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netribution > features > interview with janet mcteer > page one

Like many a British actor Janet McTeer started on the stage, moving to television with an acclaimed leading role in The Governor. McTeer provided narration for Velvet Goldmine and her big break came in 2000 with an Oscar nomination for her role in Tumbleweeds. Since then McTeer has gained Hollywood adoration but chosen to stick to indie flicks, such as The King is Alive, released Friday May 11th. Mark Stephenson talked to the actress, one of the first Brits to star in a Dogme title, about the work involved in the film.

| by mark stephenson |
| in edinburgh |

A Dogme film is something quite different from your previous work. How did you get involved?
I was sent the script, I thought it was fantastic. I then went and met Kristian, we talked for quite a long time and I thought he was interesting and really fantastic. I'd seen the other Dogme movies and I thought it was something I would like to get involved in, particularly as he was one of the four Dogme Brothers. I was right.

What was it about the Dogme filmmakers that impressed you?
Well it's very nice to meet original thinkers or to see original things, rather than people who follow somebody else's formula and I didn't feel that was the case with them. Having read the Dogme Manifesto, which everyone seemed to take so seriously, I thought that although it was obviously quite serious, it was quite patently written by men with an awful lot of wit. I liked the idea of stripping away the bullshit, really, and getting back to why are you telling this story, what is it you want to say, and how can you do it. It also seemed to account for today's technology but rather than being hidebound by it, actually taking it on and making it work for you.

Did you appreciate the Manifesto's boundaries?
I thought what was so wonderful was that a group of people had obviously sat down and discussed endlessly about what had happened to film, where it had gone. It has become a bit lazy and I think to strip away the things that make filmmaking so much is to force yourself to think, 'Do I really need it? Do I really want it?' When you look at some early films and think of the inventiveness involved and how they managed to tell the stories they did, so much of that has gone in our technological age

How does acting on a Dogme differ from conventional work?
Well from an audience's point of view, you can watch a scene and if you have to tell me that you're leaving me, you don't love me anymore and my whole world is falling apart and, by the way, we're bankrupt, quite frankly I couldn't care less whether the scenery behind you is yellow or blue. I'm more interested in whether you're any good, whether you move me or not and in modern filmmaking, nine times out of ten, that doesn't happen. They will spend five hours working on the blue background and you literally have two takes. Sorry, that doesn't interest me very much. When you watch it you can see that the actors aren't as relaxed, they're so self-conscious in front of the camera. Of course there's a visual aspect to it; Festen has a very different visual style from The King is Alive. Now that's partly because they were a made a year, two years apart, so the cameras were different to even now. But because they're so light, because they're so cheap, because it's video as opposed to film, you can have 150ft of film instead of 2ft, it just makes an enormous amount of difference.

Is there also a greater conjunction between theatre and filmmaking because of the intimacy of the process?
People think Joe Bloggs from next door can pick up a camera and make a Dogme movie. He can, but whether or not it would be one worth watching ... It might be brilliant, he might have a wonderful eye, but the fact remains that our cameras were in the hands of seriously good cameramen with serious training and who seriously knew what they were looking at.

How much of the stress we see you going through in the film was real and how much is acting?
Both of those things, in actual fact. It was a relatively easy shoot because everyone loved the job, they actually loved doing the job because, let's face it, if you're out in the desert you've got to love what you're doing. You're stuck there in this tiny group in a town the size of this room, for two months, so you've got to enjoy it. It was a really good script, it very quickly became clear that the exploration of it was as deep as we could make it and as real as we could make it. It was a true ensemble in the sense that everybody was as important as everyone else at every level in terms of input. That's thrilling. So you do kind of abandon yourself to the project because you think, 'This is great'. So in that sense it was really, really rewarding and really fulfilling, because you do have a sense of, 'We're all in it together, everyone's getting on' and so you do give 100% and you do get actors baring more of themselves because they don't feel the need to protect themselves in the way that you normally do.

I think quite a lot of it was the place itself. We were staying in a really nice hotel, in Namibia, on the west coast, it is just this strip of desert jutting out into the sea. Then we'd drive for 20 minutes and we'd be in the middle of fcuking nowhere! It was quite extraordinary because you had this huge kind of contrast in your day. There was a television but it barely worked so nobody really watched it, and the sunsets were incredible. Also because in the Dogme rules you can have no lighting, so we had no lighting, there was the fire and a couple of kerosene lamps and that was it. The stars were incredible. When you're not filming and you're lying there in the desert, waiting for your scene to come around you sort of abandon yourself to the whole experience. Why not? You know what I mean? If you're going to have an adventure and make a film like this then go the whole hog. Because what's the worse thing that can happen?

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