The Movie Set
MR PORTER meets the men of the moment at the Toronto International Film Festival
Just as the tennis season has its Grand Slams, so cinema has its festivals. Sundance in January, Berlin in February, Cannes in May and then The Toronto International Film Festival in September. Of these, Toronto has the reputation for enthusiastic audiences and being a launch pad for Oscar contenders (and yes, we’re aware that Ms Paris Hilton debuted her feature-length reality documentary Paris, Not France there).
This year was no exception as The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Foxcatcher all generated buzz with Messrs Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch and Steve Carell respectively joining a long list of potential Best Actor nominees. In Foxcatcher, Mr Carell is unrecognisable as wrestling-obsessed paranoid schizophrenic Mr John du Pont. Mr Cumberbatch plays master code breaker Mr Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, while Mr Redmayne wowed audiences and received a standing ovation for his performance as the ALS-stricken mathematician, Professor Stephen Hawking.
Their hopes are not without precedent: in total, 10 of the movies to have taken the People’s Choice Award, the top prize in Toronto, have gone on to win either Best Picture, Best Documentary or Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars – a roll call that includes last year's winner, 12 Years a Slave, and a film that showed here in 2008 before going on to sweep the board in 2009, Slumdog Millionaire. This year's winner, The Imitation Game, will no doubt hope to follow in their footsteps.
The show-business event is not without its undercurrent of commerce. Veteran producers troll the lobby of the Shangri-La looking to raise financing for a “passion project”, two of the scariest words in the business. Hungry agents have their eyes on different quarry, looking to sign an up-and-coming actor or film-maker.
But it’s not just Academy hopefuls and slick industry bigwigs in town. With almost 80 countries represented in a programme that spans every genre, from documentary to experimental indie to good old-fashioned blockbuster, and comprising some 390 films in total, this is a festival as diverse as the characters that it attracts. We decided to check in with a select cadre of jet-set talents and a behind-the-scenes programmer whose address is the intersection of cinema and style.
MESSRS GER DUANY & ARNOLD OCENG
The Good Lie tells the story of four Sudanese refugees who are relocated to Kansas City, Missouri as part of a humanitarian aid project in the aftermath of the Second Sudanese Civil War, and are eventually taken in by their American aid worker, played by Ms Reese Witherspoon. Messrs Oceng, 27, and Duany, 35, play two of the foursome. For Mr Oceng, the movie was a chance to connect with his Sudanese roots. For Mr Duany, the story was far closer to home.
You're from Sudan. The story of The Good Lie must be close to your heart.
I'm living my past, really. I participated in the war in the 1990s. I was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan – a child soldier who managed to escape.
Was it difficult to go back?
In a way. Especially when we visited the refugee camps. It felt like doing it on screen all over again. But you've got to roll with the punches, you know?
You've come a long way…
Coming to America to go to school was something that everybody dreamed about in Sudan. It was the dream. Being able to make that happen felt like such a blessing, so everything else that came along, every opportunity that presented itself, I just took it. Now here I am, talking to you.
There is still conflict in South Sudan. Do you think that the movie is being released at a good time?
Yes – in fact I just came from South Sudan two days ago. I'd lost contact with my family, so I was there visiting the refugee camps on the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders. It's impossible to go much further, because the war's still raging. There's nothing pleasant there. But there is a story to be told – and this movie, I hope, will go some way to doing that.
How do you personally identify with the story being told in The Good Lie?
My father was Sudanese and my mother's Ugandan, but my father died when I was two, so I never had the chance to get to know my Sudanese side until now.
Did you find it easy to adopt the character?
It was a little more difficult for me, not having personally gone through it, but you've got to remember that the war had an impact on the whole country. Everyone was affected, whether directly, as Ger was, or indirectly, as my family was. My parents were refugees, too.
And you were able to learn from the others, too?
So much. I was like a sponge, soaking it all up – there's no book that I could have read, no research that I could have done, that compares to just being around them. Hopefully it worked. I hope that it'll come as a surprise to people who've seen the film when they learn that I'm from South London and not from South Sudan.
MESSRS SAM CLAFLIN, MAX IRONS & DOUGLAS BOOTH
This trio of bright young things – Messrs Claflin and Irons are both 28 and Mr Booth is the baby of the bunch at 22 – have collected a few major roles between them. Mr Irons starred in The Host, Mr Claflin appeared in blockbuster franchises The Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mr Booth recently had to repopulate the world with Ms Emma Watson in the Biblical epic Noah.
They lead the “Brit Pack” of actors in The Riot Club, a screen adaptation of Ms Laura Wade's 2010 play, Posh. The film, which debuted in Toronto, is inspired by Oxford University's infamous Bullingdon Club – an elitist secret society of which the current British Prime Minister, Mayor of London and Chancellor of the Exchequer were all once members.
The three actors, who play members of the Riot Club, display a warm camaraderie on set, trading jibes and mocking each other's “blue steel” poses.
You guys seem to have great chemistry. Did this help when making the movie?
