The Director's Chair Interviews
Interview: Ken Loach
by Simon Hattenstone
The Guardian, Wednesday October 28, 1998
Simon Hattenstone: I was very interested in seeing My Name is Joe and I came out wondering whose side were you on? Joe or Sarah's at the end?
KL: Well, I guess we were on both their sides, really, because both their choices were impossible. In a way, it's easy to be on Joe's side because he's the one we're following and he's faced with this impossible situation of seeing his friend crippled for life, possibly. So, in that situation, I guess most of us would do what Joe did, but from Sarah's position, she's got a lot to risk and she's going to have a baby. I mean would you really want to have a child, knowing it was going to be in that environment, in that place where drugs were common place, where the child's father was involved with drugs gangs, open to the dangers that that poses. I mean, looking at it from her point of view, I think it's quite reasonable that she says "Look, I can't deal with this". And then, of course, all the consequences follow from that. So in a way, I do understand why Sarah doesn't support him at that time.
SH: Ken said to me a few days ago, that if it was down to him, he could have easily come down on Sarah's side.
KL: Yeah, I think so.
SH: Is it a pessimistic film? I mean, I came out feeling as if I had been kicked in the heart? It's a very funny film, obviously, but is it ultimately pessimistic or is there any hope?
KL: No, well, I think, in a way, it needs to be both pessimistic and optimistic. I mean, it's pessimistic in that it has to be pessimistic in the short term because the world of Joe and Sarah and the football team is there for the foreseeable future because we've got a political system and leadership that takes decisions that insures that that level of suffering will continue. I mean, readers of your newspaper, Simon, will have read a few days' ago, the deputy governor of the Bank of England saying that unemployment had not yet reached its natural level. In other words, there's got to be a few more Joes and unemployed football teams until the law of nature that they invoke to justify all this is satisfied. So, in the short term, that does mean alienated people, it means that the only way a lot of people can make money is through that drugs industry. It means all the consequences of unemployment. So in the short term, you can't be optimistic that somehow it's all going to be put right and we'll all go from welfare to work with smiles on our faces because they will steer the system so that it doesn't happen. So, we can't be optimistic in the short term, but I think overall, one senses that people do fight back. Don't they? I mean, that's the way it happens. That's the only natural law that I know - that people do fight back in the end. I mean, they do gird their loins and say "Come on we've had enough of this". And in a way, Joe's full of that, isn't he? Joe's full of fight and spirit and enthusiasm and commitment and that's what makes you optimistic, I think.
SH: If you look around England today, what evidence is there of people fighting back?
KL: Liverpool dockers, Hillingdon workers, Thaneside care workers... There's people everywhere, you just don't read about them. They work in small groups without any support from the unions by and large - familiar story. But, yes, sure people fight back and people fight back in passive ways, don't they, as well, if you can do that.
SH: I thought there was a very interesting observation in this book, Loach on Loach. One of his observations was that in your British films, the way that people fight back seems to be isolated acts: they're digging up a Tory turf or they're painting snoop on someone's car. Is that a fair observation? He seems to be suggesting that you think that is the only way we can fight back.
KL: Well, it's not the only way, but I think it's the only thing that's actually is fairly realistic at the moment and it would be unrealistic to have a scene in that film in which somebody is very politically conscious and makes analysis and makes a statement. I mean, it just wouldn't happen and we know that, by and large. So, it may well be small random acts that are happening but that, in a way, is the consciousness of the characters in the film - that there needs to be a consciousness, in a way, permeating the film which is saying something which is putting them in a context that's saying this is part of a wider pattern. And I guess, it's what we tried to do at different times - the film overall has a perspective which the characters don't have.
SH: Can we look at your career? I don't know how many people know, but Ken's dad was an electrician who went on to be a foreman at the machine tool factory. How the hell did you get into film?
