When I first heard of plans for Life Is Just A Game as How To Be director, Oliver Irving’s next project, I volunteered in a heartbeat and kept my fingers, toes and appropriate appendages crossed until I was I could help with the London leg of the shoot.
Although I work for a production studio, I’m usually the gal in the office as opposed to on set, so I was so thrilled to be an extra pair of hands – to make tea, hold cables, move equipment, restrain actors… you know, whatever was called for. So when I was asked if I would be the behind-the-scenes interviewer, I swallowed my nerves and jumped at the chance.
Of course, I was both excited and anxious to actually interview the cast – I arrived at rehearsals to meet Mike, the producer, who introduced me to Oliver, Mike, Johnny, Joe, Sam and Tonia running over lines. Obviously they’re all really close friends and it was fun to see how they inter-act together first-hand, even under work circumstances. Oliver would sporadically repeat an actor’s last line in the full character he imagined as his story come to life before him – looking more like a kid on Christmas morning than the typical artiste creating his vision.
Not wanting to disturb, I was quickly whisked to our make-shift interview set (i.e. Sam’s room) as Mike set up the camera, I perched on a box trying to control my nerves and remain professional, whilst my first victim was ushered into the room – Johnny.
Now we all remember Johnny’s portrayal of Ronny in HTB as a somewhat eccentric and entirely amusing – I’d assumed that Oliver’s had written the character as an exaggeration of the real thing… I wasn’t wrong. Johnny is both amusing and eccentric as well as ridiculously intelligent – his character in LIJAG, Earl Grey is another couple of notches up! Throughout the interview, I had the feeling that he was one or two (if not five) steps ahead of me… until he started playing with the sounds on his handy dandy new phone – amusing and eccentric you say?
Similarly, when Michael Pierce sat down to be interviewed, I’d expected him to be an extension of Nikki in HTB – i.e. bit of a charmer (which is a nice way of saying “flirt”) but learned that this exaggeration was based on him being genuinely open and friendly. As I was trying to work through my list of pre-advised questions about his LIJAG “American bad-boy” character Tommy Delniros, Mike threw me off track, making me laugh with his impressions of Robert DeNiro and trying out his New York accent – my formal demeanor was out the window – and, let me tell you ladies, those baby blues do something to your concentration!
Resident musician, Joe Hastings, was next in my firing line and perhaps has the biggest challenge for LIJAG – the “new boyfriend” in HTB was his acting debut as he takes on O’Neil O’Hara (do we think he’s American-Irish perhaps?) and about 5 pounds of prosthetics – perhaps the biggest challenge for the most unassuming cast member. As he sweetly answered my questions about his character, working with the cast and crew as well as the transition from musician to actor, it’s clear that his character in HTB worked because it’s simply not too far from the truth. That being said, taking on the challenge of someone so as entirely different for LIJAG is perhaps the biggest of all the cast. Playing someone who’s not only another nationality, profession and personality as well as age is a brave undertaking for the guy who’s also scoring the original music for the project.
Bright and early the next morning, I arrive at the first location – a random back street in north east London – with the cast and crew in full swing having already been there for 3 hours! Mike and Joe lean against the outer wall of a pub in Islington – a make-shift New York City bar – with Mike in full “cool guy” get-up and Joe almost entirely unrecognizable looking more like an American Jim Broadbent than sweet and smiley composer.
The most frustrating thing about the process? Noise! Every two minutes everyone had to stop and wait as a car drove by in the next street, workmen drilled over the other side of the park or a plane flew over – with time ticking away, it makes for a very tense environment and certainly when working with a group of close friends becomes your best asset. In such moments, you can practically see each wheel in the team working together – each cog driving the next as things keep running to get the scene in the can!
In between takes, I was meant to be trying to grab which ever actor was free to get some “so how’s the shoot going?” footage – my first attempt was Mike… who hadn’t been to sleep yet and preferred to catch a few winks on the sidewalk than have me pester him – although we managed to get some funny shots of him as curled up for a nap! So I moved on to Joe, hiding under layers of prosthetics and padding, who was however itching to see his own face again.
Before there was time to blink we were packing up, bundling in and moving on to the next location on the other side of town. Movie trivia fun fact: on the cramped drive over the sound-tech/driver told me he had a cameo of the t-shirt/tube passenger in HTB – Thank GOD, it had been driving me crazy!
I’d heard we were headed to a swanky apartment… yeah, not quite – it was in fact a beautiful penthouse, the size of a stately home – and not entirely dissimilar in décor – on top of a building over-looking the Themes. I first walked into the double front doors and expected a leather-clad loft – what I was faced with was room upon magnificent ballroom – from the 18ft ceilings with panoramic views to original paintings and family heirlooms… and we were shooting in here?!
The opulent setting perfectly suited Johnny’s character, Earl Grey – but with strategically placed props (including the Freddie Cruger canvas, which I learned Johnny actually painted!) along with his comedy timing, any airs and graces were out of the floor to ceiling windows. Keeping perfectly quiet whilst trying not to laugh at the scene unraveling in front of you is no easy task – in the end, I decided to try and make myself useful, grabbing more interviews as and when I could behind the scenes.
Sitting down with Tonia in full Amazonian get-up (including leather, studs and not so much else) about Hippolyte, a feisty street-smart vixen, in the midst of the surrounding cushions and chintz, was somewhat surreal… but talking to her soon brought me back to reality. As recognized actress in her home, Greece she’s openly passionate about her profession, which she communicates to a fault – shaking my hand before we sat down, I think I’m finally getting some feeling back in my pinky!
After A-L-O-T of down time between scenes (in which time Johnny memorized an entire shelf of books on a bet – title and author!) where Joe was nice enough to take me under his wing and keep me company – there was a mad dash to clear up and clear out (as we were actually shooting in someone’s home) but I still had to talk to Sam – panic! I grabbed the stills cam, dragged him into a nearby (not entirely quiet) room and balanced my notes on my knee as I attempted to whisk through my questions.
In between all the dismantling from beyond the wall and prompts to wrap up, I managed to conduct my final interview somewhat efficiently. Sam, as a first time actor, thankfully didn’t have much to compare me against but told me about his role like a pro – the humorous “Dekonnik” is very much the straight man to Earl Grey’s ridiculous, and it’s no mean feat to hold the screen next to the talented Johnny White.
It’s clear to me that writer/director (occasional camera-man and deceptively quiet) Oliver creates exaggerated versions of what he sees – from the characters being eccentric versions of his good friends, to the circumstances being extreme situations of how they interact together. His ability to capture such a silver-lined adaption of reality is perhaps what makes his creations a joy to see – both on screen and on set.
After gathering every last cable, eating every last sandwich and drinking every last pint (down the pub later – not on set!) I was so grateful to have been part of Life Is Just A Game… even if only a tiny one. The entire cast and crew were fascinating to watch and work amongst as well as endlessly generous in allowing me to be there – I can only hope to be lucky enough to be involved in such projects in the future – thanks so much, guys! x
To celebrate their new project Life Is Just A Game the maker’s from How To Be are giving one lucky winner a poster signed by Robert Pattinson and DVD (UK) signed by stars of the film Michael Pearce, Johnny White and composer Joe Hastings – enter HERE!
For more go to http://www.lifeisjustagame.com/
- Laura Fuller