Anthony Wilcox has had a career in the film industry for over a decade now working on things like Terence Davies‘s The Deep Blue Sea to Hot Fuzz to Layer Cake, Pearl Harbour, W.E. and many others. Now he’s gotten his chance to lose the “assistant” tag and become a director. His first feature, Hello Carter, stars Jodie Whittaker, Paul Schneider and Charlie Cox with a great supporting cast of up-and-coming British actors. It’s too broad to define and wants to bring a unique voice to British storytelling. Anthony spoke to us while working on post-production for Hello Carter to tell us a little bit more about the film, himself and its influences.
Your first feature is an extension of a short you did a year or two ago with Dominic Cooper. Was it a short extended into a feature or a feature condensed into a short?
What we did, myself and Julian Bird [producer], was talk about working for a while. We’d done short films before but we were at a point where we thought we were ready and wanted to make a feature film. We thought we’d work out the best way of doing that and I had an idea for Hello Carter. What we decided to do was to make a ten minute version of it to show what kind of film we wanted to create, the people we could attract to it and how it would serve as a tool for raising money. The short film was made with the intention of making a feature film rather than in a traditional sense, trying to tout it around festivals and see what happens. The actual script for the feature didn’t exist until after the short film was made which seemed to go down well. We sort of went from there, really.
When you were writing it, did you have your cast in your mind?
No. I think it’s a bit of a dangerous thing to do. [laughs] I’ve written short films and this – you kind of have ideas but they can sort of change. In this instance, specifically for Hello Carter, there’s one part which was an American in London and I did write that specifically with Paul Schneider in mind. He was someone that I knew and had worked with when I was an assistant director on Bright Star. Again, we talked about working together, I wrote this part very much hoping that he would do it because it was an American role. It would’ve been tricky if he’d said no. I think you have people that you want to work with rather than necessarily writing with them in mind. Jodie Whittaker was someone I worked with on the short film and someone that I very much wanted to work with again but the part she plays in the feature film is completely different to the one she plays in the short film. Everyone else was cast in a more traditional way. People like Charlie [Cox] were people that I’d admired for a long time and was delighted to get the opportunity to work with.
I was going to ask about Paul Schneider because he seems like such an odd choice as he’s been on Parks and Recreation and had a part in Away We Go so it seemed like an odd choice for him to go into a small British film.
I was the second assistant director on Bright Star and he was the only American actor in that so he was staying in London for that and we hung out a bit. Paul is a filmmaker himself – he directed a film, he went to film school – he fell into acting really. Filmmaking is his love, I think. He was always going to be supportive for my first film. I sent him drafts of scripts as it went along and honed the script for him. He’s playing an American actor visiting London. I engineered that part to accommodate him really because he’s someone I know and like and get on with and one of the most talented actors of his kind. He’s an extraordinary talent, really funny and an all round amazing presence on screen.
Dominic Cooper was in the original short. How come he didn’t come back for the feature film?
We made the short film at a certain time, when people were available, when they wanted to be a part of it. By the time the feature film came around – again, it’s like DPs, cameramen, editors – we had a strict timeline of when we wanted to make the film by. The casting for the rest of it was done in quite a traditional way. We met people who were interested and potentially available, as soon as Charlie was – who fitted in that bracket – it was an easy choice to make.
The film features quite a lot of up-and-coming actors like Antonia Thomas, Christian Cooke, Annabelle Wallis and Henry Lloyd-Hughes. Did they get involved in the standard casting way as well?
I didn’t know any of them personally. One of our producers, Fiona Neilson, had worked with Antonia before. We had an exceptional casting director, Shaheen Baig – who is someone I have worked with previously -, and was very supportive. We’ve got quite eye-catching executive producers in Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton. When you’re going to cast, it helps to have those names around if you’re a first time feature director to make it an attractive prospect. Then you get the opportunity to meet people and it all carries on well from there and they do it. All those other parts were cast in a traditional way but I think the package of the whole project was helped on by Shaheen and everybody else who was attached to it.
You filmed in January and February for 5 weeks but the story has you moving all over London. Was it a tight schedule?
Yeah, it’s a strange thing with films [laughs]; no matter how much time or money you get you always feel like you could do with more. For a film as small a budget as ours, I think 5 weeks is quite a decent amount of time. I think we were able to push everything and work everyone quite hard but we managed to achieve everything we wanted to. It was a nice balance between having a very full schedule, keeping everyone busy and working, but we luckily weren’t tipped into that horrible area being strangled for time every day. We didn’t have that. It was the right sort of balance for the type of film we were making.
It seems to be quite a British comedy with hints of Richard Curtis when it comes to the plot outline. Who were your influences for it?
