My friends and I used to play this game where we'd pick a person from our social environment, and decide who would be the absolute worst personality for sharing a drive across the country with. Being stuck in a car with anyone for too long can be a traumatizing experience under the best conditions. Oddly enough, being stuck in a car with Tom Hardy during a traumatizing experience turns out to be a terrific experience.
Steven Knight's Locke is more than a film with an interesting gimmick. After seeing the movie last month I honestly believe that setting this entire story in a car with a single character driving in a single direction is the only way it could be told properly. It completely works as a narrative frame.
I got the chance to sit down with Steven Knight last month after seeing the film, and this is what we talked about:
Jason Roestel: I really loved your movie.
Steven Knight: Thank you.
JR: It's always a pleasure to talk to a filmmaker when you really admire their work.
Steven Knight: It's always a pleasure when your film gets a positive response as well.
JR: I spent twenty years in construction work, doing ground work and getting ready for slab pouring - so I immediately got the...
Steven Knight: The drama of it.
JR: Totally. The idea that Tom Hardy's Locke is leaving his baby behind - this building he's preparing - to meet his new baby. Why did you decide to choose to tell this story this way?
Steven Knight: I just finished making a conventional film, and I just wondered if there wasn't another way of doing the basic task of inviting people into a room, turning the lights off, and having them engage with a screen for ninety minutes. At the same time I'd been testing the cameras by shooting from a moving car at night, and we would watch that on a big screen to see if the cameras were picking up the proper light and stuff, and I just found it really hypnotic and beautiful. I wondered if you couldn't take that background of a moving image and make that the theater and put an actor in there and have perform a one man play effectively. I was meeting Tom for another reason for another project, and I mentioned the idea and he was keen. I wrote the script with him in mind and then we shot it. It was one of those things where it's a low budget thing, so people leave you alone. So I was free to do it pretty much how I wanted to do it - not really knowing how it would work with an audience. And then it was when we screened it at Venice that we sort of knew it was getting to people.
JR: Was it hard to convince Tom Hardy... because I usually don't watch previews for the movies we get invited to. But I did watch the trailer for Locke, so I was expecting something like Phone Booth or Man On A Ledge where they promise this one thing, but ultimately the movie doesn't remain in a phone booth or on a ledge. Yours was the first movie that kept its promise. The setting wasn't a gimmick. We don't leave the car. Was that a hard sell?
Steven Knight: Not really. The same people that financed Redemption financed this. And they'd made their money and they were happy and we had a good experience making it. I basically emailed them two paragraphs, and said, this is the idea, Tom's keen to do it, and they said fine, we'll finance it. If you got a low enough budget people are prepared to take risks.
JR: When I was driving home last night I was scratching my head trying to think of another actor that could have pulled this movie off...
Steven Knight: There isn't one.
JR: I don't think there is either.
Steven Knight: I think he's the best we've got. If you're going to have someone on the screen for that long they're going to have to be really good.
JR: To be honest, I think I underestimated how good he actually can be until I saw Locke last night.
Steven Knight: Luckily Tom also wants to experiment. He wants to do really fresh stuff, so this really appealed to him.
JR: Was it ever difficult for him to be, pretty much, the only character in the movie. I mean, one of the brilliant things you did is that you left the other characters in the film completely up to the audience's imagination - they're just voices on the phone - you trusted our imagination to fill in the physical details of each of the roles in Locke.
Steven Knight: It's great because one of the best compliments after people have seen the movie is that they've forgotten that they never saw the other people. I was talking to somebody yesterday whose wife insisted that she HAD seen Locke's wife, in her house. That the scene had been shot and was part of the film. I really believe that with big budgets and the special effects that people sit in the cinema and have their imaginations presented to them. That's someone's imagination, perfectly executed. Which is fine. But I just wondered if it was possible to have someone sit in a cinema and create their own special effects. So people create the other characters in Locke themselves.
JR: Last night at the screening of the film, during the Q&A you said something about cell phones that I thought was really cool. Could you repeat it?