KL: Well, I don't know. It was, through luck, really. It was a familiar pattern - for those who remember the fifties and I guess there aren't too many tonight -but those who remember the fifties, will remember the secondary moderns and the grammar schools and if you were lucky, you got to the grammar school. And in the town I'm from - they may be similar to the places you know - it was a town of some 70 or 80,000 people and 60 boys a year, from the age of 11, had the possibility of going on to further education and moving on. Like 80 per cent of the kids born in that town at the age of eleven, that was it: they were going to be manual labours, clerical labours, or whatever. So, I mean, I was lucky. I did what many people did, the scholarship, did national service, went to university, spent too much time doing acting, nearly got thrown out, hung on, got a job in the theatre, from there got a job at the BBC - which I thought was stepping down a bit, really, because the theatre was really where the art was and television was selling your soul.
SH: You hate the theatre!
KL: Well, times change. (Laughs ....) But, in television at that time, it was very much theatre photographed electronically so that there would be stage sets around the studio and three cameras poking in and it was a very theatrical affair. And what we tried to do was to in a reaction against that, was to get 60 mm cameras and make fiction in the streets and in a way, it moved on from there, really.
SH: I think, as far as my cuttings go, that one important thing that you seem to have missed out is the influence Kenneth Williams and Dudley Moore in your career.
KL: Ah, yes. Well, small comedians.
SH: Seminal influences?
KL: Yeah, well, they were two extraordinary people you meet on the road, really.
SH: Where was that? That was at Oxford University?
KL: Yes, Dudley was another student at university at the time.
SH: What was that sketch you did with him at the time? The Plonker sketch?
KL: Oh, God! (Laughs ....) I can't begin to remember it. Even if I could, I wouldn't to spare people's blushes! ...Yes, and Kenneth Williams did a review in the West End which they were on the lookout for an understudy and for some reason that passes my understanding, I got picked. Not to understudy him, I have to say, but to understudy Lance Percival. (Audience laughs).
SH: When you got to the BBC, you weren't particularly political, were you? A group of people politicised you, is that right?
KL: Yes, well, it was the mid-sixties, which was a very political time as some will remember. It was a time of strikes and occupations and the New Labour of Harold Wilson as it was then. So, the group at the BBC who I was with, who were making the Play for Today and the Wednesday Play ... through the writers we met, I guess we started to be involved in social issues and then supporting the Labour Party and all those things you do when you were young (audience laughs). Particularly after Cathy Come Home which was a film about homelessness and that was seen at the time as quite a national event and quite a scandal and we went to the housing minister, Anthony Greement and he said that it was a very important film about understanding homelessness and we said "What are you going to do about it?" and he said, "Well, it enables us to understand the plight of these people" and talked in that vein and it became clear that actually nothing was going to change. So it was that kind of experience that made us feel, well, you just have to look to the left of social democracy to actually make these changes. And then the events of '68 in France and working with the likes of Jim Allen, in particular, who introduced us to the serious left, and the groups on the left were much stronger then so I think, we became quite involved in that. And I think there was then a political education that that you just don't see now or don't have a sense of - of being set a book to read each week. I mean we were young television bloods of the time. We initially didn't take too kindly to this - to being told 'This week you're going to read that book and you are going to talk about it on Friday and we don't care if you're in the studio on Thursday night, you'll be there and you'll talk about it'. And that was, it was very salutary, you know, for somebody who hadn't worked at university at all. It took politics seriously, in a way I think we've lost and I think it was a really important education. And we did it alongside car workers from Carly and people from other industries and they had much sharper comments to make than we did and that was a salutary lesson too, in respecting the education of people who hadn't had a formal education and really, all that experience was really very important for our generation.
SH: Could you possibly help us with our education and tell us what texts we should be reading?
KL: Oh, well.. (laughs).. No, well, I wouldn't be so pompous, but they are all in the bookshops, you know!
SH: Looking back at the early films, there almost seems to be an influence of the Nouveau Vague which seems surprising now. Is that true?
