I was at a party over the weekend, when talk turned to my job. More specifically, who I have interviewed. This is a subject I am more than happy to talk about, and I never mind answering the usual questions: My favorite person to interview? Robert Redford, who I grew up watching, and never thought I’d meet. He liked my tattoos. Someone I’ve wanted to interview but haven’t? Martin Scorsese. I was in an elevator with him once. He was wearing a hat and had his coat collar popped, as if undercover, so I didn’t disturb him.
But then, there was one question I hadn’t been asked before. “Who has surprised you the most?” That made me think, sending the invisible librarian in my brain to climb the sliding ladder and search wildly through my memory books. Perhaps it was Darren Aronofsky, my first guest on The FilmStruck Podcast. He was so bright and happy, which contrasted so wildly with the darkness of his films. At one point I asked him, “Why are you so nice?” before realizing that was not a question. He laughed and said, “Thank you? I think?”
This is something I should know by now, that the artists who mine tragedy for their work are often the happiest interviewees. And it’s the comedians who are usually the darkest. But the surprise of the contrast happened to me again, with director Lynne Ramsay at the Sundance Film Festival.
Lynne Ramsay makes the kind of movies which burrow into your soul. The kind that shake you to your very core, so much so that you remember exactly where and when it was that you first saw them. Her 1999 film ‘Ratcatcher’ showed the grim poverty of Glasgow in the 70s. I came across the film at 19 years old, while I was working at a video store. I watched it in the store on a quiet day, riveted to the screen. ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ I saw in 2011 during my first year in Los Angeles. It was an early screening, and I took my friend Ruby Rose. She is an Australian actress now known for her roles on ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’, but back then we were both new to the city. We remained in our seats well after the credits rolled, unable to move or speak.
The same thing happened when I saw Lynne Ramsay’s latest film, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ at the Sundance Film Festival. I had to watch it on a computer screen, alongside my podcast producer Amirose Eisenbach, as our interview was scheduled before her premiere. We were in a tiny hotel conference room - the only place with decent enough WIFI - and we sat quietly and enthralled. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ is a hard-boiled revenge thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix as a war veteran who suffers from PTSD, where memories come to him in a flash. He’s a contract killer, but not without conscience, determined to save a young girl from being sold into sex slavery. It’s heavy stuff, and extremely violent without actually showing much at all. Lynne Ramsay is a master at using sound design, music score and images to manipulate the audience’s emotions. You feel as if you’ve seen a brutal assault, when in fact you have not. You understand this chaotic character, even though he’s a killer for hire.
So I didn’t know what to expect while I waited for Lynne Ramsay to arrive for our interview. Amirose and I got to the media room early to set up, and while she negotiated for queit with all the other people using the common space, I nervously went over my questions. Of course, I needn’t have worried. Lynne walked in, with a big welcoming smile and greeted me warmly, saying in her wonderful Scottish accent, “We both have great accents!” She instantly put me at ease and over the next thirty minutes I was struck with both her authentic warmth and how humble she is. This is a director who has had five of her films show at the Cannes Film Festival, who has won BAFTAs, who has a truly original vision, whose name is emblazoned on one of my favorite t-shirts. A director who, after our interview, thanked me for listening to her. “You actually listen,” she said, squeezing me in a hug, “And that is so refreshing.”
So, back at that weekend party, my brain librarian located the book containing her name, and filed it as the answer to that question. Who has surprised you the most? “Lynne Ramsay,” I replied.