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Natalie Dormer: 'It’s a bold new world for the film industry'

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Starring Natalie Dormer, this year’s psychological thriller In Darkness follows blind musician Sofia as she’s drawn into London’s criminal underground after the death of her upstairs neighbour (Emily Ratajkowski). Though initially ruled a suicide, everything is not as it seems, and Sofia must struggle to survive while caught between the police and dangerous criminals.

Credit: In Darkness

“I love psychological thrillers,” Natalie says. “It’s one of my favourite genres, and it’s the films that we (she and Anthony Byrne, her partner and the film’s director) used to watch as a couple; it was always Hitchcockian films, film noir, with all these fabulous female roles. It’s all about Double Indemnity, it’s Leave Her to Heaven, it’s Laura - it’s all those movies!”

In Darkness is a bold foray into the genre, being Natalie’s first venture into script-writing - and it’s a chance that she’s waited almost a decade for.

Speaking about the late 00s, when the idea for the film was first put forward, she reveals a frustration about the scripts that were coming her way, and how this impacted her confidence.

“I was at a certain point in my career where I felt that I wasn’t of a level that I was getting anything other than two-dimensional roles,” she says, “and so in the beginning I didn’t necessarily feel that I was going to be able to play Sofia.”

“For an independent film my profile wasn’t really large enough. I didn’t really have the bankability in 2009. We only realised that I could play her after Hunger Games and Game of Thrones; it only became viable at that point.”

“For me it was a cathartic process to help Anthony make his movie, and for me write a three-dimensional anti-heroine that I felt was lacking. It was really my Christmases and birthdays all at once, the day I realised I could play her.”

Natalie is convinced diversity in film is here to stay. “I feel the conversation has been too sustained and probing now for things to go back to the way they were” she says. “And that’s not just gender parity, that’s sexuality, ethnicity, it’s everything across the board. I think it’s now accepted, finally, that we need broader diversity in our storytelling, and with our talent in front and behind the camera. So hopefully it’s a bold new world for the industry.”

One of the most interesting points of the film is that the heroine is a blind character, and the cinematography thus must adapt to her. “You basically have to create a visual grammar that it going to illustrate Sofia’s environment and her world to an audience, and help them understand that experience,” Anthony tells us.

“And you have to do that visually and using sound, so sound design is something that we spent an awfully long time conceiving.”

He continues: “You can’t be in front of her, so you have to stay behind her, then being behind her constantly makes you feel like a voyeur - so it kind of puts you in a different headspace.”

“When you’re in her apartment, instead of just having a camera over in the corner of the room and just watching you’re very deliberately on her shoulder; you’re very deliberately off her eye-line. There’s very specific grammar that you’re creating in order to tell the story.”

Allowing the audience to become a voyeur to Sofia’s story, whilst still allowing Sofia to maintain power, is a fine and difficult line to tread. “How to do that, I think, is an age-old psychological thriller question,” says Natalie.”

“You could write a whole thesis on Hitchcockian heroines. Getting that line between victim and empowered heroine; it’s necessary because you need to see vulnerability in a character or else you don’t engage with them physically or mentally. That’s how we identify with a protagonist, that they feel pain and fear the way we do, so you have to have that.”

“It’s a way to suggest vulnerability as well,” says Anthony. “The beginning of the film is all about watching her routine, understanding it, watching her go home, seeing her alone in her apartment, and then there are very deliberate building blocks that are applied.”

Natalie adds: “It’s what you explain to the audience in the first five minutes, that what they see is not what they think they see.

“Anthony immediately tells the audience that they can’t trust themselves, so the unreliability of what you think you see, or whom you think you’re watching, is immediately set up.

“And like I say, for us, you can call it derivative, but it’s just a love letter to psychological thrillers - as film lovers ourselves.”

In Darkness is out on Digital and DVD now

This article was originally published in our Freshers 2018 print magazine. You can read the magazine here.

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