Mike Leigh and Actress Sally Hawkins of Happy-Go-Lucky
September 26, 2008
Wendy R. Williams
Sally Hawkin and Mike Leigh
Mikes Leigh's new
film Happy-Go-Lucky is featured at the
New York Film Festival and is opening nationwide
on October 10, 2008. I saw the film and then attended
the press roundtable. Here is my review (be sure
to scroll down for the interview with Mike Leigh
and Sally Hawkins):
Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky
Opens Friday October 10, 2008
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams
Written by Mike Leigh
Starring: Sally Hawkins; Eddie Marsan; Alexis Zegerman;
Sylvestra Le Touzel; Stanley Townsend; and Kate
Mike Leigh (Secrets
& Lies, Vera Drake) has created
another wonderful film world and this time he has
left the world of adoption secrets and illegal abortions
to enter the world of happiness. And this world
of happiness revolves around one unforgettable character
Poppy (played by Sally Hawkins), an eternally optimistic
London grade school teacher.
Here is a quote from
the Happy press release: “In the
effervescent new comedy from director Mike Leigh
(Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies),
Sally Hawkins stars as the unforgettable Poppy,
an irrepressibly free-spirited school teacher who
brings an infectious laugh and an unsinkable sense
of optimism to every situation she encounters as
a single woman in London. When Poppy’s commuter
bike is stolen, she signs up for driving lessons
with Scott (Eddie Marsan), who turns out to be her
polar opposite – a fuming, uptight cynic who
takes himself extremely seriously. As the tension
of their weekly lessons builds, Poppy’s story
takes alternately hilarious and serious turns --
careening from flamenco classes to first dates--becoming
a touching, truthful and deeply life-affirming exploration
of one of the most mysterious and often the most
elusive of all human emotions: happiness.”
When we first see
Sally, her bike has been stolen. But this loss does
not get our heroine down, she uses the lack of a
bicycle as an impetus to sign up for driving lessons.
Then she goes home where she makes some hysterical
masks to take to her school. And life continues
to serve up life’s problems to our heroine.
She sees a student bullying another student and
instead of cracking down on the bully, she investigates
to find out what is happening at the child’s
home that is making him so aggressive. And by doing
so, she meets a really hot social worker. She sees
a homeless man under a railroad overpass and she
stops to talk to him, showing absolutely no fear.
But it is the driving
lessons that really test Sally. Her driving instructor
(played by the excellent Eddie Marsan) is that kind
of man that would make most sane people hire a new
instructor after the first five minutes. But not
our heroine, she optimistically assumes that she
can win him over and perseveres against all odds.
But nothing she does makes a difference with Scott
and in the end, Sally has to give up. But even having
to quit her lesson does not get her down; she still
thinks about what might be best for Scott.
Mike Leigh has made
a beautiful film. And it is the type of film that
made me want to sit down after I saw it and talk
about happiness. Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted
as saying that, "Most people are about as happy
as they make up their minds to be." So is being
happy a talent like an aptitude for math? Are we
simply born with our capacity to be happy? There
is the age-old question: Why do some people, who
have little reason to rejoice, stay basically happy
anyway and why do others, who seemingly have every
reason to be happy, live their lives with so little
happiness? And why is it so much fun to watch a
character like Poppy simply be happy?
Sally Hawkins was
the winner of the Best Actress Award at the 2008
Berlin Film Festival for Happy-Go-Lucky.
Happy-Go-Lucky was also an official selection
at the upcoming 2008 Toronto and New York Film Festivals.
Director Mike Leigh
with Mike Leigh
As Mr. Leigh entered the room,
the gathered film reviewers (myself included were
talking about what the film meant to us), several
of us thought it was about happiness being an innate
part of a person’s nature. The critic from
the Culture Vulture had an interesting point, he
thought the overriding theme was teaching: Poppy
is an elementary school teacher, Scot is a driving
teacher; Poppy takes flamenco dance lessons from
a memorable dance teacher (Karina Fernandez).
Question about whether the underlying
theme of the film was teaching:
Question about whether Leigh
is enjoying the New York Film Festival:
I love the New York Film Festival, love the
Q & A’s, and love the spirit.
