A Long-Buried Secret, Once Revealed, Rattles '45 Years' Of Marriage Director Andrew Haigh's new film profiles a couple suddenly forced to reassess their decades-long union. "It's always interesting to me how we keep secrets from the ones we love the most," he says.

A Long-Buried Secret, Once Revealed, Rattles '45 Years' Of Marriage

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Andrew Haigh, directed the new British film, "45 Years," which is nominated for best film and best director by the London Critics' Circle. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association voted the film's star, Charlotte Rampling, best actress. Andrew Haigh also directed the film "Weekend," about two men who fall in love but have only one weekend together. Haigh also was the show-runner for the HBO series, "Looking," about a group of gay friends in San Francisco. Haigh adapted "45 Years" from a short story. The film stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a couple preparing for their 45th anniversary party when he gets a letter about the discovery of the body of the woman he loved when he was a young man. Decades ago, they had been hiking in the mountains of Switzerland when she fell to her death into a glacial fissure. Her body was unreachable. He'd met his wife a few months after his girlfriend's death and never told her about his former love. The letter leaves the husband thinking about his younger self. The wife feels betrayed. The uncovering of this long-kept secret has challenged her fundamental assumptions about their marriage. In this scene, it's the night before their anniversary party. And she's telling him how they will carry on and proceed with the anniversary celebration.


CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) All I want now is for you to - just to come to the party tomorrow.

TOM COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) Of course I'm going to come.

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) And I really need you to want to be there.

COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) Yes, I do want to be there.

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) Because it's one thing me knowing I haven't been enough for you. It's something altogether different that everyone else feels it too.

COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) You really believe you haven't been enough for me?

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) No, I think I was enough for you. I'm just not sure you do.

COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) Oh, Kate, that's terrible.

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) Have you taken your pills today?

COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) No.

RAMPLING: (As Kate Mercer) Then I'm going to get them. And then we're going to have dinner. And then we're going to go to bed. And then we're going to get up. And we'll try and start again.

COURTENAY: (As Geoff Mercer) OK, Kate. I can do that. We can do that. I promise.

GROSS: Andrew Haigh, welcome to FRESH AIR. You cast Charlotte Rampling in the leading role. And she's just transfixing to look at. I mean, she's always been a beautiful actress, but there's something I find especially interesting when a beautiful actress has aged without plastic surgery or at least with a minimal amount. I don't know if she's had any or not, but her face looks like an authentic face. So many beautiful women aren't allowed to or don't allow themselves to age in that way. And I guess I'm interested in your take on what it's like to gaze at her for a long time in a movie because you had to do that for a long time as the director, directing her and then looking at all of your takes - 'cause I should say so much of the movie is about her face. There's not, like, that much dialogue in this film. A lot of it is watching her face, watching her facial reaction to these little bits of information that she's learning that accumulate to something very life-changing.

ANDREW HAIGH: Yeah, I mean, I could watch her all day. She does have just an incredible face. And I think it's so interesting what she does. It's like she, like, draws you closer and closer to you as you're watching. And she, like, asks you to look at her. She, like, wants you to look at her. And there's so much - it's like a symphony going on behind those eyes. But then, just as you're about to get close, she just gently kind of pushes you away. And I love that. It's a really, like, subtle, interesting thing. But I think on screen, it's just incredible. You feel like you know her, but you don't truly know her. And I love that about her. And you're right about, like, she has absolutely grown old very, very gracefully. And she hasn't had surgery. And you can't say that for many people of her age. Now, admittedly, she's always been a very beautiful woman. So I think it helps. But I find it so sad that people force themselves to look younger. I could never make this film with someone that had had work done to the extent that they don't look like themselves anymore. It's a very strange thing to me. And I think, you know, I look at Charlotte and Tom, and they are both just beautiful. And part of their beauty is their age. It is that experience on their face. It is the fact they've got wrinkles. You know, you just have to look at both of their - you know, Tom and Charlotte's eyes, and there is still so much, like, life and sparkle and excitement behind those eyes. And that's what kind of matters I think.

