Director Lenny Abrahamson has created a film about a man behind a mask, writes
ing punk comedian, a creative maverick” becomes, in Frank, an American, not a Mancunian; a misunderstood musical genius rather than a creator of novelty pop songs; a character with a deep voice, not a screech.
And the film is contemporised, to the point Gleeson’s Jon documents his bizarre experience as a bit player in a band through social media. Abrahamson says this Frank “fits into an outsider mould” and is a “mash up of a whole lot of other musical outsiders”, including American Harry Partch.
“The film broadened out in its scope about what it meant to be this kind of person rather than the story of anyone in particular,” he says.
As such, the movie “moves tonally between stuff that is out and out silly and slapstick and broad and ridiculous to territory that’s quite dark and what people feel is moving.”
It is an ambitious melange to combine in one film, Abrahamson concedes. “But Frank is such an extraordinarily strange character, he required that spectrum, the broadness,” he notes.
He also required an actor willing to remain masked. Luring Fassbender, who was most recently nominated for an Academy Award for Years A Slave, was an achievement.
“Yeah, I have to say I was pretty surprised when he said he wanted to do it because if there’s a male character aged 30-50 at the moment, he’s at the top of the list to be cast,” Abrahamson says, laughing.
“But he has always made interesting choices and he is driven by the quality of the work,” the director adds of the star of the X-Men series, Shame, and Prometheus. “In a way he’s got to where he is by making the kind of decisions you wouldn’t think he’d make.”
Fassbender told his director he loved the script, which “made him laugh and made him think”. Abrahamson adds the character could have been, in other hands, a fey, Michael Jackson-like introvert in an extrovert’s costume.
“But Michael brings this masculinity and physical intensity to the character that makes it so much more interesting,” he says.
Frank is told through Jon’s voice and social media accounts though. And in Gleeson, Abrahamson has an actor on the rise and able to imbue Jon with something more than the passivity of an unlikely observer.
Gleeson and Bill Nighy dominated Richard Curtis’s recent About Time and he stars in the upcoming Angelina Jolie WWII drama Unbroken and the new Star Wars series.
Abrahamson laughs his previous young lead in What Richard Did, Jack Reynor is now the lead with Mark Wahlberg in the upcoming Transformers: Age of Extinction.
“I’m like good karma or something for actors getting huge films after they get little ones!”
“Domh’s part is really probably the hardest to play because he’s walking a fine line between being despicable and needing the audience to go with him,” Abrahamson says.
“He becomes an outsider in the company of all these crazy people in the band.”
Like many outsiders, Jon finds voice through social media, including regular Twitter updates. The film’s amusing integrated tweets came after one version of the screenplay featured a voice over from an older, reflective Jon.
“The idea of tracking Jon via his social media came up and it seemed so right because Jon is so desperate to present to the world a better version of himself than is there,” he says.
“His voice in social media is ripe for satire and allows us to comment on the whole business of self-creation and avatars on social media that are generally more glamorous and interesting than the people who create them.”
The director argues social media can change versions of people’s lives because they go through the day harvesting and exaggerating possible posts, simultaneously becoming disjoined from the actual experience of your life.
Sievey’s own life remains an enigma. He must have been tortured by the major, ongoing success of many of his band members and peers. His brother-in-law’s friend Caroline Aherne voiced the part of Frank’s neighbour Mrs Merton before earning her own TV show and achieving legendary status with The Royle Family. Chris Evans, who was a driver for Chris/ Frank, became one of British media’s wealthiest personalities and a household name, while Mark Radcliffe, whom Ronson replaced in the band, also became a BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music host. Even Ronson’s neighbour, Mani, formed a band: The Stone Roses.
Sievey wasn’t as successful. Before he died of throat cancer, he was an animator for kids’ shows including Pingu. He died penniless but he achieved some immortality. Mick Middles is about to publish the biography Frank Sidebottom: Out of His Head. And he has a statue.
“He was a remarkable person and Frank Sidebottom was a remarkable creation,” Abrahamson says.
June 14-15, 2014
Michael Fassbender, left, and Domhnall Gleeson in
director, Lenny Abrahamson, below