g The Film Panel Notetaker: 46th New York Film Festival - "Happy-Go-Lucky" - Sept. 26, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

46th New York Film Festival - "Happy-Go-Lucky" - Sept. 26, 2008

46th New York Film Festival
Happy-Go-Lucky – Press & Industry Screening & Conference
Monday, September 26, 2008
Walter Reader Theater – New York, NY

(L to R: Sally Hawkins, Mike Leigh & Lisa Schwarzbaum)
Photo by Brian Geldin

Happy-Go-Lucky is UK filmmaker Mike Leigh’s latest film, a comedy about a free-spirited 30-year-old British lass named Poppy played with great charm by Sally Hawkins who seems to view everything with rose-colored glasses. Happy-Go-Lucky is chock-filled with brilliant improvisational acting by its ensemble cast, a benchmark of all of Leigh’s films where he spends months in advance rehearsing the roles before the camera rolls. Miramax Films will release Happy-Go-Lucky on October 10.

Leigh and Hawkins sat down to chat with the press and industry after a screening last Friday moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum. Below are some highlights of that discussion.

Leigh began by sincerely expressing that a Q&A at the New York Film Festival is one of his favorite things in his life. “They’re always a million times more intelligent than any of the other Q&As anywhere else in the world,” he said referring to the time he brought his film Naked to the festival in 1993 when someone asked, “Do you think that Johnny will be dead within an hour of the end of the film?”

“That certainly is a challenge to whatever the first question is,” Schwarzbaum replied. Her first question to Leigh and Hawkins was if they know anyone this happy, referring to Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky. Hawkins said she knows a few people, but Poppy is on another level. Leigh said that we all do, but he doesn’t think the audience “should so easily be sidetracked by the title,” which he says is just an atmosphere. “It’s not really to understand her at all,” he said, “She’s got great depth of profundity.” Hawkins added that all of Leigh’s characters are complex human beings. “It’s her choice to be happy,” Hawkins said. “That’s the way she deals with life.”

Schwarzbaum said she thought Happy-Go-Lucky was a shift of the characters Leigh typically writes, in which Leigh responded that “she is different from lots of other characters…she is warm, generous, she has a sense of humor…that is absolutely the description of the character Vera Drake.” Leigh said he wanted to make “an anti-miserabilist film.” “Wait till you see how depressing the next film will be,” he said.

Schwarzbaum asked Hawkins where she went to find her sources for Poppy, to which Hawkins said when doing a Mike Leigh film, “the possibilities are endless. You’re creating so many different layers…it’s the most creative you’re ever asked to be in a film.” Leigh said the characters are drawn from lots of different people.

At the audience portion of the Q&A, Leigh was asked if there was anytime in his thought process if he wanted to kill happiness. In true moderator fashion, Schwarzbaum repeated the question so all could hear, but she added this very funny spin alluding to Leigh’s previous reference to the 1993 Q&A, “The question is whether Poppy will live an hour after the film is over.” The audience reacted with a loud chuckle. But to Leigh, he said it never occurred to him until it was just suggested to him. “I like Poppy,” he said. “There will be people she gets on there nerves.” Hawkins agreed and says there has been. Leigh doesn’t get why some people have said they wanted to strangle her. He alludes to that day’s New York Times which said Poppy was either endearing, irritating or possibly both. “I don’t get why anyone who would pay attention and go into the film and do anything other than fall in love with her,” he said.

And when asked what goes into the Mike Leigh six-month rehearsal process, Hawkins said that it was one-to-one with Leigh at the beginning. “They do get paid,” Leigh added with a hardy laugh from the audience. Hawkins said it involves talking, researching, thinking and interacting with the other characters. Leigh said “the deal is to be in a film, I can’t tell you what it’s going to be about. I can’t tell you who the characters is. You’re going to make the character up…and you will never ever know anything or any other aspect of it, except for your character will do.”

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