Kevin MacDonald

The celebrated Scottish director Kevin Macdonald is known for his magisterially mounted, adult-inclined works of fiction that are shaded in politics and personal hardships. His movies have leaned toward Oscar glory (Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for his terrifying turn in The Last King of Scotland), while other films have displayed his particular talent for singling out narrative greatness in true-life stories (Marley most recently, and Life in a Day and Touching The Void before it).

His latest film, How I Live Now, which was released last year, is being released on DVD on February 10th – and to celebrate that fact, he dedicated some of his precious time to give HeyUGuys the lowdown on why young actors are better than old ones, his fondness for pulling the rug from beneath the viewer, and what the future holds for him (submarines, apparently). Beware: minor spoilers ahead.

Obviously, How I Live Now is being released on DVD quite soon. I guess my first question is the lead character, Daisy, is a pretty bad-mannered character all-round. Was it a challenge at all to get the audience to care for her?

[Laughs] Well, I think Saoirse [Ronan] is a likeable person fundamentally, there’s such a warmth to her; I think the audience are intrigued before they care, they want to know more about her, and then I think they do care just because of who Saoirse is. But, it struck me as an interesting story to start with a character who’s not very likeable, and to slowly understand her, come to like her more through the course of the film.

It was quite difficult for me personally to finally get my head round that character, but I eventually really did end up caring what happened to her. So congratulations. And for the rest of the cast, including Saoirse, they’re all in that age gap where they’re not quite children, and they’re not quite fully-grown adults either. What was it like working with that kind of new talent?

Well, obviously there are some kids in there – the girl, Harley [Bird], and there are other cast members who are very young, but the main three cast members George MacKay and Saoirse and Tom [Holland], they’re all – or were at the time – sixteen to nineteen. It’s great working with people of that age because they are not ruined by ego or entitlement, the industry hasn’t really worked its evil ways on them. And they have so much enthusiasm and are up for doing whatever you want, and doing it with great energy. They turned it into a fantastically pleasurable shoot; I know you might find the film quite… quite hard in places, but it was a really lovely, pastoral summer of shooting in the Welsh countryside which we all really enjoyed.How I Live Now

One thing that struck me, actually, was how beautiful the countryside looked in the film. Was there a lot of location scouting before the film, or did you just know where to go straight away?

No, the book on which the film is based, is kind of set in an imaginary version of Oxfordshire. So we looked there first of all, and you just can’t find that kind of tumble-down, Bohemian world in Oxfordshire anymore. It’s all done up, there are a lot of millionaires there, it’s all Rebecca Brooks. So we looked further and further and further afield, and actually ended up in Wales and found an area with lots and lots of potential farmhouses we could use. Then we found this one farmhouse, and there was a field. It was very nice to make a film in one particular place.

Going back to the book, actually, you mentioned in a previous interview with HeyUGuys that you thought what was going on in Young Adult fiction was quite interesting. Obviously, including the book How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, are there any other Young Adult books that you would like to see turned into a movie, whether they would be directed by you or not?

Gosh, no I don’t think so. Not one that I know of at the moment, no.

It’s all been done?

No, it’s not all been done – just I don’t know of one that I’ve read or heard about recently that I think would make a great film. I’m sure there are some great ones out there, and some great ones to come – I just don’t know what they are yet.

It’s definitely a bit of a saturated market, it must be said. But it’s great that you found this particular book – but with How I Live Now and all your other films, no matter where they take place, there always seems to be some political themes running through them. Have politically slanted films always attracted you?

Well, I don’t know if ‘politically slanted’ is necessarily… films which have some relevance to real life, I suppose, where I find myself at odds with a lot of contemporary cinema is that I don’t really have any interest or patience with superheroes and fantasy. I used to love reading fantasy, but as a moviegoer, I just don’t find anything interesting there. And I want to always have something in my film which feels real, psychologically. And so, that’s possibly why they feel like they’re political, because they’re actually engaged in the world around them. In a film like this, which is obviously a science-fiction film, with a potential World War, we can relate that to what’s going on in the world at the moment and the psychology that I think a lot of teenagers should share.

My favourite moment in How I Live Now is when World War III truly kicks off – the nuke obviously goes off. It’s a brilliant change in tone and stakes. Did you enjoy juggling those different elements while making the film?

Well, one of my main aims of the film was to lull the audience into a false sense of security, to make them feel like they’re watching one kind of movie for the first thirty or forty minutes, then becoming something very, very different. Which is what very much happened in the book, where you feel like you’re reading I Capture the Castle or something like that, the traditional teen book, and I wanted it to feel like was a somewhat traditional teen film, where a troubled American girl arrives, falls in love, the family’s going to be made better, and then that aspect of the story kicks in it isn’t what you’re expecting. But that was intentional, and I think a sort of fundamental aspect of audience expectations.

Well, it certainly worked on me. What is your favourite memory from shooting the film?

My favourite memory from shooting the film… I think it was probably where we had miserable, miserable weather while shooting, and the first half of the film is meant to be set over this perfect summer – and we really didn’t have a perfect summer. So the few days that we had sunshine, the kids were all together and we were still on the farm, they were just sort of playing around in the river; it really felt like it was a documentary at that stage, it felt like I was capturing them having a great time, as if they were at summer camp. That’s my fondest memory, just picturing that and the fact that we managed to capture that on film with such a wonderful bunch of kids, who were great actors, who were just having a great, great time.

Can you tell us about your next film, Black Sea?

Yeah, I’m just in post at the moment. It’s a submarine thriller, and Jude Law I’ve always loved, and it’s written by a wonderful playwright called Dennis Kelly who wrote for Utopia the TV show, and Matilda the musical strangely, he’s done a lot of work on the West End. And it’s a reworking of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as much as it’s about a desperate man searching for treasure.

How I Live Now is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 10th February from Entertainment One.