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Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield talk about life

Never Let Me Go
14 October 2010

We were at the BFI London Film Festival opening press conference for the fantastic and poignant film ‘Never Let Me Go’ in attendance were actors Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Their young co stars Izzy Meikle-Small and Ella Parnell and director Mark Romenek, screenwriter Alex Garland and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro on whose book of the same name the film is based.

NEVER LET ME GO directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), is based on the highly acclaimed, bestselling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and adapted for the screen by Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later).

The film stars Oscar® nominee Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement), BAFTA winner and Oscar® nominee Carey Mulligan (An Education) and BAFTA TV award winner Andrew Garfield (Boy A, Red Riding).

NEVER LET ME GO is a remarkable story of love, loss and hidden truths. Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield) and Ruth (Knightley) spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school where they discover a dark and haunting secret about their future. As they leave the shelter of the school behind and draw inexorably closer to the devastating fate that awaits them as adults, they must also confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threaten to pull them apart. Twentieth Century Fox will release the film in the UK on 21st January 2011.



This project was sort of a labour of love for you, there was a sense of custodial-ship and you didn’t want to screw with the novel. Can you talk a bit about the responsibility you felt when transferring the book to film?

Mark Romanek: We were all bonded with a common love for the book. We were all bonded to the goal of trying to do justice to it. And try to transfer what was so moving on the page to the screen without messing it up. We all did it in a very collaborative fashion too.

Alex Garland: Broadly speaking, I think everyone working on the film had a copy of the book to refer back to. We always returned to it, referred to it, discussed it.

Andrew Garfield: I think it is so rare to find a script that is so full of what is is to be alive, to be human, to be alive, and the struggles that we collectively go through. And this massive existential question mark. I think as actors you search that kind of meaningful material and when it comes along you feel it immediately. I don’t think any of us hesitated in being part of such a beautiful story.

Carey Mulligan: I read the book when it came out, and I loved it, first and foremost as a love story, and people who want very simple things from life and can’t get them. Keira and I did Pride and Prejudice together, we’ve done lots of adaptations of Dickens and Austen where the author isn’t around to tell you off if it’s rubbish(laugh). So this was doubly intimidating because we have Ish with us, so you want to be everything that he imagined when he wrote it. And there’s a lot of people currently who have read the book and love the book so there’s more pressure. But from reading the script and meeting everyone involved with it. I felt that we were all on the same page and wanted to make the same film, we were all so in love with it. So I think we were the biggest fans of the book and still are, we found out so much more about the book and the writing as we were doing it.

Keira Knightley: I hadn’t read the book (laugh). The first thing I heard about it was when the script came through my door and I thought it was a completely unique piece, I had never read anything like it. I then started talking about it to friends about this film I was thinking of doing. Tons of them said ‘this is my favourite book in the entire world. Actually one of them said the most terrifying thing of ‘it sums up our generation’, which now having read the book I think it is a very bleak prospect indeed. Then after I had said yes and having read the book I thought it was completely astonishing and completely unique and it’s very exciting to be a part of something like that.

Kazuo, you have said that you wish you could take a hundred pages out of the book because you were so impressed with what Alex did.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Yeah. Not only that I felt I learnt a lot more about the story from watching the film, and in particular the performances from the actors, and, you know fantastic screenplay, but I expected that (laugh). That’s not amazing in a way because there’s only one of me when writing a book. I can’t pay attention to what all these characters are thinking, I have other things to worry about. So here I am in this situation where you have all these talented actors, pondering for days about their characters who are bound to find new and interesting profound discoveries. So for me, it was an early revelation watching the early cuts. I think I learnt a hell of a lot about this story, I think this is how it should be, people have said all these flattering things about the book, I don’t think it should be a fixed thing, you know fixed at the point of the book. I feel like a song writer; I’ve written a song and now I want people to take it into new areas.

Can you tell us was it a long journey getting these roles? Tell us about how you found out and when you found out? And how closely you worked with Keira and Carey to make sure the followed on from your lead.

Izzy Meikle-Small: Well it was quite a long process, but not for me because I missed my first audition because I was on a school trip. But from my first audition, I got the part in like a week which was quite nice. Nice and quick!
We did a week of rehearsals with the older actors, which was nice because we got to bond with our older characters. It was quite daunting because everyone was raving about Carey and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by being a bad younger her (laugh).

Carey Mulligan: I’m now a bad older Isabelle! (laugh)

Ella Purnell: I think everyone would agree with me that Carey, Keira and Andrew are amazing actors and it’s quite daunting for us to fill the younger versions of them and do our parts and their parts justice.

Like Izzy, I had quite a long audition process to go through, but I finished the book a few days after the second audition I had, so it kind of made me want to have the part of Ruth more because I thought Ruth was such a complex character and the kind of character that you have to break down in order to understand her.

How did working with your older counterparts in that audition period help you?

Izzy: I think it helped us and the older actors because it helped them to have a bond with us and have memory of doing those scenes. I think it helped me because we would discuss what Kathy would be like and it was helpful because we would discuss what we would do in certain scenes and characteristics that Kathy would have. But yeah, I think it really helped.

Ella: Something we didn’t notice when we were meeting, was that you guys were picking up things that we did and bring them into your performances, which is actually really clever and we didn’t think of it.

Was everything that you needed in the script or did you refer back to the book a lot?