Question about what was Leigh’s
inspiration for the film:
The truth is that whatever I do it is only what
artists do. You have a conception, a feeling. For
many years I wanted to make a film about adoption
(Secrets & Lies). And I was around
before the 1967 Abortion Act (in Britain), old enough
to know what it was like before and that was the
impetus for Vera Drake. Happy-Go-Lucky
was a circle of an idea, an idea that evolved. This
is not something I invented. Before talking films,
all films were made the way I make films. Film only
started being scripted beforehand with the talkies.
Question about Leigh's collaborative
I assemble a group of actors,
characters actors, really creative and giving people.
And [in this case] I found three actors who looked
alike [thus Poppy and her two sisters]. Getting
Eddie Marsan was perfect.
We did all the relationship building.
The characters knew all about their childhoods,
what their weddings were like.
But make no mistake, I am in the
business of highly organized films and I am not
a documentary maker.
You embark on a journey to find
out what you think about something. And afterwards
you look at what you have. All films are really
created in the editing room.
I am not a jobbing director. I
make very personal films.
Question about the impetus for
The movie is about positiveness. As for the title,
you have to call the film something. I like titles
that create a general sense of what the film is
about, about what is in the bottle.
Poppy is all about being positive.
Question about the scene where
Scot loses it and becomes almost violent:
Poppy knows how to handle him. It is not a problem
for her, but she really cares about other people
and is concerned about Scott.
Question about some of the cruel
things that Scot says to Poppy about her wanting
to be the center of attention; does this have an
element of truth:
There is convention in Hollywood movies that is
someone says something, it must be true. Poppy does
not need attention.
Question about what Poppy needs:
A character does not have to need something.
[The women in my films] are not like the women in
Hollywood movies who are only there to support the
male lead character.
Question about working with Sally
She has great humility and a great sense of humor.
She is very intelligent. I don’t work with
Question about how he found Sally:
I found her through the normal process. She was
in Vera Drake.
about whether Leigh watches his own films after
they are finished:
Yes. I have no problem looking at my own work. But
I am not like Gloria Swanson.
Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky
The Interview with Sally
Sally entered the room with her
arm in a sling and explained that she had broken
her collar bone while filming Happy Ever After
in Ireland. She had just had an operation on her
collar bone ten days before but simply could not
miss the New York Film Festival.
Question about the process of
working with Mike Leigh:
Hawkins: Mike demands of all of his actors,no
matter how little the part is, that every actor
does an extreme amount of work, you have to block
yourself out for a year. He gives you homework.
When I was doing Vera Drake, I learned everything
about the period.
He set up the flat where we lived
and furnished it with our props. I had my purse
from the very beginning.
After each improvisation session,
you sit down with Mike and talk about what happened.
Mike does not like for his actors to be actors,
with a third eye eying themselves.
Question about her laugh:
Hawkins: I worked on it for weeks. And finally
one day Mike said that the laugh was there.
Question about whether she writes
in a journal:
Hawkins: I try to but I did not keep one
for Poppy because it is not something she would
do. Poppy is not introspective.
Question about the clothes:
Hawkins: All the props and clothes were on
set early on. The costume designer took me shopping
for Poppy specifically. Some of my clothes are like
the clothes that Poppy would wear, but Mike wanted
me to segregate them in my mind.
I needed to know everything about
Poppy – what books she liked to read, how
much sugar she would use in her tea, what breakfast
cereal she liked to eat. She actually could not
use sugar, it would make her mad creative.
Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins
Question about the scenes with
Hawkins: Mike Leigh, Eddie Marsan and I spent
weeks driving around. Eddie and I were in the front
seat and Mike was in the back. When we first started
working these scenes, we did not know how it would
end. We did not know and Mike did not know. But
a shift had to take place with her. Poppy always
wants to learn about people, why they do what they
do, and it was hard for her to let Scot go. She
always wants to be fair and to be kind.
Poppy tells Scott in one scene,
“It’s not much fun being you.”
Question about what Mike Leigh
will do next:
Hawkins: No one ever knows what is going
on in Mike Leigh’s head. He is a master film
Question about what she (Hawkins)
will do next:
Hawkins: When my collar bone heals, I need
to go back to Ireland and finish Happy Ever
After. And then I am going to play Bernadette
Devlin in Aisling Walsh’s The Roaring
Many thanks to Mike
Leigh and Sally Hawkins for talking with New York