Interview – David Farr

Interview – David Farr

david fairDeep within our psyches, we all have a certain level of fear, darkness, and uncertainty. Everyone’s version of a nightmare may be different, but the fact is, we all have something that terrifies us. Tapping into those fears, English Writer/Director David Farr brings audiences a compelling new film entitled The Ones Below. Where some films look to saturate their audiences with blood and guts, Farr’s approach is more reality based, but with a touch of dreamlike quality. With a successful career as a theatrical director, The Ones Below marks one of Farr’s first excursions into the world of cinema as he looks to fulfill a new artistic conquest. Recently we sat down with the inspirational creator to talk his love for cinema, the concept behind The Ones Below, working on AMC’s new mini-series The Night Manager, and more. – You have been involved in the arts for some time now as a screenplay writer and more recently as a film director. What inspired you to pursue a career in film?

David Farr – When I was a teenager, film was my great escape into the world of imagination. It was the most romantic art media, it was the one I was attracted to. When I left the university, which was awhile ago now, there were not as much opportunity. I like to be busy, I like to work, and I like to make stuff. I had a nice theater career going. I chose to go down that path for quite a while, almost 20 years. Then, film managed to come back into my life essentially through the film Hanna (2011). I co-write that film and it got made. Suddenly opportunities came up which really surprised me.

I directed somewhere between 25 to 30 stage productions, and now I am writing film. That was wonderful, in my forties, to have been given the opportunity. I hope I am rather like Michael Haneke, the Austrian filmmaker. He had a very similar journey as me. He was very much a famous theater person for a while, until his forties I think. He then started to make that transition to film.

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Focus Features – You have quite an interesting story that has led you to this point. Your directorial feature film debut is in fact The Ones Below. This is quite a dark and shocking film. What inspired you to write this story?

David Farr – It was a personal preoccupation around the anxieties of parenthood. About how it can be when a couple in a city give birth to a child, despite the fact they are surrounded by people, they can feel a strange loneliness. Also, it creates a kind of primal terror that relates to no other part of our life. I suppose we have created a very controlled existence in our modern cities. We don’t encounter death, disease, and savagery on a daily basis. We are relatively safe and secure. In the middle of all that, we suddenly become insecure, which is in a sense the most natural and inherent part of existence, and it is to give birth to a child. It is dangerous and uncertain. It brings up physical and emotional trauma. It is a sudden moment of uncertainty. I suppose I have always been rather aware of it, having two daughters.

I was speaking to another a friend of mine who went through very similar feelings and a very intense experience with his baby. Then the idea came to me one night lying in bed. This whole idea came to me of two couples, one couple upstairs, one downstairs, two women that would be pregnant, and something would happen. From the use of shoes and the uses of color, yellow for example, would make a strange, fairy tale quality a bit. I think that is how I mentioned it the first moment I had the idea of the film, that it would be a slightly strange and highly colored world. Not entirely naturalistic, but it would have this very weird, dark threat.

I have to say I like films that take me to very dark places. I feel it is a very safe environment for us to go to these places because, if we were honest with ourselves, we all know we have the potential for great darkness. We know it is all happening within us too. It only surfaces if unfortunate, catastrophic events in our lives or strange events that happen to us for those to be released. In cinema, theater, stories, and fairy tales, it is the environment we can safely explore those to better understand ourselves.

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Clemence Poesy in THE ONES BELOW, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. – Exactly. As you mentioned, the film has dark elements, but they are there for a reason. We can explore them through film because we do live in a relatively safe environment. Any parent would feel it is terrifying watching the film that something like this could happen.

David Farr – It is like the worst nightmare for a couple who just had a child. I suppose that is how I literally wrote it, as a nightmare. There are many movies that I admire that have terrifying qualities. I think, for example, there was a brilliant Belgian film called The Vanishing (1988), which had exactly this effect on me. Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now had a very strong impact on me as well. These films take me to very terrifying places. Initially, I am not sure how grateful I was for that, but they stayed with me.

I think what these films do is bring you closer to the people close to you and they let you cherish the things you have. They are not designed as some sort of sadistic punishment. They are designed to go to the dark place and come back. It is like telling a child a frightening story. The reason you do that is so the child can experience, in a safe place, the dark sides of life, which are present. To not admit, they are present is actually, to me, a very negative thing to do. To me, it actually induces anxiety. To admit they are there and explore them through art and stories, I think curiously, is a very necessary humanist thing to do. I think the idea of hiding away, which we increasingly do, in gated communities to keep ourselves away from the real darkness’s of the world, which are everywhere, is a terrible thing to do. – Agreed. That is very true. The film’s antagonists seem to have a very foggy story behind them. We know there is something sincerely sinister, but it is only implied. Was it a challenge to subtly convey their story to the audience?

