Lama Matta in conversation with Mike Faist, Ciarán Hinds, Woody Norman, Kodi Smit McPhee and Troy Kotsur
Lama Matta: Good evening everyone, I'm Lama Matta. Welcome to the 2022 BAFTA Film Sessions this hybrid session of fourteen sessions celebrates the nominees from this year’s EE British Academy Film Awards, and we're delighted to be joined by some of this year's brilliant, Best Supporting Actor nominees. Some small housekeeping before we start, please join the conversation on social using hashtag #EEBAFTAs. There'll be an opportunity to ask your questions towards the end of the session if you're watching on YouTube or Facebook, please add them to the chat or if you're with us on Zoom please add them to the Q&A function below. Closed captions are available via the CC button on your screens and now to start, joining us from the nominated films are Mike Faist from the role, for the role of Riff from West Side Story, Ciarán Hinds for the role of Pop from Belfast, Troy Kotsur for the role of Frank Rossi from Coda, Woody Norman for the role of Jesse from C'mon, C'mon, Kodi Smit McPhee for the role of Peter from The Power of the Dog. Welcome to the session guys, we're so excited to have you.
Mike, I think I'm going to start with you. There's some, you know you come from a.. A film where, West Side Story, 30,000 audition tapes came in for this film. What was the process of audition for you?
Mike Faist: It was a little long.
LM: Over a year, I think?
MF: It was a little long. The whole process from beginning to end was over the course of a full year from the time like first tape to when, you know, I got a call saying show up at rehearsals Monday, you know. I mean, as everyone can speak to, you put your tape together and you submit it and you let it go and you kind of just say well that's the end of that and eventually you get a call and they say we'd like you to do this, and so they kept throwing out, you know little bread crumbs, inching me closer and closer along the process, until finally, you know, they asked me if I would come in and dance with everyone and I remember telling my agent, do I have to? And they said this is West Side Story, yes, you idiot. You would have to do that. So you know.
LM: Surely you want to.
MF: Yeah no for sure 'cause you know it's it is its West Side Story. It's the best dancers like around the world and like you said they got 30,000 submissions. It really was the best dancers around the world. But you know they're just such lovely people, they really are so supportive of one another and are rooting for you the whole way. And in all of your growth throughout that audition period but then throughout rehearsals as well, it really was just a supportive group of people.
LM: Is that casting through to obviously Spielberg?
MF: Yeah, yes, yeah.
LM: I mean how many times were you seen?
MF: It was a couple of tapes like you know, throughout the year and then I was doing an off-Broadway play in November of at this point 2018 and they had asked me to come in and dance on a Tuesday and then they asked if I would come in and read with Ansel on that Friday. So in person it was really only--and this is, you know pre-pandemic and it really was only like twice in person as what I had. And then there was a long drawn out period of will, you know, will they won't they, whatever and you know finally OK, can you show up on Monday kind of a thing?
LM: And then it was, I mean it's hard to think about it really, because it's been over two years, right?
MF: Yeah, like three because we yeah, we wrapped in September 2019. So close going on or three years yeah.
LM: So as you said, West Side Story, such an iconic film that for so many people. When there's such a reference point, how do you go about building your character? Where do you start?
MF: Yeah, I mean uhm, it was certainly the buildup of early stages in the rehearsal process of the daunting task of realizing, oh, we're doing this, this material, such an iconic thing. But ultimately you have to make the decision of like OK, well, all in, let's do this and let's start from scratch and you know you just do the work as an actor. You start from scratch, you look at the script and you bring what you can to it and you let go and you do what you can you know and uh. I mean, I think we all collectively kind of decided let's not try to use a ‘61 film version or whatever Broadway production before. We wanted to try to reimagine and bring what we had to offer to it.
So for me, it really was these Bruce Davidson photos of the Brooklyn Gang series that he did out here in Brooklyn in like the ‘50s follow around these youth gangs and in this photo book, you really… It's just what worked for me, you know, I was able to really find those guys and see those people for who they were and what they were about and what their lives were and their nihilism and their inability to like see past tomorrow and their just kind of love for life and also just, uh, just such despair for it as well. Like you know, the balance of that and it was very apparent within those photos, I think from myself, but that's who these people were. They were desperate. They had nothing to look really forward to, and because of that nothing really mattered.
LM: Of course, you come from you, you know a theatre background as well for Dear Evan Hansen, obviously one of one of the things we know you best for. Is there a difference in the way you approach performance for theatre and film?
MF: Not really, it's the same. I mean for myself no, it's the same homework you have to do, you know, try to find something that you connect to something tangible and simple that you can root yourself in and ground yourself in to launch yourself into everything. I mean, the biggest thing is you know in theatre, you always have tomorrow or the next show to try again, and you know with film that's cut, we're moving on and you're like shit, well why? Why can't we do it again? Or you know you go to bed that night and you're just thinking oh God, what was I thinking? Why didn't I do it that way? You know, and it's just the process, the process of letting go. And I mean, that's the amazing thing, what I love about acting in general is just the ability to or the practice of being present and this is what it is for all of its imperfections and perfections, and you let go, and you move on, and that's it. And that's just the state of being.
