1) A source material possessing such a rich complexity, perhaps ahead of its time. How did you become acquainted with August Strindberg’s play?
ANDREA: I became familiar with Strindberg’s play after reading Ben’s adaptation, so I suppose I came at it with a rather unique perspective, both uncovering the original source in and of itself but also comparing it to my first exposure to the story, which was through Ben’s screenplay. I remember being distinctly impressed with how faithful Ben had been to the original text, as well as fascinated by the character of Tekla/Chloe.
BEN: I was very lucky to be able to see the revival of the play at the Donmar Warehouse back in 2008. Alan Rickman directed it, Tom Burke played Adolph, Anna Chancellor played Tekla, and Owen Teale played Gustav. The three were absolutely breathtaking and Alan directed an extremely sharp, funny, and stylish version of the play. I left the theatre profoundly marked by that evening, but didn’t actually give an adaptation any thought until two years later. That’s how long it stayed with me before I started deconstructing and reconstructing it in order to make it into a film.
2) Translating a theatrical piece to the big screen can often be unfortunately stilted in its execution. Were you very self-conscious of this during filming and in the development of the script?
BEN: Yes, avoiding that was always the challenge from the very earliest stages of my work on the script. It was about finding the visual representations of endless pages of dialogue and monologues as they are beautifully constructed in the stage play. I always find the often-referenced idea that adaptations are a “cut” down version of the original play to be slightly inaccurate for that very reason: a good stage play adaptation, or a good translation to the screen, isn’t cut down, it’s distilled, compressing a three page monologue into a look, or extending a silence in one scene as a way of communicating what three pages of dialogue between two characters would on stage. You’re not getting rid of things, you’re giving them a different form. You’re dealing with film, so you’re also given the freedom to travel backwards and forwards in time, in no particular order, in and out of spaces, and to explore the lives of these characters before we meet them. At a granular level, the economy of text, and the pacing of scenes, was always tied to wanting to maintain the sharpness of the dialogue as it is in the play, whilst whittling away as much spoken information as possible, in order to turn it into visual information.
3) The monochrome aesthetic and stylish production is steeped in nods to classic Hollywood, particularly film noir. What were the key influences behind such an approach?
BEN: Once we decided on Spain as the location for the main narrative of the film, I felt the building we used for the hotel, as well as the church, and its surroundings, would work well in black and white. The film itself is claustrophobic and oppressive, even when characters are outside in a wide open-space, and the use of black and white can accentuate that, and I believe it does in the film. When I told Ben [Hecking], the film’s DOP, that I thought we should film in black and white, he immediately set out to make it “proper” black and white. As in, contrasting, deliberate. Not a wash of grey or a desaturation of footage shot in colour. Everyone else within the rest of the departments then sat down with me, and showed me what they wanted to do in order to make this black and white truer, to explore it fully, and to take advantage of it as much as possible. Kara [Colbeck], the costume designer, brought me all of these costume options which were not about colour anymore, but about texture and patterns. We chose these carefully so that each character’s journey was reflected throughout the movie in that way. Make up, too, was approached differently, as certain colours read very differently when shot in black and white. Ultimately, whether intentionally, or unintentionally, the film has a certain timelessness, which I am very happy about, whilst owing a certain feel to the cinema of the 50s and 60s.
4) With this being your (impressive) directorial debut, were there any particular aspects of the process that initially daunted/intimidated you?
BEN: I think it was Robert Frost who said that “the best way is always through”. I had so many things to worry about throughout the whole thing; producing, making changes to the script as the writer, directing my actors, crew, myself and, also, learning my lines an hour before filming a scene (of which there were many in a day as we shot the whole thing in less than fourteen days). Most scenes were five pages long, too. You would think having written them myself would make memorising them easier. It didn’t. But this incredibly intense way of working somehow made it so that I didn’t actually have time to sit down and be nervous, intimidated, or worried. Whenever I sat down, I fell asleep. Every time I think about it I remember the whole experience as edging very close to complete insanity – but I also want to do it again.
5) Immersing yourselves in this industry. Who/what have proved to be the main idols/inspirations for you both?
ANDREA: Hard work. Absolute dedication to what you want. The ability to constructively collaborate and be part of a team. Those are all traits I find absolutely inspirational, and anyone I come across that has any of that in them I really admire and strive to learn from. In terms of actors, Charlize Theron is someone I admire a great deal.
BEN: You work with people who are passionate, gifted, hard-working, but who are also genuine human beings, who are kind, attentive, and who won’t hurt others because they lack in self-confidence. Those people are my biggest inspiration, and I try my best to stick to those principles on a daily basis.
6) Creditors boasts a terrific ensemble. The seasoned experience of Christian McKay and Simon Callow particularly. Were your hearts firmly set on such casting? Any difficulties?
ANDREA: We were incredibly lucky with the casting. Of course this ‘luck’ was very much a result of Ben’s clear vision for what he wanted in combination with the strength of the script, I believe. That and the fact that we were just flat out crazy passionate young sprites.