GROSS: There's a scene in "45 Years" where the characters, played by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay - and they're a couple in their, I don't know, late 60s or 70s - where they're having sex in what is probably the first time in a long time. And he can't finish. It doesn't - it doesn't work for him. And what I'm wondering is have you screened this with different audiences? And what is their reaction during that scene? 'Cause I think some audiences - I would imagine some audiences would get very uncomfortable by the idea of older people having sex. Now, you don't - it's not like you're watching them naked, actually. You know, and - you're seeing their faces. But I just remember seeing a movie where a middle-aged actress - I won't say who - was, I think she was kissing someone or she took off her top or something, and there was this cackling in the audience. Like, oh, that's hilarious, someone in, like, their 40s (laughter) - ha, having a body, ha ha, and maybe having sex. That's just disgusting and hilarious. Have you witnessed anything like that? I hope not.

HAIGH: I haven't, thank - but I don't sit in on many screenings, so luckily I don't. But I do actually think that - you know, I've done a lot of Q&A's. And, you know, I've been to a lot of kind of post-screenings. And a lot of people really respond to that and especially people who aren't, you know, 22 anymore. They are pleased that there is a sex scene that involves people that are older on the screen. And they, like, respond to that. And so I think that's really good. I'm sure there will be some younger people that'll be like, oh, we don't want to see that; it's awkward. And to me, that's just their own fear of getting older themselves and terrified that, you know, their own body is going to fail them, and they're going to get older. And they're going to, you know, going to be changing in terms of what they want sexually. But I find that sex scene so important. Like, I feel like sex on screen is so odd and so strange. And sex in a relationship is about reconnecting. You know, that's what it becomes about. It's about you saying to your partner, I still like you, and you still like me. Let's reconnect in this moment. And that's what that scene is about, which is why I kind of really love it so much. It's about the two of them trying to reconnect. And I suppose the sadness of that is that they can't reconnect in that moment because it doesn't, you know, work out as they wanted it to.

GROSS: You've made it very difficult for this couple because at the same time they're having this kind of crisis, it's their 45th anniversary party they're about to have. It's a public event where everybody's celebrating their union. And this is something that you added from the story. There is no anniversary party in the story. How did you think of adding that?

HAIGH: I certainly liked the idea that there is, like, essentially, like, a very quiet ticking bomb that goes along the - kind of the story of the week. So we feel like we're building up to something. There's this kind of tension. But I also just love this kind of notion that, you know, those wedding anniversary parties or weddings or things are such public displays of showing the world your relationship, of showing the world who you are. And I love that kind of contradiction, that they're - that she knows that she has to get up there and show the world how happy she is. But underneath, in her private life, it's all kind of falling apart. And she's having these doubts and fears, and everything is kind of changing. And I love that kind of contradiction between - and that conflict between our public and private selves. And I think it's something that I've tried to, like, explore in a lot of my work. And I find it just really fascinating.

GROSS: Because the husband, Geoff - because his girlfriend from, you know, decades ago fell into this fissure, basically, of a glacier and was frozen over there, it's like his whole memory of her is frozen as it was - like, frozen in place. He's gotten older; she's remained exactly the same, frozen, literally frozen in the past. Making this movie, did you think a lot about how memory can kind of stay the same while you age? Do you know what I mean? Like, the past remains encased, in a way, while time moves on.

HAIGH: Yeah, I think it definitely does. I think it's amazing how those, like, moments of our lives, they can be painful, or they can be joyous or they can be whatever they are. But they become like solidified in a moment. And they can lodge themselves in your brain. And they stay like that. Even if it's not the entirely kind of truthful about the event, they stay as some kind of weird thing in our brains. And they kind of linger. And they come back when you least expect it. And I think also what's so strange about memories is it brings yourself back to that period. And it makes you kind of realize who you were at that point. And I think for Geoff, for example, it's less even about this woman and this girl that he loved but about who he was at that point and what he wanted his life to be and how - you know, having to live a life. Having not to be frozen in the ice, you have to compromise. And you have to make decisions. And you have to make choices, and your life becomes something different.

GROSS: So I - you know, I was wondering, this is a couple who's, you know, a few decades older than you are. And it's the first film that I'm aware of that you've made of people who are older. They're in their late 60s or 70s. And what did you have to think about to imagine what their lives were like toward the end of life, when you're just approaching middle-age?

HAIGH: I kind of, to be honest, didn't really think about it. I tried not to think, OK, how would I feel or how is someone going to feel when they're, like, 60 or 70 or approaching kind of, you know, the latter stages of their lives - 'cause I kind of feel like as people, we fundamentally don't change. You know, we get older, and we get more wrinkles. But fundamentally, we stay the same. And I think your kind of core is probably set much, much earlier than you think. I think mine was probably set when I was about 8 or something (laughter). And you stay relatively the same person. You know, you have the same, like, fears and doubts and concerns and dreams and passions and all those kind of things. So I feel like you don't change as much as you think you do. So I just wrote these characters as if they were in their 40s. Like, I didn't try and think about it too much. And I think both Tom and Charlotte found that very refreshing, reading the script. They felt like they finally had read a script that showed older people as, like, fully functioning people that still had, you know, a psychology and an idea of what their life is and were still asking questions and, like, looking for the answers.

