An interview with Joanna Hogg
Michael Pattison: This is a more intimate film than your previous works. How did you arrive at the concept?
Joanna Hogg: It was important for me not to repeat old territory. I’m always trying to push myself in new directions. I was interested in the intimate details of a couple’s life, but expressing that not in a linear way – I wanted to do something more fragmented.
Did the film change between the original treatment and post-production?
I wrote it in a slightly more linear way to what it ended up. I think inevitably with this kind of film, if you’re going for something a little more fragmented, a lot happens in the editing. The editing was a really interesting and more challenging process than the other two films. We were pushing ourselves a lot more – if we thought something was becoming too neat on one level, we were tempted to mess things up a bit.
You’re working here with first-time actors. Was it a lengthy casting process?
It was a very lengthy casting process. It took me a long time to find the right people. A couple of times I thought I was nearly there, and then I realised no, that’s not good enough. The idea was to cast the actors quite early on, at least two or three months before filming, so that they could be introduced to the space they would be living and working in. It’s a credit to Liam [Gillick] and Viv [Albertine], who hadn’t acted before, that they were able to be so natural in the house. Liam only met the house a couple of days before we started filming.
Tom Hiddleston is a regular performer for you, but here he’s in a much smaller role. How did that dynamic work, in terms of having a more experienced performer arrive on set?
Tom had a character in Archipelago that was quite pained and intense, and I thought this was something that he could have a bit fun with. Yet I was very concerned that it didn’t imbalance the film. He’s very good – he knows the atmosphere that I want. Again, he hadn’t met Liam and Viv ahead of filming.
When Liam’s character leaves the house, I recalled that sequence in Archipelago, where we spend time in the holiday home at night. It reminded me of a passage in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, where the house kind of exists regardless of who’s in it. Is space something by which characters are conditioned for you, rather than vice versa?
It reminds me – and I find it quite a chilling thought in a way – of the idea that the house in Exhibition is going to exist longer than their relationship is. The house, the space we live in, is a constant, and it’s going to see many different relationships and situations over its life. It becomes a very human element. Houses that have been lived in for a long time soak into their walls the feelings of the previous inhabitants and current inhabitants. There’s that moment in Exhibition where Viv’s character is telling her friend over Skype about the love that she feels is within the walls of the house, and this is actually a true thing because the couple who built the house for themselves – the architect [James Melvin] and his wife – were very happy.
So on the one hand it’s a celebration of the space, but also a lamentation that you no longer know its owners.
In a way. There’s a very nice description of the film that someone else gave me: that it’s an inside-out ghost story. The ghost in my story is still alive.Michael Pattison