LM: I think I think you know you talked about doing your homework, but there's definitely the physical challenge. Maybe less homework coming from theatre, but definitely there was so much demanded in in the in the choreography of West Side Story. How did you prepare for that? Did you find it an easy transition because of your background?
MF: No, no I got my ass kicked it was great. I mean, it was one of those things you were surrounded literally by the best dancers around the world and they supported you like I said, but they also push you really hard and there was the fact that there was this looming aspect of this is the iconic West Side Story, don't screw it up. So you know it was extremely physically challenging and demanding and you know there was this image physically that I was trying to go for with the character and you know so all of these components were adding on, and we were in rehearsals for four or five months. By the time we started shooting, I remember my body was broken. I was like we're starting off ruined already.
LM: At the end!
MF: That kind of worked. You know you run with it, it's like, yeah. I'm broken.
LM: Just coming back to the casting where we started. I mean how important was it for you or how did it feel being part of such a diverse and authentic cast that was such an important part of the film.
MF: Yeah, well, I mean ultimately I really just give all of the props to Steven and Tony from beginning to end, it really was just such a passion project for them. And because of that trickledown effect, it latched on to all of us. And I mean every single day was just a joy to work on set and everybody it was such hard work, but none of it, not a single day of it, felt like work. Uhm, we all loved each other. We had the best time and we all fed off of each other’s energy and it was so different from, you know many other West Side Story productions in the past where you'd have the opposition purposefully staying away from each other and instead it was quite the opposite. We bonded and our love for what we were doing and what we were trying to say brought us closer together. And I mean it was, it really was just like a magical time. It was a part of… Best theatre camp I've ever been to. Definitely a great thing about an ensemble.
LM: I'll move on now to Ciarán, actually, because kind of a different kind of ensemble with Belfast, a really a family story, just such a personal one. I think you said you didn't really know Kenneth Branagh before. How did you come on board with Belfast?
Ciarán Hinds: Uhm well it was a fairly dark time as we all remember from the lockdown and uh, COVID had taken over the planet a bit and I’d gone to Lyon in France to be kind of Daisy domestic to my wife, who was rehearsing a play in in Lyon in France and it was all quiet and I was very content being that quiet and being domestic, and Lyon’s a very lovely place to walk around and out of the blue I got a call to say Ken wanted to get in touch with me about something. It was kind of a shock because you'd set your mind to being somewhere else for quite a few months and we made contact and we had a Zoom call and as you know we'd met only maybe twice very briefly in our lives, and he said to me that he'd written this piece about his family in Belfast, and he knew that I was from Belfast and he said, would you mind if I sent it to you? It was very gentle, very gracious, and I said I wouldn't mind at all, to be honest, I'd be quite quietly thrilled and if you send it I'd read it right away. And so he sent it to me and I read it right away and within about, I don't know, it just connected with me very deeply immediately.
LM: Yeah, so I mean, let's pick up on that. I mean, it was such a personal story based on his memories and what's your relationship to that time period in Belfast? What you draw on to kind of, what memories did you draw on?
CH: Well, because he had drawn the scenario on the script, it was so true to the times it actually brought me straight back to my roots and my childhood. And it's set in 1969 when there, when the Troubles broke out. But at that stage I was sixteen, I was a bit of a swaggering teenager, thinking he knew everything and in fact far from it was the truth and so we saw it in a kind of different light. I was out of the town, out of Belfast when it actually happened and my father was a doctor and he said I don't think you should come back, we were on holiday, he said just stay away for a moment so we see what occurs. And when we came back into the city of Belfast in ‘69 there was a kind of a very dark kind of malevolent atmosphere around the town, of course, as usual, you go back to school, the structures go on, but you knew that the city had changed and from then on over a period of almost thirty years it was kind of a dark and violent time in the north of Ireland, as everybody knows.
LM: Yeah, I mean I think it's important like against that political backdrop of course, we're seeing this film through Buddy's eyes. Such a fantastic character in your relationship between you, you know, Jude Hill plays Buddy. I wonder how you fostered that relationship behind the scenes to get that real intimacy and that kind of genuine love across?
CH: Well, to be kind of it wasn't a bother at all because of his own special nature. He's the most beautiful young fella, he genuinely is. He's very naturally—he has own natural intelligence and he's also, I haven't seen for quite a while a ten-year-old with an interest in adult conversations, whatever they may be. Who wanted to listen and wasn't in any way sort of bored or distressed about why he wasn't getting attention or what needed to be done. He was just very, very immediately and totally present, and in fact in a way that made me connect immediately to him and realize that extraordinary, instinctive stuff that young actors have that I would need to be trying to get back on that track to actually truly connect with him because, you know, after a lot of baggage and working for quite a long time, your habits, etc. that you try to go back to actually just being a pure human. And being I think it was what Mike was talking about as well about just trying to be in the moment. Just be absolutely connected to that moment. Hopefully it's caught and it's human and it's profound and light at the same time, and it's part of the storytelling. But when Mike said about, yeah, with all its imperfections and also trying to hint and capture the essence of truth, which is always a hard call.
