Mandie Fletcher and Beattie Edmondson talk new film Patrick, female directors, being a woman in comedy, and working with animals
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The National Student recently sat down with Director Mandie Fletcher and star Beattie Edmondson to talk about the latest Disney film, Patrick.
The film stars Edmondson as Sarah, a teacher who finds herself bequeathed her grandmother’s pug, Patrick, whom she neither wants nor likes. The story follows her having to hide her dog from her landlord, starting a new job at a primary school, overcoming a 5K charity run, being introduced to new love interests, and dealing with her very naughty new companion.
The daughter of Jennifer Saunders and Ade Edmondson, this is Beattie’s feature film debut.
Mandie Fletcher is a celebrated and recognised comedy director, having recently directed Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie starring Edmondson’s mother Saunders, and Joanna Lumley. She is also the winner of two ACE awards for her direction of Blackadder and The Fainthearted Feminist, along with many other recognised TV and film comedies.
The idea for the film came rather naturally, according to Fletcher: “Vanessa, the producer, has real Patrick at home! She’s got a pug called Patrick, so that’s what inspired the film. And then when we all got together (I have dogs as well) we pooled all our dog experience together.
“For instance, in the film he locks Sarah out of the car, and that’s happened to me before with my dog [laughs], so in the end it sort of wrote itself! If you’ve had dogs, you know what I’m talking about.”
Edmondson has of course played in many TV series before, but says doing a film is different. “Because it’s all one complete story, it’s much more character development than I’ve ever done before a job, sort of thinking about how each scene is going to show how she’s changing, and being in every single scene is really hard work!
“Usually I’d have a little break and go to my trailer, go on my Kindle or Facebook, but there was no hanging around for this one. Which is also quite nice, but really challenging.”
Jennifer Saunders also has a role in Patrick, alongside Edmondson. “People always ask what it’s like working with your mum,” she explains, “and I say, ‘It’s like working with your mum’. She’s obviously incredible at what she does, but she’s also still my mum, so she’s still needling at me.”
A large part of filming included working with Harley, who plays titular character Patrick. “Well I’ve worked with animals before, but nothing so intense as this,” explains the director. “It was really all in the preparation. Julie, who trains Harley, and I got together early, four months before we started filming, and we worked out exactly what he had to do.
“We made a pact that he would not do anything that was not normal for a dog to do. He wasn’t going to jump off high buildings! He is the dog that changes her life, it’s not ‘a dog movie’ where the dog speaks or anything.”
Edmondson was equally enthusiastic to be working with Harley, being a self-described “huge dog person”. “Having an animal co-star is amazing, that’s the only reason I signed up to do the film! I was really looking forward to working with Harley. He is incredible, but he does steal every single scene.
“We watched the film last night with an audience, and I’ll be working my little socks off doing a scene and then there’ll just be a shot of Harley’s face, and everyone’s like ‘Aww’ and clapping,” she laughed.
Harley didn’t just rely on his cute looks, however. “He would work really long hours sometimes,” explains Fletcher. “I was always thinking he would get tired, because a producer who did Greyfriars Bobby up here, said: ‘One thing you’ve got to learn, you see, he won’t work at night. That’s when dogs sleep.’ And I went to Julie, ‘Is he going to work at night?’ and she went, ‘well yes!’”.
“Real mansplaining,” Edmondson pipes up. “It is mansplaining!” agrees the director, “Nothing changes.”
Edmondson continues, “Someone asked me the other day, like what’s it like working in this female environment, because you’ve got a female director and a female producer, and I said ‘It’s the same. It’s the same as having a man there, it’s not like we take breaks to plait each other’s hair.’”
“It is the same,” the other agrees. “Although I have worked with actresses who’ve only done, sort of sexy parts. And they do say that when you work with a woman, you have to get out of that mindset of pleasing the director, because actually, the director is one of you.
“And in the end, they enjoy it more. That’s the only time I’ve come across somebody saying that it’s very different working with a female director, and that was one of those European actresses who’d only ever made a living out of being really sexy, and she said, ‘This is so nice, I feel I can relax.’”
However, Fletcher states “I never see myself as a female director, I don’t. I’m a comedy director, I can work with men. You’d be surprised! I’m quite tough with them sometimes. We’re all looking for the joke and the story, it doesn’t really come into your mind that you’re a female director.
“But I will help women. If a young woman director comes to me and says she really wants to direct, I do tend to try to help them along the way. When I started I was the only female comedy director, and there aren’t that many now, thirty years later. I’m still pretty much on my own! The numbers are abysmal.
“And I don’t know why that is, except that I think women like a proper work-life balance, and somehow as a director you’re working from six in the morning and you finish at night, and it’s not conducive for women to actually have a life.
“I still think that women like to do more things. You know what it’s like, I never got married because I didn’t find the man who liked football and liked opera. They like one or they like the other, and I happen to like both! So clearly you can’t keep up with my life!
“So, I’m going to go off and do my own thing. And when I meet women, I think that they actually would like to do more things, whereas men are quite one-minded - they direct films and that’s all they do. And I can see why women think it’s all too consuming. Women want to do other things as well!”
“Times are changing,” argues Edmondson, “in that I feel women don’t feel like they have to have that work-life balance anymore. It’s becoming less of a weird thing that women don’t want to settle down, get married, have a family. So, I hope it’s going to – especially with the whole MeToo movement – that it’s going to change.”
Patrick is out now, distributed by Walt Disney Studios.
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