I recently got the chance to talk to director Matthew John about his new film, ‘Hedda Gabler’. Here, Matthew talks about the film’s plotline in detail and what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I understand it’s based on a play?
The film is based on the play by Henrik Ibsen, translated by myself.
Hedda Tesman is the daughter of the late General Gabler, who died without leaving her anything. She is approaching thirty, and has married Jørgen Tesman. At the opening of the play Hedda and Jørgen have just returned from their honeymoon. Jørgen has spent his time studying and working on records, while Hedda, as she confides to their friend Judge Brack, has been bored on her honeymoon. Although clearly feeling distaste towards her husband, she has become pregnant, a fact she has so far concealed from her surroundings. Jørgen is met on arrival by the bad news that he is going to have to compete for a chair with one of Hedda’s former admirers, Eilert Løvborg. The latter is known to be a bohemian, gifted but prone to drinking too much. In recent years, however, he has lived quietly and soberly, and written two thesis inspired by, and in collaboration with, Thea Elvsted. At the beginning of the play he has arrived in the city, bringing one of the manuscripts with him. Thea, who is deeply in love with him, has left her husband and followed him. In the course of barely two days Hedda stages a number of happenings with dramatic consequences. She gets Løvborg to go to a “stag party” at Judge Brack’s and get drunk. During the festivities he loses the manuscript of his new book. Jørgen Tesman finds it and gives to Hedda to look after, but Hedda does not tell Løvborg this. Instead, she burns the manuscript and gives him one of her father’s pistols, telling him to shoot himself “beautifully”. Far from this, Løvborg is accidentally shot at a brothel, and Brack, who knows where the pistol came from, uses this knowledge to try to blackmail Hedda into becoming his mistress. Thea and Tesman find close companionship in the work of reconstructing Løvborg’s manuscript on the basis of notes Thea has kept. When Hedda realizes that she is in Brack’s power and has nothing more to live for, she shoots herself with the second of the General’s pistols.
You directed the film – how did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I came up with the idea after directing a stage production of ‘Hedda Gabler’. I thought it was a Victorian script with underlying themes and messages that apply today. I put my own stamp on it that takes away from the character physicalisation to make more it more real for a modern audience.
How hard was it to put the film into production? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?
I started work on ‘Hedda’ in May last year and spent 6 months in pre-production. As a director, I wanted to make something very lavish in production values. In terms of the acting, I wanted to break away from theatrical performances and have more real character interpretations.
The film stars Jon Paul-Gates, Rita Ramnani, Samantha E. Hunt, David R. Butler, Francisco Ortiz, Christine Winter, Jacqui Dubois, Grace Gray and Sir Benjamin Slade – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I was extremely fortunate as I had a cast that believed in the vision I wanted to portray, in making the characters less clichéd and focusing on their personal journeys. I needed actors with solid experience in stage productions who were used to being word perfect for the entire script. Due to the nature of the long takes, to provide a theatrical element, they all had to have the entire script in the heads. This also required much longer rehearsals than would normally be the case with feature films. So they really did have to work far harder on this film than usual.
The funniest part has been watching how excited Sir Benjamin Slade has been over his first movie appearance – (we give him a background artist role to thank him). We think the fame went to his head a bit! I very much enjoyed working with my cast and I chose a very creative and talented crew, who are also young and eager. They put 600% behind the project.
Let’s talk a bit about you Matthew. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
Mental insanity. I spent a number of years working as a celeb PA during and during my experience, I learnt and saw with my own eyes how money and greed can entrap people. My past experiences really helped me portray the underlying themes of ‘Hedda Gabler’.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Persevere. Never give up. Have self-belief against all odds.
What films have inspired you as a director? Any favourites?
‘Malena’ with Monica Bellucci. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Both very creative in story and cinematography. They are very imaginative films that are beautiful to watch.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
I was lucky enough to meet Michael Jackson, he was amazing and an icon so I would definitely bring him back. I am a big ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ fan so would also invite Josh Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Which film was your favourite of 2012 and why?
‘Anna Karenina’, again, a beautiful and artistically creative film. An inspiration to me.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
A well earned holiday!
Thanks for the interview!