LM: Yeah, and I think I think there's almost because there's so much light and dark in the film, I mean that that really sings in terms of the authenticity that sits in that story and how personal it is. Uhm, I think I think before I move on to Woody, you almost kind of segued into him and what it's like, you know, what you gain are working for young actors, but you of course watched the film in Belfast. How was that experience for you, watching it with an audience there and what did that mean to?
CH: You it was an extraordinary emotional evening. We had opened it in London and I hadn’t been on their on their circuit, but they’d opened in Telluride and Toronto. I saw it for the first time, really in London and then we brought it over to Belfast a few days later and it was, it was very interesting because we were all very nervous because that was a kind of culture. They're very warm and very direct, very open, but they don't tolerate fools and they don't like the wool being pulled over their eyes. It's that kind of culture. It's very straight, very direct. And when you make something, especially if you're bringing to Belfast something that announces itself loudly with a title called Belfast, they're gonna say, well, we'll be the judge of that, whether it's your Belfast or our Belfast, and, uh, I was speaking with Jamie Dornan when we went in, and Jamie was really, really nervous. And I was saying to him, well frankly, I think it could go either way, you know, because depending…But fortunately Ken Branagh gave the most beautiful opening speech just to welcome everybody into it and open up their hearts and then suddenly the film went in there. Van Morrison started singing and people were taken down into this trip, but also it was, it was engaged because even though this was nominally fifty years ago, whether there was older people or younger generation, they all knew the story, the history of it, and so they knew of the times they knew the place and they connected to it. But what I think is beautiful about the film, it’s like films that we see, that it connects also outwardly because it's so truthful and specific to their view of the nine-year-old boy.
LM: Thanks, thank you Ciarán. Oh, we'll go to Woody next, You're thirteen years old now. I think you were eleven years old when you made the film. What was your acting experience before the film?
Woody Norman: Well, I've done a lot of, uh, before that I did a lot of TV. I did a few films, but those films were quite like small and shot in England, so it was quite like weird to just one day be said oh you're going to America to film this. America filming and English film is very different.
LM: How did you find them different?
WN: I don't know. Just English people in America people do stuff differently.
LM: Yeah, and I think I think with C’mon, C’mon, you’re definitely, you're seeing… I mean he's so excited about going to New York and how he experiences that city, isn't he? Uhm, you obviously, the whole film is built around you and Joaquin's characters and that relationship that you're building. How did that work? Did you guys spend a lot of time off of camera together? How much time did you spend together?
WN: We spent most of the time bonding when we were on camera because a lot of the film was like kind of improvised. We'd have the script and then we do whatever we wanted with the scene. We could tweak it if we wanted to. If there was something that we thought of on the spot, we could just say it. But it wasn't like fully improvised, because we obviously still had to do what the scenes said for us to do. But a lot of that was like where we bonded and off camera we would bond, but there was never like bonding sessions. It was always just we'd go into set and then we’d do it.
LM: Yeah, it's just very natural, isn't it? Because you're spending time on camera together anyway and as your uncle, he's spending that time trying to get to know you. I think it's easy for us to ask you what you learned from Joaquin as a young actor, but I thought it'd be quite interesting to ask what you think he learned from you?
WN: I don't know... I hope nothing. I think 'cause I thought he was a very…I don't know, I don't know.
LM: Uhm, did you pick anything up watching him in in the way he approaches things?
WN: I think what I learned was mostly like how to be when you're on set but not filming 'cause he would like very much separate him filming and him being like not filming. Yeah, so he when he was on camera. No sorry you go...
LM: Yeah, so he didn't stay in character he had different kind of, different characters kind of he went back to his own person.
WN: Yeah, like at the beginning he was trying to get me to stay in character all of set and I got my mum to tell him I'm not going to do that.
LM: You got your mum to tell him off?
WN: I got my mum. A lot of it was like me and him are very different in the way that we approach acting. 'cause he does do a lot of like method acting and I'm like I would never do that 'cause I feel like for method acting it would work for some people, but I feel like I drive myself insane.
LM: So how did you approach it then?
WN: I just feel like when I was filming I would become the character and as soon as the camera stopped I'm out of it.
LM: Just like that. I can see Mike reacting, like of course. Uhm, so, so let's just talk about, uhm, I mean obviously you're starting out and this was such a big film, but such an intimate film, uhm, what kind of projects do you want to work on next. What kind of characters?
WN: Uhm, well we just finished a film a couple months ago called The Last Voyage of the Demeter. That was like, it was a chapter from Bram Stoker's Dracula. So that was very different than C’mon, C’mon, that was very like a big production.
LM: Complete opposite, right?
WN: Yeah, that was very fun to film. There was like loads of wires and stuff. It was really cool.
LM: Thank you so much, Woody. I think I'll go to Kodi next. Kodi, hi I think, yeah, it's, you know, going from Woody and talking about being a child actor. Of course it's easy for some to think that that you're still a young actor, but you've been doing it for some time.
Kodi Smit McPhee: Yeah, I mean honestly that…
LM: You can get typecast, but what kind of, what was it about this role that kind of drew you in?
