Director J Blakeson Talks The Disappearance of Alice
Interview by Gavin Schmitt.
On November 18, 2010 there was a delightful conference call between
myself and director J Blakeson, who just struck gold with "The
Disappearance of Alice Creed", and amazing crime thriller. He is an
amazing first-time director and his work has been noticed by several
important people, including the Nolan brothers.
This interview focuses almost entirely on "Alice Creed", but we also talk
about some other work he has done and may be doing in the future, and what
it was like to record inside the legendary Abbey Road studios, known as the
place where the Beatles did some of their best work.
GS: You made some short films prior to "Alice Creed". Shorts seem to
be growing in popularity. Do you think this is true, and if so, why?
JB: I imagine because you can edit on a laptop now, making it a whole lot
easier to make a good-looking short film. Also, there are more outlets, more
people buying short films now. I shot my own films, and used to edit them
away from home, and now you can edit them yourself rather than investing
1000 pounds to get back an amateur look. You can shoot and edit right inside
your own apartment. I think that's probably the reason: you can make them so
GS: Is it also a way to attract potential investors?
JB: Well, yeah, most of the time you try to get an agent by showing them
your short films, and then you try to get a company, using short films to
prove you can actually direct. Someone isn't going to let you direct if you
have no experience whatsoever. I made one short film specifically to show
that it was possible for me to direct and it not look awful. It's a bit of a
calling card, it gives people sort of a take on what sort of director you
GS: You scripted "Descent 2". How the heck did you get involved in
JB: A friend had a project he was trying to sell to Working Title, but
they didn't want to buy it and it was never made. So we were out trying to
sell it to another company. We tried to sell it to the company that made
"Descent", who did not want it, but they liked the way we had written it,
and they asked us if we wanted to pitch for the sequel. And we said yes. It
was one of those rare films that had a green light before it was even
written, before it even had a script. I had written four or five scripts
that no one ever made. In this case, we knew they would make it and we would
get credit. We pitched for it and we got the job. We got called back in and
rewrote it, then they rewrote us. The final film doesn't really look like
the last version we wrote. It's not the one we made, really.
GS: "Alice Creed" only has three actors. As both writer and director,
what did you do to bring out the character development?
JB: Character development and really good actors is key. What I did is I
did write them all back stories and I knew what the back stories were, so I
could find their voices. At the same time, I was very keen about not saying
too much about who they were. The story is two days with three characters in
a flat, you didn't really need to know too much about the big picture and
who they were. It didn't matter what happened to them when they were 5 years
old. I wanted it to be just about the situation. When you're in a situation
with strangers, you don't find out much about them beyond what they do, by
their actions. I knew who the characters were and let the characters guide
me. But if they go a different way than you planned, sometimes you just have
to let them go. You can tell a lot about them from how they react to each
other. And that's how it works in real life, when you see how someone reacts
to a joke or how a couple might argue with each other. You're making these
judgments about them all the time. And you don't need to know where they
went to school, to know who they are. When i started out ,the characters
were very much archetypes of the genre. But on screen, they're not flat,
they're much more complex human beings. Life's not that easy.
GS: When filming the scene where Alice has just been kidnapped, you
employed a safe word for her to say in case she felt in danger. What was the
JB: It was a word that Gemma could choose, and if I remember right I
think the word was "marshmallow". It has nothing to do with the scene. I
totally forgot at the time (of the director's commentary), but they asked me
at a recent Q&A and the producer reminded me.
GS: You were inspired by "Panic Room", "Phone Booth" and "Reservoir
Dogs", among others. What writers or directors have you admired?
JB: "Panic Room" and "Phone Booth" were not so much inspiration as just
films I had watched to see how other people had done single set movies
before I tried to make one, tried to direct it. I'm a big fan of Stanley
Kubrick and also Billy Wilder, the way his characters are really complicated
human beings. I like that. Take Alice: even though she's the victim, she
does not have to be angelic. It makes the situation more ambiguous to watch.
I like David Lynch and the Coen Brothers. With regards to "Panic Room", I
love David Fincher's work. Anybody whose films grab you and come out of them
thinking, "I wish I had made that."
Actress Gemma Arterton
GS: You were fortunate to get an actress as talented as Gemma Arterton
to play Alice Creed. How hard was it to find an actress willing to go
through with the intense, almost rape like scenes?
JB: I thought it would be really hard before we started casting it. But
Gemma was one of the first people we gave it to, she was top of the list for
the casting director, who thought she would be great in it. I haven't seen
anything similar to it that she had done. I had seen her stage work, and I
asked her to come in and audition. The producers were not very optimistic
that she would come in to do it, because she had just got off of "Prince of
Persia", which was a big movie, but she came in and she loved the script.
And she was trained in a very intense way, having gone to R??? Drama School
in Britain. I thought it was going to be really hard, but Gemma is the first
person who came in and the first person we cast. She loved the cast. The
other two were harder to cast. She's incredibly talented, and she hasn't
really been tested enough in her acting. Normally she's just been running
around looking pretty. I think she can get some really challenging material
and just blow people away.
GS: Did you have to petition for an R? This seems like NC-17 all the
JB: Really? No, we did not have to petition to get an R. Though in the UK
it's an "18", which is a year older. I think it is somewhere between the
two, R and NC-17. A lot of things you think will happen don't really happen.
It's a very intense, horrible situation, and because it's a horrible
situation it feels like it's a lot tougher than it actually is. But if you
look at the MPAA guidelines, we followed them and didn't break any that
would get us an R -- no real full frontal nudity from Gemma, though we do
have lots of swearing. I don't like glamorizing violence too much and making
it look attractive. If you make something look kind of cool and glamorous,
women being terrorized or naked, you can get a PG-13. Though, if you make it
real like it is, it's NC-17 or "18". It's almost like if you are being
childish, you can get away with it. But if you are more grown up, you get
GS: The score was recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Is there a sense of
the historic when you step inside the place?
JB: We actually recorded in the room where the Beatles recorded, which is
a smaller room. I got a real kick out of it, because we had a smaller
budget. We only had one day there and we had a lot of material, so it was
very intense. At the beginning of the day we were like "Wow, Abbey Road" but
by the end we just like we had to get it done. It's like when you first
shoot a film, you're like "oh wow, there's a camera and crew and a set and
everything" and you feel like a kid in a candy shop. Then soon enough it's
work and you have to get it done. The place sounds so much nicer, which is
why everyone uses it. And we mixed at the other big studio in London, Air
Studios. That's where Nick Cave does soundtracks. Getting to record in the
two biggest studios in London, and getting to play around, it's a real
GS: Word on the street is that you will be the director of "Hell and
Gone". Can you confirm this, and what will you bring to the project?
JB: I'm talking to people, I very much like it. I think it's a great
script, but officially we're only in negotiations. The Hollywood Reporter
thing got out because I am talking to them, but that's about it.
GS: The reports are a little bit premature?
JB: I'm definitely talking very seriously about it. But until it's signed
and sealed, I don't want to count any chickens. I'm very optimistic, but I
don't want to walk down the road of hubris. Nolan is a great guy. I've read
a lot of scripts in the past year or so, but this is like the only one that
has reached out to me that I want to be involved in. I feel very fortunate.
GS: Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to your next
film -- hopefully "Hell and Gone".
JB: Thank you, it's been a real pleasure talking to you.