By now you’ve probably heard so much about director Andrew Haigh’s wonderful new gay romantic drama Weekend that you may wonder if the film is really as good as the hype. Happily, as those of us lucky enough to see it before it was released in theaters today know, it is. Haigh is also as charming and easy to talk to as his film is to watch. After a grueling week of interviews and press, I met up with Haigh to talk about how his own sex diary inspired his new film, and his somewhat ambivalent feelings about his success on the eve of his film’s release. Note: There are a few plot points in the conversation that follows that you may not want spoiled. So see the film tonight and then come back and read the interview – yes, you guessed it – this weekend.
Adam: Chris’ character in the film is a character who is an artist and who’s making this kind of diary-like tape recordings of his experiences, cataloguing his experiences with his lovers and I’m wondering if you have any of your own sort of similar journaling thing like he does?
Andrew: I did what Russell did. I had a list that I kept password protected on my computer. I definitely used to come back straight after it happened and write a piece, like Russell does, about that person. It’s crazy when I look back at them now and read the kind of things that I said. They’re always quite sexual and I would just describe who the person was, and what happened. It was weird. It was like I would write it for someone else, even though I had no intention of ever showing that to someone. I came out quite late so it was probably a way for me just to deal with suddenly being out and sleeping with people. I suppose that list inspired elements of the film because I did look back at it before I started writing the script. Although the people on that list aren’t in the film.
Your autobiographical filmmaking -
Doesn’t go that far!
It’s interesting how you talk about your writing for an audience even at a time when you had no intention of ever sharing it with an audience. Both characters do the same thing. The tapes Glen makes are kind of their own performance. So many young people today are documenting the ins and outs of their sexual lives, their profiles, their likes, dislikes, all that kind of stuff. Were you conscious in trying to reflect that mood of today?
A little bit, yeah. And what I find incredibly interesting about that is that someone documents everything about their life and they put it on the Internet, they put their photos on the things, but it still is a very certain representation of who they are. It’s still a formed representation, it’s not really who they are. I remember thinking that on Facebook you “like” things, knowing that other people are going to know that they’re the things that you like and that’s quite important when you think about it. And I remember, there was a march in London, a protest march against the Tory government and loads of people said, “I’m gonna go!” and they “liked” it, and they never went! And almost it doesn’t matter that they didn’t go. They let everyone know that they were the kind of person who would go to a march, even without going. I think that’s quite interesting. It’s like as society moves on, we desperately want the world to see we are this kind of person and the problem is often we’re not actually that type of person.
I would agree. You have many different sides of yourself. And you show many different sides of yourself to people. And just as you’re everyone in your dreams, according to Freud, there’s something of the filmmaker in every character. I’m wondering, is what plays out between these two characters something that you’re playing out in yourself? Is Weekend something like what would happen if your post-coming out and pre-coming out self met and got together to fuck and hash things out?
Exactly. When I see the characters now, it certainly is two sides of me and I think like most people, everyone’s very conflicted and I do see that many times I was like Russell and happy like him. When I first started coming out most of my friends were straight. I was out, but I still wasn’t open about everything. And then there’s elements of myself, when it comes to anger about the world, in Glen. I’m constantly just going backwards and forwards and to me, it was this way to represent, not just in a gay sense, but two ways of being. Glen is about freedom I suppose, existing and being as free as he possibly can be, whereas Russell is about wanting some kind of security and I think that’s a constant battle that almost all of us have. It’s very hard to live completely free. And it’s very hard to be the other way as well. So it’s a constant meandering between the two depending on what mood I’m in.
We’re constantly at war with our past and I feel like it’s especially the case with gay men because we’re so fragmented in our two sides.
Exactly. It’s so hard to really understand anything when you’re in the present. You’re thinking about the future and it’s the effect of the past and everything is just crashing against each other and it’s really hard to actually just think, “OK, this is what I want right now, at this moment. This is all fine. This is good and I’m happy.” It’s so difficult to exist in that place. For me anyway, like there’s always things I want to do and I’m relating it to things I’ve done and all that kind of history you drag along with you. It’s a tricky place to be.
