Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances Watch: Tom Hardy Does Double Duty In Trailer For Gangster Drama 'Legend' Watch: Tom Hardy Does Double Duty In Trailer For Gangster Drama 'Legend' The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Interview: Director David Mackenzie On The Cast And The Process Behind 'Starred Up' Plus Upcoming Projects

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 4, 2014 at 4:28PM

One of the highlights of the Göteborg International Film Festival, and indeed one of the highlights of our year so far, was catching up with David Mackenzie’s “Starred Up," which, if you missed our review first time out, you can read all about here. The unflinching but brutally human prison drama is based on a script by first-timer Jonathan Asser, a writer and poet by whose experiences inspired the film and the character of Oliver, the posh but dedicated volunteer inmate counselor.
0
David Mackenzie, Starred Up

One of the highlights of the Göteborg International Film Festival, and indeed one of the highlights of our year so far, was catching up with David Mackenzie’s “Starred Up," which, if you missed our review first time out, you can read all about here. The unflinching but brutally human prison drama is based on a script by first-timer Jonathan Asser, a writer and poet by whose experiences inspired the film and the character of Oliver, the posh but dedicated volunteer inmate counselor. Starring breakout Jack O’Connell as the violent young Eric, Ben Mendelsohn as his also-incarcerated father Nev, and Rupert Friend as Oliver, the film is marked by its astonishingly strong performances, but also by the authenticity and hard-edged sensitivity of what is truly career-best work from the director.

Previously best known for Brit indies “Hallam Foe” and “Young Adam,” Mackenzie himself could be said to be one of the film’s many surprises, defying the expectations of his previous work and working in a grittier mode than we’d seen from him to date. When we spoke, we talked a little about that evolution as well as how it may carry over into his upcoming projects. But first we were curious as to how he came upon “Starred Up” at all.

"People are saying it’s not quite a genre movie, it’s got all these other things. But I’m going, 'No, it’s a prison movie.' There’s no way you can say it any other way."

It doesn’t necessarily seem like material someone would have immediately associated you with, so tell me how the script for “Starred Up” came to your attention.
It’s quite straightforward really. A writer friend of ours said “there’s a great script.” So it came to us as a recommendation from a friend basically.

Then we read this piece and it was amazing. It had an amazing sense of authenticity. Like, a lot of the language in the film is a real hit in the face because the very specific context of the prison world is obscure to people. There was lot of power and anger and force in there. It came very well formed as a first draft. So I went and met Jonathan and was really kind of blown away by the disarming honesty that he had about everything, about why he was involved in the prison system. It was essentially because he thought of himself as an institutionalized being. Having been in the world at large he found himself in a prison accidentally, doing some performance poetry, and it immediately came to him that he felt at home for the first time in fifteen years.

So there’s a massive personal journey for him, in terms of his engagement with prisoners and the prison system, and the therapy that he’s developed, which features in the movie. So meeting with Jonathan and hearing all of this, with the material in the background, it was almost impossible not to want to do the film.

Starred Up Friend

Perhaps the poetry background makes sense because the language, the dialogue is in quite an incomprehensible argot at times, but the meaning of the words doesn’t matter as much as the sense that it’s an arcane and authentic language that the characters all share.
Well I think I totally agree with you there and when I introduce the film I often encourage people not to get hung up on every word and not to feel that they’re missing out on something. The reality is there’s a lot of language that we cut from the script, just because it was too much and people were saying it was incomprehensible. But we didn’t want to compromise it to the point where you lose the flavor. A lot of thought went into where we’ve gotten, in terms of language in the film. But there’s nothing you’re really missing if you don’t understand every word.

And what was it in the script that made you sure that you were the one to do it?
This is a different film from others I’ve done, but there are similar things to me. There’s the “angry young man” bit there and there’s a bit of obscure sensuality as well, which are things that I’m interested in. So those are kind of floating around the surface. But actually, somehow or other, finding in the heart of all of this anger and all this upset and all this violence, something human and something that engages emotionally [was the challenge]. Part of that is the very obvious father/son issue which I’m amazed hasn’t happened in a prison narrative before. I mean, it’s obvious that these kinds of things must run in families.

But also, some of the elements of other people reaching out to each other, in the group and outside of the group. You have this backdrop of a hard, hostile environment, and an opportunity to find some humanity within it. It felt like something I could do.

But yes, this is my first ever proper genre movie. Though people are saying it’s not quite a genre movie, it’s got all these other things … but I’m going, "No, it’s a prison movie." There’s no way you can say it any other way.

It’s just a good one.
I hope so! So I felt it was an appropriate time in my life to hit that, and to somehow or another smuggle into that genre things that I’m maybe more interested in.

This article is related to: Göteborg International Film Festival, David Mackenzie , Jack O'Connell , Ben Mendelsohn , Rupert Friend, Starred Up , The Stain On The Snow, Interviews, Interview, Interviews


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates