WAITING TO EXHALE
How true-life tearjerker Breathe beat Jungle Book to become Andy Serkis’ directorial debut
FOR A MAN whose acting career has been somewhat unconventional, it should come as no surprise that Andy Serkis hasn’t taken an orthodox route into directing. Usually, actors-turned-directors start out with an intimate drama. But when Serkis first called “Action!” in 2015, it was on a big-budget, Vfx-driven adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Except that was put on hiatus by Warner Bros. when Disney’s The Jungle Book beat it to release. So Serkis’ second production, shot over seven swift weeks last year, is now his actual directorial debut and it’s, well, a small, manageably intimate drama. Although not quite that straightforward.
Breathe relates the story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) — the father of Serkis’ producing partner Jonathan Cavendish — who, in 1958, was struck by polio and paralysed from the neck down. With the help of his wife Diana
(Claire Foy), he resolved to continue living as freely as possible. “The script’s love story element made me cry,” says Serkis, “but what most interested me was the notion of pioneering [solutions for living with] disability in the 1950s to the ’70s. To be living two minutes from death and then take yourself out of hospital so you can live life to the full seems like putting yourself on the moon.”
With Robin’s friends rallying round to help cobble together respirator chairs and refit cars, the story reminded Serkis of Philippe Petit in Man On Wire. “Robin had this Heath Robinsonian approach to life where you’re making it up as you’re going along,” he says. The result is a movie that is less The Theory Of Everything than, as Serkis puts it with a laugh, “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” What it isn’t is a mawkish disabled story. “It’s kind of a heist movie,” he explains. “It’s about being maverick, which is what really appealed to me about it.” Jungle Book may have to wait but, for Serkis, the adventure goes on.
BREATHE IS IN CINEMAS FROM 26 DECEMBER
Above: Stephen Mangan, Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy. Below: Robin (Garfield) with wife Diana (Foy). Bottom: And before polio set his life on a different course.
Ali Fazal, photographed exclusively for Empire at the Ministry Of New in Mumbai, India, on 3 July 2017.