As Run & Jump enters into cinemas across the UK, we had the distinct pleasure of speaking to the film’s director, Steph Green. Famed initially for her short movies, she now tackles the feature length film, and does so in a more than accomplished fashion, bringing talented performers Maxine Peake and Will Forte together on screen.
We discuss why she chose the aforementioned actors for her leads, while she also tells us about getting the tone of the film right. The narrative features a romance between Vanetia (Peake), the wife of a husband who returns home from hospital with brain damage – and Ted (Forte) an American doctor has come to stay and study the victim. It’s a subject matter that’s dealt with sensitively, and Green tells us how she went about ensuring the audience can still invest and sympathise in this tale.
How did you come to be involved with this project?
The original writer Ailbhe Keogan lives in Kerry, Ireland, and I’ve been working in Ireland for the past 10 years, and my producer Tamara Anghie and I were on the search for a script, and Tamara read this and thought it was absolutely beautiful. She was still thinking about how complicated it was, and what she wanted to happen, she was in that position after reading the script. She was conflicted, and that’s what she was drawn to. She handed the script to me and I felt the same way. I also felt that even though there is a familiarity to the setup, a stranger comes to stay, etc, I had never read anything like this before. The story is about the loved ones in reaction to a member of the family coming home with brain damage, as opposed to a recovery story of someone having a stroke. This is a different perspective, a more feminine, domestic perspective, made complicated of course by this visitor. So it was the script’s idiosyncrasies I think, and unique voice of the screenwriter that pulled me in.
In regards to the tone of the movie, was it a challenge to allow the audience to invest in, and root for the leading romance? Because it many ways it feels wrong and harsh for the poor husband, yet we can’t help but sympathise for their predicament.
Absolutely, and part of the challenge of the edit in particular, was very subtle nuances could swing your judgement too far in one direction. So suddenly, if we were putting the movie together in a certain way, we would find that we were really angry at Vanetia for even looking Ted’s way. Or would edit and put something together where we really judging Ted, for interrupting this family’s process. Some judgement is fine, needing to make your mind up about what you want is going to happen in a film like this, but what I didn’t want, was for you to judge the characters too early in the film. That was a struggle, definitely, to get that balance right.
It must help that the characters have a real reluctance too? They don’t necessary want this to happen.
Yeah, Vanetia is bereft of fun, and she’s missing engagement with her partner that used to be there constantly. So it’s not as simple as ‘oh she’s attracted to Ted’, there’s a huge emotional gap in her life that she’s mourning. It’s complex, in other words.
It must help implicitly to have two such fine actors taking on the lead roles? Does that make your job just that little bit easier?
Absolutely. It was so fun to watch them. To watch them find their dynamic together, which was such a joy. They’re from two different worlds, and that was part of the story as well. On screen and off-screen they had great dynamics. They taught each other a lot, they taught me a lot. Will was very nervous, which he’d be the first to admit, because it was before Nebraska, this was truly his first dramatic role. He showed great humility in that he was nervous, no ego with him, he just wanted to do a good job and I think having Maxine as a screen partner was really helpful. The kids as well and Ed, an ensemble piece is great for actors being able to support each other.
Considering this was before Nebraska, a role with such dramatic potential was a bit of a departure for Will. What made you opt for him?
It’s a departure in terms of his career, but similarly with Maxine too, there is a part of these characters in them already. Maxine is a strong, dynamic, beautiful woman. Will, in his own way, is shy and will be the first to say he can be obsessive compulsive, and a very gentle person. We could harvest that for Ted. So even though it was a jump in terms of what we’ve seen him do, I don’t think it was a huge jump in terms of his personality.
Maxine Peake is very highly regarded over here, is she particularly well known in the US?
She’s lesser known, but there’s a good handful. Silk is over here now, so people are starting to become more aware of her. But it was funny in moments I’d get the response over here as ‘what a discovery’, but she’s far from that, she’s been so prolific in England for so many years. The same as Will Forte was in Ireland or England, so obviously this is some crazy experience I like having where I’m introducing someone to somewhere [laughs].
Do you feel in some ways you could connect to Ted, and channel your own experiences through the role, having been an American living in Ireland yourself?
Yes. I do obviously have an interest in the outsider experience, my short film New Boy was about a young, African boys’ first day at school in Ireland. So this is obviously something I can connect to, because I left the country I grew up in and I’ve been living in Ireland for almost a decade. Going back and forth a bit, but I’ve been that outsider. So yes, absolutely, there’s a one to one comparison happening there. Also, Will was living it as he was acting it. He was adjusting to the weather, the food. He didn’t have a mobile phone that worked for the first few weeks, so he was really immersed in her world, which was great for his character.
What with a female director, writer and producer – did important was that presence behind the camera, particularly when crafting the character Vanetia?
It was a very female driven project, which wasn’t a pre-meditated thing, I think the women producers understood this character. There were people who told me to switch the perspective completely to Ted, and that I would be financed sooner if I had a male protagonist and a female supporting. That just makes you even more vehement to keep the perspective tied to the female, because it’s so infuriating to be coached to switch your protagonist for fasting funding. It’s the hard truth I guess, but I remember feeling all the more sure that I needed to not do that. Also that wouldn’t have been authentic to the original script, which is somewhat reflective, not autobiographically, but her father suffered brain damage and her family coped with that, her mother in particular. It wouldn’t have been doing any service to this particular story to remove it from that female perspective. In its respect for the complexity of domestic life, the complexity of mid-life confusion, in that way the film is a feminist perspective and it doesn’t misrepresent that role as being secondary. It’s the primary story – and everything hinges on her decision.
So what’s next for you now?
I want my next film to be a dramatic thriller, or an intelligent action film. I am farming some projects in that realm and working on such scripts, but you’re looking for the right thing. But definitely going to move into a different world next.
Run & Jump is out in cinemas now, and you can read our review here.