Your previous film was a documentary called Greek Pete about a hustler. But some of it wasn’t totally a documentary.
It was pretty much documentary. It’s real people, real situations, their real lives. So it is a documentary in that respect. But it was kind of a blurring of that almost as a way to protect the identities of some of the people in it. It is a documentary, even if there is kind of elements of it that are re-created, let’s say. It’’s a mixture of kind of recreated elements of their lives and their real lives.
In what way do Greek Pete and Weekend reflect different elements of your autobiography or your story?
The element of Greek Pete that reflects my personality or stuff about me is pretty much the same as what’s in Weekend. Both films are about these characters who exist outside of mainstream, outside of conventional morality even and how they try and get on with their lives ignoring the pressure from the outside world ‘cause that’s what’s so difficult. Everybody wants you to conform, assimilate, and all that kind of thing in the gay world, straight world, all worlds. So I think for Pete in that movie, what’s interesting to me about his character is that he’s so determined that what he’s doing is good. He was so happy that he was an escort. And proud of it. It’s fascinating to watch a person who’s so proud of something that most people would think was, you know, morally objectionable perhaps. And I think with Russell and with Glen, they’re both having the same kind of struggle. They’re trying to work out how to define themselves and not within the mainstream. I suppose that’s how I always feel. I don’t feel like I fit in the straight world, the gay world, the film world, art world, anything and it’s trying to kind of navigate your course within that world and trying not to kind of succumb to the pressures to be like everyone else and be individual. So that’s how I kind of see both of those struggles. And it’s certainly how I feel. ‘Cause sometimes you want to be like everyone else, you know what I mean? It’s hard!
We all do. I was just having that thought today about Groucho Marx’s famous line “I don’t wanna be in a club that will have me as a member.” I do on some level want to be in a clique, but I also go, no, I don’t want to be conformed to a rigid structure. You know, I always wanna rebel against whatever the structure is.
But it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s quite tiring to live like that. Nobody wants to feel lonely, it’s not a nice way to be. But I think what happens is you find yourself, your group and then you get in that group and you all kind of assimilate essentially, even if it’s an alternative group. And then you get to a stage where you’re like, “Do you know what? This isn’t me anymore.” And I think that’s in the film. Glenn is experiencing that. He’s had these friends for ages. He talks about being gay all the time, he’s very open. But actually, he’s like, “Do you know what? This isn’t me anymore. I’ve got to do something else.”
Does it feel uncomfortable now to kind of be so approaching the “in” group, so to speak, with this film?
I’m pretty sure I’ll soon become in the “out” group again. You kind of get people saying, “Oh, yeah, you’re a filmmaker now. You’re this, you’re that.” I just know that if my next film disappoints people or isn’t what people expect or is too different or not different enough, you know, I will be out, even if I am in an “in” group, I’ll be out of that group again. I think that’s always the nature of things, isn’t it? People want you to be completely independent and individual and have a voice that is different, but at the same time, they want to know exactly what that voice is and don’t want you to deviate from that. It’s kind of weird.
It’s so weird how art gets into forcing you to make the same thing over and over again ‘cause they like it so much.
People feel like they know you and they want to know you and when you try to turn against that, it kind of upsets people, I think. They want to pigeonhole you in whatever way that is, in whatever form that is. And when you then try to break out of that, they get a bit pissy.
Well, maybe that’s connected to what we were talking about earlier with the Facebook thing. People want to possess your work and feel like your work is them. And I think certainly with a film like Weekend, so many gay people watch it and go, “This is me.” So when you deviate from that and make that thing that all of a sudden, you go, “I’m the kind of person who identifies as an Almodovar fan, but Almodovar made that terrible movie. How can I be a Lars von Trier fan if he made that terrible movie?” Not him, but whoever. Maybe that’s what it has to do with. Just that people project their own identity onto you.