KSM: First of all, I just have to say to hear Woody talk, your confidence and your wisdom and your wit. It', I don't know, it's really lovely man, so just I don't know keep that about you 'cause I would have to say I think like many of us here, it's come up in the conversation that we owe a great deal of our success and our experiences to the state of mind of innocence. And it's something that I try and sometimes even struggle to keep a light to this day just to remain in the moment and not think too far ahead. It's, the real gift, so that's very cool to hear you talk man and see you work. What attracted me to this was, uh I guess I loved the idea and the challenge in the way that Peter was so internalized. He had to kind of leave hints, but without revealing, you know, his plan and it's the kind of film where it has that twist in the final act where it recontextualizes the whole story. So if you wanted to go through and watch it again, you could, you could very clearly watch Peter and the things that he's doing and the things that he's planning. So I just I liked the two sided coin in that sense and I liked how well, you know, initially, you, you know the audience and everyone that's in his presence has initial judgments on him. You can't help but have these initial judgments, and they're quite negative of, you know, his naivete or weakness. Uhm, this brittle kind of nature that he gives off, but I feel like very quickly he switches that around, he turns the tables without changing who he is at all he just completely revealed his confidence and his intelligence. And so I mean, I saw that all as a challenge, but in the hands of, of course, someone like Jane Campion I could put my complete trust into her to convey that.
LM: Yeah, I mean, I think I think because you've got such a distinct look and manner about you, there's definitely room there for you to play that to your advantage is that is that kind of how you…
KSM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean that that's a, that's a big side to why I guess I related to Peter outside of his more manic and darker elements. It was just the fact of how he carried himself and how confident he was in that, you know. My dad, he's an actor now, but he got the acting bug because he was a pro wrestler and he did like a Burger King commercial or something like that and—but he's a six foot six guy, Aussie, hangs out with well used to hang out with outlaw bikers. I grew up around that world covered in tats, all that all that macho stuff. For much of my youth I would, you know, look up to him and I would often think, you know, when am I going to kind of get that that that masculine body of armour? And I never really did, and so I think that was an interesting turning point for me just socially going through school and things like that, realizing that you know I'm this and I have to fully accept that. And actually if I was to try and go out of my way to be anything else that I'm not my father or anyone else for that matter, it would, it would just be false. So I, I really think yeah, I mean bringing it back to Peter that's just why I related to him and I could easily kind of stand in those shoes.
LM: I think it's really interesting you talking about drawing on those kind of outlaw’s macho kind of references with your dad because the other thing of course is that you've got this usually very male-dominated genre and of course the cinematographer brings the female gaze to there. So I wonder what your relationship was like with her, with Ari?
KSM: Ari, I had actually worked with previously. Uhm, she's from a close suburb where you know I grew up in in Australia. So I mean that in and of itself just speaks wonders to where I guess, I know this word is thrown around a lot, but passion can bring you and dedication and all that good stuff. Yeah, but yeah I mean, it's really hard to actually put into words to be able to work with someone on something smaller like a miniseries in Australia and then we crossed paths again in a beautiful, beautiful environment like New Zealand and working with a force of nature like Jane. I mean yeah, it was an amazing experience.
LM: I mean, let's come to Jane. And you know this is such a strong ensemble cast. Does Jane approach ach actor differently? Like her way of working with you.
KSM: I would say yes at select times when I'm, when we are working one on one with her, she will be able to go into different areas where we wouldn't have, I guess, in the ensemble kind of rehearsals. So we had like two weeks of rehearsals, which was amazing and very intense. But Jane doesn't really have like a specific approach. That's the beauty of her. She really will just kind of throw things at you, whether it's telling me to play with a hula hoop, which ends up finding its way into the film, or to commit to like the Alexander technique and you know, body movement specialists like the things that are very big words to throw out to an actor that feels like they can at least speaking on behalf of myself, be solidified in their method and their approach. She has a really healthy way of making you question your ego and its defiance and gives you the opportunity and the invitation to just completely surrender all of those solidified kind of stagnant thoughts that that hold you back from progressing and stepping out of your comfort zone. So I would say she just, she elevates everyone, whether it's in front of the camera or behind. You know, I remember Ari and even Peter the editor were agreeing that she just has a really cool way of throwing curveballs at you, basically, that makes you feel uncomfortable where she can healthily play your antagonist, poke and prod you to get out of the sticky situation of comfort, I guess.
LM: Yeah, I guess the invitation to be so vulnerable is actually quite empowering as an actor.
KSM: Absolutely. It's the most rewarding. I mean, in hindsight I’m in debt to her. No matter how many times I might have gone to bed at night and thought God is this lisp too much or is the walk too much or whatever you know. You just get to surrender and surrender and surrender.
LM: Yeah, such a physical role again. I mean, I'll move on to Troy now because obviously it's another ensemble cast and of course, what's absolutely brilliant about Coda is that there's a representation and such a recognition of the deaf community. What did that mean to you?
