Interview: Filmmaker Andrea Arnold Talks About Her 'Wuthering Heights', 'Red Road' And The Magic Of Cinema
For someone on her third feature, British filmmaker Andrea Arnold has certainly proven she’s a natural talent when it comes to raw emotional work. After making the 2005 live action short "WASP," which she won the Academy Award, her first film the raw Hitchcockian type thriller "Red Road" proved that the cinematic bravado of Arnold was no fluke. She followed it up with a very unique coming of age tale called "Fish Tank," featuring stunning performances by leads Katie Jarvis and the great Michael Fassbender. Her third and latest film is a visual and visceral take on Emily Bronte’s classic novel "Wuthering Heights" (out in theaters Oct. 12 from Oscilloscope), but in her usual fine form there’s a style and fervor that’s distinctively Andrea Arnold. (Meaning no period frills or sweeping score – it’s all about emotion!) We got a chance to chat one-on-one with the very distinguished Arnold, who talked about her vision of "Wuthering Heights," the subtle intimacy between her Catherine and Heathcliff, plus a look back at her two other amazing films. Here’s the very talented...
There was a scarce amount of dialogue in lieu of an arresting visceral visual storytelling for your "Wuthering Heights" – what inspired you to take Emily Bronte’s story in such a unique direction?
Andrea Arnold: I don't know – I did start at the very beginning thinking I’m just gonna make this film in the way I know how. But I revisited the book and went through the book. I felt it was a difficult book and I wanted to capture the essence of that for the film. The brutality and the cruelty and the nature of things are very much a part of the book and I wanted the film to capture that - I wanted it to be very visceral.
There is an intimacy and urging eroticism between your Heathcliff and Catherine without almost any physical contact – what were some of the challenges of taking that approach?
AA: I’m glad you think that’s there because I’m not sure they thought that was there between them – it’s the magic of cinema isn’t it. To try and capture that I would say that the thing that was difficult is that thirteen year-olds don't want to actually be around each other if they’re of the opposite sex. They’re really wary of each other and Shannon and Solomon have that element. (Laughs) So I would say the biggest challenge was getting them to actually be in the same room together.
Can you talk a bit about your style and tone as a director, especially as it pertains to the primal nature of "Wuthering Heights?"
AA: I think in some ways my reputation for doing things in quite a real way lends itself to that novel and the essence of that novel – it’s a very raw novel. On some level my way of doing things was very right for the way the book is.
"Red Road" felt like a Hitchockian thriller with a hidden emotional underbelly – where did the story and tone for that film come from?
AA: "Red Road" was part of a project called "Advance Party" and it was a thing like Dogma where they tried to get a bunch of filmmakers to make films using the same rules. So I got asked if I wanted to take part in that and jumped at it. I love rules and I love the whole Dogma thing. So I was given seven characters and Jackie, who plays the CCTV operator, was described as someone who was shut down and things had happened in her past and I just took it from there. But the characters that were given to me led to "Red Road."
"Red Road" also felt incredibly authentic – was there any of the story taken from your own personal experience?
AA: No, no. When I was given these characters I wrote three different ideas for stories. One was at an old people’s home, one was "Red Road" and another one centered around a huge crash at a motorway station where all these people came into contact with each other. So I when in and asked them which one was the one we should go for and they picked "Red Road."
The chemistry between Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender in "Fish Tank" is so effectively sly and subtle – did they have an instant connection?
AA: It’s interesting that you say that because the way we shot that film – we shot it chronologically – Katie had never acted before and I was really aware that it was going to be a big thing for her. Also I was curious to know what would happen if we just shot the script bit by bit without them knowing what was coming and if that would lend more innocence to the earlier scenes. So we did that – they basically didn't see the script. When I first met Katie I told her that she would have a couple of sex scenes because I didn't want to get a non-actress and put her in this position and she hadn't seen the script. So I told her and she knew she had a big sex scene coming but what’s really interesting is until a few days before she hadn't worked out it was going to be with Michael Fassbender. So that thing you’re describing – that’s cinema. She didn't even realize she was supposed to like him.
Having made films with certain emotional cores but with very different elements, what can we expect next from you?
AA: I’m in the middle of writing something – it’s a contemporary and small film.
“WUTHERING HEIGHTS” IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN NEW YORRK AND OPENS IN LA AND SELECT CITIES OCT. 12 FROM OSCILLOSCOPE LABORATORIES.