About 10 years ago I watched After Hours, a really early Scorsese film. It’s about a guy who’s looking for a girl and gets trapped in this crazy sequence of events. All told in one night in downtown Manhattan. I remember watching that film, not really attached to the idea of Hello Carter yet, and I was thinking that you don’t often see that spirit of film made in London. I think there’s something – in terms of influence – I watch quite a lot of American independent films. The type of films that walk quite a fine line between comedy, drama, real life and heightened situations and are quite hard to pigeonhole into what they are. Call them a romantic-comedy or a quirky-comedy – I think there’s lots of examples of those kind of films. Whereas, here – as you pointed out – it has to be either ‘are you a Working Title thing, or a Ken Loach doing this thing?’ We were able to put something together which I hope emulates that spirit of those smaller American independent films and, dare I say it, quite a unique voice really. Not necessarily be too pigeonholed as a certain type of thing. What I was ultimately interested in doing was telling a story about real people in a real place – a city I know well – but doing that within a heightened set of situations and circumstances.
You named After Hours, there as an influence but were there any other American independents that you either took influence from or liked the style of and felt like emulating?
I watched a lot of Wes Anderson films, stuff like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and then less comedic stuff like Cassavettes films, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie which I love. I think there are lots of films like that and there’s a Polanski film which I’ve now forgotten the name of which is set in Paris. Frantic it’s called! About men quite isolated in a city. Of course there are British ones like Wonderland and Naked. It was trying to draw on different types of films in terms of an aesthetic and spirit in a way. It’s pretty wide-ranging, Lost in Translation is another one. As everyone does, you watch a bunch of stuff and draw little bits of moments out of each one that you like and maybe want to try and capture.
You’ve been involved in the business for over a decade now. Were you originally wanting to be a director or did you enjoy your time as an assistant director?
I enjoyed it for a while. I had no filmmaking background or family or anything. I knew I was interested in filmmaking and I didn’t necessarily know what all the roles were until I started working within it. I started at 19 doing bits of work experience, working as a runner. Before you know it you’ve done a couple of jobs as a runner then someone offers you a third AD job. Before you know that, you’re suddenly a first AD. I was very fortunate to work with some brilliant directors – the directors that I’d love to go and watch their films if I wasn’t working with them. That was constantly invigoratingly inspiring. If I’d have gotten trapped in 4 years of Midsomer Murders I might’ve leapt slightly quicker than I did. [laughs] Being able to work with the people I got to work with allowed me to get very inspired and make contacts and get me in a place that I was confident I could start making my own films.
As an assistant director, you worked on an eclectic amount of films – Pearl Harbour, Hot Fuzz, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj – so did you learn a lot from the directors while being around them? Did you take influence from their directing style or try and do things in your own way?
I’d never say I wanted to make a film like so-and-so. I think I’ve managed to work on 2 films as an AD that have made front page news as “The Worst Films Ever Made” [laughs] but then I’ve worked with Lynne Ramsey and loads of other brilliant people. What you can always do – and what I always do because I was constantly fascinated in this world I worked in – is learn things. You learn things with every job, every day almost. On set, every actor that comes in, every location, you keep your ears and eyes open and have this vision what to do each day. You soak all that up. I don’t think necessarily you make conscious decisions of doing that-like-that. If you’ve absorbed all that experience, all that first-hand knowledge in the right way, then it undoubtedly comes out in your own work. I’m sure it does. I couldn’t necessarily tell you now in what way it has but maybe in a couple of years I’ll be able to look back and make that judgement.
You worked with Terence Davies, that must’ve been quite amazing because he’s like a British legend.
I think that was my last ADing job. That was an incredible experience. It was a really fascinating job for lots of reasons. Terence hadn’t made a film in so long himself. The high regard that everyone held him in, the whole crew and the cast, it was quite extraordinary to see someone that has that aura and status about them. You can see why all these talented people get drawn into a project like that, not to make lots of money but to be in that atmosphere and watch someone like that work.
Have you got anything else that you’re working on after Hello Carter?
I’ve got a couple of things which we’re developing. I’m still deep on post-production of Hello Carter and probably still will be until August. We’ve got – I’m not sure I can say too much about it at the moment. There’s a film which we’re hoping to make next summer which is not in England. Trying to write something for somewhere sunnier and better weather. [laughs] Telling a story about some British people abroad really. That’s the next plan but that’s all early stages.
Could you at least tell us what genre or style it will have? Comedic, dramatic etc.
Again, umm, a comedy-drama let’s call it.
So another amalgamation of everything?
Yeah, exactly. Archipelago meets Kevin and Perry, let’s call it that. [laughs] Maybe don’t call it that! [laughs]
I won’t haha. When is Hello Carter due for release?
We have a sales agent and basically the next stages of the film are to put it into festivals and pick up distribution from festivals. We made the film without a UK distributor but with a sales agent. We’ll hopefully know that in the next 2-3 months. Once it’s ready we’ll be showing it in festivals and see where it goes from there…