Exactly. And suddenly you’ve disappointed them and changed that. It’s really hard. It’s kind of scary then what to do next ‘cause it’s really fucking terrifying. I mean, I think the best thing is to do something completely different and if those people hate you for it, those people hate you for it. And maybe you find different people that like it. It’s not easy. Just never make a film again, that’s the answer. Just go do something else. Go be a landscape gardener.
And then in 20 or 30 years, it’ll be like, “Oh, there goes the long lost filmmaker of Weekend.”
Or kill myself. That’s always a good way.
Never a good way….It’s sad. It’s like, we have that as gay people where we don’t have so many artists who have been around for so many years consistently making work about us or about our themes. We have these standout films from the past 20 years I’d say that are about our experiences. Partying Glances or something like that where it’s just like, “Oh, what would’ve happen if that guy got to make more films.”
Did he make any other films?
No. Bill Sherwood died… At the same time as gay people, we don’t want to see anything go in different directions.
I think it’s important that gay audiences realize that the films don’t actually have to be about gay people for the ideas to resonate as gay people. They don’t have to involve gay characters. There are films out there that aren’t about gay people, but still resonate with me being gay.
What are some of those films?
I watched Five Easy Pieces again. I love that film. Now obviously, it’s nothing to do with being gay. But to me, it speaks to me as a gay person. Being gay, you are an outsider and you’re constantly trying to find your place in the world. All of those films, especially from the ‘70s, are about outsiders, are so worthy of being in the queer context I think because that’s how gay people feel and that’s how we feel now and especially now. Like if you see the angry man of the ‘70s American cinema, you can easily see that as now a modern angry gay man, not sure of his place in the world now. It’s a definite similarity. They speak to me more than new most gay films that I’ve seen.
That’s interesting because Five Easy Pieces there is what I consider a queer thing in it which is that he was this pianist. And I remember when I saw that movie, I thought there was something sort of surprisingly faggy about this realization that this Jack Nicholson character was balanced by this kind of delicate talent or quality. It’s such a weird juxtaposition. He’s so angsty.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m angsty and always have been angsty. And I completely put that down to being gay so I suppose when I see other angsty people, it resonates with me and I see it in a gay kind of way. There’s a lot of angst in being gay. I think it’s mainly because you spend your whole life having to look at yourself and inwardly thinking about things and trying to work out if people are going to accept you or not accept you and you start thinking about moral issues and ethical issues and all kinds of things when you’re growing up gay. It kind if throws your life into a different place.
When you started to write Weekend, I know you wanted to reflect on your experiences, your life, the people you saw. Were there moments when you went, “OK, this is too far. I’m not going to put this much of myself into this.”
I didn’t think about it like that. I wrote it like how I used to write those things on my computer about people I slept with without thinking about what people were gonna think of it. I didn’t think about things like that. I just thought, “I just have to do it as I see it and leave it as that and not worry too much about it.” And also because it’s not about me, you can quite quickly disassociate it, even though I’ve obviously had experiences similar. I’ve met people and spent weekends with them, all those kinds of things. But I didn’t worry too much about that.
I’m not sure how you did the sex scenes exactly, but did any of the moments in the sex scenes derive from personal experiences?
I suppose they must’ve been. It’s weird. I suppose so, yeah. Like, if I think back on that scene of when they’re on the sofa, on the chair in the afternoon, I suppose that, yeah, is something that I remember happening to me kind of thing. But when I’m shooting it, I’m not, like, trying to recreate what happened to me. I think more, you try to recreate the feelings behind those events more than anything else. People that I’ve met for that short period of time and I’ve had brief things with, it kind of develops very quickly. The sex can be really like, “Yes, let’s just do it.” And then if you do quite like them, then it gets quite tender. It’s kind of those emotions that I wanted to get across, rather than positions that people are in or actual sexual acts or whatever. It’s more about trying to recreate the feelings that I’ve had.