Ahead of its release in UK cinemas nationwide, our very own Zoe Margolis sat down with British Breathe stars Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy to chat about their experience of shooting the film and of working with director Andy Serkis.
Zoe Margolis: How does it feel to play a real life person? And not just a real person, but the producer’s father? Does that add an extra burden?
Andrew Garfield: You’d have thought it would be, but actually, because Jonathan is so louche about everything…he wears it like a light garment; it never felt like we were imprisoned in it, in an image he had been living with for so long. We were free to create it; any burden or responsibility that was felt, was self inflicted. It was our own pressure, because he was nothing but supportive.
ZM: What attracted you to Breathe?
Claire Foy: I hadn’t had a reaction to a script like that…ever, I don’t think. I wasn’t reading it with me in mind, or thinking about ‘How will they do that scene?’, or ‘That’s going to be tricky to do that location’, which I do quite a lot. I just read it and was carried away by it, and then I just couldn’t say no to it really. I recognised her a lot and felt like I understood her, and then when Jonathan and Andy said they wanted me to do it, I just thought I’d be an absolute moron to not have a go at it.
AG: I wanted to play Robin because he figured out something about living which I want to figure out, which is how do you make a life so beautiful and so connected to other people, even while being in agony. How do you do that? Once you lose so much, how do you make life so meaningful and beautiful, and he did it. And I met Jonathan and he did it too, they all seemed to do it, that family, and I really felt inspired by it. And I read it, and I cried a lot, and I thought, well, this is so stunning, and so remarkable and I would just love to be a part of telling this. What a meaningful thing to be a part of.
ZM: You had to learn to breathe in a different way to portray Robin, did you talk to Jonathan about that?
AG: Yes, and Diana, and medical professionals – that was actually my main concern, because it was so hard, and I needed…I wanted to just do the scenes, and be present…and if I was just sitting there thinking ‘Am I breathing in the right rhythm?’ then I’m not going to be playing the part, I’m just going to be a person doing a technically proficient job. So a lot of my preparation was getting that in my bones, in my body, that stillness; that ability to remain still even though I will have lots of impulses to be constantly moving…I’m quite a physical person anyway, and as an actor I think I’m quite physical. So it was kind of amazing to train myself to not follow those impulses, and in terms of the breath, in terms of the voice, to make that second nature too, create that as a habit, was really useful.
ZM: What was it like working with Andy Serkis, who is an acclaimed actor himself?
CF: All three of us are very different actors, and that added a lot to it. You have all these different voices or approaches to things, and we all talked about stuff a lot, particularly voice and physicality which he obviously knows a lot about. He is a director, and I never once thought of him while we were making it as an actor not a director. He was in control of every aspect of it, he handled everyone well, he was involved with every department, and I think everybody really loved making this film and that’s a testament to him as a person. He’s so sensitive and emotional and loving, and wants to take care of everyone – he’s quite paternal about things. He’s just a lovely man.
AG: he was very sensitive to us, very care-takey, very optimistic. Whenever I would have a concern, he would always have this kind of strange optimism that it would all just be fine; he was right for the most part, actually. He was very loving and very attentive, even when he didn’t have time to be, he managed to find time to attend to my neuroses of certain things.
ZM: So it’s a bonus working with a director like that?
AG: Well, it shouldn’t be. It’s a weird thing with directors. Back in the day, people like Sidney Lumet, and Scorsese, and Coppola, they would sit right by the camera, they would make sure the framing was right, but if it was an acting scene they would just sit right by the camera and watch the scene live…not through the lens. They knew…they were tuned in to the human interaction and the behaviour and the nuances that were going on, as opposed to ‘What’s the light doing?’, ‘Is the framing right?’…that is obviously vital, but I think with younger, more modern directors, it’s a bit of a lost art in certain ways. Part of the job of directing is understanding what it is to create a performance, and the sensitivity to see when something real is happening versus when it’s not connecting. That feels just as important to me as whether the shot is pretty.
Zoe Margolis | @girlonetrack