KL: I think we were quite bowled over by that, but like a lot of people were - again we were just beginners - and the idea of just just chopping the narrative up of jump cutting of putting the sound shot over the picture of another, of cutting to music, of taking, destroying natural time was very seductive. I tried it rather lamely in one or two films but, in a way, I think the life we tried to create in front of the camera, took over, and you found that by doing it, you were missing all kinds of nuances and subtleties and the respect for the characters you were trying to develop was being destroyed, so I think it was very good in breaking down very encrusted traditions and ways of working - you know, we've always done it this way, therefore, we always will. It threw the vocabulary up in the air and you had to remake it and in the act of remaking it, then you could, in a way, see the original grammar very clearly and that seemed to me, in a way, a better way, to really meet the people in the film.
SH: At what point did you decide - I don't know if people know, but in this film, like most of Ken's films, it's a mix of professional actors, and what do we call them, non-professional actors - at what point did you decide that's the way you wanted to go and why was it and how did you go around doing it?
KL: Well, I mean, again, it's learning from your own mistakes. I remember, when we were doing Z Cars, I had to turn around a show in four or five weeks and that meant you had to cast out of Spotlight - and anybody in the business who knows Spotlight, that graveyard for actors that casting directors have on their desks. You would cast people from that, or interview people from that based on what they look like. And because you had to find people so quickly, you would get people who basically weren't right but they would do the actions. And doing the actions meant this all-purpose northern voice which could be anywhere from Stafford North or somewhere. It bore no relation to the way people really spoke, but it was the all-purpose northern accent and doing that once or twice, you know, you began to think this really doesn't figure - there must be a better way of doing it. And so, from that, I worked a lot with the actors from Joan Littlewood's Company and that was very important because they weren't always who they appeared to be in the play or the film, but they had a kind of veracity about what they did and an energy and a kind of punch about it. And so, working with them, working with writers whose scripts demanded authenticity because their work was so straight. I mean, there was a writer called Jimmy O'Connor who wrote absolutely - I mean, he was a guy from Notting Hill Gate - his dialogue was like Jim Allen's, it was absolutely straight down the middle, because he couldn't write any other way - it was how he spoke. And to get an actor in, who perhaps didn't respond to that, it would become flattened to an all-purpose cockney. So, it became clear that you had to find people who understood and felt the resonance of the language. And that meant, that the next step was that you found people from there and next step was to find people who perhaps hadn't acted much but, could really make it believable. So, it was kind of a progression, I guess, like that.
SH: And then you decided you wouldn't cast against type.
KL: Yeah, yeah.
SH: Is there a danger in that, that in effect you could get people acting out their lives on screen?
KL: Yes. It's not so much that you're type-cast, it's that you try and find people who have something in common with what you want them to show so that they can relate to it in some way and they can find something in them that allows them to make that part live. And then the important thing is that they are then telling me how it should be, you know. It's not the director telling them this is what you should do, it's them telling me - if you can get to that situation then that's easy then.
SH: How easy is it to find people? How did you find people for My Name is Joe?
KL: Well, as they say, basic police work. Just finding or auditioning everybody who looked as though they might possibly be the right age, be the right class - because that's one thing you can't cross I think, is a class barrier - who might be the right class, who might be the right age, who might have something about them that connects to Joe or Sarah or whoever it might be. I had worked with Peter before in Riff-Raff and we got on really well and the same with Louise in Carla's Song. So we had those in our mind, but we thought we should spread the net wide and should see who's around. So I guess we saw a hundred or two hundred people altogether for each part and in the end, Peter had a quality that no-one else had and the same for Louise. So in a way, we came back to the beginning, but we felt that it was really important that we see everybody. And also with the football team, we just went round to the different projects, to the community groups - yhere was somebody who worked on the film called Gillian Berry who was excellent at finding people and we just had big auditions and see who could do what and put the team together.
SH: Your films are getting a bit sexier, Ken, aren't they? What's all that about then?
KL: Well, it's the change of life I think really.
SH: It's a bit rude isn't it, you don't normally have...
KL: Well, I did, yes...
SH: I thought it was your best love scene.
KL: I never watch.
SH: Is that a conscious thing? Relationships do seem more important in the nineties?