Troy Kotsur: I was extremely excited because I had such a long journey. When I was younger, I saw Marlee Matlin and she was the first Deaf Oscar Award winner. And that happened in 1986 and really, that gave me hope, and it gave me life and through the years, I really haven't seen much sign language on the big screen. And ever since Children of a Lesser God in 1986, you would have small reoccurring roles or someone showing up on screen briefly. But with Coda we had an ensemble cast of three deaf characters, mother, father and son, who all use sign language as their mode of communication. So it felt like it was really an opportunity for us to share our language and our culture. Just like many of you are from different countries and have different accents or different languages, the bottom line is all of our countries have cultures and language, but for us it was rare for the deaf community to have that opportunity and the coda is really a bridge between two worlds, the hearing world and the deaf world. With the coda, the child of deaf adults as the bridge between those two worlds and so really I'm so grateful to be showing this culture to everyone worldwide.
LM: I mean, I think of course, let's talk about the Coda in the film. Emilia, of course, plays your daughter in the film, and she learned ASL for the film and that was—she wanted to go beyond lines, right? She wanted to actually be able to communicate with her family in the film. Did you, you know in building that family unit and we see it as so dynamic and true, were there bonding exercises for you guys with Amelia, to build the family dynamic, that is?
TK: Yes, absolutely. So I have to admit I have so much respect, hats off to Emliia Jones. She is such a natural actor and she happens to have that innately inside her to be able to pick up a new language. And when they cast me and when I was attached, my first question was who would play Ruby? And I was worried about the deaf community's concerns, the politics, and of course, the skill of sign language and when we met her at rehearsals, we had two weeks of rehearsals before our first day of shooting, and we went out onto a fishing boat at three o'clock in the morning and I met Emilia for the first time. And we socialized a bit and I was curious and I saw her signing a bit and actually it made me feel so relieved. And when the actual fisherman showed us how to gut and cut open these fish. And of course it was gross… She, I wanted to see her reaction. She wasn't nervous, she was just tossing these guts overboard and I asked her did you fish growing up? And she said no, this is my first time and I said OK, me too, and so I was so impressed with Emilia. And you know most actors who are hearing, who learn sign language, they tend to be focused and concerned about only the lines in the script. But Emilia, when she was learning sign language, she really wanted to make the extra effort to communicate with her deaf cast mates and we really were socializing on and off set. And so I was so, so impressed by her, and then I discovered that she was British and she had to deliver her lines in an American accent, which wasn't my problem being deaf, but other folks had told me that hey, she's really skilled at this, so Emelia Jones has such a bright future and it was an honour working with her.
LM: Yeah so she said she talked about that the other day actually and it did mean so much to her. I mean, let's pick up on the fishing, of course, the physicality of playing a seasoned fisherman. What was that like for you? Did you get into it as much as Emelia?
TK: Oh absolutely, because I was born and raised in Arizona, which is desert, and so obviously I had never seen whales out in my out in my desert. And so when we travelled to Massachusetts to learn how to fish out on these fishing boats it was this transformation for me. It was like being surrounded by a bunch of Popeyes and how these Gloucester fishermen spoke and walked and behaved and all the swearing and of course the bar fights and this actually really influenced my character as I dove into this role and so out on the fishing boat of course I had to wear heavy clothing and heavy gloves and how would Frank Rossi communicate with his children and how would he ask them for specific tools? So we had to develop new signs that actually fit that fishing culture and language, and so it was a lot of fun for me to research. And really, it can be so dangerous out on a boat how you pull up the nets, how you even hold the fish, like a squid for example popping out of your hands. And I was so uncomfortable touching the lobsters, these are live lobsters keep in mind and I just had to be cool and sort the lobsters that reminded me of giant spiders, and I don't eat fish or seafood, I never have, but my point is, is that our director, Sean Hader, mentioned to me that Frank Rossi was in high school dropout while he was younger and he had to run his father fishing business after his father passed away. And so, he was an experienced seasoned fisherman for forty or fifty years so the bottom line was I really had to dive in and really push myself and push my comfort zone and my personal limitations. And so it was a wonderful experience to transform into the character of Frank Rossi. We went to eat with some friends yesterday in Santa Barbara and someone ordered crab and I actually had to get up and walk away because it was so disgusting.
LM: Even if you had eaten before, you probably wouldn't be able to look at lobster again for a while.
TK: Yeah, because really my entire life I've had a fear of spiders, and so these shellfish remind me of spiders personally, and so that's a personal fear of mine, right?
LM: I, I think all of us are like, yeah, we really have a fear of spiders. So I mean, let's, I mean, I want to pick up on the bar fights to be honest.
TK: Oh my so every night they would warn me and they say hey, there tend to be fights in these fishermen bars after they would close and so that was just their tradition in their culture they would fight over women, they would fight over betting when they were playing pool and so the policeman, when the policemen would actually be waiting outside and they were so used to the bar fights, they would just wait until someone was hurt to intervene and they’d bring in the ambulance. And so I was, I almost got a black eye in fact one night.
LM: Anything for the role, right?
TK: Oh absolutely, it really affected me and I could use it all, just the macho way of being, the macho way of talking and so on.
LM: With that scene with you and Ruby in the kind of almost town hall facing off against the kind of the bigger corporate fishermen, it definitely just comes to mind listening to you talk about all of that.
TK: Absolutely, that's where I was able to use some vulgar sign language because I was tired of them taking advantage of us as a deaf fishing business and my character, Frank Rossi, had to speak up because we were on the verge of losing our family business and so I wanted to let—Frank Rossi wanted to let the board know, but of course I didn't realize that that this was inspired by a true story that many fishing communities are being affected by larger corporations taking over their small business and so it was an honor to give that justice in such a relatable story.
