Sunday Times "Culture" NLMG Interview - Andrew & Kazuo Ishiguro (2011)
Andrew Garfield and writer of the novel "Never Let Me Go", Kazuo Ishiguro, met in a London hotel and talked about the film, with interviewer Ryan Gilbey.
Never Let Me Go
Author Kazuo Ishiguro talks to star Andrew Garfield about taking on the male lead of his novel. ‘You’re not how I saw him at all,’ he says.
One autumn evening, two people meet in a London hotel to discuss a film that is special to both of them. The movie is Never Let Me Go. The men seated at opposite ends of an oatmeal sofa are the 56-year-old Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the original novel, and Andrew Garfield, the 27-year-old actor acclaimed for Boy A and The Social Network, and recently cast as the next Spider-Man. Never Let Me Go concerns Tommy (Garfield), Kathy (Carey Mulligan) and Ruth (Keira Knightley), friends educated at the elite Hailsham boarding school, who are struggling, as young adults, to make sense of life in the outside world. In fact, young adults is all they will ever be. As the film reveals almost immediately, Hailsham’s pupils are clones, created expressly for the purpose of organ donation. None will survive much past their late twenties. There might, however, be a loophole...
Outwardly, the writer and the actor appear to have little in common. Ishiguro speaks with a considered eloquence laced with curiosity. He is dressed entirely in black and sits with one leg crossed over the other. Garfield, on the other hand, has the demeanour of an excitable undergraduate. He is wearing a checked shirt over a red T-shirt, jeans, stripy socks and blue deck shoes, and his thick brown hair is gathered into a makeshift quiff; he is hunched over a bowl of linguine as we talk. The men share a biographical connection — Ishiguro’s family upped sticks from Nagasaki to Surrey when he was five, while the Garfield clan moved from Los Angeles to the same county when the actor was three. Here, they discover what else they have in common.
AG: Were you consulted about the casting of Never Let Me Go?
KI: Yes and no. If you're the author of a book, it's really a strange position when there's a film. The film-makers think you have to be consulted on casting. On the other hand they don't really want you to interfere at all. I was always kept informed. I never wanted to interfere.
AG: It's funny you saw it as interference. That's a strange perspective for an author.
KI: I think it's the right perspective. I've been a screenwriter as well and I can see it from the film-makers' point of view. They have to be allowed to make their film without the author saying, "That's not quite the way I pictured the person..." In fact, physically, you're not the way I pictured Tommy at all.
AG: How did you picture him?
KI: I pictured Tommy as much chubbier, chunkier. I saw him as a bit more like Wayne Rooney. But what's important is the essence, and you more than captured the essence. When I saw an early version of the film, I was having revelations about the characters because of the way you and Carey and Keira played them. You all found something a little bit extra.
AG: For you to write that on the Tube posters would reassure a great percentage of people who are fans of the book.
KI: I often think people worry about this far too much anyway.
AG: It's like people who sit in the theatre with the Shakespeare text in their lap. 'Oh they cut that... I liked that line.'
KI: I started off as a songwriter. If you write a song, you might do your own version, but it's a real dream to have great artists do cover versions and find new things in it. There's nothing more exhilarating than when it really works. I think I understood more about one aspect of Tommy after seeing your performance, which I didn't appreciate beofre - how reluctant he is to let go of the idea that hte world around him is benevolent, despite all the evidence to the contrary. He belives someone is out there looking for him.
AG: We all have that trust, don't we? Otherwise we'd just lie down in bed and wait.
RG: Having written Never Let Me Go, were you able to get lost in it as a film?
KI: Almost immediately. That shows the real authority of the performances - that even the person who wrote the novel is wondering what's going to happen, or is worried for the characters.
RG: Are there different responsibilities involved, Andrew, in playing a fictional character such as Tommy and a real person such as Eduardo in The Social Network?
AG: At the risk of sounding earnest, you treat every character you're playing s if they were real. And that did sound very earnest! If the character is well written, there's no option apart from treating them as flesh and blood. With Eduardo, he exists, so I didn't have to trick myself into feeling like he was a real person.
RG: Were you aware of Kazuo's novel before?
