After walk­ing out on ‘Jane Got a Gun’, the di­rec­tor emerges, rep­u­ta­tion en­hanced, with the bru­tal re­venge thriller ‘You Were Never Re­ally Here’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY TARA BRADY ■ You Were Never Re­ally Here is out now

The ac­claimed Scot­tish di­rec­tor has her re­venge

In spring of 2013 Lynne Ram­say, the award-win­ning di­rec­tor of Morvern

Cal­lar and We Need toTalk About Kevin, walked off the New Mex­ico set of the Natalie Port­man pic­ture Jane Got a Gun, two days be­fore she was due to start shoot­ing. Orig­i­nal cast mem­bers Michael Fass­ben­der, Bradley Cooper and Jude Law fol­lowed the Scot­tish au­teur out the door. The fall­out was noisy: a breach of con­tract and fraud com­plaint filed by pro­duc­ers sought more than $500,000 in dam­ages, and called the film­maker “abu­sive” and “dis­rup­tive”. All par­ties set­tled qui­etly and out of court by the fol­low­ing spring, but not be­fore Ram­say heard crass jokes about her “be­ing on her pe­riod”.

It’s hard to rec­on­cile words like “abu­sive” and “dis­rup­tive” with the softly spo­ken, unas­sum­ing di­rec­tor. Last May, when You

Were Never Re­ally Here pre­miered at Cannes, she re­sponded to this news­pa­per’s query about the film’s eco­nom­i­cal length with char­ac­ter­is­tic good hu­mour: “I didn’t want to bore you all at Cannes,” she smiled. “There’s noth­ing worse than be­ing at the end of the fes­ti­val and watch­ing a two-and-a-half hour long film with self-in­dul­gent scenes. All of my films are 90 min­utes. Though they might feel like two hours to some peo­ple.”

To­day, as the same taut thriller de­buts at this year’s Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Ram­say is both philo­soph­i­cal and sur­pris­ingly cheery as she re­calls the af­ter­math of Jane

Got a Gun, and a de­par­ture she has al­ways sim­ply at­trib­uted to “creative dif­fer­ences”. Was she ever con­cerned that the in­ci­dent might tar­nish what had been a glit­ter­ing rep­u­ta­tion?

“Not re­ally,” smiles Ram­say. “I just thought I’ll pick my­self up and get on with it. Ev­ery di­rec­tor I know has had a crazy ex­pe­ri­ence. Lots of di­rec­tors have worked on a film for five or six years and then had it taken off them. Or some­body else came along and made a suc­cess­ful movie of some­thing they had been writ­ing. It’s one of those jobs, you know. Things don’t al­ways work out. It’s a pat­tern. You prep and prep. But all my en­er­gies ended up go­ing into the next one.”

They sure did. You Were Never Re­ally Here, which won two ma­jor prizes at Cannes – the best ac­tor award for Joaquin Phoenix and the best screen­play award for Ram­say – looks cer­tain to si­lence the writer-di­rec­tor’s crit­ics. An in­tense New York re­venge cy­cle, the film sees Joe, Phoenix’s dam­aged mer­ce­nary, dis­patched to res­cue a politi­cian’s un­der­age daugh­ter from a brothel. The mis­sion is far more com­pli­cated than what it seems.

“Jonathan is just a great writer and nor­mally very hu­mor­ous,” says Ram­say of Jonathan Ames, who wrote the source novel. “This was a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion for him. It was a very strong page-turner and I wanted to carry that qual­ity into the film. But it was a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion for my­self and Joaquin as well. We’ve never done an ac­tion film or any­thing like this. What­ever this is.”

The film shares recog­nis­able DNA with such dirty thrillers as Taxi Driver and Death Wish. Ram­say’s lo­ca­tion man­ager Sascha Springer, a na­tive New Yorker, some­how scoped out parts of the city that seem largely un­changed since the 1970s. A sense of fevered panic, pow­ered along by Jonny Green­wood’s score and Phoenix’s per­for­mance, was partly as­sisted by the lo­gis­tics of the shoot.

The di­rec­tor and Phoenix didn’t meet for the first time un­til the ac­tor showed up to shoot fol­low­ing the sud­den post­pone­ment of an­other project he was at­tached to. The pro­duc­tion lasted only 29 days. Ram­say rewrote the script and Phoenix im­pro­vised as they went along. His di­shev­elled ap­pear­ance al­lowed them to shoot across the city with­out any­one recog­nis­ing him.

“He looked like a con­struc­tion worker,” she says. “So that added to the crazy en­ergy, too. Films don’t hap­pen overnight. But this one al­most did. The script was al­ready in quite good shape. And then Joaquin be­came avail­able and my pro­ducer called up and asked: do you want to go to New York and do it? And then next minute, I was in this crazy city with just 29 days to go. Joaquin and I talked a lot about things that were in the book that seemed cool but that felt gad­gety out­side of the book. I had to kill a few dar­lings.”

When Ram­say un­veiled You Were Never Lynne Ram­say: “Ev­ery di­rec­tor I know has had a crazy ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Re­ally There at Cannes, some seven months later, the film still didn’t have fi­nal cred­its at­tached. Mind you, Cannes has al­ways been wel­com­ing to the Scot­tish di­rec­tor. Hav­ing stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy at Ed­in­burgh’s Napier Col­lege and cine­matog­ra­phy at the Na­tional Film and Tele­vi­sion School, she won the Prix de Jury in 1996 for her short grad­u­a­tion film

Smalls and Death, and again in 1998 for her third short Gas­man. Her de­but fea­ture film

Rat­catcher pre­miered in Un Cer­tain Re­gard (2000) win­ning Spe­cial Men­tion. We Need to

Talk about Kevin was the only Bri­tish film nom­i­nated for the Palme d’Or in 2011.

“I didn’t know I’d be a film­maker,” says Ram­say. “I didn’t go to col­lege with that idea. It was only after I started ex­per­i­ment­ing with cam­eras. I liked draw­ing. I was a kid you could leave in the cor­ner with a pa­per and a pen­cil for hours. I thought I’d go to art school. And that be­came still pho­tog­ra­phy, then the shorts. But my mum and dad were re­ally into movies. They were of that gen­er­a­tion that went to the pic­tures. I re­mem­ber mum telling me about go­ing to see Do­rian Grey in a cin­ema out in the coun­try­side and hav­ing to walk home be­cause she didn’t have her bus fare. And how the film had fright­ened her. I’d watch movies at film school and I’d re­alise: ‘Oh. Dou­glas Sirk. I know this movie.’ Be­cause I’d al­ready have watched it with my mum.”

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