Interview: River director Richard Laxton
17th November 2015
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New BBC Drama River tells the story of a police detective who is suffering a massive psychotic event as a result of the loss of his partner, whom he still sees and communicaties with in his own mind. Renowned as being edgy, in depth, intriguing and immensley expressive, River is gathering fans all over the country and internationally online. The drama stars Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker, Eddie Marsan and is wrtten by Suffragette's Abi Morgan. Director Richard Laxton spoke exclusively to the National Student to discuss his dramatic techcniques, working with cast, writers and his own thoughts on the show as a whole. What techniques and effects do you use to bring River's character to life? Because he is a very relaetable character to the audience, despite not being in a relatebale position. First of all, I emotionally connect with the story and the script and I emotionally work from inside the story out. So with River, I just found ultimately that I needed to treate him with compassion. so I was never in judgement about him and I was never in a position of looking at him as though I was looking into a fish tank. I wanted the audience to be captured by the cameras and be in the fish tank with him, looking out to the world, and I had to really connect him to the audience so they could see the world from his point of view by getting the audience as near as possible, sitting on his shoulders so they could see the story through him. That was they way I made the choice of location of lighting and camera work performing and the energy in everything. I wanted to put him in a very ordered kind of cubist office environment, so looking in mirrors and through windows, which was a sort of in a way, at odds with his disordered brain but was somehow ordered by everything around him. Also working with Stellen so closely on how he would depict this man and what we wanted to find in the heart... finding the heart in any story is my job, and a good storyteller tries to do that well, and I hope I am. It's to say ok, there is the connective tissue to the character. If I hadn't felt connected when I read the script, I wouldn't have directed it. Because I can't really direct a story very often that doesn't really touch me. Sometimes in a genre piece you can kind of connect with taking the audience on an intriguing rollercoaster, but my homeland as a director is in pieces that, even if it's in comedy, is the emotional connection in the audience and how they feel for the story and character. It's very clear to see from the camera angels and every effect that there is a lot of storytelling in the directorship itself, so how closeley would you say you worked with Abi Morgan (the writer)? Would you say you worked around each other or that her writing and your directing were intertwined? If I love a script and I get to direct it then generally I direct from inside the script out. I don't come at a script and think, "I'm going to make this a version of my own thoughts." I think, what is speaking to me? What is the heart of this piece? So ultimatley, you're already on the right side because you're working on it, climbing inside their work and working from inside, out. Not outside, in. She and I had many script meetings and chats and I love her to bits because she's an emotionally intelligent, incredibly sensitive, nuanced writer who is a master really at connected and articulating human fragility. So therefore, she liked my work and she was very thankful to put her baby in my arms. There is definitley a lot of emotive language and connections and it's certainly driven by that. There is also a very big sorrow that surrounds River, with his closest friend being dead. How did you make these dead characters so vibrant? We're usually given a depiction of a pale, ghostly, unrecognisable person, but you make them seem really present and alive. Well I can honestly say I've never really seen a ghost but I've often thought about people and memories of people in my life who've died, and I don't think about them with sort of grey makeup and a white sheet (laughs). If I had a memory or emotional experience with that person, that's how I would remember them and picture them. I just thought the only way to deal with a manifest is to make them unapologetically there and vibrant to the audience as they are to River. River isn't seeing them through some kind of treated gauze because they are very effecting to him, the effect him highely. So I have to deliver that same experience to the audience. I remember when I thought of how they would appear in River's head and how he would see them, and I'm not going to be in anyway tricky about how they are and of course they make a statement to the vision. I remember thinking..."I hope this f**king works" (laughs) or else it's going to be disastrous - but you just have to go with your instincts. You just have to get the audience engaged and get them to care, be as effecting to the audience as you can. Whether that's in terms of laughter, tears, intrigue, whatever, and just make them feel and they way to do that is to hold the piece in terms of confidence, not necessarily scale and be confident in the way that you present to the world. They really did seem alive and I can safely say it worked! The camera angles are the big reveal in the first epiosde because it's when it pans to the back of her head and you see she's dead. I take it setting the tone is crucial to you? Yeah, tone is everything when you're doing a piece like this because you've got to make sure everybody is in the same world. You have to make sure the performances match and you have to instinctively think about the audience. I have a huge responsibility in my job to the audience. Will they understand the story? The plot? Will they engage with the characters and feel the story? And then my job is to do that in the most appropriate way, whether that's in a convoluted mashup of a scene or a deliberatley elegant one.
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