Director Lenny Abrahamson captures the Room
By : Kerry Baggott
Wed Dec 14, 2016
The final Forum session at this year’s Dubai International Film Festival with Irish director Lenny Abrahamson finished all too soon. With an overwhelming show of hands from media, budding actors and wannabe film makers all eager to ask questions, time just didn’t allow for the Academy-nominee to answer them all.
You see, the thing with ‘Lenny’, is that he is such an interesting, unassuming and approachable guy.
Listening to the way he analyses human behaviour, it comes as no surprise to learn that his original intended path was philosophy. Lucky for us that he took the monumental life decision (to his parents’ horror) to drop out of Stanford where he was studying for his PhD, “to go sit in a bedsit, earn no money and focus on film making”. Yet, it’s his fascination with philosophy that surely helps Abrahamson question human nature and take a “fresh insight to life”.
This is particularly prevalent in his early films: ‘Adam & Paul’; ‘Garage’; ‘What Richard Did’, which all confront difficult and often uncomfortable issues, such as metal illness, drug addiction, ‘anti-bourgeoism’.
These films are all so ‘dark’ – for use of another word – that even Abrahamson admits that ‘Room’ – the first movie that shot the director into the global spotlight and earned him a nomination for an Academy award - is his “most optimistic” film to date.
Anyone who is familiar with the plot, may find this surprising. “ I remember saying that to someone and they said: ‘OK, you’ve got a woman and a small child imprisoned in a small room by a guy a who is the father of the child of the woman he’s kidnapped and you think this is some romantic comedy! What are you talking about?’
“But for me, it’s a positive statement of what love is and what it’s like to grow up. It’s a celebration.
“Obviously, I recognize it’s a tough and challenging film. But it’s got an optimism about it, which for me was refreshing.
“The book is told from the point of view of the boy – it’s in his voice. And it’s a very magical, fantastical picture of his reality. He personifies every thing in his life – that’s why it’s called Room and not The Room. My fear was that the fairy tale inflection of the boy’s experience would be lost and you’d just be left with just the horror of it,” he said.
Abrahamson went on to talk about the challenges of directing and gave some very honest recommendations.
“While your job is to have a vision, it needs to be flexible not a rigid storyboard in your head. If you don’t do that that then you are cutting off all the stuff that comes from the actors naturally. What you’ll get is some plastic copy of what you initially envisaged.
“My job is to be there and watch what’s happening and allow it to affect me. The trick is that when you call ‘action’ to switch off your architect’s head and watch what’s happening in front of you. And then you’ll see something that an actor’s doing and instead of saying ‘that’s not what I had planned’ you’ll either think it’s wrong or that it’s far more interesting than what you originally envisaged – something that will develop the character, the scene or the script. You’re missing a trick if you’re not prepared to let things be organic” he said.
And surrounding yourself with people you trust is another of his tips and one that Abrahamson attributes much of his success.
“I’m lucky to have gang of people around me who I grew up with who happen to be really good at what they do,” he said, referring to writer Mark O'Halloran, producer Ed Guiney and composer Stephen Rennicks.
“One thing that you don’t get in this industry is straight forwardness, it’s notoriously full of flattery and deceit. But if you have someone you really trust then it helps you when you go out into the big bad world.”