Interview: Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe – 'We're not concerned with making [our filmmaking] fit a comedy shape or a drama shape'
The directing team behind The Darkest Universe talks dinosaurs, comedy and alienation
'I often think of Cera the triceratops from The Land Before Time when I'm writing stuff or bring her up in meetings more than is healthy,' exclaims BAFTA-nominated director Will Sharpe, who along with co-director and close friend Tom Kingsley have carved out a unique niche in British film and TV. Sharpe goes on to explain how the animated film about dinosaurs has influenced his writing saying, 'She [Cera]'s the horrible one and yet she is an integral part of that friendship group and comes good. I think that dynamic of not choosing your friends or choosing who you care about must have affected how I write.'
Kingsley and Sharpe met at Cambridge University where they joined the drama society Footlights, following in the footsteps of great writers, performers and comedians such as Peter Cook, John Cleese and David Mitchell. They hit it off and went on to write a play which formed the basis for their debut feature film Black Pond that won an award at the inaugural London Comedy Film Festival. Following that win, and over a three-year period, they worked on their sophomore feature The Darkest Universe in between solo TV projects for Channel 4 and Sky.
The film is a sort of sci-fi about alienation but it's difficult to categorise, which is something that Sharpe explains steers him when he's writing. 'I think genre is under scrutiny and being challenged both in film and television,' he says. 'That's something we've always talked about in our filmmaking. We're not concerned with making it fit a comedy shape or a drama shape. It's more to do with what feels right. It has to have a sense of humour but you also need to buy into the characters so it has to have a story.'
Sharpe stars in the film alongside Tiani Ghosh who wrote the original screenplay, which was then reworked. The pair play brother and sister, Zac and Alice, who drift apart quite literally after Alice disappears on a canal boat with her new boyfriend. Zac soon becomes obsessed with trying to locate his sister but in the process manages to lose himself.
Solaris was a touchstone, but Kingsley says real-life was also an inspiration, stating, 'Will watched a documentary about missing people. When you think of a missing person you may not realise how weird it is not to have resolution.' Sharpe explains how one of the stories in the documentary moved him. 'There was one person who left a note out at the front door every day for years when she went to work, just in case her husband came home,' he says. 'It is grieving but it's different."
The importance of finding a connection feeds hugely into the story of The Darkest Universe with Zac's time spent looking back on his bond with his sister and in turn examining her bond with her boyfriend in a complex and funny exploration of relationships. Strong alliances seem key in the success of Kingsley and Sharpe's working relationship. 'Once you're finally working with the right team of people,' says Kingsley, 'you suddenly feel like anything is possible.'
The Darkest Universe is on selected release and available online from Fri 4 Nov; Glasgow Film Theatre, Wed 9 & Thu 10 Nov.