Interview: Steven Knight from “Locke”
The Massie Twins recently had an opportunity to sit down with writer/director Steven Knight to discuss his newest thriller “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy and Ruth Wilson. The film, set to open April 25th, 2014 in Phoenix, sees a successful construction manager’s life unravel drastically through a series of phone calls as he drives his BMW SUV into London one fateful night. An experimental concept, the movie takes place entirely inside of Ivan Locke’s vehicle with no other actors, other than Hardy, appearing onscreen.
The Massie Twins: Coincidentally, just this morning, we happened to notice a BBC News article on a Ridley Scott production set to star Tom Hardy… and written by Steven Knight!
Steven Knight: I did know they were announcing that!
MT: Where did the idea stem from to craft a story around only a single character appearing onscreen?
SK: I had just finished making a film called “Redemption” that was made in the conventional way. When we were testing the cameras, we shot moving vehicles in London and I found the test images beautiful. It was like an installation. I thought, “Could that be the theater and you put an actor in there and shoot a play?” I was meeting Tom about another thing and discussed the possibility. He loves theater, so he was up for it. I wrote it, and then in probably about eight weeks, we were shooting.
MT: Did the old adage about writing what you know come into play with Locke’s profession? Was it primarily an analogy, or something you had prior experience with?
SK: It’s a bit of both. I wanted to choose a profession that was ostensibly boring and ordinary – and no one considers a concrete pour to be a dramatic event. When I was much younger I worked on a construction site and when the concrete arrives, it’s the big day. It’s got to be dealt with or it’ll go hard and become a problem. Part of the ethos of the film was to take ordinary things and see the drama in them. To him and the people he works with, this is the end of the world. It’s not going to make the papers, it’s not going to make the news, but for those people involved, it’s really serious.
I then spent some time with the man, the engineer, who effectively built the Shard in London (it’s one of the tallest buildings and was just completed), and got the technical stuff from him – and the importance of it and the money involved.
MT: What was the decision behind the Welsh accent for Tom and the various other accents for supporting characters?
SK: I wanted him to be working class. There are many accents in Britain, which have baggage. A London accent, Birmingham accent, Liverpool accent – they have a certain characteristic, if you’re British. Whereas the Welsh accent is working class but it doesn’t have so much baggage with it. It’s also very poetic and lyrical. Tom has got a friend who’s Welsh, so he did his voice.
MT: When writing Locke’s character, did you have Tom Hardy in mind?
SK: Yes. Before I wrote it, I discussed the idea with him and he got into it straight away.
MT: What about the supporting roles?
SK: It was amazing. I think because Tom was on board, it helped. We basically approached the best actors around and amazingly, they all said, “yes.” And it was not an attractive proposition. It’s 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM in a hotel conference room making phone calls, and you’ll never be onscreen.
MT: Did you think about specific voices, or was it about the actors?
SK: The actors. We sat around the table for five days and read through it over and over again and did whatever directions there, so that when we were on the road, we could just shoot it.
MT: Was the whole film shot at night?
SK: Yes. It was hard. It was February, so it was cold and wet. The car was on a low loader, a flatbed truck, with the wheels off so it was at the right height. I was on a canopy thing on the truck and I had a link to the conference room where the other actors were. I would say “Action!” and “Go!” and cue the first call and we’d shoot it beginning to end. We tried to do it twice per night, so in the end, we probably had about 16 movies. Then we cut the best bits together.
MT: And it was on a very tight schedule!
SK: Yeah, eight days!
MT: What was the camera setup like?
SK: There were three Red Cameras. Every 27 minutes we would pull over, change the memory cards, the lenses, the angle, so that we would have as much variety as possible. And then off we’d go. Obviously, we had one camera we could move, but the rest of the time just those.
MT: What role did you play in the editing process? Did you supervise everything?
SK: Yeah, absolutely! If you worked it out, you probably have ten billion versions that you could get from the 16 – think of all the combinations! Interestingly, we kept going back to the same nights. Usually when everybody is tired and it’s dark, miserable, and cold, that’s when it seemed to work and really came alive.
MT: Since the shoot was on such a short schedule, how intense was the preproduction and planning?
SK: It was a matter of, “Let’s make sure we’ve got everything right before we set off,” because once you’re on the road, it’s a big deal to pull over. You need to have a place where you have permission to pull over. We tested where there was a phone signal on each stretch of the road because it was a real phone line that we were using. I said, “If we ever lose the line, just react as you would.” But we were really lucky, it didn’t really happen.