KL: Um... Well, I think it is. Also, working with Paul Lavity, who is a terrific writer and I think that that's something that we've together tried to develop. I mean, Jim's also a terrific writer but his idea of a love-scene... if I can digress to tell you... We did a series called Days of Hope for the BBC - it went from 1916-26 from the Great War to the General Strike - and it was a story of three people, basically. There was Ben, who was a young lad who wanted to go to fight and became a revolutionary; there was Sarah, his sister, who was very good-hearted, lefty; and there was Sarah's husband, Phillip, who was an active trade unionist, passivist against the war, and who became a member of the first labour government and you start to see the beginnings of a sell out, you know, traditional Jim Allan script. So, basically, this was a married couple and a brother and we got to film four and we had no scenes between the married couple at all. Apart, from political discussion. And we said, you know, Jim, we should grasp this nettle and we should see what this conflict is doing to their marriage. And he says, "I can't write these scenes". I said "Jim you've got to try, we must deal with the inner life of the characters. It isn't all politics, Jim, for Christ's sake!" And, so anyway, he laboured long and hard and eventually came up with the scene - Phillip had been at the TUC headquarters and Sarah was in bed when he got home and the scene was as follows: Phillip enters bedroom... Takes off his clothes, takes off his shirt. Gets off his trousers. Gets into bed. Sarah is in bed already. Phillip: "Is this your leg?" Sarah: "Geroff!" And then there was a lengthy discussion about what the Archbishop of Canterbury had said on the news that night about the song. And that was about as far as we could get. We've tried to make films about people as well as that.
SH: So there is quite a lot of Jim Allan there? Ken tells him that there was more to life than politics.
SH: What's happened to that nice Billy from Kes?
KL: Billy - David Bradley - was 14 when we made Kes in 1968 and he became - and continues to be - a very good actor and worked with the National Theatre. And, there's films, and then I think he had enough and has gone back to Barnsley and is living happily in Barnsley as far as I know. But we send Christmas cards every year and he's in good spirits.
Questions from the audience:
Questioner one: Your films seem to be very much about protest and about people fighting back, ordinary people .... do you think you'll make a film that will reflect the Blair years?
KL: I don't think so, no, I mean, the Government is consistent. In a way, we know Labour is the party of business and so, what they are promoting, the society that is continuing is very similar to the society of the eighties, it seems to me. And, also, I increasingly think you can't chase headlines with the films, you have to work at narratives and characters and dilemmas that really last. The ones we've done that show their age badly are the ones where you're trying to catch the headlines and be topical, and I think for cinema, that doesn't really work.
Questioner one: What films would they be?
KL: Oh, some of the films from the early seventies, and things like that, and films of the sixties at the BBC. And I think some of the films we've had scenes in, that I would cut out now, really.
SH: The Labour party's actually disowned Ken now anyway. Can I tell them the story about the CD Rom? If I can remember it. A while ago, Ken was phoned up by the foreign office and they said we are making this great CD Rom about Cool Britannia and we would like to celebrate British film makers, but unfortunately we cannot afford to have photos taken of you or to get a CV done so could you send one in? So Ken sent his CV in and he said, "I'm a filmmaker and my aim is to expose the sham of social democracy as best exemplified by the Blair project." (Audience laughs). He got this letter back saying "Thank you very much for your photo and your CV but unfortunately, we are sending them back, because we can't include you in the project." So, Labour has actually disowned Ken Loach, the film maker.
Questioner two : How can you justify using non-professional actors when you so strongly support the unions?
KL: Well, it's a fair point. I think the difficulty is that there are different compulsions: one is to use professional actors for the reason you say, another one is to make the most truthful piece of work you can and sometimes those are in conflict. And I think we've always come down in the end to say our first loyalty has to be to the work. But, it's been done wherever possible in conjunction with Equity - we would never undercut Equity rates and where Equity hasn't operated a closed shop, we've always asked people to join and they have joined. A lot of people who are thought of as non-actors, are in fact, variety artists. I mean, they are comics, or they are musicians, so they would be in the MU?? or what was the Old Variety Artists' Federation which later became part of Equity. But I think, you know, one should never under cut the rate, I think that's the key thing.