LM: I've got one more question for you. Uhm, so I mean, I think again at the heart of this it's the coming of age story about sacrifice and learning to let go. I think both for the adults in the film as well as for Ruby, such universal themes. What do you think has resonated the most about this film? Is it the representation of a deaf family? Is it the coming of age? Is it both?
TK: When I was younger, about 18 or 19 years old my father was in a car accident and he was so skilled at sign language, and once he was wheelchair bound, he could no longer sign to communicate with me and I was taking care of him. And one night he said Troy, don't worry about me, I have your two brothers taking care of me. We have family and friends just go on and move on with your life. And so it was so hard for me to let go, and I dove into the theatre world as an actor and looking back, I'm so grateful because now in our film with Frank Rossi having to let go of his daughter, Ruby, I look back on my personal experience and I used that in order to help my performance, as Frank Rossi letting go of his daughter. He sees her talent as a singer, he wants her to grow and rather than being selfish and using her as the means of communication in the family business. He wants her to embrace her passion and go and it requires a lot of sacrifice and Frank has to make a lot of decisions, and so I think that really impacts our audience. So when Frank sees his daughter’s recital, he notices the hearing audience’s emotional reaction to his daughter singing, and that really gives him some insight into her talent, her passion and her skill. And so, my daughter is a teenager and she only has one year left at school and I'm not ready to let go of my daughter yet. And so from my daughter, to playing Frank Rossi to myself, having to let go. Maybe some of you in the Belfast cast have experience of having to let go of their kids, right?
CH: Yeah, we sure did. I'm still trying to deal with it.
LM: Thank you so much Troy. I think we've got some time, there's so many audience questions coming in and I want to squeeze as many as we can in in. I'll start with one from Archie: All of you had to delve into being part of a family unit, whether surrogate with Riff and The Jets, blood in Pop, Peter and Frank, and with father and son with Jesse and Johnny. What was the most interesting part of immersing yourself into those dynamics? Also, what a remarkable bunch of performances, exceptional from all of you. Should we start with you, Mike?
MF: Yeah, I mean for me and hearing Troy, it it feels like it's very similar story-wise where you know, for us, as The Jets in this collective tribal unit and their home being torn apart and everything kind of being taken away from them or how they perceive that, there is this change that is uncontrollable at this moment and, you know this connection between Riff and Tony and The Jets in general of the inability to let go and accept what is happening and move forward. I mean, that's like the story, the crux of it all. In order for that I think to have been, to have landed the way that it did, we were, like I said, we were really fortunate enough to have four or five months of rehearsal every single day together and there were days that we didn't do anything like, you know, we were just there and those were the best days because we got to just socialize and get to know each other.
And one of the one the things that I did with The Jets early, early on, we all went out and got a beer and I told them what we're going to do this summer is every we're going to do this thing and I called it ‘Jetivities’ where everybody, everybody had to come up with some sort of activity and no matter what it was, we all had to do it and, uhm, we did everything that summer. You know we played laser tag, we went upstate with the Sharks and we just bonded and it was really important that time that we had of either working our butts off and rehearsing, or doing nothing. Just that ability to get to know each other. And I'll tell a really quick story 'cause I want everyone else to you know, talk about their experience as well. But there was a Jet whose father had passed away not too long ago and who had a history with West Side Story from other productions. He was a New York City ballet dancer and his father had passed away and one of the first things that we shot for West Side was Cool and, fourth day on set. We wrap the number and Harrison who was the Jet had actually brought his father's ashes as a way to kind of let go we were in Brooklyn on the East River and he asked if we could sing the Jet song and he released his father's ashes into the East River. And like that's the kind of bond that we had, you know, and I remember telling Steven 'cause you know pandemic was going on, I said, you know, if no one ever sees this movie, truthfully, it really doesn't matter at least to me, because those experiences and that bonding and that socializing that we did, it made the movie and the love for what we were doing I'd really hope--and I think it doe-- translate through and into this screen and to the audience itself and that's the reason we do what we do.
LM: Yeah, I think I think there's so much in what goes on building those family dynamics offscreen, I think that people will never quite tell how much it affected the performances.
MF: One of those things, it's like you hope it translates and you know, as an actor watching the film or yourself you're like, it's not quite the same, if only they could have been there. You know you hope to try to document the experience of what you're trying to do, and it's never quite the same, but it's close enough, you know, but it really was its magic.
LM: Ciarán for you, what what’s your answer to that question? What was the most interesting part of immersing yourself into that family dynamic?
