Even though I'd already been in the same room as Clive Owen earlier that day, I was still nervous standing there in the freezing cold. Was my battery charged? Would I just collapse into a heap and drool over his shoes? Did I even remember to put on my clothes? Deciding two out of three was good enough, I readied myself for the arrivals of cast and crew. First step: finding some clothes.
No longer naked and raring to go, the first person to chat to was Alan Cubitt, screenwriter for The Boys are Back. Taking on a true story, one with no real narrative, was a tough challenge, especially with such emotional material. How did he deal with it?
"There were difficulties. I read the memoirs and responded really strongly - I kept singling out bits that would or wouldn't work well in a movie. Some bits of Simon's writing are just Simon writing about being Simon, then there were time jumps back and forth and bits going off on a tangent. It was about finding substance for an actual story."
How involved was director Scott Hicks in adapting the source material? "He was involved from quite early on - there were a few drafts without him. But once he came onboard there were several more; he's such a fantastic guy to work with, a brilliant sounding board for ideas." So how much of the script is him and how much is Simon Warr's writing?
"I brought as much of my own experience as possible - I needed to find things in my own life that helped me feel what Simon felt. I had a friend who died in not dissimilar circumstances, I'm a father; as a writer, a lot comes from inside you. But you're also plundering someone else's material. Like any adaptation, you try to stay true to the spirit of the material and do justice to it. He'll be the judge of if I succeeded or not!"
I reckon he probably did. Even with the changes he made from the book - Simon's called Joe, he's in Australia not New Zealand, and he's now a sports writer instead of a political correspondent. Were there specific reasons for altering the details? "I wanted to fictionalise it. The challenge to the family in the later half of the film from the older boy is not part of the book. That's not his son's actual story. At that point, I had to get Simon's permission to go off into a fictional area. I felt it would be more uncomfortable for them if I used their names, because it's not their story. The book isn't like that."
An intelligent answer there - if I ever have a film made of my life, I'd like him to write it. That's a pretty big if, though, really. But still, while we're in hypothetical land, who would play me as a teenager? At this point the wonderful George MacKay strolls along, interrupting my fantasy book signing at Waterstones. He's smiling a lot; he's clearly very excited. But how does this excitement compare to, say, working with Clive Owen?
"Working with Clive, just observing how he works was great. But also just becoming friends with him, too - he's a very lovely, normal guy. Also working with Scott the director, again just being able to see how they work. We had a few similar interests too." Whoah, hold your horses there, George. You can't have both blokes on your bike. I bet the greedy kid would love to have Joe for a dad. "There are elements of it which would be brilliant - living with no rules and stuff. But in the film, I think the novelty does wear off. Definitely, it'd be fun!"
Fun, eh? Ok, time to take out the competition. I hit home hard with the embarrassing question: is his room really that messy in real life? Ha, that'll get him. He smiles: "My room's that messy, but not the whole house!" Damn it, he totally answered that well. What a charming young man.
So has being in the film changed his life? Do his friends still treat him the same? "Well, we came here on the tube because there was too much traffic! I feel pretty much the same. My best mates saw it last night and they all seemed to really like it, which is good!" He continues smiling. He's a lovely boy, completely natural both in the film and on the carpet. Give him a few years and he'll be the next Rupert Grint. But less... red.
And then, suddenly, I forget to breathe. Clive Owen is within 30 metres of where I'm standing. And he's walking towards me. I play it cool. Then hot. Then lukewarm. Then Scott Hicks turns up. He's friendly. But why choice such difficult source material for the film? "I thought it was extremely moving - this very real take on a father learning to be a better dad. I found it really emotional."
So when you selected your cast, why go for gun-toting charisma-machine Clive Owen (20 metres)? "Well, I think he's a very good actor, with a very strong and controlled screen presence. I wanted to see the other side of him, the more vulnerable, emotional side, which he can show really well while still holding it in. He and the two actors playing the boys make for a really believable family."
I blink. Clive Owen's now in front of me. I wonder how he covered 40 metres in one paragraph. He says hello. I faint. Then, after getting back up, I try the traditional tactic of asking questions. How did he get into the role? Did he do a lot of research? "I read the memoir, of course. But someone actually lived this story; it's not someone's idea for a great movie, it's a real thing. And that always grounds a movie."
Remember to breathe. Keep yourself grounded. I blink. He's still standing there. I look into his eyes, and he looks back. I will never wash these retinas again. Such a connection, just from looking at someone - now that's powerful acting. How did he get a good bond going with Nicholas? "It was very important to get a good relationship going with Nicholas. After all, he's a 6 year-old boy. I made sure I met him early on and we hung out a lot. The bond between the two is key - it's one of the things I'm most proud of in the film."
With eyes like that, he can be proud of anything. Gradually being shepherded down the line away from me, there's time to squeeze in one final question. What's he up to next? Dinner? Drink? My place? "I'm actually doing a film with David Schwimmer directing. It's called Trust and it's shooting in Michigan." And with that he's gone to watch a brilliant movie. I wonder how much the fares are to get to Michigan...
What were all the stars wearing? Check out the pictures from the red carpet over here.
- clive owen
- london film festival
- press conference
- red carpet