When the premise of a film is built on the foundation of the German sausage, you know you are in for a memorable experience. And that is what you get in Ulrich Thomsen’s Gutterbee.
Screening as part of the Pioneer Strand at this years Glasgow Film Festival, this satire starring Anthony Starr and Ewen Bremner is set in small-town America where xenophobia is at the heart of the community.
We caught up with the films director, Ulrich Thomsen, to talk about sausages and more.
Gutterbee puts the humble sausage at the centre of the story. So are you expecting a sponsorship from the sausage industry?
I don’t have any sausage sponsors, there is an opportunity though there for sure… [laughs].
How did the idea come about for the film?
In Denmark we have hotdog stands, like everywhere else. But I stumbled upon a 50th anniversary for those in a newspaper that also talked about the history of the sausage.
As I say in the film, everything is based on fact. Even the sausage dual took place in real life – I didn’t come up with this stuff in my head.
So I read the history and thought it was an interesting engine for a plot line in a comedy.
As it says in the film, the church banned the sausage as it had blood in it, shaved your head and threw you out of town. It is a metaphor that nothing has changed in 2000 years where we are dealing with the same bigotry and stupidity.
I was shooting Banshee when Donald Trump started to rally so thought set it in small-town America.
It must have been challenging to find the perfect location…?
We decided New Mexico for tax reasons. I talked to a location scout and he said come over.
He suggested Roy and it was perfect, it is a one-horse town and completely fit our purposes completely. But was tricky to film there because there was nothing there, no housing or anything.
Also kind of sad in some way. A barn we shot in was just sitting there and would be a set that would cost us over $100,000 for something with that level of detail. The guy that owned it was getting rid of it.
We booked it for $600 a day so we sort of benefitted from that misery and that was a little strange.
Were the locals quite welcoming?
I was very up front with them about what the film was and what it is about. They didn’t like Trump particularly even though they were Republicans.
The church we shot in had this very lovely couple who were the leaders. The guy wanted to know if there will be any swearing inside his church and I assured him no. But that there is no doubt going to be outside.
We’d said to him if he had any doubts then we could look for somewhere else as we didn’t want to disrespect him, his church or his beliefs. Then his wife got up and asked us how much the money was to use the church and when we told her she said we’ll take it.
That’s all it took to put Jesus aside, just $400 a day [laughs].
In what way have your experiences of working with the likes of Ridley Scott shaped you as a director?
Well, for Ridley you rarely meet him because he is in a tent somewhere in front of hundreds of monitors.
When you are playing a lead part in a film you don’t sit and watch the director, you are in your own little world. I’ve probably picked up things over the years and not really noticed though.
The infinity is that everything is part of the storytelling even though it may seem redundant, like “guy walks across the street”.
That’s part of the storytelling, the way you shoot it and everything is interpreted and you’ve got to be very aware of what you shoot. Study composition and colours and there are many things to learn from images.
Seems like you picked the perfect time to make this film with how it touches upon what is happening politically in the United States…
I am lucky with Trump and his presidency as a whole. Usually when you have an idea for a film, at least if it is a current political story, by the time the movie is done it is a completely different world.
We’ve seen it all before. In WWII it was the Jewish community to blame for everything and now it is the Mexicans or the Muslims.
It is a false agenda, fear-mongering and I get it. It is easy to understand and you can blame someone for it.
In Gutterbee there is no need to fear the German sausage. It has the same level of stupidity as some of the real political discussions going on in America. It is ridiculous but also very scary.
You worked on The World is Not Enough, what was that whole experience like?
I got a really good gig with The World is Not Enough.
Interesting in some ways because I did a movie called The Celebration that opened up doors for me in America. So I go to America, spend all my money and go to castings and meet people but don’t get anywhere.
Casting person contacts me about a Bond movie and asks to see me for a part. They were already shooting in Pinewood Studios. I go meet Michael Apted, the director, and he takes a look at me and says you got the part!
Then Barbara Broccoli came up and said welcome to the Bond family.
It is just nuts! I’d been travelling the world, spent all my money and had been reading and learning. And I show up on set to one of the biggest franchises ever and just get the part like that [laughs].
What projects have you got coming up and are you already planning your next project as a director?
At the moment I am shooting a film in Prague. It is based on the Department Q crime novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen. It is a Danish production and I will be acting in it.
Directing-wise, I’ve got a few scripts lying around and in the early writing stages. But it won’t be anything as quirky as Guttebee. It looks at social media, a little on the MeToo movement and the image we project of ourselves online.
There’s something that provokes me about how you have these apps that make you look better and influencers who are probably nice people but have fuck-all to offer. They are a commodity.
It is maybe me just being old. I remember when people wrote a book or had a specific skill but now it is just about being pretty and looking good.
Trying to scale down on acting and move more into directing but I am not sure why the fuck I want to do that [laughs].
It is easier to be an actor, you just show up find out where wardrobe is, your chair, get a coffee and do your scenes.
Then see it a year later when it is out.
Gutterbee will be heading to a cinema near you soon