MT: It’s funny that you’d mention needing permission to pull over, because it draws a sort of parallel to Locke struggling over permission for police assistance during his construction ordeal. What was it like filming on a highway?
SK: It was a problem. Filming on a flatbed is not allowed on most motorways, but we did it a bit without permission. We also found a piece of highway that is privately owned. So we were able to shoot there. And then we did some free driving, where we were in the back of the car while Tom was driving for real. It was meant to be just establishing shots, but sometimes it would be really good stuff.
MT: We found the soundtrack to be very memorable. How closely did you work with the composer?
SK: It was just a question of saying, “We’ve got this very odd film,” and “What do you think?” We had at least one composer who said, “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know what to do.” Either you get it or you don’t. The second composer really got it. I think he’s done a beautiful job.
MT: How did you approach the filming of Tom speaking to, basically, the vehicle? Was most of it done live?
SK: All live! In filmmaking, there’s always a good reason not to do the obvious thing. But we did the obvious thing, which was to get the actors in a room with a real phone line. I would cue the first phone call, they’d make the call, Tom would be sitting there, hear the ring, then read the script. And so it became real. What’s great about it as a dramatist is that when you’re on the phone, sometimes your voice is saying one thing and your face is saying the opposite.
MT: While watching it, you’d assume from a technical standpoint that it was all recorded, that he wasn’t necessarily having a live conversation.
SK: That’s the thing. There’s a great thing in “The Simpsons,” where one of the characters comes across a film crew. They’re talking and the film guy says, “If we need a horse, we get a cow and paint it to look like a horse.” The character asks, “Well, what do you do if you need a cow?” The response: “We tie a lot of cats together.” (laughs) There’s always a daft thing – you can’t just do that, you have to do this weird thing! I said, “Why? Why not just do it?”
MT: On that note, was there a level of improvisation the actors could employ if something came up?
SK: Improvisation in terms of the mood, definitely. In terms of the script, Tom likes to read off the page – he had it in the GPS and sometimes in the rearview mirror.
MT: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
SK: Keep the budget low if you can. Persuade good actors to do it. And make it interesting to an actor. They’re desperate for interesting stuff, because they get the same stuff over and over again. If you can get an actor or actress out of their comfort zone, offer them something meaty and short. It’s great saying, “Give me eight days,” instead of “eight weeks.” The way technology is at the moment, it’s great. People don’t care so much about technical stuff in movies. They care about the action, the people in them.
MT: Tell us a bit about Shoebox Films, the production company for “Locke.”
SK: I came across Paul Webster when we did “Eastern Promises,” and he set up his own company and we did “Redemption.” They’re very open to ideas. The next thing I do, I’ll go to them as well.
MT: What was the budget like for “Locke” in comparison to “Redemption?”
SK: This was $2 million. People like that. “You’ve got Tom Hardy and you only want $2 million? Yeah, fine!”
MT: We would think this is almost harder to do than “Redemption,” even though that film had a bigger budget.
SK: In terms of time, no. The great thing about a short shoot like this is you always know it’s near the end. No matter how hard it is, all the crew, everyone knows it’ll be done by the weekend. You do get that great buzz, whereas if you’re doing a conventional shoot, it’s a marathon.
MT: This is a little off topic, but “Redemption” was originally called “Hummingbird.” I’m guessing you had nothing to do with that name change?
SK: It’s so annoying.
MT: Silly America!
SK: (laughs) No, I don’t know why. Hummingbird is a drone. This is a thing of mine: In general, the film industry mistrusts the American public. The American film audience is great! They’re totally film literate, more than any other culture on earth. So I don’t know why they dumb everything down.
MT: We found the Donal character to be particularly interesting in “Locke” because he’s primarily comedic, yet in reality, he in just as much of a stressful situation as Ivan. Was it a balancing act to make him believable and humorous?
SK: It was good because Tom and he have been friends for a while. The challenge was to stop them from laughing. It really works – we see Ivan Locke laugh for the first time, so it really helps.
MT: Now that you’ve directed two films that you also wrote, are you going to continue directing your own scripts?
SK: Yes, I’m going to direct something else with Tom, hopefully starting next year – another sort of experimental film, but with more than one actor!
– The Massie Twins (4/4/14)