Elizabeth, thanks for taking the time to share some insights about your charming new movie, “Across the River,” with the readers at The Critical Movie Critics. One of the aspects of “Across the River” I enjoyed most is the cinema-verite style and how “live” many of the scenes felt. What were the challenges of acting in real spaces with so many people around?
My pleasure. Thank you so much for asking me. We tried to make the film feel as “real” as possible in every way and filming in a busy area like London’s South Bank was part of that. One of the major things to think about was making sure we didn’t record anyone watching us film — a film crew by the river, in summer is always going to attract attention so it was important to try to make sure that didn’t happen or at least as little as possible.
The movie is short by modern standards, but you’re on screen, often in close-up, for nearly 70 minutes. How do you deal with such an intense focus as an actor?
Wow is it really that much! I didn’t think about it really to be honest. I guess you just have to trust your fellow actors and director. In a film that is pretty much a two-hander it is inevitable that I was going to be on screen a lot — it is just a bit disconcerting when you see yourself in mega-close up on a huge cinema screen.
You’re credited as a co-writer — how were you involved in that process?
Yes, both Keir and I are and that is because I’d say 99% of the film script was totally improvised. Although we discussed with Warren the director, what we needed to reveal within a scene in terms of plot etc before we would shoot — how we arrived there was totally up to Keir and I so we effectively created the script in the moment. It was a totally collaborative process from beginning to end and was a brilliantly creative film to be involved in.
What was the rehearsal process like? Were you able to rehearse on location?
Because the film was to be totally improvised the rehearsal was a bit different from any other film I’ve been involved in. Warren, Keir and I talked through together in detail what the storyline was and what was happening at any point in the timeline of the film. We then walked the route, through London that we would be taking during filming, so we had a good idea of where we would be. It also allowed us to include any ideas into the film that came to mind as we explored the route.
How many takes were you afforded during the shooting?
It really depended on how well the first couple of takes went, but definitely not more than three.
Your on-screen relationship with your co-star, Keir Charles, is very believable. Did you know Keir before this project? And how did the two of you build your characters and back story?
No I hadn’t met Keir before we met at the casting but he is such a lovely guy and super talented, we hit if off immediately and he was just a joy to work with — and so naturally funny!
Warren had a thorough understanding of the back-story of the characters and we spent sometime talking about how Emma and Ryan might be feeling at certain points. Once we’d done that the character of Emma started to develop in my mind and then it was up to me to try to bring her to life and fill in the gaps.
You do a ton of walking during the movie. Watching the movie, I was relieved when your character finally takes her heels off. You didn’t have to wear high heels during the bulk of the shooting, right?
You and me both! I am afraid that I did have to keep my shoes on for the most part because walking side by side next to Keir we had to be the same height all the way through the shoot, so no slippers for me I’m afraid. The sore feet in the movie are real!
Another thing your character does quite a bit is talk on the phone. Did you have someone on the other end?
Not at all, I just had to imagine someone was on the other end.
This movie is radically different, in both style and substance, than a movie like “Doctor Strange,” which you had a role in. How different were the two experiences? What are the advantages/disadvantages of working on a big studio movie compared to a small, intimate movie, like “Across the River”? What kind of movie do you prefer as a movie-goer?
They are obviously very different in terms of scale and budget but to be honest in terms of what I do they are pretty similar — I always try and be truthful to the character I’m playing whatever project I am working on. The hugely collaborative and creative nature of “Across the River” makes it stands alone and I think it is a true one-off and as I say I loved the whole process. But of course it is fantastic to be involved in a huge studio movie too — one of many memorable moments from “Doctor Strange” is when I asked for a lemon and ginger tea, I got real lemon and real ginger brought to me so a bigger budget does have it’s benefits! As a movie-goer I like both — what is crucial to me is a great story regardless of budget. As long as I am involved in the story and there are characters I care about then I am happy.
What other projects are you working on? What else can our readers see you in?
“Mum’s List,” with Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox is just out on DVD as is “BBC One of Us.” “CALEB” is a lovely short film that is gathering lots of recognition on the festival circuit and I am popping up on “Doctors” at the end of March, plus there is a super project that I can’t talk about yet but hopefully will be able to soon. I wrote and directed my first film recently called “THE ANGEL OF HULL” so I am busy with the post-production on that too.