Carey Mulligan: Yeah the script was perfect, we didn’t change a line from the first draft that I read. We had a great environment to work in with Mark. Mark and I had a copy of the book with us all the time, we all had copies of the book so we would always be referring to that.

We had a brilliant script, but the whole book was narrated by my character, so it would’ve been wrong of me not to refer back to it, and also it’s great to go back to it for ideas, you can play a scene a certain way for three takes and act badly or make the wrong decision but you can read one line that can inspire you to play the scene differently. So I was with the book the whole time.

Keira Knightley: Yes, it’s always incredibly helpful to have such rich source material, it wasn’t told from the point of view of my character, I think I filled in the gaps. But it was all there, in sentences. One line about Ruth and it would trigger something. A whole new thought process, so again yes the book  and discussing it with all of these people here.

Andrew Garfield: I think across the board everyone was reverend to Kazuo’s novel, weather he likes it or not. I think he got a bit sick of how reverend we were and are. We kind of bow when he enters a room and he gets embarrassed and it’s fun to watch. I think collectively we all had the same intention.



Is the process any different for you working on Blockbusters and films that are destined for critical acclaim?

Andrew Garfield: No. Not for me anyway. I think we all approach every film as if it were our last. I think you just work hard at what you care about.

Did you feel the pressure Carey mentioned with having Kazuo alive and well? And also how did you feel adapting a very British story when you aren’t British?

Mark Romanek: Well I was starting with a really beautiful adaptation from Alex, it seemed very solid and I had the same emotional response to it that I had to the book. I tried to not start the day when filming crippled by the fear and worry and responsibility of adapting this book that i loved. I tried to focus on the tasks at hand. I also had a lot of help, this was a very collaborative project. I wasn’t brought in to be the Auteur of the piece.

I feel I have an affinity for English things, and I’ve spent a lot of time here. I went to school here, I’ve lived here on and off. I live here now actually. I thought a lot about Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, which depicted my childhood and adolescence and I thought it was unbelievably authentic and he’s Taiwanese. So sometimes I think someone on the outside has that perspective on things. But as I say I was helped enormously by the all British crew whenever I was sort of slipping up.

Can you talk about your visual process please, in adapting Kazou’s novel?

Mark Romanek: Initially it’s just an intuitive thing, you picture the images and the tone of it, and on the second reading of the book I felt that I could really see the film, then I read in an interview that Kazou was influenced by Japanese cinema, so that sent me on a journey into Japanese cinema. And Japanese ideas of aesthetics. I tried to overlay the British story with the simplicity that you see in Kazou’s writing. It’s a deceptive simplicity and there’s a beauty in the way he writes.

How it was playing the closest thing this film has to a villain, after playing the heroine?

Keira Knightley: It was great (laugh)! I thought the character was fascinating. For me it was a study of jealousy not fear. I didn’t like her, and it’s tricky playing characters that you don’t like and that’s challenging and very exciting.

Is it more or less challenging to do a film of this sort of emotional weight behind it?

Andrew Garfield: I think it’s easier to cry than it is to make people laugh.

Carey Mulligan: Yeah it is, it’s always more difficult to maintain constant enthusiasm than drop into a dark place. For us it was a case of trying not to cry all the time. I cry all the time. We all kind of marked each other saying ‘Don’t drop a tear’. We didn’t want to portray tragedy or observe our situations. We just wanted to live in the world we were in with the circumstances we had.

What do you take from the film in terms of doing the right thing and what the right thing actually is?

Kazou Ishiguro: From the inception of the story, when I was writing the story. I wasn’t interested in the triumph of the slaves over a cruel system. I was after something that actually paralleled our actual human life span. And that we would all move from childhood to adulthood to old age. And the question was, what do human beings do when they realise time is running out? Is it embedded in human nature to seek revenge on old enemies? Do we want to acquire possessions? What do we want to do in that situation? In a sense  the story was trying to put a positive spin on human nature, to say as convincingly as possible that when people feel they are trapped, the things that become important are the things like friendship and love.If someone feels like they did the wrong thing towards someone close to them they want to put it right before it’s too late. If two people have loved each other all their life and never acknowledged it, they want it acknowledged even if it’s only for a short time. That was my intention and I believe that the people that made this film wanted to say the same thing as well. There are these myths around that maybe I can cheat death or defer it.

How did you explain the story to your friends and your age group? And what did you find difficult to grasp in the first place?

Ella: I think the first thing I wanted to know after reading the book was why do they just accept their fate? Why don’t they just run away? But then as you give it time to sink in you start to understand that this is the way they were brought up and it’s all they know.

Izzy: That’s the bit of the book that I found a bit confusing but when I explained it to my friends I didn’t want to give too much away, because I still wanted them to see the film or read the book. I said it was a love triangle with these friends that you see grow up and there’s a twist… they’re clones. When they said ‘oh I don’t want to see that’ I said ‘it’s not that obvious, it’s more of a backdrop’ they said ‘ok’.

I don’t think they would run away because they aren’t selfish and haven’t been brought up that way.

What other research did you do for the film? Especially for the scene where you are being told there are no deferrals?

Carey Mulligan: No I didn’t have anything other than the book, that scene, I never actually ever thought that Kathy believed in the deferrals, I think she went through all of that for Tommy.
Even that scene where Sally Hawkins’ character tells the young actors, none of them burst into tears or leave the room. They are just quietly assimilating it, like they have been their whole lives.



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