Another Year is one of the year’s better drama films and one to be kept an eye on this holiday season. Much of this film’s strength is derived from its cast of characters. Equal parts charming, warm, compelling and tragic, the characters of Another Year drive a narrative far superior than the usual drama audiences have been treated to. Working Author was given the privilege to spend some time with the two most prominent actors from the film, Lesley Manville and Jim Broadbent.
Lesley shared her time with us first and gladly opened up about the fascinating creative process that went into constructing her character, Mary, who is a well-intended, but ultimately lonely and depressed woman. “…We don’t have a script; we start from absolutely nothing. And so the first thing we do is work one to one and create the characters with (Director Mike Leigh). We had eighteen weeks to do that before we started filming.” When asked if this unique way of preparing for a film was harder than a more typical role, Lesley responded enthusiastically, saying “I like working in this way, and I often find it hard when you have a script and you’re desperately looking to find stuff in it that you can make something of, trying to work out where moments can happen.” In fact, the creation of her character for the film was entirely complete and didn’t stop at just what we see in the film. When working one-on-one with Leigh, they create entire lives for their characters. The characters’ friends, jobs, and childhoods are all devised in a process that goes into creating a complete character. When you see Lesley on screen it’s easy to understand why she prefers this method of construction – she’s so organic and natural it’s hard to believe it’s only a performance.
Lesley was also keen to talk about the mindset that she has when she prepares to work on a film with Leigh.”You kind of have to give yourself up to it though, leave your ego at home and not worry about how big my part is going to be, and is she going to look good or not look good. You can’t have any of that stuff going on.” The actors apply a selfless approach that really contributes to the considerable quality of the film. She speaks fondly of the challenge she felt when knowing she would collaborate with Leigh again, “I know that he’s going to take me somewhere different. He’s never gotten me to play the same character twice.” It’s also clear from her responses and willingness to talk about the film’s construction in such detail, that she’s very proud of Another Year. “It’s a film about hearts and minds and heads and souls, you know, the stuff of life. It means something to everybody the world over. All of those things touch all of our lives wherever you live.”
When Lesley had finished sharing and Jim Broadbent entered the room, the excitement from learning so much about the film continued without pause. No sooner than he sat down was he already telling his story to eager ears wanting to pry further into this fascinating process. “It’s a good way to work…occasionally, but you wouldn’t want to do back to back like that. It’d be impossible; you’d do your head in,” he laughs. He also told us a bit more about Mike Leigh’s methods and process, “He’s looking at every single aspect of all of the characters being created, you create them with him. Individually he’s working with us…he’s guiding, he’s overseeing every aspect of the character. We present him with a huge amount of choices which he then selects what he needs.” It’s truly collaborative in every sense of the word, which offers a unique opportunity for the actors to have a say in what the final rendition of a character may be, as the character is as much their own as it is the director’s. Even when in the midst of shooting a scene Jim said it wasn’t unheard of for a cast-member to disagree with direction. It’s a voice the actors deserve though, as Jim explains how deep Leigh’s want for their commitment to the creation went. “While he’s working with others he might say go off and invent half a dozen of their friends who they might meet in the pub or come to dinner. Then obviously they happen to have a huge circle of friends who don’t appear in the film…so we would go off and between us invent their friends and invent occasions that they’ve shared. We never talked about our characters even to each other; your character remains your business and your business alone.”
It’s obvious after conversing with such talented actors that a monumental amount of work and preparation went into making Another Year. More obvious still is the genuine pride and satisfaction that these two practitioners of the craft have after being involved in a process as unique as Mike Leigh’s. Another Year is a very good film in its own right, but after taking a moment to learn about what makes these characters so well-rounded and realistic, it becomes even more fascinating and magnetic. Another Year opens in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 29th, and stars Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, and Imelda Staunton.