MJ Delaney Powder Room Interview
With the upcoming DVD release of Powder Room on 31 March 2014, Flicks And The City had an exclusive chat with the film’s director MJ Delaney. Be sure to check out an exclusive featurette at the end with MJ Delaney, Sheridan Smith, Jaime Winstone, Oona Chaplin and Kate Nash.
What was it that attracted you most about this story and the script?
I thought it was really funny and very honest and truthful and relatable, but mainly just thought it was hilarious.
Sam was obviously the most important just because… firstly I think the central character can always become a little bit absent, so you need someone with a strong enough personality to make them into something. And secondly, I was nervous about Sam because she does so many questionable things over the course of the evening, like she does a lot of morally dubious actions towards her friends mainly, but also in a lot of other ways, so I was worried we’d lose the audience and that she wouldn’t maintain that, she wouldn’t keep them onside all the way through. Obviously in Sheridan you have such extreme likeability, that the second we cast her it was sort of that just instantly wasn’t a concern at all anymore. And also that she has that, she does, Sheridan plays vulnerability very well but with a lightness of touch, so she’s able to be very funny but still show that vulnerable side throughout.
And I think it’s maintaining that vulnerability through the comedy that stops Sam from becoming too hard and too cruel. And you can, you constantly are understanding the reasons she’s doing it, so that was important.
Then, you know, the Jess and Michelle characters were also slightly nerve-wracking in the sense that in order for them not to become uberbitches or two-dimensional mean girls, Oona and Kate and I spoke a lot about giving them a bit more humanity. And if you imagine the film seen through their eyes, they haven’t really done much wrong – they’ve actually been quite nice to this girl and she is behaving like a total weirdo, so what on earth are they supposed to think based on her behaviour across the evening. So they needed to be naturally charismatic and impressive and sort of, just have a very natural sort of ease and style about them, which I think Oona and Kate certainly have.
Sarah and Riann were just fantastic in castings, were both hilarious and with Jaime it was, because I knew she had such a great relationship with Sheridan, I knew that dynamic was going to work and their chemistry is beautiful. Also because Jaime was slightly wary about Chanel when I first met with her to talk about it while she was doing another film, and we spoke a lot about it because I always wanted her to be, which I think she is, the kind of heart and soul of the film and she’s the least likely candidate at the beginning of the film, but by the end of it she is the moral compass of the piece. She is the one who’s got her head on straight, and knows right from wrong, and has got her priorities in order.
So I think it was fine once Jaime knew that that was very much where we were going with it. I mean she’s got the dirtiest laugh out of anyone I know and yet she just has that lightness of touch with stuff that could be quite sort of, almost gross. Like when you read Chanel on the page, there are times when Rachel [the writer] really pushed me to the limit in terms of just like ‘aw man, really?!’. But Jaime’s got such a sort of giggly, fun, lively kind of effervescent nature that it always just rattled off in a really fun way, and it never got too sort of sleazy, which was perfect really.
I think it’s a real celebration of female friendship, which I don’t think you see very often. Rachel and I throughout the script development process were both adamant that we didn’t want it to, even though it follows a rom-com storyline in a kind of, will they – won’t they – will they – won’t they – of course they will – kind of way, we always wanted to keep that between Sam and her friends, and not transfer any of it onto Sam and a man, or the idea that she needs a man to validate her, or make her feel better or any of these kind of things. It’s like, the scene with James, so many times it came back at us like ‘oh we’ve got to have a resolution for that, she’s got to bump into him again at some point’, and Rachel and I were always like ‘no, that’s not what happens’, when you meet a really nice guy that you find attractive at a club and you fuck it up, you know, you fuck it up and you never see them again; that’s the reality of it. And that’s not what the film is about; it’s about her and her mates. So I think that will appeal to a lot of girls anyway. I think it’s also very of its time in the sense that it’s not really about what Jess and Michelle do to Sam or what their lives are like. It’s about how they appear to Sam and how, what they appear to be makes her feel, and I think in the age we live in now, you see a lot more of other people’s lives, but the only things you’re seeing is what they want to present. So you’ve got half the people who are the Jess’s of this world who are having a shit time so they’re relentlessly posting what a great time they’re having, then you’ve got the other half which are the Sam’s of this world who are looking at these supposedly great times going on and feeling really rubbish about their own lives because of it. And it’s not making anyone happy, I guess.
So I think it was interesting to look at that and the way it’s affecting how we relate to one another and how it is different for our generation of quarter life crisis’ than it was even for people ten years older than us, in the sense that, you didn’t know what your mate from college who you’d lost touch with was doing, nor did you care. Whereas now suddenly you’re obsessively stalking them online and everything you look at is making you feel a little bit more shit about yourself, which is a very strange predicament.
But very, as you say, of this time. So do you think there will be more films like this, female led, that are just honest and not kind of trying to gloss over things or trying to make everyone look fantastic and beautiful ?
I guess so and I guess there’s a lot of, I think, this whole idea of trying to make this online world work in a filmic way into something that you’d watch, and it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do because there’s nothing filmic about going on Facebook. I think it’s a very clever way that Rachel’s managed to address those issues – I mean we look at a Facebook profile once I think throughout the film. But it’s kind of how it’s all translating into our real lives without having to dwell on the actual act of it too much. But yeah, and I don’t think it’s specifically a female issue either. I think because we, our film is set in a girls’ toilet, obviously for us it’s the way it affects girls and their relationship with one another, but I think it’s true of girls and boys, because we’re all doing the same things.
I wanted to make it very urban and I think to feel very London. I mean it was young Londoners that made it and young Londoners that are in it. And I think that we don’t see a lot of London in cinema that isn’t this kind of Richard Curtis, Woody Allen sort of rose-tinted and slightly old-fashioned view of a city, and I think there’s a certain grimy, grunginess that London does that is quite specific to London that we were trying to recreate. And I think the band helped with that a lot. All of the music and the soundtrack is kind of young, London based unsigned bands. So I think that was a big part of the aesthetic. And then within the bathroom, a lot of it came from working out how to make the space dynamic and interesting over ninety minutes. So seeing what we could do to kind of make as many little spaces within one big space as we could.
It was but it was a fun one as well and so we kind of, each of the cubicles we tried to make its own sort of world. So when you, even though you’re just in a cubicle within the same room, you feel like when you go through that door you’re in a totally different space, and then because we knew which cubicle everything was going to happen in, we could tailor the art direction to what was going on within the space. Then we made that little cubbyhole around the side, and had the sinks freestanding so that there was lots of places to hide so you can have people within the room without seeing each other. We had the kind of false wall behind the toilet attendant so you’ve got the ability to look in without being seen or be overheard without being seen. And then just the practicalities of the whole set could come apart, so the mirrors could come out and the mirrors also move in action which adds that bit of interactivity. The lighting set up’s different behind the sinks so you feel like you’re in a slightly different place. We had camera tracks behind each toilet, and the light fixtures, all the cubicles came off, all the walls came off, we got up above it. So yeah, it was, a lot of it just came from like how many camera angles we could get in a four wall box!
Are you proud of it?
I am very proud of it, yeah. I’m proud of the huge amount of work that went into it from so many different people who worked really, really hard under very tough conditions on a tiny budget to make it possible.
Have your lip-gloss and mascara at the ready for a vibrant journey into female friendship and fun, as Powder Room is released on DVD from 31 March 2014. Pre-order your copy now via Amazon.co.uk at http://amzn.to/1nd5LpD.