GROSS: Still, did it make you think about what your life might be like when you reach that age?

HAIGH: Yeah, I'm kind of really obsessed by getting older. I'm, like, not scared about it at all. I think a lot of people seem to be very scared of getting older. Apart from things like illness, which I'm terrified of, that I'll die (laughter). And I am terrified of death. But still, actually getting older doesn't scare me. I like the idea of getting older. I feel like the older I get, the more kind of comfortable I'm going to be in my own skin. So I kind of look forward to that rather than kind of fear it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Haigh. He wrote and directed the new film "45 Years," starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Haigh. He wrote and directed the new film "45 Years," starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. And he also wrote and directed the movie "Weekend" and is the showrunner for the HBO series "Looking."

So your movie "45 Years" takes place over the course of a week while this couple is preparing for their 45th anniversary party. Your previous film "Weekend" is about two men who meet at a club, spend much of the weekend together, kind of fall in love, but one of them is scheduled to leave at the end of the weekend for the United States. This is set in England. He's leaving for the United States to take a two-year art school program. And part of what this movie is about is that they're both incredibly honest with each other in a way that you can tell neither of them is really used to being. And in fact the artist who's going to the United States to study art, he has a little recording device and a microphone, and he tells this other man, who he started this relationship with, that he's going to basically interview him about the previous night, about this first night that they've had sex together. And he's going to record it for an art project. And this other guy isn't really into the arts. He's a lifeguard at the local indoor swimming pool. But he goes along with it. And I want to play a scene - a clip from a scene. This is this clip where the artist is explaining why he wants to record this man who he's just started this relationship with.


CHRIS NEW: (As Glen) Well, you know what it's like when you first sleep with someone you don't know?

TOM CULLEN: (As Russell) Yes.

NEW: (As Glen) It's - you're like the canvas, blank canvas. And it gives you an opportunity to project onto that canvas who you want to be. And that's what's interesting, 'cause everybody does it.

CULLEN: (As Russell) So, do you think that I did it?

NEW: (As Glen) 'Course you did. Well, what happens is, while you're projecting who you want to be, this gap opens up between who you want to be and who you really are. And in that gap, it shows you what's stopping you becoming who you want to be.

CULLEN: (As Russell) And all of this from talking about sex?

NEW: (As Glen) And all of that from talking about sex.

CULLEN: (As Russell) Interesting. I like it. I'm not sure that I totally understand what you're saying, but...

NEW: (As Glen) Yeah, all this sounds better in my head. I don't think I've explained...

CULLEN: (As Russell) No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm interested. I'm really interested. So what are you going to do? Are you just going to play the recordings out loud? Or you're going to have photographs?

NEW: (As Glen) I don't know. I don't know. The problem is that no one's going to come and see it because it's about gay sex. So the gays will only come because they want a glimpse of a [expletive] and they'll be...

And the straights won't come because, well, it's got nothing to do with their world.

CULLEN: (As Russell) They'll go and see pictures of refugees or murder or rape, but gay sex? [Expletive].

GROSS: OK, that's a scene from Andrew Haigh's movie "Weekend." So, getting to the first part of that clip - do you think part of the pleasure of being with someone new is the pleasure of telling your stories to someone who's not tired of them and writing the version of yourself that you want to be?

HAIGH: Absolutely. I think it's a really exciting moment when you meet someone else because you really can choose and be selective about what you want to tell them. And, you know, I think we're all constantly trying to be a certain thing, trying to be a certain person. And when you meet someone, you really get that opportunity. You know, you can tell them, these are the things that have affected me in my life. This is the thing that's important to me. This is what I want. And it can forge a relationship in that moment. And it can blossom from that moment. And you can - you know, it can help you become the person you want to be if done rightly at that moment.

GROSS: And he says, you know, old friends won't let you be anyone but an old version of yourself. I'm trying to redraw myself. Did you go through that? And did you have to, like, leave home to become the person you knew yourself to be?

