Film Scouts Interviews

"My Name Is Joe" Press Conference
at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival

by Henri Béhar
Friday, May 15, 1998
Attending: Ken Loach, director; Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall, actors; Paul Laverty, scriptwriter; Rebecca O'Brien, producer

A frequent visitor of the Cannes Film Festival since Kes took flight at the Director's Fortnight, Ken Loach is a small, slender man, with owlish glasses that make him look a bit like your favorite math teacher. Then he opens his mouth and all bets are off. With his quiet, almost fluty voice, the man, who is recognized by all British directors as THE major influence on modern British cinema, is also the sharpest political analyst - and, though unbelievably courteous, the least interested in debate diplomacy. He doesn't do the diplomatic menuet, he tells it like it is and too bad if you can't take it.

His latest film, My Name Is Joe was written by Carla's Song scriptwriter, Paul Laverty. A former lawyer who spent two years on a human rights mission in Nicaragua then switched to scriptwriting - hoping perhaps to find a saner, cleaner world in the film industry? As it turned out, all the panelists at the press conference had their reasons for coming to Cannes.


KEN LOACH: Well, as they say, the joy of coming to Cannes is to see films and to talk to people who see films in a broad context, not excluding the commerce. There's very good conversations we look forward to, and that's why it's nice to be back. Everything else is secondary.

PAUL LAVERTY: I think there's possibly a bigger chance of getting the Palme d'Or than getting tickets for the World Cup, especially if you want to go to the games involving Scotland

PETER MULLAN: I'm here for two reasons. One is to be here for "My Name is Joe." The other is to try and get tickets for the Scotland v. Brazil game.

REBECCA O'BRIEN: We made a little documentary about football since we shot "My Name is Joe". We've actually been doing a couple of films about little football teams that Ken is a major supporter of. It's driving me mad.

QUESTION: How goes it with futbol and you? Also, you pay an homage to the 70's teams. Why didn't you focus on the present soccer greats?

PAUL LAVERTY: I just love the 70's teams. That was all. Simple as that. And I think they got a bargain on the shirts.

QUESTION: What is it specifically you like about the 1974 team?

KEN LOACH: It's a team that lives in people's memories, you know. The thing that is wonderful is that the names are legends. And I think also football fills a space in our lives, where the most dramatic things in the character's lives often happen on the football page or caring about football and being involved in football. And it carries a really big dimension for people and we couldn't underestimate that. And we didn't.


PETER MULLAN: When you work with Ken Loach, you get the script the day before, which means that the acting is basically easy because I didn't have a clue of what it is I was doing. So the way to get under the character of Joe's skin was just to forget he had any skin at all and just play it as close to yourself as possible.

LOUISE GOODALL: Someone pointed out that my character seems to have a secret, but you never know what it is. I didn't quite either. Ken once told me in one scene, "I want you to cry and I want you to cry aloud." And I said, "Why am I crying?" And he said, "I can't tell you." The big secret was that the woman I play had looked after her father and it's interfering with her life, her job and and her study and she put her father into a home and he died in that place alone. She wasn't there when he died. And that was her big secret.

QUESTION (to Ken Loach): Do you allow your actors to improvise?

KEN LOACH: Well, they're not improvising but in a way... they're improvising the surface. The structure and direction of the character, that's not improvised. But the kind of exchanges and cracks that happen to them, the surprises that happen - yeah, that's off guard.

QUESTION: Your films often describe working class people. Is that somewhat close to your own background?

KEN LOACH: I grew up in a very ordinary home. My family was neither rich nor poor like many many others. My father worked as an electrician in a machine tool factory and thanks to the education system of the time, I was able to pass exams to get into universities. Like Paul, I was also a lawyer or going to be a lawyer briefly. Gave it up and became an actor, and I was the worst actor you could imagine. Got no work and I thought directing was a lot easier, so I became a director.

It was only when I started to work in television, started to work with writers and meet people that... Your eyes start to be open because then, being a filmmaker was a very privileged relation: people ask you into their lives and their homes. That alongside the fact that it was the 1960's and it was a very political time. So the range of people we were meeting was very wide. And the kind of political questions that were being asked made sense in all the kind of social situations we were meeting. So that's where it really all started.

- AFTER SPAIN (Land and Freedom) & NICARAGUA (Carla's Song)

KEN LOACH: After we got back from Spain and Nicaragua, Paul and I talked about wanting to tell a story on a domestic scale. I think it doesn't make it a smaller film. I hate it when people talk about smaller films and bigger films, because the ambition was as great, just as the case nearer home. And you're right. There's time to play away games and there's time to play at home.

QUESTION: You've often talked about the disaster of Thatcherism. Can things change with the Tony Blair regime?

KEN LOACH: At last we have a humorous question! Comedy is a big part of this film. No, I think that the thing about Tony Blair is that he is and has announced himself to be the party of the government of business. So all of the decisions they've taken are in the interest of business. A huge disparity occurred during the Thatcher period where there was a massive increase in the gulf between the rich and the poor. All that will stay. All that will be the same under Tony Blair. And it is the same. It is the same government with different faces. There will be a few cosmetic touches. But the essence, the core will remain the same. And it's very distressing. What it means is there is no one who speaks for ordinary people. There is no one to speak for Joe or Mary. Nobody speaks for workers, and whether they have work or not. And this is going to be interesting.