AG: Yes - but I hadn't read it. I read the script and the novel simultaneously and. gosh. It's like you've been stabbed in the back from the first line, but you don't realise it until the last 20 oagees. It stays with you and upsets you. You wake up in the morning and you feel okay, then you remember Kazuo's novel and you go, "Oh, God...." [laughter] When did you become aware of your own mortality in a visceral way?
KI: I still don't know if I believe that I'm going to die. I know. intellectually, tht all of us in this room will not be here at a certtain time. What's interesting is this thing about understanding and not understanding. I feel that's how we all are about death. Children, from a fairly early age, learn that people die, but they don't really deeply understand it. For me, the point of Never Let Me Go isn't to say, "Look folks, we're all going to die, just wanted to remind you!" It's more, given that we only have limited time, how should we use it? What's actually important? That's one of the thinks all of you in the film portray really well. The characters come across as decent people.
AG: That's what you wrote.
KI: But think of Ruth. In many ways, she could come across as the villain of the piece, but Keira gives such a subtle performance that younreally see how much it matters to her, in the emnd, that she does the right thing. Inn that sense, I think we're offering a fairly optimistic story. How the characters behave to each other provides an optimistic view of human nature. What they really care about is each other, and if they've done something wrong, they want to apologise and put it right.
For me this whole thing started with Alex Garland [the screenwriter of Never Let Me Go], who's been a friend of mine for a long time. We live near each other and, since he published The Beach, we've met for lunch probably every two months. In a funny sort of way, Alex inspired the writing process of Never Let Me Go without quite realising it. We talked a lot about sci-fi and graphic novels. Now as the whole world knows, you're going to be the new Spider-Man. Do you have a particular interest in the world of graphic novels?
AG: I'm inundated right now with this one particular character. But I've always been a huge comics fan. It was alwas Spider-Man for me. I think they are our Greek mythology, our fairy tales.
KI: My generation of literary novelists, we probably had a prejudice against sci-fi as a genre. We hadn't really paid much attention to it, apart from when it turns into 1984 or something. People who are 15 or 20 years younger than me, they seem to embrace that kind of stuff. That had an influence on me, and it gave me permission to give Never Let Me Go what you might call a sci-fi dimension. I probably wouldn't have done it a few years earlier. I think I learnt a lot from my younger counterparts. I could see how brilliantly they used it. I thought, "There's this whole thing we're not using."
There's something else I wanted to ask you, Andrew. Alex and I were discussing whether or not there's a new style of acting among the British actors of your generation. It seems less based around the spoken word. Alex came up with a very interesting theory, and I probably shouldn't speak for him, but he suggested maybe it's the Big Brother reality-TV generation - they're so aware how much impact you can make without obviously verbalising and shouting. In the early days of reality TV, people tried to dominate by doing loud things, and they'd get kicked off the show very rapidly. And people learnt that you can often dominate a scene quietly by sitting in the background and using posture and movement. I feel your style is less verbal. In so many of your great moments, you're not speaking.
AG: What I was taught at drama school is that you only speak to lie - whats going on inside is never fully reflected outside. I've been lucky enought to walk onto so many nurturing and loving sets, this one being one of them. Everything was set up so we could be creative and free. There's never enough time for actors on a film set. There never is. Because we're never satisfied, and why should we be? But we were not treated like pieces of furniture, which I think an actor feels he or she is a lot of time. There's a collective sense that anyone can be an actor if they tried. On the one hand, it's a democratic profession because of that, which means everyone can give it a shot, but the flipside is that it becomes something I feel has lost its weight. You can dismiss someone as an actor, and maybe that person won't work on their craft because people dont take acting so seriously.
RG: What you're saying is that acting's hard work, right?
AH: It's impossible. Acting is impossible. Creating a performance is impossible. Creating a performance that's good is impossible. I will never, ever create a performance that's good. I know that. I will never be able to watch myself and feel happy with what I've done. It's constant striving. I think great actors can be artists, and I'm sure you feel the same way with ytour novels.
KI: We have that in common. If we were violin players or pianists, whatever people thought of us, they would at least accept that we've actually mastered some technical ability. But I use written words, and you use the stuff we're made up of, and there is this illusion that anyone can do it.