HAIGH: Yeah, I think I had to do it a few times really. I mean, I had to do it when I, you know, first, you know, came out and decided to be open about my sexuality. And I didn't do that until I was quite - it was quite old. It was like 24, 25, so it took a long time. So there was a big version of me that people knew that wasn't that. It was someone that had girlfriends and all that kind of thing. So I had to kind of challenge that. And then even with, like, filmmaking, like, I never want to film school when I was young. I went to university, studied history. It was like no one thought that it was something I wanted to do, so I had to kind of do that as well. So I think constantly you're trying to, like, reassess what you want. And some of your closest friends are like, well, wait, hold up, that's not the person I know. Even now it's hard for, like, some of my friends to read interviews when I talk about my past, and they're like, really? I don't remember that about your past. I think it's strange for people that know you like that.

GROSS: The idea of recording someone who you've just spent the night with and asking them to recount what happened the night before, where did that idea come from in this?

HAIGH: I think it came from, like, a mixture of things. I remember reading somewhere about some guy that had done it, and then, you know, I had used my own kind of personal experience. I kind of met people in the past who would, like, very, you know, openly asking a lot of questions. And I just find it really interesting, like, that the Glen character asked those questions - suddenly realizes that to get the most out of this relationship, even in this moment, and to understand this guy who's quite shy, he really needs to push him. And I think I love that about it. I think it shows that he's actually quite interested in him. He wants to force something out of him. He wants to force his - himself to be, you know, kind of more open and free.

GROSS: I did read that you kept a list of men that you slept with. And my question is, was the list encrypted?

HAIGH: Do you know what? I've lost that list now. I'm so depressed about it. It was on one of my old computers, and I didn't save it, and I haven't got it. And I don't think it was encrypted. That list is somewhere in storage or in a landfill site somewhere. But I did. For a long time, I kept, you know, religiously, like, I would - after I met someone, I would go home and I would write something about them. Yeah, and I did that for all the people that I had met in those days.

GROSS: Why did you do that?

HAIGH: I don't know really. I suppose it was me trying to make sense of it, trying to make sense of what I wanted from a relationship. And even though I was, you know, meeting a lot of people, I knew that I had - that's what I was looking for. I was looking for a relationship, you know, even if I wasn't necessarily finding it. And so I think it was just a way for me to understand that and understand how I felt. And, you know, it's very strange when you're in the closet for such a long time and then you do come out. And then suddenly there's all these, like, gay people. And you expect them to be one thing and they're not. They're so different than what you expect. And I found that very interesting.

GROSS: You know, a theme both in your movie "Weekend" and in the HBO series "Looking" is the different levels of outness that people have. And sometimes two people are forming a relationship and one's, like, much more public about being out than the other. And that can lead to a lot of friction in terms of what you tell family, how you behave in public, how you behave around friends, who are your friends. Since you didn't come out until you were 24 or 25, I could easily imagine that having been a thing for you, that you would have been with men who were out much younger and much more comfortable about being out than you maybe initially were.

HAIGH: Yeah, I mean, the weird thing is I wasn't with any man until I was around that age, so prior to that I hadn't had any kind of relationship at all with a man. So when I came out, I quite quickly embraced it and quite quickly came out to everybody. It took me so long for such a long time to be able to tell people. And it was very, very painful for a long, long time. And then once I did it, I was so relieved that it actually became, you know, much, much easier for me from that point. But still, you know, I would meet other people that weren't out, and they hadn't told their parents. And, you know, I'd been in relationships with people that had only just told their parents by the time they were like 28. And I do think it's very, very difficult for a lot of people, you know, especially telling parents. Even though now we live in a society where it's so much more accepting and, you know, there's so much more equality, it's still a very difficult thing to tell, you know, the people that are closest to you. And I think in a weird way that relates to "45 Years," too. It's this, like, you can be so close to someone but still there is something that you can't express. You can't tell them because it's just almost, like, too painful and too hard for you to articulate yourself because you don't fully understand it. And so I think it's always interesting to me how we keep secrets from the ones we love the most.

GROSS: My guest is director Andrew Haigh. His new film is called "45 Years." We'll talk about his work as the showrunner for the HBO series "Looking," about a group of gay friends in San Francisco, after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Andrew Haigh. He directed the new film "45 Years" starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a couple about to celebrate their 45th anniversary when a long-kept secret challenges the wife's assumptions about the marriage. Haigh also directed the 2011 film "Weekend," about two men who meet at a club and fall in love but have only one weekend together.

