We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay interview
The Ratcatcher director discusses adapting Lionel Shriver's best-seller
After Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay was Scottish cinema’s greatest hope, and then she seemed to disappear. Now she is back with a feted adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best selling book We Need to Talk About Kevin. Here Ramsey, 41, talks frankly about where she’s been, making a killer adaptation and the mighty Tilda Swinton
‘Every film has its ups and downs. Each time it seems like pushing a boat over a mountain. I worked on The Lovely Bones for five years before my involvement fell apart. I am committed when I make a film and if it takes a long time I would rather wait. I had three films in my head over that period before spending four years adapting We Need to Talk About Kevin from page to screen.
‘Lionel [Shriver, author of Kevin] is represented by the same agent as me. She brought me the book way before it became a best seller. Rory [Stewart Kinnear, Ramsey’s husband and co-writer] read it and passed it to me and thought it would be a tough sell but that I’d want to do it. Books and films are very different but I was keen to leave the answers up to the audience rather than providing resolutions. I did not make Tilda Swinton’s character of the mother too black and white - that was the way I approached it.
‘The scope of the subject matter, dealing with babies, infants and toddlers, seven-year-olds then 17-year-olds, gave us little room for error and required a lot of preparation, which we just didn’t have time for. Because of the span and the scale of the film I hope it doesn’t look like it was shot quickly. The script length is probably fairly average length but it was a big project. I shot it in Cinemascope, which might be a first for a family drama. Usually you only use Cinemascope for big action films but my director of photography, Seamus McGarvey, did a wonderful job for me.
‘Tilda’s level of involvement was crucial because she is in every scene. She had a ferocious enthusiasm for the film and it was her spirit that drove things along. She stayed on board through all the problems of refinancing and turned down stuff to be ready to do it.
‘I could understand the issues at the heart of the film because families are so complicated. My brother and my mother had a complicated relationship, but my mother would always cheer for him even if some times she did not like him. I am at the stage of thinking about having a child myself yet I am conscious that some times a child is born and you do not know who that child is.
‘Kevin comes from a middle-class American background but he does not have a lot of purpose. Kids like him tend to have this rage in them. If there is a spoilt child in the room they get bigger and bigger and with Kevin he takes over. They are feeding him and not slapping him down. If you turn a blind eye to what is happening you are going to create monsters.
‘I hope it won’t be as long before my next film, but I’ll take it as it comes. I am savvy enough to know that it should be kept under wraps but there is something small and something larger scale. Despite my last two films being literary adaptations I can assure you that I don’t want to give up on making films from original ideas. But as for the detail you’ll just have to watch this space.’
We Need to Talk About Kevin, on selected release from Fri 21 Oct.