MR CLAFLIN: Of course, it helps that we don't hate each other. But you can't fail to have that when you've worked together for as long as we did.
MR BOOTH: Before we started we went paintballing together, went out for dinner, that sort of thing. It was all about developing what the members of the Riot Club might call “banter”.
MR IRONS: When we wrapped, we understood that we'd never have that sort of thing again – that we'd never be part of such an amazing ensemble cast. And I speak for the larger group when I say that – there are 10 of us in total.
Talk me through your characters.
MR CLAFLIN: My character, Alistair Ryle, is the brother of an ex-president of the Riot Club. He’s a young man who has always lived in his brother's shadow.
MR IRONS: Mine, Miles, isn't from the same background as the others and becomes hypnotised by the idea of being at the top table.
MR BOOTH: And Harry, who I play, is a more senior member. He’s a young man with a title and the keys to an old country pile waiting for him when he graduates. He already has his whole life planned out for him – fixing leaky ceilings, ushering tourists through his living room etc – and as a result he sees this as the only time in his life when he's able to cut loose.
It sounds like they aren’t all bad, then.
MR BOOTH: These are all guys who, on their own, would be the most charming people in the world. The 11th member of the Riot Club is the club itself. It engenders a pack mentality in all these impressionable young minds.
This film pokes fun at the British establishment. Is this going to be immediately obvious to an international audience?
MR CLAFLIN: A North American audience might find it easy to compare it to something like the Skull and Bones at Yale...
MR IRONS: ...but what this film does give people, no matter where they're from, is a glimpse of a totally different culture. One that's as alien to us as it is to anybody. It touches on things that aren't specific to Britain, too – privilege, wealth, elitism.
Toronto has a reputation as a launch pad for movies that go on to do well during awards season. Do you have high hopes?
MR CLAFLIN: No matter how well or badly this does, it is something that we're all really proud of. A lovely cast and a wonderful director who worked miracles keeping on top of us all.
MR PAUL DANO
Mr Dano, 30, was born in New York before moving to New Canaan, Connecticut. He shot to fame at the age of 21 as a voluntarily mute teenager in the indie hit Little Miss Sunshine before securing his status as one of Hollywood's most electric young actors with a role alongside Mr Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. In his new movie, Love and Mercy, he plays a young Mr Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, while Mr John Cusack plays him in middle age.
How did you get into the character of Brian Wilson?
I found my way to this character through the music. I feel as if Brian is most himself in his music. I got to meet with the man himself, too, and with The Wrecking Crew, the session musicians that he played with in the 1960s when he was producing what most people consider to be his best music – Pet Sounds and Smile. The guys are in their seventies now but there's a lot of them still around. Before any of that, though, I just immersed myself in the music.
How was Brian to work with?
I was nervous to meet him at first but he has such an amazing spirit. And he was so generous with his time, and really supportive of the film. I think he might be here in Toronto, actually...
This isn't your first time here?
No, I was here last year with 12 Years a Slave and I’ve been before that. It has changed and grown hugely in that time – it's much more important now, from everybody in the industry's perspective. It has become the launching pad for a lot of autumn films. It's great, from my point of view, because everyone's all in one place. You can get all the press done for a movie in two days straight.
Is it a part of the job that you enjoy?
I would say I'm not a natural in front of the camera.
That surprises me.
Well, when you're acting you're embodying a personality that's somewhere between you and the character. But when it's just me, Paul, in front of the press, that's a little scarier. Then again, there are things about being here that are just great. It's so exciting to unleash the movie on the public for the first time. Plus, I've been given a beautiful suit to wear to the premiere. When else would I get the opportunity to dress like this?
MR MATTHEW GOODE
Mr Goode is in Toronto to promote The Imitation Game, a new movie by Norwegian director Mr Morten Tyldum that tells the story of the Enigma machine and the WWII code breakers at Bletchley Park. He is part of a "British invasion" including fellow cast members Ms Keira Knightley, Mr Mark Strong and Mr Benedict Cumberbatch, whose performance as mathematician Mr Alan Turing garnered major kudos. After an energetic performance in front of the camera, the 36-year-old Mr Goode sits down to enjoy a well-earned rest with a single malt on the rocks. “Sixteen years old,” he remarks, holding the glass up high. “The same age as my career.”
We remember your performance in Brideshead Revisited, alongside Mr Ben Whishaw.
Ah yes, Ben Whishaw. An actor's actor, a man's man. My kind of man. Sensitive, passionate, thoughtful, unknowable. Stupendously talented, of course. I've known Ben for a long time and it has been a privilege to work with him, watch him, take the mick out of him.
And you've had the privilege of working with many more talented people in The Imitation Game.
Yes! Benedict is monumental as Alan Turing. Then there's Keira Knightley, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Tuppence Middleton – one of the finest and most English names I've ever heard. And many that I'm probably forgetting. Of course – Rory Kinnear. He's not on screen very much but he's brilliant. I saw him in a play years and years ago and was struck by him then. And Morten [Tyldum, the director] was a joy to work with.