BEN: Simon was a very important part of the adaptation process for me. He’d read drafts I’d send him, then we’d have dinner, and discuss them at length so that I could go back to them and improve them. I initially wanted him to play Grant, but as the film organically drifted towards a younger set of characters – not to mention Simon is constantly busy so availability was an issue – I offered him to play a part unique to the film, that of Chloe’s literary agent, John Allen, who facilitates Chloe and Freddie’s adultery. I met Christian when I was visiting a film set in Austria, and spoke to him about the film. I gave him a copy of the script, telling him to look at Grant, and a few months later, we shook hands over drinks in London. I was thrilled to have him on board. Our casting director Annie [Rowe] then helped us complete the rest of our cast.
7) The film’s backdrop captured with such fondness and style. What was the attraction to setting Creditors in Madrid?
BEN: Initially, it was mostly a financial and practical decision. We’d shot quite a lot of the flashbacks on Osea Island, but filming the whole thing would have been prohibitively expensive for the budget we ended up with. Locating the action in Madrid gave the film an interesting flair, certainly shifted some of its aesthetics towards a more Spanish tone but most importantly, it added a layer which informed the relationship of the characters. It’s something I’m sure you’ve noticed when you travel. If you meet a fellow Brit, American or [insert nationality here] when you’re abroad, you instantly strike up a conversation. You might not even say hello to each other if you were in your own home turf, but being in a foreign city, surrounded by a foreign language, that brings people with a common background closer. And so Freddie and Grant become very close, very quickly.
8) The intense psychology of these characters that plays out proves compelling. Are there any shared personality traits or experiences that Freddie/Grant/Chloe undergo you could distinctly relate to?
ANDREA: Chloe is one of the most human and honestly fleshed out characters I’ve ever come across. I’ve had a lot of people ask me “How could you possibly make sense of someone so manic and dysfunctional?!”, but I can only say that it’s those characters that I die to play, because there’s a little (or a lot) of that in all of us, whether we want to admit it or not.
BEN: I guess that’s the most attractive part of the original play. It does touch on so many points, that all relationships can go through, and which you may find yourself reflected in. Hopefully this happens in the film as well. You may side with one of the characters only to find yourself rooting for the other one later on. But that’s because all three of them are flawed, all three of them have been hurt, and all three of them have hurt, or end up hurting, each other, in some way. I don’t think anyone who has watched the film has done so without subconsciously superimposing some of their experience(s) with those of the characters on screen. The intriguing part will be watching the film again years down the line, and seeing if your perception of the characters’ struggles changes because of what you’ve experienced during that time. Certainly the cast and crew all had their opinions on the subject, and we all had different backgrounds, ages, and experiences.
9) In Creditors. It’s all about the fragility and emasculation of the men. The fierce elegance of the independent woman. Gender politics is a hot topic in cinema, particularly in Hollywood. Where do you stand on the issue?
ANDREA: It’s very interesting for me to hear you define Creditors as being ‘…all about the fragility and emasculation of men. The fierce elegance of the independent woman’. I can’t agree with this statement, and yet it thrills me to hear that this is what you took from it. I suppose it means in some way we’ve done our job as a production, so thank you.
BEN: It’s actually more than that. It’s about women still being trapped in this in-between world where they’re told they should be given the same opportunities, and validation, as men, which is a no-brainer, but this in-between world is also one where societies struggle to reconcile, and recognise, that a woman can be strong, independent, intelligent, sexually open, without being a threat to men. Equally, we struggle with recognising that a woman who is strong, independent, intelligent, sexually open, isn’t more “like a man”. She is just “a woman” who happens to be strong, independent, intelligent, and sexually open. It’s almost like men are expected to have these traits, and women who have these traits need to be able to justify them every time they’re recognised in them. For some reason, anything that resembles strength and freewill is immediately seen as being a masculine attribute. If I open the door for a woman, am I being chivalrous, or disrespectful? Is it wrong that a woman may wish to be dominated in the bedroom by a taller, stronger man, and yet be a powerful, driven woman outside the bedroom? For centuries men, and women alike, have romanticised the female form as being beautiful, sure, but also fragile, and in need of protection (see the statue Freddie is working on, or Francesco Hayez’s painting “The Kiss”, both in the film). Women have always been seen as muses, the inspiration “behind” those men who are actually the ones who “build” works of art. I find this is not only wrong, but crippling, because it limits how we see, and can see, ourselves as men, and logically how we see women, and in this case, how Chloe sees herself as a woman. She switches, almost bipolarly, between self-confidence, and existential desperation through external self-validation, and the decisions she has made, and makes, in the story, are a symptom of someone who cannot seem to be able to make up their mind as to who they are, and what their place is in the world. Can she exist by herself? Or can she only exist in the validation offered by men? I think societally, we are still at that cross-roads. It’ll take a while for us to unravel this. This topic cannot advance if we men do not question our own conceptions of what it means to be a man, what we mean when we say a man is being “emasculated” (literally, to have the masculine removed from you). Words can encapsulate powerful, and crippling, concepts, which are then passed on through the ages without us even noticing.
10) Aside from Creditors working the festival circuit. Are there any other passion projects you’re currently working on?
ANDREA: Aside from my acting, I would very much like to make a documentary about Diabulimia.
BEN: I have a stage play called “Fish”, which is currently looking for a theatre to take on board and develop. I am also finishing a film script whenever I’m not filming Hans Rosenfeldt’s “Marcella” for ITV here in London, which I’m involved with until March. I can’t say much about what I’m writing at that at the moment, other than it’s set in the 80s and has something to do with the Falklands…