Questioner three: One of your strengths, obviously in addition to having great political contact, is having human relationships shown beautifully. Do you feel that you are more portraying human relations between people and the political content is something that you happen to be able to get across, or that you were trying to get across a political point and you're trying to make a good film to do that?
KL: Well, the two should be absolutely indivisible. I mean the way you see the world or to put it in sort of, crude terms, a political position. If you think of it like how you see the world, then in a way, that informs everything. I mean, it informs the stories you choose to tell, what you think is important. The way you treat people, the way you photograph them, the way you light them, the way you ask them or encourage them to behave. So, the two things are indivisible. If the work is ok. If the work is bad, then you find people making speeches and that's really bad work and I know I think I've fallen into that once or twice but I hope not now. But, you see I think another way of looking at that is to say you can't abstract people from their context. You can't take people out of their social being and have characters in a vacuum which I think a lot of films do really, and they become films about people who never have to earn a living, who always look beautiful, who don't have any kind of social connection. So it's a way of expressing a view to just connect people to the world. I think it was Tynam who was saying there should be an umbilical connection between the film or the play and the world of your experience. In whatever way, however distorted or refracted, there should still be that connection that connects the film to the world that we know. But it should never be a crude one-to-one relationship because that then becomes agitprop and that's not we're about, really. And also the key thing is you have to respect the characters, that what drives the film is the people, always.
Questioner four: What do you actually achieve with your films? I mean is it merely a case of sadness at the situation, or, when you make a film, are you hoping this is going to change things in some way?
KL: I don't know, we shouldn't have any illusions about what film can do. I mean, it's just a film, when all's said and done, everybody gets up and walks out the cinema. So, the best thing you can do is to leave people with a question or to leave people with a kind of sense of disquiet. In the case of Joe, for example, a sense of solidarity with the characters. A sense of 'That's my world, I'm part of it, they're part of me' - it's not about some other people, it's about the world I am a part of and a world I am responsible for. And in a way, that knowledge is responsibility, I think. You can't know about that and then walk away from it - I hope. So it's a sense of, the only old-fashioned word I can think of is solidarity, really.
SH: Did you ever believe that film could change things? I mean in most pieces about you, it says that Cathy Come Home led to the foundation of Shelter. Was that true and wasn't that a form of change?
KL: No, it happened at the same as Shelter but the two things supported each other, but it wasn't Cathy then Shelter, it was part of the same concern that produced both. I mean it's a mistake to chase the headlines, because I believe there was a small change in the law but I mean, we've now got more beggars in the streets now than ever. So that may be a peripheral, momentary thing, but it's not long-term.
Questioner five: The film is quite open-ended; did you have drafts in which you prepared the story? There are a lot of things that aren't resolved. You don't even know what the relationship is going to be between the two. He's walking kind of two steps in front of him and they're not speaking. There are two questions there in terms of script development of how high you went and why you decided to stop when you did?
KL: That's the most interesting moment to us, really, because at that point, they are both guilty and the relationship between them was potentially very strong, because they were two people who were really comfortable with each other. You had the sense that they were really comfortable together and then the choices emerged and they each chose the way they did in the film because of who they were and then that tragedy happened with Liam that they both caused. I mean, if Sarah hadn't walked out on him, he wouldn't have got drunk, if he hadn't got drunk, he wouldn't have done all those things, I mean, Liam caught the tragedy. And just having buried him, it's too much for them to have to reach out to him, it's too much, really, because she doesn't know how she's going to be received, he doesn't know how he's going to be received, there's too much guilt between them. But equally, just to go on and endlessly work this out, we thought this could be quite trite because we can each write that end. Does she tell him about the pregnancy? I don't know, I honestly don't know. You know, one could have gone on and on and written scene after scene but in a sense the crux of the tragedy has happened and knowing what you know and what we felt we hope we know, in a sense we can fill in the squares now.