CH: Uhm, we had, we only had two days to get to know each other and because it was a very tight, small budget, small scale and the pandemic was on and Ken Branagh got us too--he's very clever, the four main adults in it, Judi Dench, Catriona Balfe, Jamie and myself, we sat around a table at distance and he just asked us all in about fifteen minutes to tell all our own stories of our own childhood. Which would have been in different eras way before, and so suddenly we realized we knew a lot about each other personally, within about forty-five minutes. It wasn't about socializing about getting to know people, we opened up to each other. We talked about our siblings about what we remembered as kids and all going on in different parts of the of Great Britain or Ireland, and at different times, and yet at the same time, we suddenly knew each other personally, quite deeply. And that was what we wanted to use in the connection that we made, that we actually knew each other not as characters or how you'd play the character and use the scenario. It was actually that we knew each other and immediately were very fond of each other because we'd opened up so quickly, and I think that's the half the battle is about opening up to each other and not being protective of your role, how you want to play it. It's about really trying to dig in and start finding love between each other and therefore once you find the love, you can find where to hit the weak points and play with and wind people up because you love them then there's no more serious damage being done, but it's all part of the creative process and I think Ken was able to create that very quickly.
And then he threw young Jude Hill, that beautiful young boy, into the mix and then the fireworks went off.
LM: Absolutely magic, and I think I think actually also with Belfast, it's just that sense of joy that the family brings. There's so much like in in that dance scene, and you know there's so many moments, I think, that really, really sing even in the kitchen with you, and you know, in your house there's so much of that, that kind of like really echoes.
Woody for you, of course, it's a much tighter film and ass well as Joaquin we obviously see you with your mum in the film and there's some really beautiful scenes of you guys just playing with each other what was that like for you to kind of try and build and immerse yourself into? So a lot of it takes place in the house, doesn't it?
WN: With C’mon, C’mon, I feel a lot of the like bonding happened as the film went on, so we didn't really need to like get to know each other before the film happened. Because in the film we didn't really know each other. We had met once when I was younger in the film and that was it. But bonding with Gabby was, we had one kind of chemistry test, but was it was more of a like, audition. And we talked about music we talked about like just things that are very not work and that was kind of how I really got the job, just seeing if I liked the people and seeing if they liked me. So yeah, I feel like with C’mon, C’mon what made it quite different to me was how much it was like a documentary, even in the scenes where it was scripted.
LM: Yeah, no, definitely. And I think maybe the temptation to talk about family dynamics is strong in this group, but maybe I'll come to you Kodi with a different question from our audience. Each of you have to act alongside strong leading actors and strong all round casts driving the story. What, for you is the key in creating a strong supporting character to help build that that film?
KSM: Oh, I don't mean to be boring, but ironically it does, I guess come a bit back to the chemistry that you have with one another and mine was somewhere in between Ciarán’s and Mike’s. We didn't have privilege of having five months, which I can't imagine, that must have been amazing and I wish I did see the behind the scenes of that, and not as brave as having a couple days but same experience in the sense that when I had met Kirsten, Benedict and Jesse, obviously. Obviously Kirsten and Jesse are actually together, which is very cool to observe. They met my expectations in in the sense that I was just, I felt like I was just meeting grounded human beings, which is what you always hope for; individuals that are completely separate of their ego and so that that makes it easy. You know you just hit the ground running from there on and I guess the main part of anything about our performances together and how they show on screen was that two weeks that we had with Jane. I call it the Jane boot camp where we just did the rounds with her and again was challenged by her in many different ways but also eased by her because, you know, she had the reins and it's very easy to put your complete trust into her. So I mean, I think a lot of us are in debt to Jane in that sense.
LM: Thank you. Troy, I'll go to you with the same question: What for you makes a great supporting actor? What do you look to deliver?
TK: When I first read our script, I felt like the character of Frank Rossi was an extremely important supporting actor in our story. It's not very often that you see a father who happens to be deaf who is the protector of his family, who is a working class, hardworking fisherman. Deaf roles tend to be vulnerable and having to be taken care of by hearing people like a victim type role. But really, the supporting role for me, this supporting role of Frank Rossi had much more meat to it and of course we had such a phenomenal ensemble cast. Being able to have those two languages, English and American Sign Language all come together, I believe is what makes the supporting role a challenge instead of a lead role because a lead role is responsible for carrying this story but of course the supporting role can affect the lead and really makes the story shine.
LM: And I mean, yeah, but from one of our audience members who's actually Shannon as a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community with a passion for pursuing film and theatre, thank you so much for your masterful performance. In addition, she asks, the castmates have told stories about your improvisation leading them to breakthrough performances. Was there a moment for you that left you kind of in stitches or allowed you to explore an aspect of Frank that you hadn't considered before?
TK: The scene in the doctor's office. The doctor's office scene. Really, there was a lot of improvisation there, and a lot of choices and really this is about his balls itching, right? And so of course I was able to really have some clear gestures as Frank Rossi, so the doctor would understand me because he didn't trust his daughter. So as the balls burning or being on fire, I actually pulled the cigarette lighter out of my jacket and I held it underneath my hands which were, which were my balls and our director said no, that is too much Troy and I said, you know, I can't hear as Frank Rossi what my daughter is interpreting. How can I gesticulate clearly to show the doctor that my balls are burning and so we had so many hilarious moments there, and they ended up taking their favorite moment. But I like improvising because of course our script is written in English as a guide, but as a signer I can understand the intent behind the written word, but I want to make the meaning really fit us deaf culturally, and so it was a very fun process to improvise in these various scenes. It was like an experiment and I like to give our editor as many choices as possible, and so if the editor has a hard decision on which take to use, that is good. It's always great to give your editor more options, and improvising can be a bit more raw rather than what is expected and that repetition, if you know what I mean. I'm sure that many of you other actors have experienced some real magic and improvisation too.
