jaded, sourpuss Junn disliked Richard from the get-go .…
Khaou previously worked for London-based LGBT film distributor, Peccadillo Pictures, and directed a pair of acclaimed short films, Spring and Summer. Thanks to his experience watching and distributing queer-themed films, he learned a few important lessons to apply to his own delve into feature filmmaking. “I wanted to make sure the kissing was correct,” he shares. “I remember having a conversation about that with the actors. It’s such a difficult detail to get right. I understand certain actors, if not gay, they have that trepidation, but if you’re an actor and take on kissing, you want to make sure to convey it correctly. I was very aware the kissing was right!”
Khaou shot the indie film over a tightly scheduled 17 days. Specifically citing John Sayles’ 1996 Texas-set feature Lone Star and 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene as cinematic influences on Lilting, Khaou also drew heavily from his own family life when writing the script. Born in Cambodia, his family fled to England during the 80s while he was a child. His mother struggled to learn English upon arrival, and even now has trouble with the language. One thing she does understand, however, is that her son is gay. “Her reaction [to my coming out] was fine,” Khaou says. “The build up was agonizing. I was shaking and petrified, but having told her she was fine.”