On a day to remember at Epsom Racecourse, where the shoot was nearing completion, we watched on as Buckley and Buring acted opposite one another, as the former – playing Mullinger, a comedian struggling on the circuit and balancing that livelihood with his journalism – came face to face with the hard-nosed LA based agent Nell (Buring).
When speaking to the Murphy, as always with the director – grabbing them at any opportunity we can, and in this case it was over his lunch break (jacket potato on the menu – which was very good), he revealed that Buring called her role the ‘best three-scene character she’d ever read’ – a compliment that made him so proud, he brandished the original email she had sent him declaring her love for the character, like a parent would with a picture of their child all dressed up for their first day of school.
“MyAnna said it’s the best three-scene character she’d ever read. She was saying there just aren’t enough roles written for women, but the way I get round it, is to write the role for a man, and then change it to a female character,” said Murphy.
And Buring was quick to back that up, speaking to us while having make-up applied in between takes, as while her screen time is somewhat limited, the star of the Twilight franchise and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, admitted it was a joy to get her teeth into such an intriguing, multi-layered creation.
“Usually cameo parts are smaller and often I find they’re not fully rounded, particularly if they’re female, they’re either a girl-next-door or a sort of sex bomb, and that’s it, and there’s nothing to do them really,” she explained. “Whereas these scenes were just funny, and have heart and you realise she’s not just a heartless agent and she cares and when she sees talent she’s up for promoting them and helping them, and that was conveyed in three scenes. I thought it was brilliant.”
“Interestingly, Mark wrote the character for a man and changed it to a female, and I think that’s a really good way to go. I know others who have done that too. I did a film last year and they did the same thing. So often female characters just get underwritten and become a caricature as opposed to a real person. None of the people in my life are two-dimensional, there always have layers to them, but there’s something that happens when we write characters that somehow oversimplifies them. Just write them and don’t worry about the gender, let that come later. Sometimes it can be more interesting to switch it up.”
It’s evidently an area Buring feels passionately about, and is one she’s able to articulate her feelings about in a succinct and intelligently way. Because it can been a struggle at times, to balance making money and living off this career, while sourcing out only the interesting female roles – which given their regrettable irregularity, can makes things difficult for women in this industry. But she does admit it’s progressed somewhat along the way – albeit not enough.
“It has progressed but I still get sent scripts featuring two-dimensional, female characters,” she said. “Something happens to us when we get a bit brainwashed and we think ‘this is how it is’. Then we seen an example of it being done well, such as the role of Nell, and we’re reminded about how it should be,” she continued.
“But it’s great everyone is aware of it now, because it means we may get to a stage where this isn’t even a dialogue we’re having. I find the women in film group counter productive sometimes, because if we’re not including the men, the men will never see us as anything but women in film. Those are the ‘female roles’, this is the ‘female episode’. It should just be an episode with great characters, we should never differentiate between the two.”
“Though I wonder if the argument is, that if something is so unbalanced you have to go to a slight extreme in order to readdress that balance and bring it back and be normalised. I understand that.”
Perhaps part of the reason why Murphy was able to write nuanced, full-bodied roles is down to his familiarity and association with the world of comedy – a pre-established interest which he felt was beneficial to the entire project.
“I started writing something a while ago and got about 50 pages through but nothing really happened and we moved on,” he begun. “I did a couple of films and at the beginning of this year my producer said to me – what film do you want to do next? And I started writing a piece of shit, post-apocalyptic film that I got bored writing, and I thought, if I’m bored writing – no-one will enjoy watching it.”
“So I came across this one and really liked it, and thought, I had forgotten about this. So I finished it, said this is the one I want to do and flew to Canada to meet James and we spent more time developing the script and now here we are, six months later.”
“I want to be doing more comedy because it is more fun to do. Having watched James’ career progress over the years, I grew very familiar with it and allowed me to put a lot into this project that I’m familiar with – and that helps.”
It’s an industry that doesn’t just intrigue Murphy either, as he feels confident he’s tapping in to a market with a huge potential audience – and following from the likes of Chris Rock’s Top Five, or Stewart Lee’s remarkable book ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’ there is a desire to get into the mechanics of stand up comedy, and get to know, more intimately, those who take to the stage and make us laugh. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a story of the underdog?
“There’s a massive market for stand-up comedy. Michael McIntyre’s DVD outsold The Dark Knight. Nobody has really done that journey from struggling stand up to success either, which is what we want to do.”
“I’d like this to be one of the top comedians, and it really does have a chance. It’s got great performances, great characters – I can’t imagine this going quietly into the night.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Buring too, who resents the notion that the industry is on a downwards slope – and she hopes, as do we, that The Comedian’s Guide to Survival will help to continue to prove otherwise.
“There are people out there with stories to tell, and wanting to tell them in interesting ways,” before finishing, “We should rejoice at the fact this industry is most definitely not dead.”
Read part one of our set visit report here – where we spoke to the subject of the film James Mullinger, and lead star James Buckley.