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Harry Macqueen talks feature debut Hinterland
February 25, 2015
Hinterland was nominated for Best UK Feature at Raindance Film Festival 2014. It tells the story of two childhood friends, Harvey and Lola, at a point when they both need to escape to the countryside. Harvey takes Lola to the place where the pair spent so much of their youth. Now, they return within a different context. The film follows them on a trip of nostalgia, love and new beginnings. You can find my review on Candid Magazine’s Film Page.
Writer, director, producer and co-star of Hinterland, Harry Macqueen generously offered us some of his time to go over the ins and outs of his feature debut behind the camera, his favourite scenes, the unconventional ending and more.
How did the idea for Hinterland come around?
There are several reasons. I’ve always been an actor and I was always aware that I wanted to make a film and that I’d always written for myself really. Then I got left some money in a will and there was a period where I was in between a couple of acting jobs and had quite a bit of time off. It was a period of transition, flux or freedom. I thought it might be the best time to actually make something happen with that money although I didn’t exactly know how. Also I wanted to take some sort of creative power back over my career. I mean, acting’s wicked and a lot of fun and I’ll hopefully be doing it forever. At the same time, by definition, it’s one of those professions that someone can do if someone else tells you [that] you can do it. I know a lot of actors who are also playwrights, filmmakers and poets. The nature of the business is that you’re not doing what you want to do five days a week.
Yeah, creative people can kind of mix it all up like you did. Did you originally write the role of Harvey for yourself?
Right at the start, I wasn’t planning to be in it at all really. I think I’d written myself a tiny little cameo in it. I’d never written or directed or produced anything before so I didn’t really want to bite off more than I could chew but it turns out I did. It just became a practical necessity apart from anything else. Once I met Lori and found my star, that sort of kick started the film becoming a definite thing in my mind. One of my main worries was that I wouldn’t find anyone to play Lola because the part was so specific and it wasn’t based on anyone that I knew, so finding Lori was a big deal.
To be honest, there was a small window when we could film. You had to check everyone’s timetable all the time. There were only six of us who made the film. Getting six people together in the same place at the same time was tricky and we didn’t have any money. It became clear later on that either I had to be in it as well with the people that we wanted, in the place that we wanted, or that it wasn’t going to happen at all. There were stupid little things too like there weren’t enough seats in the car, as ridiculous as that sounds, for that kind of money. But the project was way more important than my involvement so it needed to be done.
It interests me how people do both the acting and the directing of a film. How do you direct and act at the same time?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s truly possible. In terms of Hinterland, I think it was exercising and trusting my abilities as an actor and trusting the character inside out because I’d written him. The two things are essentially impossible. However, if you have the ability to be relaxed about wearing one of those [acting or directing] hats at a specific time, then it’s possible. I definitely don’t think it’s something that I’ll necessarily recommend.
So you won’t be doing it again then?
No, I don’t think so. But we’ll see.
Hinterland is a really good film. I want to talk about the ending. I’m a bit of a romantic so I was rooting for a certain kind of resolution.
I’m a bit of a romantic too but I didn’t want to make a film that necessarily followed a conventional path. I wanted to make a really honest and truthful film. I don’t think that life tells the happily-ever-after stories all the time. I wish it could be. One of the positive things for me about the film is that you can really take what you want from it. I mean we definitively finished it so that the film is open ended – there isn’t really a resolution to it in a traditional sense. Hopefully you can take from it what you want. There are loads of options there, it’s up to everyone individually to decide what story they want it to be. For me, it’s really important to make a film that is based on the truth of a situation and the beauty of simple human interaction. I might’ve gone with more of a commercial way of ending it but it’s not what I wanted to make and a bit ridiculous in the context of their story.
What was your favourite scene to film from a director’s point of view?
The final scene in the warehouse party – that was really fun because all of those people are my mates, and mates of mates. That’s where we were free and we got drunk and laughed and to be honest that was the longest period in the film where I was just solely directing. It’s not a particularly long sequence but it took all night to film. Because Harvey wasn’t in it, it was really nice to be behind the camera for an extended period of time where I was focused on shooting Lori and it was fun. It was a good night. It was the last thing we filmed too – it was the last piece of the jigsaw.
What about from an actor’s point of view?
The bonfire scene. For me it’s the most important scene in the film for Harvey because it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of his emotional journey through the story. That is the climax of the film for his character – the realisation around the bonfire when she’s saying all this stuff about love and relationships. There’s the sort of terrible realisation that he can’t tell her what he wants to tell her because she isn’t ready to hear it. It’s really fun to play stuff like that because he doesn’t say a lot but hopefully you kind of know by my performance – I hope if I’ve done it right. Performing without words is sometimes tricky and that was a good example.
Yeah, you can definitely tell the emotions that Harvey is feeling. I think that I would – or anyone would – act or react in that way in the same situation.
Thank you. That was the plan.
Did you and Lori improvise at all during Hinterland?
Yeah, a lot. That was the plan from the start. The script was a blueprint or a launch pad for the characters rather than being a be a strict thing we had to adhere to. We managed to achieve a lot of freedom in terms of character flaws, their relationship and their interaction. Coming to this whole process as an actor – not a trained director or writer – it’s something that I really love doing. To improvise around the script is a freeing process for a performer. If you use it in the right way, it can be incredibly rewarding, so we improvised quite a lot. Incidentally, I don’t think the scene around the fire involved much improvisation at all. That was quite scripted but a lot of the other stuff is very free and very heavily improvised.
Did you have Lori in mind or did she audition for you?
I didn’t know Lori at all – that’s the crazy thing.
You wouldn’t think that at all.
Yeah. What’s been really fun about chatting to people is that pretty much every single person has said “Oh so are you and Lori going out?”
I think many people just assume that if you’re romantic on screen, then it’s the same off screen.
Yeah, I mean we must have done something right. I didn’t know Lori at all. We’d only known each other a couple of months before we started filming. She’s a really good friend of a close friend of mine. She’s a singer from Bristol that has never acted professionally before and I’d never met her before. It turns out that I’d written a script that was pretty much about her without knowing it so it was pretty awesome. We’re good mates now.
You wouldn’t think that she was a first time actor because she’s so good.
She’s really natural and I think that improvising and being free with the script and how we shot it really helped with that because there’s a lot of pressure being an actor on the screen. Obviously when you haven’t done it before, it’s really really hard. One of the things I’m proudest about – I think with the whole film – is their relationship which is hugely due to her performance. Having not done it before, she’s done really well indeed.
Hinterland is released in selected UK cinemas and on VOD from February 27th