David Farr – Yes, it is interesting because at one level we learn quite a lot about them. They tell us their past, we know where they come from. But you are right, there is something mysterious nonetheless about exactly what they are doing here in this apartment. There is an enigma to them, which of course was deliberate. The quality was to suggest that this couple doesn’t exist at all, or possibly everything they are saying is a lie, or possibly some of what they are saying is a lie. Also, to just let the audience experience it for themselves and create their own narrative. I quite enjoy stories that do not fill in all the dots for you as an audience. Where you can create your own version of events. I think there is a very good moment in the film where the protagonist, Kate, is imagining everything. This type of ambiguity is useful in Horror. The type of Horror I like, embraces this ambiguity.

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Laura Birn and David Morrissey in THE ONES BELOW, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. – Well the film certainly is an enjoyable watch. The entire cast did a fantastic job. Perhaps one of the most powerful of all the performances was that of Clémence Poésy, who plays Kate, whom really projects the emotions of mental deterioration well. What was it like working with her?

David Farr – She is a wonderful actress. She came and screen-tested for it, which was very helpfully for me. I knew she was right. She has a very interior intensity, unlike many British actors, which I think because of their theater background, are a little more outward. Everything around her is inward. She let the camera come to her and let it explore her terrified psyche. She doesn’t really act out. I find that very beguiling. You can really lean into her performance. She doesn’t do a lot, she watches and she feels when she experiences. Kate is a cautious character hiding great fears. It was a very difficult role. The thing we did with the shoot was we were in the same house.

We created a very safe place for the actors to go in very dark places. Not just Kate, Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) goes through extreme emotional stress toward the end of the movie. It was necessary for the film, even though it had a strange honeyed tone to it with the colors, to have a really strong, raw, and emotional part. It was very important that I had actors who would go there with real bravery, and they both did with wonderful intensity. – Yes, everyone did an exceptional job with bringing that quality. David Morrissey is a very intense actor. What was he like on set?

David Farr – He is a very skilled actor. I love the way he went with it, making the character of Jon a bit gosh and clumsy. Then suddenly, you realize he absolutely adores Theresa, played by Laura Birn. He didn’t play malice, he played complete fidelity to his woman, in a very protective way. He is a professional. He is a very gentle man actually. If he needs to, he can scare the living daylights out of you. To have that in your armory as an actor is very useful. To know that is there, even if you do not have to do it the whole time, but can call on it if it is required. He was wonderful to work with.

Clemence Poesy and Stephen Campbell Moore in THE ONES BELOW, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Clemence Poesy and Stephen Campbell Moore in THE ONES BELOW, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. – He did excellent. The chemistry was felt with all the characters. The film is more along the lines of a Thriller, but certainly has elements of Horror. Do you enjoy the suspense and Horror genre, and if so, would you want to explore it in future films?

David Farr – Yes, I think so. There are a lot of genres which I find useful to explore things. I am interested in Sci-Fi for example. I don’t really see myself held in by too many boundaries. I enjoy genre. Probably, I will not be a master of the gorefest (laughs). That is probably not where my interests lie. It will always be in the area of suspense and terror, but I am very happy to explore what you would think is more Sci-Fi and extremely imaginative terrain. – Excellent, well that will be something to look forward to. You also recently co-wrote the AMC mini-series The Night Manager. What was that project like for you?

David Farr – It was a big undertaking. Each episode is an hour each. The second half, I changed relatively rapidly because I felt it wasn’t going to work as a Drama. John le Carré is one of my heroes. He is one of the great writers of Thriller Psychology, particularly of espionage. He is a genius because of the language he uses. The necessary lying of a spy to illuminate the lying we all do in our lives. I think that would probably be one of his greatest themes.

The Night Manager was updated to the present day with several changes made. It was a huge challenge to maintain a very gripping espionage suspense over that length of time. We had a wonderful time, incredible actors. It has been a huge success in Britain and I think it is doing well on AMC as well. I am very proud of it. – It has been received very well here in the USA. It must be very exciting to see that.

David Farr – Yes, television is something I am coming into really quite late. I have always adored movies. It seems television now is so rapidly different to what it was 10-15 years ago. Ever since The Wire and The Sopranos, it really smashed all the expectations of what it can do. It seems like it is a very fertile place. I still hold a huge romantic love and attachment for cinema. I think that 90 to 100 minutes in a big black room together, going to watch something funny or terrifying, is special. I think cinema will come again. At the moment, television is an amazing, powerful medium. It is great to be in and it is a great time to be making work.

AMC – Yes, it seems television has taken the front seat in Hollywood. Of course there are still big budget films, but television is really where it is at now a days. Thankfully there are great films, such as yours, which will hopefully bring cinema back to where it was.

David Farr – I am sure of it. The demise of everything is impossible. At one minute, there were going to never be any more books, because everyone was going to be reading kindles. Then there was never going to be any more vinyl records. It never quite proves true. Forms adapt, that is what happens. I am convinced it will find its seat, no question. – That is very true, everything does adapt in one shape or form. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?

David Farr – My favorite Horror film would probably be Eyes Without a Face (1960), The Shining (1980), and The Thing (1982). I love John Carpenter. I will confess myself a John Carpenter fan. I have huge love of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) film as well.

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Champs-Elysées Productions Lux Film
Warner Bros
Warner Bros

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