Impact’s Ben Griffin gets all scandalous as he attends a Q+A with the director of ‘Notes on a Scandal’ Sir Richard Eyre. Critically acclaimed playwright, accomplished filmmaker and the recent recipient of an honorary degree straight from the halls of Nottingham University, Sir Eyre (did we mention he’s a ‘Sir’?) talks underage sex, Dame Judi Dench’s bondage pranks and the definition of ‘buttock-cleft’.
Notes on a Scandal covered a few touchy issues. Just how difficult is ‘difficult’?
Underage sex is very, very difficult. I had to have long conversations with L.A. Lawyers over what could and couldn’t be shown. In one talk I was asked to define the term ‘buttock-cleft!’ In certain states you have to be over 21 to have sex, and by definition, shooting sex is difficult.
You obviously made the work your own. There was a bit in the film not included in the novel where a character laments the state of Charlton Athletics’ football team.
Of course, he’s a Spurs fan – which one would define as a total loser. I’m sure the author Zoe Heller doesn’t mind as she was handsomely paid in the royalties. I do recommend her novel – a classic case of unreliable narrator.
There’s a rumour floating around that Dame Judi Dench is a notorious prankster. How did you cope?
Yes, she has a wonderful sense of fun. Once, filming in North London, our producer spied a bondage shop and told Judi. She thought it would be a good idea to put herself in one of those adult ads you see in payphones. She’s larky. The actress Lauren Bacall was appalled at her nude scene in the film, but seriously, no other actress in the world could play her parts.
What have you got in the pipeline?
I just finished work on ‘The Other Man’ with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney and its playing at the London Film Festival this Friday, and this November I’m directing Carmen at the Met theatre in New York. The life of a freelance is completely ridiculous. All I know is I have a definite job next year.
Are you free to choose what to work on?
God no. After theatre work I went back to freelance and get offered odd things. I’m known as a director who likes actors – doesn’t really say a lot. Though I get good support from ageing actresses because they know I’ll be nice to them.
Do you have a preference between film and theatre?
It’s hard not to sound soppy but I do love theatre and seeing the faces of the audience live. Film is such an industrial process you have to make sure life is preserved. Film lasts forever – like a tombstone. The world is obviously divided into rich and poor, but more specifically into people who enjoy their job and people who don’t. I’m lucky to enjoy doing what I love and then receiving extraordinary praise and awards. It’s so unfair isn’t it? But the downside is people will pelt you with rotten fruit if you mess up.
In July you received an Honorary doctorate from Nottingham University. Can you explain the significance?
I am incredibly grateful. Nottingham is my heartland and as someone who didn’t do particular well in my studies I am genuinely flattered. Now I walk around Nottingham and although the landmarks have changed the heart is still the same. I am here today because I wanted to give back. Today at the University I was conducting a workshop on utopia. We separated into lots of little groups and all had to form bonds with common interests. Films are the sums of their parts and a lot like building utopias. I’m lucky to live in a world where you can create an ideal world, and will continue making films as long as they have me.
Finally, have you got any advice for budding filmmakers or playwrights?
As Ken Loach says: ‘work in the theatre’! Films are dependent on the writer. It’s just not true that film is a director medium; all films start with the script. It’s so hard to get directing jobs whereas all you need to write is a piece of paper.