EXCLUSIVE: Davies talks Rachel Weisz’s Dive into his ‘Deep Blue Sea’

Director Terence Davies of "Deep Blue Sea." ©Music Box Films. CR: Liam Daniel. (Click on photo for hi-res version)


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Terence Davies was born in Liverpool, England at the end of World War II to working-class Catholic parents. He lived through economically depressed times while his country recovered from the war. Having witnessed tough times first-hand in a class-based society, the filmmaker’s body of work has been greatly influenced by those years. His early works were autobiographical and those that weren’t frequently delve into the post-war period.

“The Deep Blue Sea,” based on Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, is no exception. The drama, which Davies directed from his screen adaptation, probes matters of the heart: love, unrequited love and letting go.

Oscar-winner Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) stars as Hester, the upper class wife of an older, high court judge, who adores her. She seems to have it all—status, wealth, a doting husband—but she’s miserable. What she desires most is passion, which she drives her into the arms of a former RAF pilot named Freddie (“Thor’s” Tom Hiddleston), who’s fallen on hard times and since the war ended a few years earlier and frequently finds solace in the bottle and being inconsiderate to his married girlfriend.

The film melodrama opens with Hester on the verge of committing suicide, after her lover callously forgets her birthday. She begins reminiscing about their first meeting during the war, the first of several flashbacks that unfold throughout the film. She also recalls life with her kind, but passionless husband, William (British stage vet Simon Russell Beale). Ultimately, Hester must decide her fate.

Davies, who previously helmed “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and the Gillian Anderson starrer “The House of Mirth,” phoned to discuss his latest work and the unreliable nature of love.

Front Row Features: What made you want to make another film set in the 1950s?

Davies: It’s partially because I grew up then. This is based on a play that Terence Rattigan wrote. It premiered in London in 1952. I just happened to respond to the work itself. It wasn’t designed at all. It just happened to be 1952. I know that period well. It was the story I really wanted to do.

Front Row Features: What was it about the story that attracted you the most?

Davies: Middle-class women never left their husbands at that time, and so Hester does something that’s extremely unconventional. She leaves her husband for a younger man and she discovers sex. What it’s really about is love in its various forms. These people want love from one another, and it’s unrequited. That I think is very moving. At the end of the piece, Hester comes to know true love, and true love is contained in knowing that somebody’s better off without you and you are prepared to let them go. That type of true love, the courage to let him go makes her want to carry on.

Front Row Features: Did you ever see the play?

Davies: No, but I saw (director) Anatole Litvak’s (1955 filmed) version starring Vivian Leigh, when I was younger. It’s awful. It’s just a filmed play and Vivian Leigh is not very good in it, I have to say.

Front Row Features: Do you think modern audiences will appreciate the significance of what Hester does for love?

Davies: I don’t think love changes. Its physical expression may change and the way people talk might change over the years, but the path is eternal. Anyone can sympathize or empathize with love when it’s requited or unrequited. The response has been quite extraordinary. A number of young people have said they love it. They’ve responded to Hester’s dilemma. It’s human and everyone can feel it. At some point, everybody’s been in love and everybody has lost a love.

Front Row Features: How did you happen to cast Rachel Weisz?

Davies: I wasn’t aware of her work. I was watching television and there was a film (“Swept from the Sea”) that already had started. This girl came on with wonderful eyes and this wonderful luminosity. I was talking to my manager, and I said, “Who is this Rachel Weisz? I haven’t heard of her,” and he said, “You’re the only person who hasn’t.” I said, “Please would you send her the script” so he sent her the script and she rang me and I said to her, “If you say ‘no,’ I have no idea who I’ll ask. Please will you do it? Thankfully, she said yes.

Front Row Features: Did she tell you what she liked about the script?

Davies: She said she normally likes to think about it overnight, but she said she didn’t have to think about it and she would do it.

Front Row Features: This is a different sort of role for her. She doesn’t usually play characters this vulnerable. Do you think she found it easy or difficult to get into this character?

Davies: There are always difficulties when you get a role and then try to become it. But no, for me there were no long discussions or navel gazing. There wasn’t time. We shot it in 25 days. So there wasn’t time for all that. Sometimes she would come on the set and say, “Can we go straight away without rehearsal,” and I’d say, “Yes.” Sometimes she would ask to do another take, and we would. You have to give actors enough breathing space to interpret their roles and give them a chance to vary it during the takes, until you reach the one you feel is best.

Front Row Features: You tell the story in a series of flashbacks, unlike the play, which was more linear. Why the change?

Davies: I take the position that with film, if you can show it, you don’t need someone to tell us. I thought the story had to be told from Hester’s point of view, and she would be thinking while lying in front of the gas fire, “How did I get here,” and then it’s about her thinking how she came to be in this situation. If it’s from that point of view, then she would remember and those memories would be cyclical. She would remember an argument and then another argument. Basically, it’s a linear narrative with flashbacks. It’s taking the linear part of it and making it impressionistic, which I think is more interesting.

Front Row Features: For Freddie, it must have been difficult to find someone who oozes charm yet can play a cad? How did you come across Tom Hiddleston for that role?

Davies: That was very hard because a lot of young actors who read were just awful. When Tom came in and started reading, I knew he was right. I could tell instantly. We did a tiny workshop of 20 minutes with him, Rachel and Simon Russell Beale, and it was clear they were right together.

Front Row Features: You can kind of feel sorry for Hester and William, but Freddie is such a callous fellow.

Davies: But none of them are villains.

Front Row Features: Was it tricky getting financing from the UK Film Council?

Davies: They were the biggest supporters. They gave the maximum amount they could give us, which was 1 million pounds. Ultimately, it cost 2.5 million pounds (roughly $4 million). The financing came partially from pre-sales, partially from the Film Council and partially from Film4 (which previously funded Davies’ other films). The one stipulation was we had to have it made in 2011 to tie in with the Rattigan Centenary celebration. It was a smaller budget film. Had it been more expensive, they could have taken it away and re-cut it, and I couldn’t bear that.  Contractually, I’ve never had final cut, but I’ve always been given it.

Front Row Features: What do you plan to write and direct next?

Davies: I’m writing an adaptation of a wonderful Scottish novel called “Sunset Song.” I’m trying to raise financing for that. I’m also directing “Uncle Vanya” at the Wyndham Theater (in London) sometime this year. I’m also writing an original screenplay about Emily Dickenson, because I think she’s one of the greatest poets of all time. I’m also adapting a novel called “Mother of Sorrows” by Richard McCann at the moment.

Front Row Features: It sounds like you have a full plate.

Davies: That’s if they get made. (He chuckles.)