Profile: Kevin Macdonald

Profile: Kevin Macdonald

Acclaimed director discusses his new British submarine thriller Black Sea starring Jude Law

Background: Born in Glasgow, director Kevin Macdonald is the grandson of British filmmaker Emeric Pressburger and the brother of Trainspotting producer Andrew Macdonald. His filmography includes both acclaimed documentaries (One Day In September, Touching the Void) and features (The Last King of Scotland).

What's next? Macdonald's latest film is Black Sea, a submarine thriller starring Jude Law as an unemployed Scottish submarine captain who embarks on a hunt for sunken Nazi gold in the depths of the Black Sea.

On the origins of Black Sea: ‘The idea came from reading about the Kursk disaster, when the Russian submarine went down with all hands. There were news reports at the time saying some people were still alive, waiting at the bottom of the ocean to be rescued and I thought what a terrifying situation that is. And also, I've always loved submarine movies and I thought it would be great to do one that wasn't a military submarine film.’

On watching submarine movies for research: ‘Looking at something like Crimson Tide or The Hunt for Red October, you see that when the camera is inside the submarine and part of the claustrophobia, it's much, much stronger than when the camera is flying around on a dolly or a crane and it's obviously a set and they don't have the wall there. So I made the decision that I wanted this all to be within the set or within the submarine, because we filmed half of it on set and half of it in a real submarine. So I never took the walls away, I was always inside it.’

On working with Jude Law: ‘This is a British thriller and I wanted the characters to feel like they were from all over the British Isles, working class characters who feel like they've been thrown on the scrap heap by the powers that be. Jude read the script and initially I thought he's not working class, he's not your first idea of a sort of sailor, macho-type person, but we talked about him doing a transformative role, him turning himself into a different character. I think that's often when Jude's been at his best, throughout his career, when he's really done character performances.’

On Law's preparation for the film and his Scottish accent: ‘We worked together on the role, deciding who his character was, that he would be from Aberdeen, because of all the associations we felt that had. Also, that he would shave his head, that he would carry himself in a certain way, even lower his voice by about half an octave, he trained to do that. And we worked with a dialogue coach who was from that part of Scotland and I also got the uncle of a friend who lives up there and whose family are a sailing family to record all his dialogue lines for him on tape and then Jude listened to those and worked with that.’

On working with Russian actors: ‘I felt that it was important that we get the real thing. I shot a lot of this film on a real submarine and did a lot of research into the reality of this situation, I wanted it to feel real. And it turned out to be a great idea, because these guys are great actors with great faces and you've almost never seen them before, even though they're famous in Russia. And they all wanted to do the film because they wanted to do a foreign film that didn't belittle the Russians – all Hollywood ever asks them to do is play a Russian mafioso or a crazy guy that wants to blow up the world!’

On difficulties during filming: ‘There was a particular incident when we were filming the underwater sequence. We brought in some memory foam to put on the bottom of the tank in order to make it soggy when they walked on it and the memory foam had fire retardant in it, which had bromine in it. And the bromine reacted with the chlorine and we ended up with bromide in the water which basically turned the water bright bloody green, like limeade. In the end, we had to close the whole movie down for two weeks, empty 1.2 million litres of water, scrub the tank and refill it.’

On his next project: ‘I'm doing a documentary at the moment, set in China, about an artist called Cai Guo-Qiang, who's best known for doing the Beijing Olympics fireworks. He lives in New York, he's Chinese and he uses gunpowder and fireworks and explosions as a major part of his work. So I've been following him as he's been doing some of these events and blowing things up, it's quite exciting.’

Black Sea is released from Fri 5 Dec.

BLACK SEA - Trailer - In Theaters January 2015

Black Sea

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • UK
  • 1h 55min
  • Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
  • Cast: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Karl Davies, Konstantin Khabensky
  • UK release: 5 December 2014

Robinson (Law) is a Scottish former submarine captain who leads a rag-tag crew of engineers to salvage a downed Russian sub laden with Nazi gold. Law is a commanding presence (he nails the Aberdeen accent) and a superb supporting cast, plus impressive cinematography, make for a powerfully claustrophobic atmosphere.