Andrew Haigh is enjoying the kind of buzz over his film Weekend that most Hollywood directors would kill to receive. The low-key romance about two guys who hook up and then turn it into something more has captured the imaginations of gay and straight filmgoers alike. No one is more pleased than out British writer/director Haigh. “I’ve been completely surprised. I mean, you make something and you have no idea if anyone is going to see it, apart from my mum. The fact that it’s got a good reception and people are talking about it and the press seems interested is amazing... it’s incredible,” Haigh explained via phone.
Weekend tells the subtle love story of Russell (swarthy Tom Cullen), a fairly closeted man, and Glen (sexy Chris New), and an out-and-proud provocateur. They meet in a bar, spend the night together and then decide to spend the better part of the weekend together before Glen takes off for school in Portland, Oregon. Neither man is who they seem to each other at first, and the beauty of Weekend is the often wordless ways Haigh shows the guys dropping their guards and falling in love. Cullen is marvelous, sweet yet masculine, while the out New has more of a gym-toned appeal.
Haigh, who worked from 2000 to 2008 as an assistant editor on films like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Mona Lisa Smile for directors like Ridley Scott and Mike Newell, strived to be honest in his portrayal of the two men and to be honest in their depictions, flaws and all. The men do a bit of drugs together, and at first, Glen, who goads the sweet Russell into telling about himself into a recorder, is rather condescending about the seemingly closeted man he assumes Russell is. It takes a while for the men to realize how much they mean to each other, framed by the sadness that Glen is leaving soon.
“To me, that was my most important goal,” Haigh explained. “To make it feel really authentic, and you believed that these two people were into each other and were falling in love with each other, basically. And that they were seen as well-rounded, flawed characters. The characters that interest me are the ones who are flawed and have those sorts of struggles.”
“When I was writing the story, I didn’t want to ever shy away from the fact that they were gay,” he explained, but he feels that straight audiences are embracing the film because of the honest way he depicts the characters. “There’s more to these boys’ lives than just their sexuality. I’m more than just a gay person. There are lots of things in my life that define who I am, and that’s what I tried to get across.”
Haigh decided from the beginning that he would shoot the film in sequence, to capture the men’s relationship realistically, and he had nothing but praise for his two leads. “They were so committed to that way we were going to make the film, and I always tried to keep it like it was a relationship between the three of us.” The three men became close, and it helped the actors develop their characters and develop their chemistry together. “They sort of fell in love with their own characters, which I think is so important.”
Regarding the film’s frank sex scenes, Haigh explained, “I knew that I wanted it to feel real, as if you’re there watching these two guys, almost like you’re spying on them. But I knew that I didn’t want it to be really explicit. We need to feel that these two people are into each other. It’s bizarre, it was actually some of the easiest stuff we shot.”
“I don’t think Russell fits in to the gay world or the straight world, and I think that Glen’s kind of the same. They’re both just trying to find their place. That’s like a lot of us. We’re just trying to work out where we fit in and how we fit in. Russell’s problem isn’t that he’s facing discrimination every day. It’s that he’s fearful of a world that he thinks still doesn’t accept him. That’s what’s interesting to me, that you carry around homophobia with you, even if it’s perceived rather than real. I think that’s quite a pressure on a gay person’s shoulders.”
Haigh’s first film was the documentary-styled film Greek Pete, about the year in the life of a handsome London escort. The subject fascinated Haigh because it was a world he didn’t even knew existed. “What was interesting was that working in that documentary format sort of inspired a lot of things that are in Weekend. It taught me that you’ve got to have faith in the ability just to watch and listen to people.”
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.