“Yellow Bread” talked to British actor-turned-director Christian Cooke about his short film “Edith” starring Peter Mullan and Michelle Fairley, the short format, his inspiration and favorite film of all time as well as his next projects.
Can you talk about your background?
Christian Cooke: I went to a local stage school aged ten and have been acting since then. Making films has been an ambition of mine from an early age.
Can you talk about “Edith”? How did it come about? What drew you to it?
C.C.: Ray Robinson sent me the script and I was immediately interested. Ray wrote the novel “Electricity,” which I acted in the film version of. The screenwriter Joe Fisher introduced us. “Edith” was exactly the sort of short film I was looking to make. A sensitive human drama with the potential for tremendous cinematic scope.
Your work with Peter Mullan and Si Bell in it is absolutely brilliant. Can you talk about that collaboration?
C.C.: I had worked with both Peter and Si prior to “Edith,” so we already had a good relationship. It was important to talk to Peter before we started filming to make sure we were both on the same page with Jake’s back story and motivation. Once filming began it was just about making sure we were hitting all the necessary beats in order to tell our story in the short time we had. Peter is such an instinctive, truthful actor that he doesn’t need a great deal of direction. A little nudge here or there to emphasize a beat, perhaps. However, we had a mutual understanding of Jake’s journey from the outset. Si Bell is great at taking a shot that you describe to him and adding a little touch of magic to it.
Who inspired you, as a director, for your work in “Edith”?
C.C.: I think I’ve learnt and been inspired by things from every job I have worked on as an actor and every film I have watched. It’s important to absorb as much as you can from everything you do.
Did you consider starring in “Edith”? If not, why?
C.C.: I didn’t want the distraction of acting in the film as well as directing it. Not to say I wouldn’t do it in the future. It was a short shoot with lots to do, so I didn’t want to spread my self too thin.
How did Michelle Fairley come on board?
C.C.: Michelle was suggested by my casting director Tamara Notcutt.
Can you talk about your work with Mini Productions on “Edith”?
C.C.: Mini Productions were on board from the outset and we worked together in every aspect of the production. From raising the finance to working out the logistics of physical production…
Was Ray Robinson satisfied with how you conveyed his semi-autobiographical story on the big screen?
C.C.: Ray loved the film which was a huge relief. It was a very precious story to him and so I wanted to deliver something that he was proud of.
How did the transition from acting to directing happen? Was it natural? Daunting?
C.C.: I think I’ve always known I wanted to direct and having spent so many years on film sets that aspect of it wasn’t daunting. The pressure is just making sure you get what you need to tell the story. And a lot of that lies in preparation.
Which one do you prefer now?
C.C.: I’d like to continue to do both and both have their rewards.
Can you talk about “Chandide”, your experimental guerrilla project?
C.C.: “Chandide” was written by my friend Arnab Chanda. I was desperate to make a film, so I financed it myself and put a small crew together and we shot it in three days. It was a great learning experience.
You have acted in shorts as well. What is your opinion of the short format?
C.C.: Shorts can be hugely creative experiences. Everyone is working on a short because they believe in the project so there can be a greater sense of community and collaboration.
What is your favorite film of all time?
C.C.: Too many to name. “Kramer vs. Kramer” is up there. The performances are breathtaking!
And, who inspires you as an actor, and who as a director?
C.C.: Philip Seymour Hoffman is my hero. And by all accounts was also an incredible director. At the moment, I keep an eye out for anything Denis Villeneuve and Xavier Dolan do.
What do you look for in a project?
C.C.: Anything that interests me. I usually know from a first read whether it’s something I can be passionate about.
Talking about projects, what is next for you?
C.C.: I’m writing a feature film with my friend Max Deacon and looking at adapting a play.