The acclaimed director answers a wide range of your questions about creative freedom, James Bond, and everything Rada didn’t teach him
Courtesy of THE GUARDIAN
Mike Leigh sits before me, in his Soho office, a man without regrets – certainly with regard to his work, but probably in most aspects of his life, one suspects. If this doesn’t make him unique in the film industry, then he’s certainly in a tiny minority. The 75-year-old British director has made 20-odd films – from his TV work in the 1970s up to his latest release, Peterloo, perhaps his most ambitious and certainly his most expensive project yet – and he has never once had his arm twisted to compromise on his creative vision. He chooses the subject, handpicks the actors and the version we see on the screen is exactly the one that Leigh intended.
“I’m open to people who are happy for me to do what I do,” he explains. “I’m not open to anybody who tries to tell me what to do. I have on many occasions walked away from a project where there’s been even the suggestion that, ‘Well, we’ll back the film so long as there’s an American star in it.’ Walk away.”
Really, he’d walk away? “Of course,” Leigh replies, clearly considering the question either idiotic or mad. “And I have done on a number of occasions. It’s like a novelist being told what the novel should have in it. Or a painter being told, ‘It must include a lighthouse.’ And that’s the polite version.”
So Leigh is no people-pleaser, and yet, of course, at the same time he has become one of our best loved film-makers. He was raised in Salford and when he started making plays, and then films, he always imagined he would focus on contemporary issues. A particular inspiration was Jack Clayton’s 1959 film Room at the Top, a story of love and class set in a Yorkshire mill town, which came out when Leigh was 16 [ . . . ]
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