it’s definitely not the comedy of The Inbetweeners” SIMON BIRD INTERVIEW
17th October 2019
Simon Bird is an actor and now director who is loved for his role in the hit Brit TV show ‘The Inbetweeners playing the ever suffering Will McKenzie. We caught up with him ahead of his debut feature film showing at the BFI London Film Festival. He was in good spirits and excited to share details on his new movie, future acting plans and gave us the tea on how difficult it is to raise money and make a film in 2019.
You have a premiere this weekend at the BFI London Film Festival. How is the guestlist going?
“I haven’t invited anyone. I didn’t know it was that sort of thing. Most of it sold out before we got around to thinking about it so that’s a good sign. And then we’ve got the casting grew and that’s the only seats we have left. So, everyone’s going to have to wait until it comes out.”
So, how are you feeling?
“I feel fine to be honest. I mean it was more of a- we had our world premiere a few weeks ago, in Switzerland so I was pretty nervous for that. Now I’m less nervous. We’re doing various other film festivals so it feels like now it’s run of the mill, you know what I mean.”
Are you the kind of person that gets drawn into critics and searching on twitter to see what people say or are you the type that can’t deal with it?
“Probably somewhere in between. I’m not on twitter, so never really look at that stuff. But I definitely do read reviews, often they’re quite useful, you can learn stuff from them, different ways of thinking about things that you thought you knew. So, yeah, I will definitely read reviews but I won’t be too upset if- well I’d be quite upset if they’re terrible- but you know we’ve shown it a lot know and lots of people are very nice about it. So I think it does at least some of what we wanted to do”.
It’s interesting because you’re behind the camera but you’ve been in front so you kind of understand that side. Does that help when you’re making a film?
“Definitely, yeah. I think just In terms of like how to work with actors and making sure- when I’m acting I like to feel like I am being trusted and given that space to do what I want to do. So, in terms of that, and then just because I’ve been in a lot of stuff I think I’ve definitely sort of picked up tips from all the various directors I’ve worked with so yeah I think it was definitely a big help”.
We met you today at the Mayfair hotel where they have all the directors from all the films. Is it an opportunity to meet your peers and potentially chat future collabs?
“I think, I mean, I’m sure as most people I’m quite anti-social so I haven’t really been doing that. But also, maybe, but I think, ultimately directing and making films is weirdly this incredible collaborative process. You know, you want to work with the best people from every department. You got so many departments to bring together, you know. The sound team and the camera team and the lighting team, so you know, that’s the main job as a director, is being- I just said I was really antisocial- but being a people person and trying to bring people together to see- you know, create a film with one vision behind it. But it was really nice to sort of speak to other directors, but really you’re making your own film and you can’t really- I don’t know- It’s not really that useful to talk to other directors about it”.
When did you decide you wanted to make ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’ ?
“Well, It’s an indie film so it was incredibly last minute, in terms of it actually being green-lit and us knowing it’s going to happen. But then the preparation for it started, years, years ago so it’s- Indie film was not something I was familiar with before doing this and It’s so weird it’s so- for years it was incredibly slow and incredibly frustrating and then suddenly in the space of like a couple of hours, I was like oh okay we shoot this in like a week’s time so we got to keep moving”.
How does a person just get into that mode last minute? Is it like a no-choice thing?
“Well yeah exactly. You know, you put so much into the film so whenever someone gives you the opportunity to make it you’re obviously going to do it. You know, our budged was quite low but we knew we were going to make it with that budget whatever happened because we wanted to get the film made. So yeah it was sort of just scary and stressful but that’s part of it as well”.
So talk to me about the story because it’s based on a book right?
“So the title is the title of the book. The book’s called Days of the Bagnold Summer and that is because it is about this mother and son and that son’s name is Bagnold.
There were discussions about changing the title, but for whatever reason we decided not to. But I think, you know, I think it’s probably the charm of it-I love the title. We knew we definitely needed freedom and I think anybody who’s sort of adapted a book knows that’s necessary and we we’re talking about that with the author and he was fine with it. But the things we knew we needed to keep was the tone of it because you know we love the book and that’s why we wanted to adapt it. So, we didn’t want to ruin what’s so precious about the original. So we always went back- you know every few weeks we would read the book again and make sure we weren’t sort of straying away from that. We also knew that we wanted to keep the characters and not to betray what the author did in creating these amazing characters. But what we changed was the- I mean there’s not much story in the film, to be honest it’s quite a small film. It’s a tonal piece. There’s actually more story in the film than it is in the book. The book is-nothing really happens- so we, what we did, I guess, is we drew the story and made it slightly bigger for the film”.
The story literally is about the relationship between a mother and her son, can you tell us more?
“It’s pretty sort of really close net and claustrophobic, I suppose, at times because that’s the point.
It’s about Daniel, this 15-year old boy, who’s pretty shy and introverted, and loves heavy metal. And he thinks he’s spending summer holidays with his dad in Florida and he’s really excited about it, but then last minute his dad cancels on him. So, he’s stuck at home with his mum for the summer. And then, his mum Sue, is a single mum, who’s been brining him up by herself for 10 years. She’s a librarian and she’s also very introverted and it’s about their sort of-how they interact over those 6 weeks”.
You use humour in this film, was that important?
