Do you play chess yourself?
No. I wish Id had somebody to teach me the game when I was very young but that never happened but we had John Spielman to advise us. he was very good, he was there in the early stages of writing the script and when we were actually shooting he came over a couple of times and talked a lot with John Turturro and that was very helpful to him. I showed it to him at the end end when I was editing the film to ask whether it was all right and he said he loved the film which was great.
Was he advising to show what a grand master is like or to make sure that the games were correct?
The latter. He gave us games, this is what you do and this is how you play etc. and John learned them by heart but he never told us what it was like to be a grand master, it sufficed to just look at him, to see what he was like. He was a very strange man and of course every grand master is like that but he sometimes talked so far that he couldnt keep up with his own thoughts, he is obviously a brilliant man and totally, totally obsessed with chess. Film is make believe and to make a move in chess on film you dont need to know the complete background of a particular move but this is what chess players know all about, they know what every move means back or forward 10 moves. It was quite impossible for any of us to follow him at all, we followed as much as we needed to to make the film but you cant keep up with a genius like that.
Can you identify with that way of thinking, when youre planning takes on set?
Yes. This is actually the only way you can identify with somebody like that, you see how you work in your own profession and you realalise that you are equally obsessed, only slightly more accessible.
How much work did you have to do in order to get the right performance from Emily and John?
They were absolutely delighted to work together, they had done before in a film about to be released called The Cradle Will Rock or something like that. Emily was my very first choice and I had asked her when she was doing Hilary and Jackie but my film was postponed for 2 years and when I asked her again she agreed. Delightful. There is a chemistry between the 2 of them and as a director you are really blessed when this happens because when it doesnt it is very often very visible. They worked very well together and I was extremely happy.
Emilys character is caught between what she should do and what she wants to do, is that something you identify with?
I suppose so but her character Natalya is so strong willed, her mother wants to steer her one way, to be a good girl and to find an aristocratic husband, she is rebellious and wont adhere to what society thinks she should do. She isnt vehement but she wants to make her own choices and I think that, to say the least, those characters are interesting and I find that strength necessary in a female lead. Im not sure I could make a film with a woman as a main character in any other way, I wouldnt find that very interesting.
Following your success with Antonias Line you must have had a lot of offers but youve chosen to work in Britain rather than Hollywood, and having studied in Britain, have you a particular attraction to the film industry here?
Well I may still do my first Hollywood film if we get that far. Britain is certainly closer to me and it is European and not a continent which is part of the attraction. Mentally or spiritually it is also closer and Hollywood is a bit more difficult. In Europe it is usually a question of money as to whether a film gets made, in Hollywood its something else theyve got so much money its almost obscene. Things dont work out all of a sudden and youve wasted rather a long time and sometimes it can go very fast. Id like to make one over there for experiences sake. What I like about making films in England are the levels of professionalism in production, which is a joy.
How did you find your training here - it was an MA in Birmingham?
In drama. I found that they didnt really know what to do with me because I was one of the first to do an MA in drama so they made up a course for me and it was quite enjoyable, it had nothing to do with film. Actually we came to Edinburgh with an atrocious production of Robin Hood which we performed atrociously in some back yard.
What triggered you interest in film?
Writing. Although I found that my writing for theatre over here and in Amsterdam didnt work so I turned it into a film script without knowing what that was. I finished it, found a producer and decided to direct it myself and then I found a combination that I really liked: writing and directing.
And yet you havent written your last two films, do you think youll be writing again soon?
Probably. I am writing at the moment but the paradox is that it leaves me with more freedom when I find a good script to incorporate more whereas my previous films that Id written were very strict.
What are you working on now?
I'm talking to people over here and in America. What I would like to do is a comedy, this is something I think I can do but you have to convince other people of it. A spirited, interesting comedy, I wouldnt mind doing that at all.
What do you think of the trend towards misogynist films like In The Company of Men or the Tarantino movies?
Well I saw Happiness which is the same sort of thing and I liked it. Well, I dont know if its the sort of thing you like, but I think it did what it set out to do which I thought was very clever.
How do you feel about being labelled a feminist filmmaker?
Its fine. It tends to narrow peoples view of you because they seem to be incapable of seeing you as anything else. As I said, Id like to do a comedy and a thriller and I can easily do that whether Im a feminist or not. If thats what they want to call me, thats fine.