PAUL LAVERTY: I'll always remember just before he was elected he went to the Chamber of Commerce in New York and said, "We are the party of business." And he's proved that. It'll be interesting to see how the Tories see the tuition fees for students, for example. In many ways, we're actually having a labor government that will be able to deliver cuts that Tories couldn't have done quite as easily. All you have to do is you get employment legislation that has no chance of fulfilling any of Thatcher's legislation there, even in relation to and the promise to introduce democracy into the workplace. It's very much a business agenda with a particular Rule Britannia sheen on it. When you look at it, people's lives are going to be very much the same.

PAUL LAVERTY: There's this great hullabaloo over the new drug czar, who was interviewed just recently. He was on that whole day that his report was released and in the context of this film, it really makes you laugh! Because through that whole thing, I never heard him mention once the question of unemployment in relation to the drug problem. That's like going on about the World Cup and not talking about football. That's absolutely and totally bizarre. He talked about everything and anything, apart from the creation of work.

And that's what struck us when we did the research for this film. We went and talked to lots of people, and the thing that everybody was screaming for was work. And here we have this drug czar with this big, huge report. And unemployment was not mentioned once in that whole thing. Absolutely bizarre.

KEN LOACH: Well, the locations are all within 2 or 3 miles of each other in Glascow. More than one small area. They're called Rachel Park and Passel Park. They're very close to the center block. One thing we wanted to do was have this sense of community and locality so that one would have the experience of being there. It is clearly a place of a lot of deprivation. But it's clearly a place where people have a lot of spirit and energy still.

PETER MULLAN: I think where we actually filmed, what struck us all was that the drug problem is such that the people are passive. And you don't see any trouble or riots in the street. And I think that's what ties in generally with the film is the sense that these people are basically into a kind of area where it's a dog-eats-dog kind of environment. Within it, ironically, there's still a very human need to thrive and laugh and somehow just try and get by. All this pain on this kind of huge slab concrete and the sense that you're never going to escape from it.

KEN LOACH: One thing we were very aware of is that there are a lot of public pronouncements about drugs. But drugs have an objective function. It keeps people quiet. In other times, it would have been massive unrest. You have huge populations with no connection to the means of production. In many cases, the means of consumption. I mean, you have this huge population quite alienated from what's going on. It's not the world they see on television, the adverts and the newspapers, and yet there's this passivity. In a way, that's very alarming. In a way, that's an insane response because the response ought to be anger.

PAUL LEVERTY: Although it's set in Glasgow, it can be set anywhere in Europe of over 20,000,000 unemployed. And really what struck us making this film is how many lives are wasted. And the thing that got to us, and certainly got to me is that they want to just have an income. They want to contribute. They want to get something, and definitely the right to contribute. You never hear it that way. It's always about keeping dole money and not working. Yet there's just thousands of really talented people who are bursting at the dam just trying to get a chance. And it's an absolute, total disgrace what's happened.

PETER MULLAN: There was an incident when we were going to shoot one day, and I was saddened by a silent conversation with a worker coming back from his work. He had his overalls on. I was watching him and he was watching me wondering why we were filming. A young lad came down the stairs and he was wearing fancy clothes and he jumped into a big big Land or Range Rover type fancy car. This boy was 14, 15.

I watched the worker watching the boy - and the boy was obviously delivering drugs. He was dealing in that particular industry. And watching this worker watching this boy, and the look of dismay on this man's face, he was thinking, "Christ, I just done a legitimate job and I've worked from 8 til 5. And for what? 150 pounds a week? And yet the 14 year old, who could be his son, would be earning that in an hour because the boy returned in the same car one hour later.

There was no police around. Everybody knew this was a drug dealer because this is an area where those kind of cars cost 30-40,000 pounds. That's more than the whole street would earn in a year. And this chap looking at me, the actor, and the actor looking at this chap, you can see the sense of futility on his face. Imagine looking at me and thinking, "What the hell am I doing? I'm 45 years of age and there I am, worked all day legitimately. And there's a 14 year old earning more in an hour than I am in a week." Meanwhile, he's looking at this idiot actor thinking, "You're earning more than I'm going to earn in an year." And he'd be right.


QUESTION: It's been 30 years since May of 1968. Where were you then? What do you think cinema in those days and cinema nowadays reflect their own time and socio-political concerns?

KEN LOACH: It's a great anniversary. It's a big, big question really. I'm not sure if I can say anything neat and in a brief summary. Clearly, we've gone back a long way. Clearly the attacks people have suffered over the last decade in our country and some in your country have left people far far worse than they were in '68. My main memory of '68 is working in London and being involved in activities and demonstrations there.

But we've gone so far back. I think it would be very good to remember some of the things that were said in '68. The world sort of tells us, "This is the natural order of things. This huge disparity of the rich and the poor, this fact of massive alienation and massive unemployed, this is the natural order of things. This is the way men and women were meant to be. And I think that's when we should say: "The message of '68 is, 'Be realistic, demand the impossible.'"

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