Tom Cullen and Chris New Break Through in Award-Winning Weekend
UK writer/director Andrew Haigh's Weekend is pretty much perfect: a sweet, small, intimate story of an unassuming lifeguard named Russell (Tom Cullen), who meets and falls in love with a cheeky chap named Glen (Chris New) over one poignant weekend. Glen insists on tape-recording many of his conversations with Russell for a project, including the first exchange they have after making love. This confidential rapport evolves into a highly emotional, sexually frank connection, and when Glen announces that he's moving to the U.S. for schooling, Russell must resolve his own feelings about himself and Glen's departure.
Weekend triumphed at this year's SXSW Festival, garnering the Audience Award, and now the incisive indie is gaining a stateside release this Friday. The film's two stars are nearly brand-new to films, which makes their stunning intimacy onscreen all the more impressive. We phoned Cullen and New to discuss why they chose to live together during filming, the process of shooting a movie sequentially, and why a love story featuring "two penises" is different than a typical romantic yarn.
After so much buildup and success at festivals like SXSW and Outfest, Weekend gets its official American release this week. Is that exciting or terrifying?
Tom Cullen: Terrifying! It's a new frontier. It's immensely exciting, and it's why we make the movies in the first place, for people to see it.
Chris New: Exciting, I think. [Laughs.] I don't know! I've never had a film released before, so it's all a new adventure for me. We're kind of surprised by the reaction we've had, especially in America. We made the film for a very, very small amount of money in a little flat in Nottingham in England. It's kind of really weird to think that people around the world are watching it. It's not very real. But it's real.
You guys lived together during filming. Can you talk about the benefits of cohabitation? Were there any downsides?
CN: What did we get. We kind of thought at the beginning that we wouldn't spend too much time together, because we wanted to keep our characters separate. But then we realized we had too much work to do, so we would just live in the same flat. Every night, Tom, Andrew and I would go through the script and talk about the scenes and edit the scenes. We shot in sequence, so every day we'd move onto the next scene with what we'd filmed that day. I suppose we got better at working together as we went along. Andrew kind of learned a shorthand between the two of us, and within the intimacy [Tom and I] had, we could keep the script quite spare. During the time we were filming, we were lucky in that we were able to sit down together every day and concentrate on what we were doing. That's very hard to do, especially on a larger film. There are so many people and departments, restrictions, and so much money at stake that it's very hard to feel like you don't have too much pressure on you. It didn't feel like there was a rush.
TC: Chris and I get along so well. What living together meant is we were able to go through scenes together, work together, and really get to know each other. If anything, it aided the film because we're so comfortable with each other. There's a real trust and friendship there that transmits. It was remarkably easy. I wish I could tell you that we chucked plates at each other, but it was glorious. We had such a lovely time. There were no problems whatsoever -- except that I woke him up a few times coming in drunk.
The process of making this movie was very unusual. Not only did you live together, but you shot the movie in sequence. As newcomers to film, how does Weekend feel as a formative experience? Do you think it will stand out as a strange production among the next films you'll make?
CN: Yes. Well, I had a similar experience in the first part I did in the theater. I worked with a director I got on with really well, just like Andrew. His name was Daniel Kramer, and we had an amazing time. We did Bent in the West End with Alan Cumming. We had a brilliant time, and it was one of those experiences where you know no other play would be like that. So it's difficult because you feel a bit spoiled, and you look at other jobs in the future, and you think, "It'll never be like that again." But hopefully it will! I may just have to be a patient boy and wait for it. There was a feeling on the film that there was something quite unique about it -- you can't imagine that it will cause the film to be a great success, because you don't want to be egotistical. But you hope that what you're putting into the film will be recognized a bit, and that's the nice thing about what's happened so far. We committed a huge amount of energy, and that's being recognized by the people who've seen it.
TC: I think it's a very special experience. Andrew gave me a lot of space to maneuver within Russell, and he gave me a lot of permission to really take it on. The shots are often 10 or 12 minutes long, so we didn't have to worry about continuity. There was a real freedom within what we were doing, a real spontaneity. There were no restrictions! And we shot in sequence, which was a wonderful gift. I'm shooting a new thing right now, and it's so completely different. I'd love to work like this again.
Andrew has been vocal about how he wanted to create a movie that presented gay relationships in a new and honest light. How did you approach this idea? Did you purposely try to do something new and different?
TC: I just thought it was a love story between two men. It's just about a guy who falls in love, and I think for Russell in particular, since he doesn't operate within a gay world -- Russell's friends are straight, and he's always been in a straight environment -- he's just living in life and falling in love with Glen. I guess what Andrew means is that it's just normal, not issue-based. It's two people falling in love.
CN: I suppose once you get beyond the mere fact that it's two men and there's no women, beyond the fact that it's penises and not vaginas, then everything is much the same. There's very little in the film which I think is a specific emotional or environmental situation that people beyond a gay audience couldn't understand. We were very careful that it wouldn't become self-referential, or looking inward toward a perceived audience. But Tom seemed very at ease with it! [Laughs.] He didn't seem to have any trouble.
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