LM: Does anyone want to speak to that to improve in those magic moments?
KSM: I would just say that the whole audition process with Jane was actually like the most forgiving and relaxed audition process because we didn't--it wasn't expected that I had to prepare like a scene or go through the cattle call in that sense, have a limited amount of time to show my best performance. That stuff you know as much as I've been doing it since I was very young, it doesn't ever get easier. I feel like I have the same amount of anxiety and hope that I do it as good in front of them as I did at home. But with Jane it just felt like we were playing and she asked me to uplift Peter into the room and we just asked him questions and then we kind of makeshift played out scenes with Peter and Jane and I feel like that holds up. I feel like that holds enough of a test and a challenge for the actor because you have to have enough of the subconscious there where you've filled in the gaps for the things that are in the script and are not to prove that you're in your character’s shoes, I guess. But also it doesn't restrict you to any kind of expectation or solidify you in like in in the script as Troy was saying there. So yeah I think it's a real gift to be able to play like that.
MF: I mean you have to. Because it's like you know, in the script and in the black and white of the page of it all there is all of this blank stuff in between and if you are not embodying or not the expert in what you are attempting to do, then quite frankly, you're failing, and so if you don't have the instincts like on command to bring something to it, then you're kind of well, you're not acting in my opinion, you know. You're not doing it, you're not engaging with the material in a way of that give and take 'cause you know the writer is able to build this much, but you have to then do this which then helps that and it keeps going and going and going and everything feeds off of each other.
KSM: Well said.
LM: I think we could keep talking about this and I'm picking improv, uh, Troy’s torture of Ruby maybe and the editor, but we've just got a couple of minutes so I’ll end on this one. It's a question for everyone, actually, what movie brings you joy and what movie is that that that you keep going back to for that that hint of joy? I'll start with Woody.
WN: There's a few. Uhm, I think the easy answer for me is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I first saw it when, I was like really young and I've just loved how like, I don't know I just really like the film. Yeah, I just really like it. It's a good film.
LM: It’s on everybody’s list! Ciarán?
CH: For some reason I keep heading back to The Big Lebowski, The Coen brothers. It's just it's such a thrill ride. There's a thrill in it, it’s bananas, it's barking. It's beyond what could possibly happen next and it does. And it's very funny. And yeah, I keep smiling to myself every time I go back into it.
LM: Everyone enjoys a dose of crazy, don't we? Kodi?
KSM: Big Lebowski, that's such a good one. I feel like that one always stays fresh. And yeah, that's a that's a nice one. Honestly, I struggle with these questions 'cause a million things come to mind. I don't know if this is something that I could return to a lot because it's a big chunk out of your day and you kind of have to focus on it and be patient with it but I just remember that this broke the ice and invited me into this whole other world of cinema the first time I saw it: 2001 A Space Odyssey. Again you can see how you can't really show into it too much, but it's just I don't know, it's just something so different, so abstract and it kind of encompasses a lot of subjects and the themes that I like to study and I'm very passionate about in my life, into symbolism in into art. So yeah, I I love that.
LM: Troy? Can you see me Troy?
TK: Sorry, interpreter’s battery died on everything. Yeah, go ahead. Uh, favorite movie? Go ahead.
LM: Yeah movie that brings you joy.
TK: Really, I've seen this again and again, it's a movie called Star Wars. And when I was eight years old, remember that movies back then had no access to closed captioning. But Star Wars had so much to say visually with the laser guns, the spaceships, the aliens, and I was so overwhelmed that as an eight-year-old I watched the movie in the theatre twenty-eight times. And it still touches me today because it was so, it gave me new life. It actually changed my life as a young man and so Star Wars as a deaf youngster was so visual to me and it had diversity in the aliens and the robots and the languages and all of that for me was just wonderful to watch even without sounds. So that's my favorite film that I will always go back to.
LM: Such a testament isn't it to filmmaking when it holds true to so many people in, even if it's just the visual. Mike, over to you for our final.
MF: Yeah, well mine’s Last Crusade. One that I can go to every like holiday season with my dad, especially watching Last Crusade, watching Harrison Ford and Sean Connery ride horses and good banter and great cinematography and action and just a great story. Just like a movie, movie, you know, just so much joy in that film.
LM: Such a great watchlist. I think everyone’s gonna maybe go back and watch some of those. Thank you so much. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have this evening. Thank you to our nominees. Congratulations again on your nominations. To everyone watching, check out bafta.org and BAFTA social channels for more info on what's coming next in the 2022 BAFTA Film Sessions. And last but not least, tune into the 2022 EE British Academy Awards on Sunday 13th March at 7:00 PM on BBC One, hosted by Rebel Wilson. Thank you so much and good night.
MF: Bye guys, so nice to meet you all.
CH: Yeah, it's really nice to meet everybody.
MF: Yeah, see you in London!
CH: OK Mike, see you then.
KSM: Take care guys.
TK: Thanks so much bye, sorry my battery died on my computer at the very end, but luckily I was able to jump in. See you all.
LM: Saved it, take care.