Over the Rambow

Di­rec­tor Garth Jen­nings has coaxed win­ning per­for­mances from two pre-teen ac­tors in a new Bri­tish com­ing of age film, Son of Rambow. He tells Conor Good­man the se­crets of work­ing with young ac­tors

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

IT’S ONLY when you visit Garth Jen­nings’s of­fice that you re­alise why he works so well with chil­dren. Sit­u­ated on a barge in Is­ling­ton, Lon­don, it is the work­place of a man who never quite grew up him­self. On this float­ing boy’s toy are two low­ceilinged, book-lined of­fices, where bits of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy sit along­side props from var­i­ous films and mu­sic videos. (Jen­nings and his co-bargee Nick Gold­smith orig­i­nally made their names in video.) Here’s the milk car­ton that starred in their mem­o­rable video for the Blur song Cof­fee and TV. There’s the guide dog col­lec­tion box which fea­tures in their new film, Son of Rambow.

Sud­denly, the shiny new Ir­ish Times of­fices seem like an in­cred­i­bly square place to work. We re­ally need a barge.

In per­son, Garth Jen­nings brims with youth­ful en­thu­si­asm and has a raised-eye­brows, ready-smile look that makes him seem only marginally older than the pre-teen stars of Son of Rambow.

The film, Jen­nings’s sec­ond as di­rec­tor and first as screen­writer, tells the story of two 12-year-old boys in early-1980s Bri­tain. One is a street­wise school bully, the other an un­worldly mem­ber of a strict re­li­gious move­ment, the Ply­mouth Brethren. Thrown to­gether by cir­cum­stances, they con­spire to make a home movie about their screen hero, Rambo.

An ex­hil­a­rat­ing ad­ven­ture en­sues, in­volv­ing mad­cap stunts, shoplift­ing, creative bat­tles and all the hellish loy­alty con­flicts and in­se­cu­ri­ties that char­ac­terise friend­ships among chil­dren. This funny-sad film will prob­a­bly charm any­one who has ever been a boy, or the par­ent of a boy. It may even ap­peal to to­day’s teenagers. But in par­tic­u­lar it will speak to those who, like Jen­nings him­self, were boys in the 1980s.

Now 35, Jen­nings has three chil­dren of his own. Does fa­ther­hood help when you’re writ­ing a script about child­hood? “Well, I fin­ished this script be­fore my first son was born. I ac­tu­ally had this the­ory that I had to make this film be­fore I had chil­dren, be­cause then my view of child­hood would change. But in the end, I ended up mak­ing it af­ter two of them were born.” It was de­layed be­cause Jen­nings and Gold­smith were com­mis­sioned to make their fea­ture film de­but, The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which ap­peared in 2005.

Son of Rambow had to be shelved dur­ing that pro­duc­tion, and so is ap­pear­ing eight years af­ter it be­gan.

At the cen­tre of the new film are two win­ning per­for­mances by the young lead­ing ac­tors, Bill Mil­ner, who plays the char­ac­ter of Will, and Will Poul­ter, who plays Lee. Where did Jen­nings find his young stars? “It was a very, very long cast­ing process and we gave our­selves lots of time. We knew we weren’t go­ing to just go to a stage school, see 20 kids and pick he most pre­co­cious. We went around all the reg­u­lar schools and saw hun­dreds of kids – some bril­liant kids, most of whom ended up in the film in one way or an­other.

“But it was only af­ter about five months of cast­ing that we found the two leads, one very shortly af­ter the other. They walked in and they were ex­actly what we had in mind. By the time they had sat down, we knew they were right. They had that thing of be­ing them­selves with­out be­ing self-con­scious.”

Apart from the oc­ca­sional con­fu­sion that must have arisen on set from hav­ing Bill play Will and Will play Lee, Jen­nings reck­ons di­rect­ing chil­dren is eas­ier than di­rect­ing adults – al­though the approach has to be dif­fer­ent.

“Kids are very happy for you to give them sim­ple in­struc­tions. So you go: ‘You’re cross. You hate him. And when I say ac­tion, you pick that thing up and throw it at him.’ And they say: ‘Okay, got it.’ They see the whole thing as this se­ries of mini-chal­lenges.

“We did try to take away any­thing that might make them feel self-con­scious. There were no mon­i­tors. We didn’t have any video play­back, which is what you’d nor­mally have on set. In­stead, it was like the good old days: I’d sit be­hind the cam­era and watch it, and nei­ther of them saw a frame of it un­til the cast and crew screen­ing. That was the one con­scious de­ci­sion I made, be­cause I thought it would help the per­for­mance.” Bill and Will also brought an un­ex­pected pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the job.

“The first day they came in and had learnt the whole script, as though it was the school play. I said you don’t need to worry about that; just do it the night be­fore. A lot of ac­tors I’ve worked with won’t learn the lines, and come up with this ex­cuse that they want it to ‘feel real’.

“Well, that’s not how it works. If you re­ally are a good ac­tor, you learn your lines and make it sound like you’re say­ing them for the first time. The kids did that.”

An­other bonus was that the boys be­came firm friends off-cam­era as well as on. “We put them to­gether, and they be­came best friends. And of course they were hav­ing the time of their lives, and that had a very big rip­ple ef­fect over the crew. It made even your most cyn­i­cal crew mem­ber, the grip who had seen it all, lighten up. They’d be laugh­ing their heads off watch­ing the kids be­ing dragged across the grass or what­ever.”

Jen­nings also had a clear view of how to re­cre­ate child­hood in a vis­ual way. “I didn’t want this film to look like Grange Hill. From the start, I was try­ing to make this look dif­fer­ent, to look as big as pos­si­ble. So we used very long cor­ri­dors, big, high hills and wide corn­fields.

“If it was a class­room, you’d light it in such a way that it was flooded with that strong af­ter­noon sun­shine that used to come through and put you to sleep. We wanted to cre­ate the me­mory of school rather than the re­al­ity of it.”

Main pic­ture: Will Poul­ter (left) and Bill Mil­ner (right) in Son of Rambow. Be­low left: di­rec­tor Garth Jen­nings (blue top) and pro­ducer Nick Gold­smith with ex­tras from the film

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.