A Q&A With “Fish Tank”‘s Andrea Arnold and Michael Fassbender
Posted January 14, 2010 | By Zackary Wigon
A Q&A With “Fish Tank”‘s Andrea Arnold and Michael Fassbender
January is the month where bad movies go to die. English filmmaker Andrea Arnold and the folks at IFC Films, however, have given us an exciting exception to that rule. Having premiered at Cannes 2009, Fish Tank, Arnold’s new entry in the angry-young-man genre that the Brits seem to do so well, has become the most anticipated indie flick of the month.
Set in the housing projects, or estates, of blue-collar Essex, Fish Tank actually revolves not around an angry young man, but an angry young woman — 15-year-old Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis). Mia is a typical angsty adolescent, but when her mother brings her handsome boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), into their lives, Mia grows up rather quickly.Fish Tank is Jarvis’s film debut, while Fassbender was masterful in last year’s Hunger, as hunger-striking IRA member Bobby Sands, and had a scene-stealing turn as a British film critic in Inglourious Basterds
Arnold’s big break came with the 2003 short WASP, which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short. Her debut feature, Red Road, was released in 2006 to critical acclaim. Working with closely framed, handheld camerawork and a mix of first-time and experienced actors, Arnold creates an intricate portrait of a stunted world in Fish Tank. Fassbender and Arnold recently sat down with PAPERMAG to discuss sex scenes, skipping rehearsals, and whether practice makes perfect.
What initially attracted you to the project?
Michael Fassbender: Andrea. I had seen Red Road, and I really liked the way she handles her characters. She does it in a very non-judgmental way. Her characters are ambiguous. She doesn’t make it easy for the audience. I find that interesting. That’s the way it happens in life.
Apparently Andrea throws a lot at you — did you get to rehearse the scenes?
MF: No, Andrea doesn’t like to rehearse. She likes to film from the start, to film the mistakes, the occurrences; to see what happens, capture the moments. She’s very good at capturing things organically, allowing things to unfold.
Did that make you feel vulnerable?
MF: I suppose. It was kind of like the teacher says you don’t have to do any homework. I just kind of played him like myself, tried to keep it as light and as positive as much of the time as possible, and not really dwell too much on anything, because I knew that was kind of the style she was going for. I realized I had to be relaxed. Interesting things happen when you’re relaxed.
Did you construct any kind of psychological justification of the character?
MF: No — Andrea gave me a breakdown of what the basic setup was. My understanding of it was that this guy isn’t a predator, he’s just an average guy. We all have these capabilities within us, and it really comes down to a choice that is made at a moment in time. I think that’s more interesting for an audience member, because heaven forbid that you or I might actually do something like that. A lot of the time it’s more interesting if the characters are just ordinary people.
What was your working relationship with Katie like?
MF: Absolutely fine. She has an amazing instinct to find truth in what she’s doing, there’s no vanity in the performance. Acting with her was — I just had to try to keep up. She’s a phenomenal force of nature. I could see from day one that she had the chops.
I thought that the sex scene had a kind of fascinating intimacy to it, and that it was one of the strongest scenes in the film. With no rehearsal, how did you approach that scene?
MF: Well, I would make a lot of jokes, take the piss out of myself. We talked it through, but didn’t want to do it over and over again, and just went for it. I think we only did two or three takes. I had a very honest relationship with Katie, I got along well with her. She’s a smart, tough girl, and I think she trusted me. It’s interesting that you say that, because I guess most people find it pretty disturbing. But there is an intimacy there. Connor gives her a lot of self-belief. For a lot of these kids growing up in the estates, projects, no one ever really tells them that they’re worth anything.
I was reading an interview you did a while back, and you said, ‘Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods because he practiced that f#%@#&! swing 100 times a day. Why should acting be any different?’ Do you feel like work ethic is sometimes overlooked as a part of the artistic process?
MF: If you look at dancers, they practice six hours a day, musicians, same thing. But sometimes in the arts it’s like, ‘I’ve got talent, it comes for free. This is an expressive form.’ That works for some people, but for me, I think talent is just a small portion of it. I think you have to work. I think there are no shortcuts in life, certainly not for me, anyway. It’s all down to the work you put into something. It’s really that simple.
Andrea, your last film, Red Road, is about a woman who works as a CCTV monitor, and in Fish Tank, some of the most intimate moments in the film are those we can glimpse only through a video camera’s observation. What is it about digital technology that interests you?
Andrea Arnold: Videoing ourselves is now very much part of life. I was talking to a friend earlier who got really drunk, and was wearing one of those Bruno mankinis, and someone filmed it and put it on Facebook. We’re all videoing each other in ways that will really start affecting our behavior. We are becoming our own Big Brother. We’re doing it to ourselves. But it doesn’t always stop you. All the gangs on estates know where the cameras are, and they just do stuff where the cameras can’t see. So the CCTV cameras actually aren’t very effective in stopping crime. By the time they see something happening, they can call the police, but it’ll be too late to stop whatever they’re seeing by the time the police get there.
What was it like to direct the relationship between Michael and Katie, two actors with significantly different years of experience behind them?
AA: It’s quite a wild thing to have someone who’s never acted before, and it can be quite unwieldy. I kind of tried to harness and guide her, to shape what she was doing. I felt that she was very natural. I find that actors tend to meet in the middle somewhere. Because non-actors are so real, the other actors become a bit gentler in terms of what they’re doing. I’m always looking to try to find as natural a place as I can, so as we go along, scene by scene, I try to find that. It’s such a moment by moment thing, directing, in a way. I don’t like to know everything that’s going to happen going into it, because for me, that kind of deadens things. You have to juggle it, keep it going.
How did you direct the sex scene?
AA: I treat it the same as I treat every scene. Obviously I think it’s sensitive for Katie. I try and make it as intimate and quiet and respectful a space as possible. In terms of directing it, it’s the same as any other scene, you look at it moment by moment.
There are quite a few beautiful handheld shots in the film. What’s your philosophy on handheld camera work?
AA: I’m not scared of it, I don’t worry about it being shaky. If someone is running, and you’re running after them with a camera, it’s going to be shaky. Especially if it’s a 35mm camera. Sometimes if [handheld shots] are too crazy it will make you aware of it, but I don’t want you to be so aware of it that it takes you out of watching. I want you to be aware of what’s going on inside the frame. I think of it as a partnership. You know when it works as a partnership, when neither part is dominating the other. I want the camerawork to be revealing. I’ve had some people say to me that they find it too shaky or whatever, but I have my own barometer with that, what’s too much and what’s not. It’s very liberating.
Fish Tank opens on Jan. 15th at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Ave.).
Source | PaperMag