SH: It's quite an interesting point, though, isn't it? Is there a sense that you are moving towards a more eliptical, open-ended kind of film making? Ken went through this bad period in the 80s where he used to phone up from public phone boxes and people would go, 'Oh fuck, it's Ken Loach' and put the phone down; and in the 90s you actually changed your approach to film making and went back to more traditional storytelling. Do you want to talk about that.
KL: With the late and much lamented Bill Jesse in Riff-Raff we went back and tried to find a bit of the vigour from the sixties which I think had got lost on the way a bit. In a way, there isn't a lot of story in Riff-Raff but it has lot of little anecdotes. And then I think with Paul, we've tried to work, in a way, more with the narratives so that the narrative develops perhaps in a more traditional way, but it is a question of characters interacting, that kind of conventional narratives that's based on conflict and resolution or a confidence crisis in resolution which is, in the end I think the most satisfying because it leaves you with the most knotted experiences to try to disentangle. So, I guess we have come to that, yeah.
Questioner six: You say it's not easy to cross classes. How difficult was it for you to accurately portray that side of Glasgow?
KL: Well, it wasn't me doing the portraying in a way. I mean, it was us going to listen and to hear and as I tried to say earlier, to let people tell us how it was. Paul lived there for a year, but he took a room in Rockhill and just met a lot of friends and through him I met a lot of friends and you listen a lot, you do your research and you'd find people who, who plainly are or who appear to who they pretend to be in the film. So they are who they are. Like little Anne-Marie who plays Sabine. I have to say very quickly she's not an addict in any way and is not personally touched by it, but she is very much within the ambience of that - it's not of a strange land to her. It's part of her experience. So she brings that into the film. Same as David McKay. So, it's bringing those peoples' experiences into the film and letting them tell their truths, really.
Questioner seven: Have you had any difficulty getting funding for your films and distribution. And, if so, how do you deal with that at times?
KL: Well, I'm fortunately, not having to do that. I mean, Rebecca O'Brien the producer who's hiding her head in the audience and Sally Hibbin have been the two producers that I've worked with and they've been very good at doing that and it's due to Rebecca and Sally that we've all been able to work consistently in the last nine or ten years because they recently found co-production money and the last few have been co-productions with Germany and Spain and that's a very good system, really. The last ten years, due to good producers, we've been very lucky.
Questioner eight: How much is the attempt to recover the energies of the sixties in the early nineties to do with improvisation techniques? I remember watching you direct a scene - I spent a day with you on the set of Poor Cow - and every take you gave a different prompt to the actors. Are you still doing that sort of thing? Is that one of the ways you try to get that naturalistic impression?
KL: I think that's certainly useful, because one of the whole points of acting is listening, isn't it? It's reacting. If you've rehearsed it all beforehand, and the people in the scene know what's going to be said, in the end it's very difficult to listen after a bit, because you know what's coming. So part of the trick is to make it so that you have to listen because what will be said to you will be framed differently so you've got to reframe it so it has to actually go through your mind all the time. And that's really important. I mean it doesn't always work, but it's like a painter when he's painting a house or painting a wall. You always have like an open edge and the paint is always wet for your next brush stroke and I think it's like that. There has to be an openness about it, kind of an uncertainty, a sense of danger about it because once it's sealed off, once everybody knows what they are doing, when they are going to flick the ash off the cigarette, the things died really and I think that that sense of danger... and again what's crucial here is the camera man who can catch that. And that again is where other collaborations and other partnerships come in.
Questioner nine: Are you aware of any irony between the subject of the film and the likely audience of the film, in that I suppose you could view it that the subject of the film is the victim of the Blairite political project and the likely audience of the film - which is us - are on the whole beneficiaries of it. We're the ones who go out of our way to watch films like this and I sort of had the feeling that it's like feeding time at the zoo - I wouldn't say that most people here are controlled by poverty and drugs and we're sitting on the outside watching in. Obviously you're very concerned about the people you're filming but I guess they're the last people who would get your video out of the video shop... they'd probably get Die Hard 6.