Steven Knight: The way technology has changed our lives... it sneaks up on us. The way it's changed our lives is quite profound really. It absolutely effects how people live their lives and see themselves, because we're available to all parts of our lives at all times now - as long as the phone is switched on. When the phone rings you look at the screen, you see who's calling you, and you become the person who deals with that person. If it's your boss you become the person who deals with the boss. If it's your kid you become the parent. So we're all conducting our own master class in acting every day, because we're changing who we are constantly. You have to change gear within seconds sometimes. Which is part of the reason for making the film is it would be interesting to point a camera at that - when a person is in a time of deep stress.
JR: Did you have to explain that concept to Tom Hardy? Or did he just immediately pick up on it?
Steven Knight: I think we all do it. So we all know what to do in that situation. When the phone rings we all have that response. So Tom - even when his character is speaking with his kids, and there's tears streaming down his face - he's making it all fine and all okay. We all have this inbuilt ability to do that.
JR: Working in construction, you sort of have this inner pride about the buildings you worked on and completed...
Steven Knight: Yeah.
JR: Like when I was 18 I worked on some of these buildings here in downtown Seattle. So I know them. My whole life I recognize them every single time I've seen them as a place where I was at the time - a building I helped build. What I took from Locke is that Tom Hardy's character has that pride in his building. But then your film shows that this human being - this real baby that's coming into the world - is just as important. That it's a new structure that will stand on its own in 20 years, and he's even more responsible for it.... Man... it sounds like all I'm doing is raving about your movie and not interviewing...
Steven Knight: No, no, no. You're right. There's a line in the movie where Locke says that "A new person created of boredom and two bottles of wine, how can you beat that for a construction project..."
JR: Yeah. (laughs)
Steven Knight: In other words, he does these phenomenal things and builds these amazing buildings, and then through mistakes and dopiness and being human - and getting drunk of course - there's this other construction project that's so much more intricate.
JR: Again... I've got to tell you. Locke is such a cool movie about responsibility. The friend I took to the screening last night, I asked her when it was over: Would you take him back? And of course, all the girls are going to take Tom Hardy back...
Steven Knight: Of course...
JR: Okay so during the Q&A the host told you that what he liked about your movies is that they take ordinary people and put them in extraordinary situations... but this didn't seem extraordinary.
Steven Knight: No. It's not.
JR: I think he got it all wrong.
Steven Knight: Yeah. I keep calling it an ordinary tragedy. In a sense that it's something that could happen to anyone. I think part of the reason that the response has been so good is that many people have experienced similar things. Not necessarily babies... but similar situations where they've made a mistake, and then they have to deal with that mistake on all fronts in all areas. I just wanted the problem not to be a crime, or fraud, or anything like that. It's just something he did, and now he's having to deal with it. Sort of the thought in the beginning is that when you see all the lights in the cars passing by Locke's car - every one of those bubbles of light has a story. We just chose to follow this one when it could have been anyone. So I tried to keep it ordinary.
JR: I think in doing that though, you show how extraordinary we can be...
Steven Knight: Absolutely. The concrete bit is like that. Locke will drive home from a concrete pour and nobody will realize that he's done something extraordinary that day. He's coordinated the building of this thing.
JR: I admire that you took it this seriously. Concrete...
Steven Knight: Absolutely.
JR: I was going to ask you about A24....
Steven Knight: They're terrible. Awful...
JR: They're on a roll lately. Some of the most interesting character pieces I've seen recently have all been distributed by A24.
Steven Knight: They're a breath of fresh air, and they're different. And you get so much enthusiasm and energy from all levels of the company. You get a sense that this is the new way of doing things.
JR: What I like about the new cinema is that it doesn't take the audience for granted. Like Locke assumes that the audience is much smarter than everybody else does.
Steven Knight: I think it's true everywhere, but I think it's especially true in the U.S. - people who distribute films underestimate their audience. It's almost like a badge of honor to say that people are stupid and don't be highbrow - because that's naive.
Locke opens in Seattle and select cities across the country this weekend.