Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans 'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' The 10 Best Films Of 2004 The 10 Best Films Of 2004 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Interview: Writer/Director Ben Lewin Talks Uncovering The Amazing True Story Of 'The Sessions' And Casting John Hawkes

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 22, 2012 at 12:03PM

Sundance likes nothing more than an overnight success. Countless directors have, over the thirty-odd years of the festival, gone from total unknowns to the hot new thing, and they're usually some fresh-faced whippersapper, relatively speaking. This year's festival had one of those, in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Benh Zeitlin, but it also had, in the shape of "The Sessions" helmer Ben Lewin, a rather more atypical overnight success, as Lewin is a 65-year-old filmmaker with credits stretching back nearly four decades.
0
Ben Lewin The Sessions

Sundance likes nothing more than an overnight success. Countless directors have, over the thirty-odd years of the festival, gone from total unknowns to the hot new thing, and they're usually some fresh-faced whippersapper, relatively speaking. This year's festival had one of those, in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" director Benh Zeitlin, but it also had, in the shape of "The Sessions" helmer Ben Lewin, a rather more atypical overnight success, as Lewin is a 65-year-old filmmaker with credits stretching back nearly four decades.

But it's no surprise that "The Sessions" (originally titled "The Surrogate") has made Lewin such a hot property -- his warm, humane and funny film, which stars John Hawkes as the paralyzed poet Mark O'Brien, and Helen Hunt as the 'sex surrogate' who helps him to lose his virginity, marks the consolidation of a real talent who's been under our noses for far too long.

And yet when we caught up with Lewin in London this week ahead of the film's screening at the BFI London Film Festival, he put much of what's brought him to this point down to luck. "Like most interesting things that have happened to me," Lewin told us, "[discovering Mark O'Brien] was entirely an accident. I was surfing the net, just wasting time, and I came across Mark's article, 'On Seeing A Sex Surrogate,' And ten pages later, life turned a corner."

There was one issue with the material -- the somewhat downbeat ending to O'Brien's piece. As Lewin says, "I trotted up to my wife a few minutes later and said this is our next project, darling. And she read it, and said, the ending's a bit bleak. But the irony is in that chasing up the rights to the story, I discovered that this man had a really beautiful relationship at the end of his life, and that the end was not at all bleak."

John Hawkes Helen Hunt Six Sessions

That process of putting the rights together proved complex, but also useful to the research. "You can't get life rights from someone who's dead," Lewin told us. "You can only get the rights to their literary work, but Susan Fernbach (O'Brien's partner in the later years of his life) was the owner of his literary rights, so I optioned the article, and the rights to his poetry. And her life rights, which included her experiences with him, and then the same with Cheryl [the basis for Helen Hunt's character]." So while it was the original article that helped to provide the structure for the film; "It was really a blueprint for the movie. I found that whenever I was losing my way when I was developing the script, I'd return to the article to remind me what it was that turned me on in the first place," those other elements really brought it to life. "An important moment was meeting Cheryl, and realizing that I had at least two fascinating characters interacting with each other, that it was a journey for two people. Ultimately, I saw the script as a relationship movie."

As far as that relationship goes, we were surprised at how the emotional connection between Mark and Cheryl ends up being more than a one-way street, and asked Lewin to what extent it was an invention. "I think it was something that came out of reality," he responded. "In his article, you get this sense that there were moments of connection that he hadn't anticipated, that had nothing to do with sexual penetration, or the mechanics of sex, but to do with moments of subtle touch and expression of emotions... that in a way, sex was only the beginning. One of the controversial aspects of [sex surrogacy], and much has been written about it, is that on one hand, it goes beyond regular therapy. There's a logic about it, saying if you want to address serious sexual issues by just talking about them, it's about as effective as teaching someone to drive a car by giving them a book. On the other hand, asking someone to engage physically with someone, and at the same time care about them, is a dangerous high-wire act. That thin line between compassion and involvement is a difficult one to tread. So that was the reality of Cheryl's life, and of all sex surrogates, and I wanted to convey that in the movie, that inevitably sex leads you to another place, where you maybe didn't anticipate going. And I think the emotional climax of the movie is when they realize that things can spin out of control."

This article is related to: Interviews, The Sessions, Ben Lewin, John Hawkes, Helen Hunt


The Playlist

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


E-Mail Updates