KL: I wouldn't underestimate people quite as much as that, really. (Audience applauds) I'm not one to be cheap, but I think there is more interest than one would think. I mean, obviously, the NFT is the NFT, you know, so your point's a fair one. I had to see Jim Allen last week and I went up to Middleton and we met in a pub where he doesn't normally go and he went to spend a penny and the girl at the bar said half recognised him and referred to the film we'd done there and everybody in the bar started talking about it. I think we do make connections, not as often as we'd like and we know what the mainstream cinema audience is and so on. But I think there is another point and that is that all films are television films and that most people who will see any film will see it on television or through a video on a television and I think there, there is a possibility of the kind of audience you are talking about. But I think in general, the audience is more of a cross section than one would imagine.
Questioner ten: I was wondering what Directors you like. Whether you like modern films, like a film like Pulp Fiction or Die Hard 1?
KL: No, I wouldn't, really. Not really. I'm not a great cinema-goer I have to say.
SH: He doesn't like films, he doesn't. There was one you liked recently. Bulworth you said you quite liked.
KL: Yes, there is a film called Bulworth which is Warren Beatty's film which is quite good (audience laughs). No, it's good, it's good.
SH: It's the most positive I've ever heard him on a Hollywood film.
KL: It's the story of a presidential candidate who tells the truth and it's a good comedy.
SH: But it's not fair to say that you don't love films. There's spates of films that you love, something like Battle of Algiers, or the chaste cinema of the Sixties. What is the kind of cinema that you love? What does it do for you? What do you look for in it?
KL: I think the films that we grew up on which were the ones everybody knows: Bicycle Thieves and the Italian films and the Czech films of the Prague Spring - films that are just very humanist, that just enjoy people, that respect them and where you feel some kind of warmth. I don't see it in the cinema now, which is sad.
SH: Do you see a common thread in Hollywood films at the moment? Are they trying to achieve something - have they got a common goal beyond making money? Do they have a common message?
KL: I don't know. I'm not the person to say, really. You probably see more than I do Simon. My hunch is that there probably is, but I don't see enough to be able to pontificate on that.
Questioner eleven: Can you tell us a bit more about how you work with actors on the set?
KL: The key thing is finding the right people. Finding people who will just go straight of their own volition but apart from that, it's very simple. I mean the key thing is to tell the story in sequence so that the story unfolds with them and they go through it so that the work they do today is the rehearsal for the work they are going to do tomorrow so they go into it projected from that previous experience. Again when I started, we would do things like read throughs - anybody here in the business, you go to a TV show and you would do a read through on the first day - and usually that was the best performance we got, actually. It was usually downhill from then on, because the director - which was me in that case - would come in would start asking daft questions, would give the moves, they'd rehearse it for two weeks, by the time they got to the end of the second week, they were bored to tears, they had lost that intuition, that impulse, they had lost their sense of instinct about how to say a line. You know we would even, God help us, talked about inflection which is death, the moment you start talking about that, you should pack your bags and go. The important thing from my point of view is to keep the performer in touch with his or her instinct because that's really precious because you live off that for the two or three hours that it takes to do a scene. So it's just protecting the actors' instinct, I think.
Questioner twelve: What effect do you think it has on the non-professional actors that you work with after you finish filming them? Do some of them want to carry on acting? Do they change how they are in their community? Do you have an affect on the person you're filming?
KL: Yes, maybe. Sometimes. It depends, really. I think Anne-Marie - she is the girl you see in the film - had done one small part in a five-minute film, but basically, she's not an actor, but I think she's now considering carrying on and I think that's fine. She'll do it properly with an agent and will be protected. I think the most vulnerable, and I guess where one had to be the most careful, was with Kes with David when he was 14. That, I guess, gave me more sleepless nights than anything, really, because - well I exaggerate - more concern, because you know, 14/15 is a vulnerable age and he did go into the business and fortunately, he got well established so you know, you felt well, he's sufficiently well established now that he can take it or leave it and he's an adult and he can decide. But apart from that, I think people have either gone back to their old life and not missed it or they've wanted to do it and have made a shot, so I don't feel too bad about it.