Do you ever get starstruck?
Oh, yes, but not just by famous people. I'll fall in love with anyone that's talented. I'd be just as starstruck to see Michael Caine or Robert De Niro walk through the door right now as I would be if it were a relatively unknown golfer from the European tour, like, say, David Lynn. Or Danny Willett.
Is this your first time in Toronto?
Oh, I’ve been here several times. That’s what a 16-year career will do. There's always such a great buzz about the place. This may sound like a cliché, but it feels like a festival that's visited by film fans, filmgoers and the public. Not like Venice, which is mainly industry types and paparazzi.
Will you have time to watch a film other than your own while you are here?
I hope so. There are a couple that I really want to see. Neither of them is in the English language, which reflects the scope of the festival, I suppose.
And your own worldly tastes?
Well, of course [laughs].
MR DANIEL BRÜHL
Mr Brühl became a star in his native Germany with the release of Good Bye, Lenin! before going on to secure international status with a role in Mr Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds as Fredrick Zoller, a young German sniper whose heroic exploits form the basis for a Nazi propaganda film. He was in Toronto with Mses Kate Beckinsale and Cara Delevingne for the premiere of Mr Michael Winterbottom's new movie, The Face of an Angel. The 36-year-old Mr Brühl plays Thomas, a film-maker who travels to Italy to make a movie about the Amanda Knox murder case and finds himself at loggerheads with the press.
What attracted you to working on this project?
Well, firstly it was such an of-the-moment story – but working with Michael was a big draw, too. He's such a prolific director, such a chameleon – he’s turned his hand to every genre of film and his body of work couldn’t be more diverse. I felt that I was almost playing his alter-ego in this film... Michael disagrees with this sentiment slightly, but I feel that there are elements of him in the character.
How many times have you been to Tiff?
It’s my third time… Of course, the ironic thing about visiting a film festival as an actor is that you’re so busy promoting that you rarely get time to see any film other than your own. That’s sadly the case here – I’ll be leaving tomorrow to start filming in London with Bradley Cooper. It’s a movie about a man who attempts to make the best restaurant in the world.
Being an actor must involve a lot of dressing up.
Oh, absolutely. I’ve been given so many beautiful clothes in the one that I’m currently filming. It's all Burberry and Paul Smith – I love British designers. Suits, ties, shirts, shoes… I just want to keep every piece.
Have you ever been able to keep the clothes you've worn in a movie?
No, sadly not. I certainly wasn't able to keep the outfit I wore in Inglourious Basterds – but that's quite possibly not such a bad thing.
Do you have any cinematic style icons?
As I mentioned, I'm an Anglophile, so I'm inspired by guys such as Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Hiddleston. And of course, it was such a privilege to work with Cara [Delevingne] too; she's such a huge style icon.
MR THOM POWERS
Mr Powers is Tiff's documentary programmer, a role he has held for nine years. A tireless advocate and curator, he also oversees Mavericks, a conversation series focusing on progressive film-makers – this year including The Daily Show’s Mr Jon Stewart, who was in Toronto making his directorial debut with Rosewater. Born just south of the border in Detroit, Mr Powers is now based in New York, where he lives with his wife, Ms Raphaela Neihausen, and runs a weekly film evening every Tuesday at the IFC Center on Sixth Avenue called Stranger Than Fiction.
What makes Tiff special?
The amount of press it attracts – we have more than 5,000 accredited industry people here. The international scope of the festival, too – we have 79 countries represented by film. That's more countries than some festivals have films. And its overall size – we have close to 280 feature films showing this year. Also, there's the audience. While some film festivals just attract industry types, we have around 400,000 tickets sold to members of the public.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
We're showing The Look of Silence, the second feature film by Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing. His previous movie focused on the perpetrators of the mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960s, and this one focuses on the story of the victims.
Anything from outside of your specialist area?
I'm so buried in documentaries that I admit that I scarcely have time to even consider fiction movies – but I am really looking forward to The Theory of Everything. It was directed by James Marsh, who directed Man On Wire, and therefore who I can claim as a documentary film-maker. Does that count?
The regulations at Tiff have been tightened this year, meaning that films shown in the first four days must be world or American premieres. Why the change?
In my outlook, very little has changed. We've been very laid-back about this for a long time and a clarification of the rules was overdue. We're just moving ourselves in line with the rest of the industry – Sundance, for instance, only allows American or world premieres for competition and ensuring that when we call it a world premiere or American premiere, it is truly that.
Do you find it strange being in the spotlight at Tiff?
It's not a problem – I'm always in the shadow of someone that's far better known than I am. It's fun to get dressed up to the nines once in a while and to step in front of the cameras alongside Jimmy Page or U2, knowing that nobody is paying you much attention. I once attended the premiere of a Paris Hilton documentary – Paris, Not France. Not a single person was looking at me. Not one. I have never been in the presence of someone who is so at home in front of the camera.