By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood September 13, 2012 at 10:58AM
WaH: This is your seventh feature. Is it your most personal?
Potter: I think every feature’s personal. And I think that goes for everybody— if they say it isn’t, it’s not true. It has to be personal. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily autobiographical. As a writer, you have to draw from your life, not only what you’ve directly experienced but what you’ve seen other people experience. And then above all you have to draw from your imagination, the sort of “what if” scenario and work with it. I’m younger than these girls were in 1962. As a child I was on some of those ban the bomb marches. That, I remember very very well -- thinking the world might end. I remember very well being a teenager, and I remember very well having best friends. It’s not that dissimilar from the world I grew up in. Above all what I do is try and work with the actors to bring their beings into the roles in such a way that everything that appears feels absolutely truthful.
WaH: It just sounds, from what the actors are saying, that your directing process is quite intense. Talk a little about that and what makes that unique.
Potter: First of all, I love actors. I love working with actors, and my intention is to build very, very close relationships with each individual actor as fast as I can. To build an atmosphere of trust and openness and respect. I deeply respect and understand the process they need to go through, and I think it’s probably that. And I insist on preparation time, even if it’s only a matter of days. You can get a lot done in a short space, and some people need more, some people need less. But I think it’s that. I mean, I don’t have one particular method. I try and tailor my working method to the individual needs of each actor. I spend a lot of time one on one.
WaH: Did you spend a lot more time with the girls?
Potter: Yeah, I did probably. But I got to spend a fair amount of time with each individual whenever it was possible. But yeah, more time with the girls.
WaH: A lot of directors films are quite linear. I feel like yours are all so different—that’s great. Do you feel this is your most accessible movie?
Potter: I intended it to be. I wanted it to be very much. Sometimes I want to push the boat out in another way through the gate or the digital revolution or whatever it may be, but in this instance I wanted to tell a story that was raw and intimate and direct and universal in some sense, but that would feel very personal and at the same time go above all those things. But most importantly accessible. No obstacles in the way.
WaH: You accomplished that completely.
Potter: Oh, good.
WaH: When we spoke last time you said that you were experimenting with Rage, and that you hadn’t known if the experiment would work. Did it?
Potter: I think it worked on its own terms, absolutely. It created a kind of template. You know, people doubted that this way of working could work and now of course it’s—everywhere. Everywhere and everyone. It’s like when I first started doing a blog at that time we did the research there was no other director doing a blog— now there are so many bloody blogs, I don’t do that anymore.
I kind of feel like almost like there’s too much out there. At the moment, I really want to concentrate my energies absolutely, and, you know, one can dissipate too much. There will come another moment. But right now I’m, in a way, returning to a quite simple love of the movie form, of the film form, of the narrative of character, of all those things. I am allowing myself to just love it and work with it and not complicating it in any way. It’s difficult enough to do that.
WaH: Let’s just talk for a moment about the status of women directors. In Cannes this year no women directors in competition this year. Venice had several and this festival’s just full of women. As a person who’s been on the vanguard of this, talk a little about how you’ve seen things change. Just talk a little bit about your feelings on the issue that still we can’t overcome.
Potter: Well, it’s a bit tiring isn’t it? Tiring and tiresome. I wish that it wasn’t an issue, really do, and it’s great to be in a situation like here in Toronto where it doesn’t really make much of an issue, honestly.
WaH: I agree.
Potter: It’s such nonsense. Things have changed since I started. Look, I used to always be the minority of one, maybe two, the token and that was tiresome and difficult. And that really has changed. There’s a lot of excellent female directors out there now, and a whole younger generation. Fantastic, and exactly as it should be.
WaH: There still is a sense that men are masters and, that the kind of vision that women put out is seen as less than...
Potter: Well, you can’t really divorce women’s struggles in the world from women’s in the cinema. As long as there’s hierarchy it means that women are somehow secondary or second class or less than. That’s going to be reflected in movies because films are the most powerful medium to reflect back society’s view of itself. It used to be said, even out loud, that if there was a woman at the center of the story, not even a director but just at the center of the story, the film wouldn’t sell because nobody would be interested. That’s why I said at the beginning girls’ lives are big. These are not small trivial things that happen with teenagers. This is the big stuff of drama that can happen and will happen. And at the same time, I think it’s very important for female directors to also deal with the big global thing and do thrillers
WaH: In England, do you feel like there’s a whole next generation thing happening?
Potter: Well, Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay are a start.
WaH: And they’re the best. Both of them.
Potter: They’re wonderful. And that will spread out, I think, for younger women coming up. It’s very good to know that these women exist and the fact that they’re female is kind of secondary to the command of their form, which is a place that I always wanted to be perceived. I didn’t ever want attention drawn to the fact that I was female, but when you’re in a minority it inevitably happens.