The Kaje talks breaking boundaries to Chris New

Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend” has been one of 2011’s cinematic surprises. The lo-fi production opens with shy straight-acting Russell (Tom Cullen) meeting the camp, but not Queeny Glen (Chris New) in a club and taking him home for what would appear to be an enjoyable but at times awkward one night stand. However, as with real life, one night stands are not always what they appear to be and over the course of a weekend, the unlikely partnership develops into something further. For those that don’t believe in love at first sight, this is a film that can single-handedly cause you to question your reservations.
Having already stolen the heart of the theatre going public, Chris New has found himself thrust into the spotlight as he makes his film debut. Heralded by the likes of the New York Times as one of 2011’s Top Five Talents, the modest performer prefers to talk work than public adoration…

Your performance in “Weekend” has been a unanimous success with critics and audiences. You are being heralded as the one to watch, how do you feel about such accolades?

It’s exciting. The most exciting thing is that people really like the film. That is more important than anything else. I kind of had this before when I started doing the theatre work. It feels a bit familiar in a way. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate it, or that I take it for granted. It does feel a bit like the film version of that, so I think I am being quite good at keeping my ego in a box. I enjoy keeping my ego in a box.

What was it about “Weekend” that appealed to you?

It was partly the script because it was so obviously really good from the early days. It was meeting Andrew that was the clincher, we just immediately got on great. I knew I could just trust him and that he would trust me. That is one of the most important things that I look for in a director, that they are going to trust. There is nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t trust. When you get a good director like Andrew, they basically just feed you a line and guide you quietly from the background. You just feel very confident to do the work. That is the best thing about the job, how confident Andrew makes us feel that we can do the job.

The relationship between Russ and Glen is unquestionably convincing. How did you and Tom Cullen set about ensuring its authenticity?

I had never really done any improvisation. I had done a little bit at drama school and I really hated it. It usually ends in havoc with everybody shouting at each other, trying to rule the roost. I have been quite shy of improvisation, if people would ask me to improvise in rehearsal, I would think ‘Oh God, here goes!” But with this film Andrew made it very clear that he wanted the text to at least feel improvised, even if it wasn’t. There was a very strong focus on that from day one. Things just worked naturally.
Tom and I worked in quite good balance. The main thing you do is pass ideas to each other and accept them, then pass new ideas back. There was that constant conversation going on in our acting as well as with the characters and that was really important. I found it quite easy, which I was really surprised about. I didn’t at all think that I would. I thought I would find the improvisation bit difficult, but I didn’t.
It was slightly luck. When Andrew and Tristan (Goligher – producer) talk about the actors that they paired up together, they knew the film would kind of rely on if they could get that right kind of chemical combination between the two actors. I think it was just luck that it happened with Tom and I. It could have happened with Tom and another actor or me and another actor. Then all we had to do really was not get in the way of it. Not get in the way of just relaxing.
The interesting thing that the audience don’t really notice, I think they get the effect of it but they don’t know why, is the relationship was strongest between the three of us – Andrew, Tom and I. There was a really strong triangle there. It was most important that we felt comfortable with Andrew. As an actor you know how to become comfortable with another actor, whether you know them or not, but to be comfortable with a director is a very different thing. The information, the feelings, the ideas that we are leaking accidentally into the camera we know are going to be dealt with trust and care by the director. That dynamic is partly what creates that intimate feeling that everybody goes away with.

“Weekend” starts out by presenting two differing stereotypes of gay men, yet these are quickly worked past. Was it your intention at the outset to show Glen as more than just another gay guy?

I think so. I think it was definitely Andrew’s desire as well. The first act of the piece, where they meet and you are not sure if they will ever see each other again, we wanted that to run on generally understood lines. Then to try show as many contradictions to that original image as we could. Constantly showing the different corners and different edges to these characters. That was challenge. That was helped a lot by the fact that Andrew, Tom and I were going through the script every night and tweak lines. Andrew was totally not precious about the script at all. We changed phrases, we’d sharpen up thoughts. As we worked together, we learnt about each other as well and we got more comfortable. We were shooting in sequence, so the further we got into the shoot, the deeper into our characters we got. I think it was really just a great way of journeying, as the audience journeys with the characters we were too. It is great parallel journey that we are all doing.

“Weekend” is what would traditionally be termed a gay interest film, yet it has succeeded in breaking out of its box. How do you think it managed to do so?

It is interesting because a lot of gay interest films only break out of their box because they are portrayed by straight actors and directors. “Brokeback Mountain” is fine as they are all straight, so it is not a gay film. It is just straight people playing gay characters. If you have got a gay director and one of the actors, myself, is gay, then it starts to get classed as a gay film – almost. I think the great thing about the reaction in Britain and America is that the audience is fed up with that idea. They are just bored of it. If you read reviews and the reviewer refers to it as a ‘gay romance’ or something like that, the comment section goes mad. They say ‘get over it! It is not a gay romance, it is just a romantic film. Why do you have to say it is gay?’
It is amazing how the cultural tide has turned. It is probably to do with things like “Queer As Folk” and “Brokeback Mountain”, where they were mass hits but in a safe context. Now the audience are much more mature and ready to move forward than the collective imagination might think they are.
It should only come back to the issues that are relevant to the characters. That was our rule on making this film. We would only say things that the characters thought, rather than saying things that the director or the writer thought. A lot of gay films have a double challenge both for the audience and the filmmakers. I think gay filmmakers have to become much more specific in what they are talking about.They can’t just talk about the gay world, they have to talk about the characters. When you do talk about characters, the audiences respond. If you just talk about generalised ideas like ‘I’m gay and why I’m ok so why is everyone else bothered’, then nobody responds to those simplistic ideas. If you talk about the specific then people respond, just as they would if that person had a conversation with a stranger. You learn about the specifics of that person’s life. You aren’t able to just disregard them as an arsehole, or attractive or hot or a cunt or they stink or dress badly. If you actually speak with them, you learn about them, you engage with them, they shock you and they reveal things to you that go beyond that generalisation. I think that is what everybody is finding with this film. A lot of people generalise about it and say ‘it is just a gay film’, but the great thing is, is that both the audience and the critics are fighting tooth and nail to say it isn’t just a gay film. It is a specific romance about two characters.
People lose themselves in it because they see themselves within it. Not because they are gay, or they are like Glen or Russ. they identify with it because they are human and they have fallen in love too. I think nearly everybody in the world has had a weekend like that.Where they have met someone and that person had really unsettled their world. That person has left a scar on them or a shadow with them, they just can;t shake it or get rid of it after. There is always that one person in your head that makes you think, ‘I wish they would just go away’. They just haunt you.

With the film a runaway success, what can we expect next from Chris New? 

I am definitely doing more plays. That is my home really. Theatre is my wife and film is my mistress. I will keep going home to the wife but I will always have a few mistresses along the way. I don’t what just yet. I am meant to say loads of exciting things that I am doing, but I don’t know. I haven’t decided. I will see what happens.All I want to do right now is take some time off and enjoy Christmas. That is my focus right now.

“Weekend” (Peccadillo Pictures) is out now.

Words and Images: Jeremy Williams

1 Comment

  1. One of the finest performances I have had the good fortune to see in film in a decade. Natural, exciting, touching. And he was damn good on stage here in New York in Lingua Franca as well! Congratulations to a first rate talent – take a bow!

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