“Well definitely I think it’s a funny film I mean I think it’s like a serious film but it hopefully approaches subjects with sort of-humanity and honesty. Which is why-that’s why I love comedies. You can deal with serious topics but you can do it in a very open and honest way and you know, hopefully, that’s what we do in the film. So hopefully, people will find it funny but it’s not like- it’s definitely not the comedy of The Inbetweeners”.
Directing this film did you have any surprises, things you hadn’t anticipated?
“I don’t know. It was all pretty much what I thought it would be. Cause I’ve done-I directed like a short film before, and obviously been on lots of sets. I sort of knew how it would pan out. I think that probably, as I was saying, the period before making the film was something I’ve never experienced before-the actual raising of the finances”.
We assume that because you’re a recognisable name, it’s easy to bank on you. But was it still tough?
“Oh yeah. Actually, if you look at the number of films that come out, it’s not that many. It’s really expensive to make a film and when it actually comes down to asking people whether they’re willing to invest however many thousands of pounds, it’s really hard for people to make that commitment. Especially, a first-time filmmaker, you don’t know how to commit-so it is a big risk. I hope with this-and if we make more films, hopefully my career as a director will become easier”.
What was the definitive factor that made someone say yes?
“I think the script, probably. I think the script is amazing. And I knew as soon as I read it I was like okay I can totally see this film, I get what it’s going to be and I can see that It’s going to work. And, so that was a big thing for most people. They loved the script and they loved reading it, and corroborating with reading the book as well and saying I get the vision of this film. But It’s always sort of chipping away at people for many months, sort of broken down”.
“Do you feel like a smaller budget stopped you from creating the film you wanted to make?
“Absolutely not. I think that we made it work and we always knew. I mean I like small like human relationship comedies. I think most of my favourite films could have been or were made on small budgets. I think in the future it would be great to make a 100 million dollar film but I think having a small budget sort of challenges you and forces you to make decisions which can actually help the film. I mean it would be nice to have an extra week of filming”.
The casting aspect was that difficult? Or did you have people in mind when you started?
“I definitely had people in mind. And we’ve got most of them which is amazing. I mean , you know, I’m a huge fan of Alice Lowe, Rob Brydon and Tamsin obviously. So those were pretty much our first choices for the most parts. I think, they really really liked the script and I know as an actor it’s not about the money cause I know they weren’t paid as well as they should have been. As an actor, for me, it’s always about the script. If there’s a script that I really like it makes it exciting and fun to work on those projects. So, I think that’s what made their minds up. And then as far as the main parts go, I don’t know for whatever reason, we always thought Monica Dolan would be amazing as Sue- I just think she’s an incredible actor. And Earl came from auditions and the second he came in really”.
You’re an actor as well so you’ve got that perspective?
“Everyone is different and I guess your job as a director is to be perceptive and sympathetic to the way everyone works. So yeah definitely like some actors want to know after every take how that was, some actors actively don’t. They don’t want to hear about how that was- some people like to build up to be great on the fifth take. Some people are great on the first take and give everything they got. So you got to sort of be aware of that and learn how to manage it I guess”.
This project you have worked on with your other half Lisa Did you have moments when you literally had to take breaks from one another?
“Not really….It is sort of working together but you work on different parts of the process as well. When Lisa is writing the script, I’m not like sitting there, next to her watching her. She goes away and you know, a couple of months later there’s a draft of the script. She does that by herself. And she’s not-she wasn’t on set when I’m directing. So, it’s sort of- it’s the best possible way of working together because you don’t need to see each other. But we do have to see each other every day”.
With you guys was there an understanding? Because in one way, you guys are so close that you can say things others can’t say?
“Seriously, I think that’s the reason it works really well, you can just be honest about the shape it should take and how you feel like it’s going. So yeah I think it went very well.
Will you continue working together?
“I think so, I think we’d like to do another one. It’s been so much fun. And this part of it is great obviously. I like going to film festivals”.
You have created this really loyal fan base as an actor, which must feel great?
“I sort of know that. I do and I don’t. I sort of know that because people tell me but I also have a family, you know, and we spend most of our time just in our house so I don’t get to see that many people”.
People want you to continue acting. Would you like to do both?
“Definitely and I want to, you know, it’s not like I don’t and I love acting. I think directing obviously is so satisfying and so exciting and I definitely want to do more directing, but I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. You can definitely do both. And like I said, making a film takes so long so there’s plenty of time to do acting while you wait for the next one”.
You managed to have a family, get married and do all the normal things alongside living this crazy life. What do you think has kept you sane?
“I don’t know really. I think all the stuff I’ve done that’s been successful has been like quite short-lived”.
Inbetweeners is iconic to everyone here, do you feel that?
“Oh yeah but I mean in terms of the actual like amount of time that you spend working on it. It’s really-it’s not like in America where if you do like a successful sitcom in America, that’s like 10 years of your life and like 20 shows a year and then it takes over whereas Inbetweeners, you know, a series of Inbetweeners take 6 weeks. It’s actually, a small part of my life”.
What are your hopes for the film? Netflix?Amazon or Cinema?
“You’re asking the wrong man. I don’t know. It’s with the distributor, I’m sure they’ll have some sort of plan. The idea is that it will come out in 2020 and hopefully lots of people will get to see it and like it”.