During Mayhem Film Festival earlier this month, Impact caught up with Ben Wheatley and Steve Oram, the director and star/co-writer of Sightseers. Arguably the funniest and darkest British comedy to be released this year, it sees a young couple taking a caravanning holiday around Yorkshire. But what starts as a seemingly pleasant trip soon turns into something much more grisly. To celebrate the film’s theatrical release today (check out our review here), here’s our full interview:
Steve, you said you’ve been performing these characters on stage for a number of years. What was the inspiration for you and Alice [Lowe, co-star/writer]? How did you come up with them?
S: Well, it comes from our backgrounds and our families and doing these kinds of [caravanning] holidays when we were kids. That whole experience was something we wanted to… It was something that made us laugh, and the idea of them killing people was the whole germ of the idea of the film. It just made us laugh. It’s very personal; we feel very affectionate towards British holidays and British history, as everyone should.
How did you and Ben start working together? Had you seen Kill List and thought, “This is the guy we want to make this film with”?
B: We hadn’t made Kill List at that point. You’d seen Down Terrace, hadn’t you?
S: Yeah, we saw Down Terrace and thought it was brilliant. We knew Ben anyway from working together over on a TV project called The Wrong Door.
B: We’d done bits and pieces together. We’d also ran into each other at boozers…
S: [Laughs] Boozing up. Yeah.
You chose to set Sightseers in and around Yorkshire. I grew up in Leeds and have been around most of these places, including the Keswick Pencil Museum. How did you manage to so perfectly capture how grim it can be ‘up North’? What techniques did you use to capture that sense of realism we don’t get to see onscreen too often?
B: I think all we did was turn up and film at the places. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say that the attractions were grim.
S: It was brilliant.
B: Yeah. We filmed in all weathers, though. That was the main thing: we knew there was no controlling it. It’s funny, you know, we used to go, “Oh, this is production value.” If you’ve got to simulate hail, it’s expensive. So whenever it happened, we just embraced it, and I think we just took all the places and looked at them honestly. We didn’t really change anything; the only thing we changed was that pencil in the museum that Alice buys. In the pencil museum, as you know, there’s the world’s biggest pencil, but also there’s the world’s second biggest pencil. So I don’t think we were being disingenuous to the pencil museum by adding another sizeable pencil in there.
It was a moment of genuinely inspired comedy. Do you intend to work with Alice again on another film? Would you want to make a similar kind of project with her as you’ve done now? Even a sequel, maybe?
S: Yeah, absolutely. Would we want to do a similar project? No, I’d want to do something different with her, of course. We’ve been with these characters for six years, but Alice and I get on – we’ve got chemistry, I think, and we get on well comedically. We argue, and it’s all kind of… funny!
What was it like committing murders onscreen?
S: Brilliant fun, yeah. It’s the best thing you can do. You always dream of killing people onscreen, don’t you, when you’re a kid. “Oh yeah, kill that bloke!” I loved it.
B: You loved doing it with different weapons, didn’t you?
B: You know, when they bring out the action figures, you’d have a rock, a stick, a car…
S: [Laughs] Rock, stick, car?
B: Yeah. They’re quite low-rent.
Looking back on Kill List now, Ben, which features one of the most twisted last half-hours in film, how did that concept germinate?
B: We wanted to make a horror film; something that was scary. So I just thought about all the things that scared me, wrote them down and put them in a film! [Laughs] Some of it was from nightmares and some of it was from anxieties and we just figured that they were things that would still literally scare me. See, I don’t get very frightened by vampires or stuff like that, but I do get frightened about things happening to kids… small spaces… being hit with hammers… old naked people… I’m still terrified by all that.
And what was the significance of the owl imagery in Sightseers?
B: Well, we thought it was a wise creature, but we talked to the owl man who went, “No, they’re idiots. They’ve got tiny brains, they’re bollocks.”
S: We bought an owl necklace when we went on our first research trip, me and Alice… It’s strange. Maybe it’s the rotating head. It can see everywhere, can’t it? That’s probably it.