HISCOX FILMMAKER Q&A: THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film? Why did you want to tell this story?
Our family friend and my personal mentor, Oscar-winning director of Mephisto, István Szabó was the first to tell me about this book over lunch and the idea immediately stuck with me. It’s the premise every tyrant thrives on: installing fear into a group, giving them the false image of a non-existent enemy they have to “fight”. It’s this common enemy that can summon the troops and by the time they realize they’ve been set up, you’re stranded with the worst enemy imaginable: your own fear.
There are two reasons I wanted to tell this story. I felt like this is as vital today as can be, given that in my home country of Hungary a blatant fascist dictatorship is growing by the day and people seem to forget the basic truth that while tyrants may sometimes rise, they always, without exception, fall. I cannot name a single ruler that survived. This is what makes the story timely now for me, personally. What makes it timeless and relatable is its study of the subconscious. Chesterton’s original was called: The Man Who Was Thursday – A Nightmare. Dreams are products of the subconscious, it’s when they start haunting us when we’re awake that they become nightmares.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
Fate, destiny, and what we do with the time we’re given and why we make those decisions interest me. I see a pattern, so I became a fatalist and this is reflected in every fiber of this script. The hero of the film is closest to me, and all of us, I feel, given that most of the time we have no clue why life happens the way it does. The other key characters, Saturday and Charles are simplified versions of the forces of human nature, whilst Jack is the one who came to terms with the fact that everything happens for a reason, although he doesn’t know what that reason is.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Once we tested the film it became evident that those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it. Pretty ironic with a movie that’s about history repeating itself. A vast majority of the audience had no clue who Benito Mussolini was and it’s imperative that you have at least some understanding about his identity, so one scene was completely reshot in Rome with a modified dialogue and an entire scene was added to clarify the historical background.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
Only by not knowing the risks did I take them, so it’s the blessing of a first-time director. I don’t know if it was brave or stupid, but there’s a monologue of our female lead that’s two pages long in the middle of the film. It was, in fact, Ana’s audition tape that I saw back in the day, so when it came time to shoot that scene, I wanted to do it in one take like I saw it in the audition, because I said: if I fell in love then and there, everyone else will, too. Of course the producers sounded the alarms: cover the scene, we have three cameras, so on and so forth. But it was a night shoot in a cemetery and my cinematographer, Guy Livneh made magic happen and Ana and Francois, who share the screen through the scene did, too. Of course, every dog starts howling at the moon, every owl, every cricket, every stray cat comes to life, illegal drag racers hit the streets, cargo planes take off and I could swear I’ve heard a marching band do a midnight run as well, but a sheer 14 takes later, we had what we wanted. I am extremely proud and grateful to my talented actors and devoted crew for embracing what some might call a courageous decision.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Would getting my Italian actress and crew excommunicated from the Catholic Church count as a risk?
What influenced the visual style of the film?
Everything I ever saw would be the appropriate answer. Guy Livneh, my cinematographer and Judit Varga, my production designer must be paid gratitude, for without their expert oversight and input this could not have been achieved. Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, especially Le Samourai was a reference in creating a timeless look and Polanski’s The Ninth Gate was also among my references. No mobile phones, no computers, no era-specific costumes. Nothing that could help you put a date on the film. If you permit me to be immodest, let me share a very funny story that transpired: we were setting up the shot of the Boston church exterior at 4AM in Budapest, when a guy walking his dog (turns out a film buff, who was up-to-date on everything happening in the movie life of Budapest) peeked at the monitor, so Guy, pretending to be another passerby, said: it looks like a Polanski movie. The passerby replied: no, I think it’s a Balazs Juszt film.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
None. If you feel this strongly about a story, if it is your unshakable conviction, then tell it. There’s no risk, other than not telling it. Insofar as others are concerned: immense. Financial, critical, personal. The investors’ money, the actors’ careers, Chesterton’s legacy were all at stake. But as Peter Webber, the director of Girl with a Pearl Earring recently told me: once the film is out, it’s not your movie any more. It belongs to the audience.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screenwriting or film producing?
Any answer here involving general philosophy would be cliché. As for me, despite having been warned by close friends, teachers, professors, countless books, professionals, and my own failures, I still went ahead. So, go ahead. Make ‘em.
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