“That’s my type – smart, strong women who make bad choices”

One of Britain’s most exciting and up-and-coming filmmakers, Harry Wootliff, follows the flawless fertility drama Only You with True Things, starring Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke. True Things, which was based on the novel True Things about Me by Deborah Kay Davies, was originally developed by Jude Law’s production company Riff Raff and Ruth Wilson’s Lady Lazarus imprint.

For producer and star Wilson, it was crucial that the film be told through “an extremely subjective female lens”.

Enter Wootliff. Harry, it should be noted, is short for Harriet, a name the director rarely used.

“My parents have called me Harry since I was a baby,” says Wootliff. “I was Harriet at school, then I deleted Harriet because every time I heard the name I felt like I was in trouble.”

Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke in True Things: ‘What I responded to in the books was the obsessive nature of her infatuation, but also that it was something that overwhelmed her’

True Things is about Kate (Wilson) who, bored with her job at the government office in Ramsgate, is captivated by a charismatic stranger and recently freed prisoner (Tom Burke) wandering around her gray cubicle. Nearing 40, scrolling through pregnancy and wedding celebrations on her Instagram feed, and being harassed by her smug friend Allison (Hayley Squires), Kate is an easy target for Blond, as she’s known.

In the tradition of Tom Burke’s previously devastating lover in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Blond is untrustworthy, spontaneous and blows hot and cold – a murky chemistry that Kate finds impossible to resist.

emotional thriller

An emotional thriller ensues, which leaves the viewer screaming at Kate as if walking through the dark cellar of a horror movie, while remaining just as captivated by the relationship as the heroine.

“There’s a kind of curiosity about working on the other person that I don’t think is just a woman,” says the writer-director. “I think we’re all predisposed to wanting to fix something or fix someone. Everyone is and the guys seem to identify as well. Once we stop trying to work on Blond, the movie sort of ends. When she abandons Blond, we abandon Blond, and I think – I hope – that we abandon her just a little before her. I think there’s a moment in the movie where I feel like we’re now looking at the screen and saying, Stop. Do not go further.

“But it was really important that I left that moment quite late in the film. So even if we start to mistrust him or we don’t like him, I needed to hold us back. We have to be in love or in love or whatever about him. Just like she is.

For me, it was like I wasn’t talking about an issue. That was how it felt to be in that situation. And I wanted to capture that in a non-judgmental, experiential way

Only You, Wootliff’s fantasy feature debut, drew on his own experiences with infertility to create a gripping romance between 30-something Laia Costa and young Josh O’Connor. True Things, an adaptation, required a different but emotionally honest approach. Working with co-writer Molly Davies, Wootliff transformed the source novel’s journal entry structure into a compelling chronicle of “the universal experience of infatuation.”

“What I responded to in the books was the obsessive nature of her infatuation, but also that it was something that overwhelmed her,” Wootliff says. “And then the fact that the book is extremely atmospheric. You were really on his mind. For me, it was like I wasn’t talking about an issue. That was how it felt to be in that situation. And I wanted to capture that in a very uncritical and experiential way. And I related, being at a time in my life where I had kind of found who I was. And the idea of ​​being in a relationship that might not look entirely bad, but also moves you forward, because you realize you want more out of life and you definitely want more in a relationship. .

complicated heroines

Wootliff’s two feature films, in common with Barbara Loden’s Wanda and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, work to revive the complicated heroines that once populated the Hollywood genre simply dubbed images of women. Ruth Wilson’s character shares DNA with the sometimes infuriating, sometimes disarming antics of Bette Davis in Jezebel, Joan Fontaine in Letter from a Stranger, or Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas. To paraphrase the title of the mid-1980s bestselling book by pop psychologists Cowen and Kinder, Wootliff creates characters of intelligent women who can make surprisingly bad choices.

Laia Costa in Only You Photo: Curzon

Laia Costa in Only You

“Isn’t it strange? asks the director. “There was a wave of films like this in Hollywood and then they stopped being made. I guess maybe it’s the weight of feminism? I absolutely want to defend the kind of woman who cannot not easily put in a box and who has different, sometimes buried emotions. I think we’re used to seeing smart men make bad choices on screen. We like the man who unravels. I think the People always find it confusing to see a woman make bad choices. They look at that woman and think: She’s making bad choices. Is she smart? Well, yes, she is. So why? I think it’s my kind. Smart, strong women who make bad choices, are vulnerable, and go through tough times.

Wootliff was born and raised in Leeds. She trained at Elmhurst Ballet School and Bristol Old Vic Theater School, before transitioning to the other side of the camera. His first short, Nits, was selected at Cannes. His second short, Trip, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. She directed Paloma Faith in the Channel 4 series I Don’t Care before winning two British Independent Film Awards, a Writers’ Guild Award and a Bafta nomination for Only You.

“Acting training makes you less nervous around actors,” says the filmmaker. “I think that makes you kind of disrespectful in a good way and totally respectful in a good way. Because you know how hard it is. But you’re not too reverent. Work does not scare you. You know how it feels. I think it helps a lot for writing too. And hopefully that helps with the kind of sensitivity you need to direct. I know how vulnerable you feel and how much trust you need to have in your director as an actor. And how responsible I really am for the performance.

Empathy

This empathy was particularly important for True Things, a film which Ruth Wilson described as “incredibly explicit”.

“I want them to feel very safe. So they are very free to do what they want. This is very important for the dance and sex scenes. We had what is called an intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien. She was great, just kind of letting me do it, and being by my side, and what she does is choreograph the move, like a dance, to make the actor really sure what he’s going for do with his body. The actor has his hand under her skirt. He doesn’t have to think: Have I been here too long? Is this acceptable? Do they have the shot? He puts his hand under her skirt. He squeezes his thigh for three counts, then he withdraws his hand. As we shoot, it all really feels like a dance. The actor can rely on muscle memory. And then they can just think about how they feel.

Despite winning the IWC Schaffhausen Film-maker Bursary of £50,000 in association with the British Film Institute, not to mention a Venice premiere for True Things, Wootliff encountered some resistance to her milieu.

If you mix loads of bright colors, it comes out like mush. I think there was a bit of pressure in the beginning too, to do light things

“It’s a balancing act of trying to hold on to your vision while being receptive to whether you’re delivering your vision and communicating clearly,” explains the filmmaker. “I really want to hear everyone’s thoughts before the movie hits the world. But it’s interesting to think about the compromises that you’re being pushed to make. And you look back and think I’m so Glad I didn’t compromise.

“With Only You, there were repeated conversations about the age gap, yes, and making the age gap more acceptable. And I really stuck to my ideas because if we made it a gap six years old, it’s not an age gap anymore. It’s not what I want it to be anymore: unconventional and uncliched, unexpected and out of place. So I’m really pushing to keep I don’t know how it works, but I think by making your story unique and individual to you, that’s what makes it universal.

“I guess it’s like mixing colors. If you mix loads of bright colors, it comes out like mush. I think there was also a bit of pressure at the beginning, to do light things. Maybe people have a perception or perception of who you are and what kind of thing you should be doing. But what I ended up doing is very true to me. I feel that’s what keeps me going: being true to myself.

True Things has been in theaters since April 1.

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