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Sam Taylor-Wood: Director of Nowhere Boy

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Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Wood's look at the a couple of years in teenage John Lennon's life, is a really interesting film that shows how Lennon was shaped by the two women in his life at the moment in time. His mother, Julia (played by Anne-Marie Duff) is the woman who could not raise him but helped him develop his love for music. Aunt Mimi (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) was the woman who took him in, made him feel safe and stable and raised him as her own. I very much enjoyed the film and felt the all the performances especially from the two women who competed for this young man's affection were terrific.

Sam Taylor-Wood took some time on the press tour to talk about the film, which opens today in New York.

W&H: Congratulations on the film. My mother was a fanatic John Lennon fan. I think you're going to talk to a big generation of women who were so into these guys.

Sam Taylor-Wood: I felt that when I was making it. One of the few times I saw my mother cry was when Lennon died and the other time was when Elvis died.

W&H: Why did you believe you were the right director for this film?

STW: I don't know. I read a lot of material and this was the first I read which really shook me and made me feel something. And also, it was a story about someone I thought I knew so well but didn't know the story at all. I felt that in that sense it was worth telling. It just shook me so hard, this story, and I remember just closing the last pages of the script and crying and just thinking that I have to make this film. This is the film that I want to make.

W&H: You were lucky to have a mentor in Anthony Minghella. What do you remember as the best piece of advice that he gave you that you keep with you always.

STW: He sent me this message that just said, you did great and now don't rest on your laurels. To get back out there and do it again and do it better. And that's what I kept in my head. And really from his perspective, it was his confidence in me that really kept me going. It wasn't necessarily one piece of advice so much as his telling me that I can do this. That it's absolutely within you, and just go ahead, just do it.

W&H: Mimi and Julia were so important to John. Talk a little about the importance of these women and the performances you were able to get from these extraordinary actresses.

STW: I felt they played and extraordinary part in Lennon's life, as a mother would. And I sort of felt that the two of them kind of influenced him in different ways. I think with Aunt Mimi she was very cultured and she encouraged him to read people like Oscar Wilde and she encouraged to look at art and paintings and taught him about Van Gogh. And from the other perspective, Julia was much more musically based and she taught him how to play the banjo and taught him about rock n' roll. So you have these two powerful influences that created the Lennon that we know.

W&H: I got a sense that Julia was mentally ill and that's never acknowledged in the film or even in the notes of the film. But she was clearly manic depressive in a way.

STW: It was difficult. We're dealing with a very sensitive issue. There are surviving family members. It's an issue which was never diagnosed, so in that sense we can't assume too much. But at the same time we can go along with character traits we were told about. We have to look at it in the sense that here was a woman who had lost her son. And then had a daughter subsequent to that and that daughter had been taken away too. In that way it might explain some of the mannerisms we were told about. And maybe, without assuming, and without knowing any diagnosis, it was possibly some post-natal depression, or a depression of sorts that any woman would had who'd gone through that. It was a difficult thing to try and convey without assuming too much and just going on information that we had. In those sort of days if it was something like a postpartum depression, it wouldn't have been recognized and she would have had to deal with that.

W&H: What was it like directing a film about such a force of nature and beloved individual? There are not many people who are as iconic as John Lennon.

STW: It was difficult, only at one stage. At first, I just went at it and thought I've got to look at this as a story of a boy to a man, a coming of age story with a love triangle, and a struggle within that. There's enough elements there that can lead me away from the icon and keep me on a different path. But as you're going through the path there are little reminders of who the story is about. And then one great big reminder at the end. I think it was important for me to just keep focused in that way so I didn't get too overwhelmed. When I went up to Liverpool for location hunting, that's when it really came to me that I'm dealing with someone pretty spectacular and I can't mess up because there are too many people who love and adore him. I have to make sure I keep the full spectrum happy.

W&H: What were the biggest challenges for you on the set?

STW: I don't know. I felt like we had so much fun on the film. I think the main challenges was that the schedule was so tight because we were pretty low budget. We were shooting what would normally be a three day shoot in one and we were almost shooting gorilla style. I think that was one of the biggest challenges just trying to achieve everything we needed to achieve.

W&H: What did you learn most about yourself from making this?

STW: That I tend to take on great big challenges. I think I learned a lot about myself in terms of that, really.

W&H: What advice would you have for other women who are pursuing directing?

STW: Don't be intimidated and make yourself known.

W&H: I keep reading about the elimination of the UK Film Council. Every movie I see that comes from Britain has the UK Film Council listed in it.

STW: They played a big part in our film, they really did. It was a significant part of the budget and who knows whether we would have gotten that anywhere else. I think what was important about the UK Film Council was that they weren't money generating. They weren't looking at the projects in terms of business and it meant they could fund very esoteric films, very artistic films, fund new filmmakers - it gave people an opportunity to make film that weren't necessarily going to be box office smashes but would be beautiful or interesting. They funded challenging, interesting filmmakers. They gave them a start and that happened to a lot of people. It's difficult to know whether something like that will be replaced by the government, but I think it's doubtful. These institutions are unique and they can do that and when one gets taken away it's very sad.

W&H: Only 7% of the top grossing films in the United States are directed by women, I know it's a little higher in the Brittan. Why do you think it's still such a difficult nut to crack?

STW: It's funny; I just got asked this question. It's so hard to answer because you don't want to think or feel that in any way your gender is of any issue to you as a filmmaker. I'm a filmmaker with the same potential and talent as the next, but it seems to be an issue, especially when you think Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win an Oscar and its 2010. I guess then that makes it an issue when you think why is that? There is no answer.

Originally posted at Women & Hollywood