SH: When you talk about sleepless nights, what are they about? What is the fear - that you are in effect giving people a false hope of future in acting?
KL: Yeah. I think that is a danger, because doing a film is quite an exciting thing for six weeks. Everybody becomes a close-knit family, inevitably, because you are working very hard, you are working long hours, people have really put themselves on the line. Then the circus leaves town and it's not easy so you try and make sure the contacts stay open and prepare people for the fact that it will end. But it is, you can't disguise the fact it is an experience which is different to the common or garden job you usually get.
SH: How important is it for you to cause a stink in your films or indeed the bits of theatre that you almost did like Perdition. Perdition was almost put on but it got kind of banned before it was on; and then Ladybird, Ladybird there were rows about truth and exploitation. Land and Freedom actually managed to cause a split in the left with people saying, the Spanish Civil War is the one great time the left united but Ken managed to show the divisions. Why is it so important to show division?
KL: To take that example, or similar example, the great myth is that we live in a classless society or that class is old fashioned, it's out of date, we've moved on. As Margaret Thatcher said, "We're all working class now". Explaining the divisions and the conflict... you can't grow until those conflicts are explored and resolved and the unresolved conflicts in whatever - whether its public, personal, political, whatever - the unresolved conflict causes the trouble later on. So that's why, I think it's really important to bring this out in the open. In a sense you need to, if some people are not offended by that, then in a way you've failed, you know. If the old Stalinists hadn't objected to to the Spanish Civil War film, we would have failed because that was a serious split. We could only learn from that if we know what the conflict was. If we pretend there was no conflict, we can never move on. So it's really important that, and kind of vested interests have to be attacked and things that we all take for granted and that the Newnight, Today political consensus has to be attacked because that is part of the repression that consensus.
SH: Have you ever actually been upset about the attacks at times? The attacks have been quite personal haven't they? Has anything ever got to you?
KL: No, I think you get, not upset, but sort of angry by some of the attacks.
SH: What's made you angry, Ken?
KL: Well, the attack on Ladybird, Ladybird, by a woman called Carol Sarla in the Sunday Times, I think was...
SH: We name names here. Carol come out...
KL: ...was particularly disgraceful because she tried to attack the film - she did attack the film - by saying that we hadn't done our research or that the research didn't show in the film. This was a story about a woman who had her children taken away because she was seen to be a bad mother and a very complex story and it was based on a true story, but only based on. I mean, it wasn't a blow-by-blow literal account, it was a fiction based on the true story, but from our point of view, we made certain that all the significant points were in the film, because otherwise it was cheating, otherwise you could make up any story to make your point stick. So as a point of principal for us, all the key moments in the real story were in the film and she attacked us by saying there was a key element that made the woman a bad mother that we didn't include. Well, actually, it was in and you could quote the line or the scene that said it and the article was based on that. I wrote a piece in reply which they wouldn't print. And, you know, that I felt was very, very naughty. There was a piece in the Independent by another woman journalist who said that we had done a documentary about the Liverpool dockers - a very straight factual piece - and the allegation was that this was some emotional lack in me that I needed to make it and that seemed like below the belt. And I guess that in a way it comes on to something that we were talking about the other day, which is not a crisis in criticism but a real failing in criticism that in the writing about films they very rarely confront the central points that you try to make. You know, when you're deciding on a project and we all get together and we say this is what it's about and this is the reason for making it. They will not confront that. They will talk about anything, like the genre or whatever. They won't actually say is the central idea in the film valid, can you argue against it, can you argue for it? If its valid, what are it's consequences? I mean, we did one film in Ireland that I did with Rebecca, called Hidden Agenda and that was a story about the - I don't know if you remember -the Colin Wallace story and the British intrigues and the shoot to kill policy and all that. They called it a conspiracy theory film, but nobody tackled the conspiracy, ie was there a shoot to kill policy, and if there was, what's our responsibility in that? And in a sense, that's the reason to make it? But, would they deal with that? Of course not.
Top of page