Loki is head­ing to High- Rise.

SFX - - Con­tents - Words by Jamie Graham /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Maarten de Boer

Pro­ducer Jeremy Thomas – the man be­hind David Cro­nen­berg’s startling take on JG Bal­lard’s Crash – has been try­ing to adapt the au­thor’s eighth novel, High- Rise, since its pub­li­ca­tion in 1975. Now, fi­nally, it’s come to be, with Thomas hand­ing the gift/ curse of a gig to so- hot- right- now di­rec­tor Ben Wheatley, who has cor­ralled an ex­tra­or­di­nary cast of prin­ci­pals, in­clud­ing Tom Hid­dle­ston, the dash­ing Brit star who won an en­tire Tum­blr fan­dom with his por­trayal of As­gar­dian lord of mis­chief Loki in the Marvel Cine­matic Uni­verse. Why did it take so long to make it to the screen? Be­cause its satire is dark, sav­age and “out- there”, as the fal­ter­ing technology of a state- ofthe- art Lon­don tower block in­sti­gates a des­cent into mad­ness and chaos. Slap- bang in the cen­tre of this or­gias­tic bedlam – grin­ning, sweat- soaked, face cov­ered in blood – is Hid­dle­ston’s so­phis­ti­cated and nor­mally mild- man­nered Dr Robert Laing... You re­searched JG Bal­lard ex­ten­sively be­fore mak­ing High- Rise...

He was a trained phys­i­ol­o­gist; he went to Cam­bridge to read medicine for two years. Once he’d done “anatomy” – once he’d stud­ied the engi­neer­ing of the hu­man body – he gave up. He wasn’t in­ter­ested any­more and be­came a writer. All the way through his life, he’s in­ter­ested in the link be­tween what you can phys­i­cally find in the body, and the pat­terns of hu­man be­hav­iour. Were you fa­mil­iar with his writ­ing be­fore the movie came along?

Only in so far as I re­mem­ber a friend of mine reading Su­per- Cannes in univer­sity and be­ing in­ter­ested in it then. I’d seen Spiel­berg’s Em­pire Of The Sun which I thought was amaz­ing, and was aware of short sto­ries. But I was not par­tic­u­larly an avid reader [ of Bal­lard]. And then I be­came ob­sessed with him af­ter I read the screen­play to High- Rise. I read Con­crete Island and Crash and The Drowned World and some of his short sto­ries and his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, which is amaz­ing, Mir­a­cles Of Life. That’s when I be­came aware of him as a re­ally rev­o­lu­tion­ary thinker. You had the novel of High- Rise with you on set...

Bal­lard gives you beau­ti­ful stage di­rec­tions. “Laing half- ex­pected the in­som­nia so many of his neigh­bours had suf­fered had been some kind of un­con­scious prepa­ra­tion for the emer­gency ahead.” You think: what a great note. As an ac­tor, what can you do with that?

It puts your head in a place. Talk­ing of get­ting your head in a place… why does no one leave the High- Rise as chaos de­scends?

At a cer­tain point, you will prob­a­bly reach a new kind of re­lax­ation and calm, where you be­gin to accept how it goes. You find that with peo­ple in the war zones: ini­tially you ex­pe­ri­ence body shock be­cause of the fact you’re be­ing bombed ev­ery day and peo­ple are dy­ing; af­ter a cer­tain point, there’s only so much adren­a­line your body can cre­ate and you just start to accept a new ex­is­tence. The char­ac­ters in the book re­main rather de­tached through­out...

We haven’t done that all the way through the film. There has to be a way you see Laing change. And Wilder and Royal and Char­lotte, and lots of the other char­ac­ters. There’s a turn­ing point. I think this is one of Si­enna [ Miller]’ s lines... she says, “It’s as if ev­ery­one has agreed silently to cross some sort of line.” And once you’ve crossed the line, there’s no go­ing back, like the mask is off and ev­ery­one’s true colours have been re­vealed. It’s sort of war from then on in. You cov­ered your script with co­pi­ous notes. Is that your usual way or work­ing?

It re­ally de­pends. This was just help­ful be­cause of the way the film’s been sched­uled, ac­tu­ally, due to ac­tors’ avail­abil­ity and lo­ca­tion stuff. It’s been ab­so­lutely dis­jointed, so I haven’t had any sense of chrono­log­i­cal pro­gres­sion. I’ve had to join the dots, like as­sem­bling an al­pha­bet out of or­der. Even with your notes, it must have been both test­ing and tax­ing, to hop around like that?

I re­mem­ber on our sec­ond day, I was do­ing a scene [ that takes place], like, two- thirds of the way through the film. Things were on fire, the lifts were bro­ken down. I’d been Laing for one day, and I was al­ready hav­ing to take a wild stab in the dark of who Laing, at that point, would be. You have to live it. [ Grins] It was more fun than should con­ceiv­ably have been al­lowed. I think Ben’s tastes, mixed with Bal­lard’s sen­si­bil­ity, cre­ates this amaz­ing range of ex­tremes. Some days it’s about so­phis­ti­ca­tion and re­fine­ment and an air of mis­chief and cool – adults be­hav­ing badly. And on other days, it’s just how far do you dare to go into the heart of dark­ness?

High- Rise opens on 18 March.

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