So you were the showrunner of the HBO series "Looking" about a group of gay friends in San Francisco. And the HBO TV series is over. You wrote and directed many of the episodes, and now there's going to be a kind of wrap-up movie that you wrote and directed.

So let's talk a little bit about "Looking." It's basically an ensemble series, but the main character, I think, is Patrick a video game designer who's, I think, around 29 when the series starts. He's played by Jonathan Groff who's now in Broadway in "Hamilton" (laughter) playing King George. And so - I just want to play a scene from the first episode. And in this scene, Patrick has been invited to his ex-boyfriend's bachelor party, which strikes him as a little weird, and he's talking to his two friends about whether he should go.


JONATHAN GROFF: (As Patrick) I just think it's really weird to invite your ex-boyfriend to your bachelor party, right?

FRANKIE ALVAREZ: (As Agustin) Are you kidding me? The fact that they're even having a joint one is so horrible...


ALVAREZ: (As Agustin) ...I don't even know where to start.

GROFF: (As Patrick) I think the only reason that he invited me is because he thought I wasn't actually going show up, which kind of makes me want to show up, to show him that I'm totally fine with the fact that he's getting married, even though it kind of makes me feel a little weird.

BARTLETT: (As Dom) Why do you even care? You dumped him.

GROFF: (as Patrick) I know. I know we broke up for a reason, but, you know, things are complicated, and yes...

ALVAREZ: (As Agustin) Yeah, the reason was because he was boring.

GROFF: (As Patrick) Yeah.

BARTLETT: (As Dom) Exactly.

GROFF: (As Patrick) I know that he was boring. But now he met Gabe and four months later they're getting married? How does that even happen?

BARTLETT: (As Dom) Was he hot?

GROFF: (As Patrick) Is Gabe hot?

BARTLETT: (As Dom) Yeah.

GROFF: (As Patrick) He's a little portly...


GROFF: (As Patrick) ...Which is not an insult.

BARTLETT: (As Dom) Oh, my god, you son of a [expletive].

ALVAREZ: (As Agustin) Yeah, right.

GROFF: (As Patrick) It's not an insult, no. He's a very sweet guy. He's just slightly round.


GROFF: (As Patrick) They've been posting pictures of themselves on Facebook to show how proud they are that they're getting engaged, and it makes me nauseous, but I can't stop looking. So if I go to this party, one of you is coming with me.

GROSS: That's the scene from "Looking." So Andrew Haigh, when you started doing "Looking," what did you want to show in this series?

HAIGH: Yeah, I mean, the show was created by Michael Lannan, who - they kind of contacted me in the kind of early days when it was at HBO. And they were thinking of, you know, putting it onto the air, and I came out, and I met him. And we talked a lot about it, and I think it was just about trying to show just a - how complicated it is for these people to work out what they want. You know, and I think for Patrick especially, it's just a story about a character trying to be happy. It's as simple as that. He is really just trying to work out what he needs to do to be happy. You know - how he can develop a relationship, how he can sort out his work life, how he can sort out his friendships - to be happy. And I think it's just following those kind of complications.

And it wasn't about making some grand statement about this is what it means to be gay. It was just about - this is what it means for these three people. And it isn't just about the fact that they're gay. It's about a lot of other things, but being gay obviously factors (laughter) in to a lot of their - parts of their lives. And so it was just really trying to do, like, a character-based story really.

GROSS: Do you think that in some ways gay culture had a chance to, like, rewrite a lot of the rules since it was outside of, you know, heteronormative culture, if I can use that word, and therefore, that gay people have had to ask themselves questions that straight people maybe didn't ask the same degree? Like, is marriage necessary? Is monogamy necessary? Is a non-monogamous relationship an inherent threat to a long-term relationship? Did you feel that when you came out that everything - there were questions you otherwise wouldn't have had, questions that you've kind of given your characters over the years?

HAIGH: I think so, but I also think that being gay, you're kind of forced to ask kind of, I suppose, very existential questions from a very, very early age. Your identity become so important to you because you're trying to understand it. And I think from, you know, the age of, like, 9, you're being forced to, like, ask questions of you that other kids maybe don't have to ask.

They're like - why am I feeling different? Why do I feel like an outsider? Why do I not fit in?

And I think you keep asking those questions. And then when you do come out, it's a lot of people that have all been outsiders, and then they do want to, like, make up their own rules, I suppose a little a bit. They feel like they can make up their own rules.

But again, I do feel like it's changing again. I feel like there's so much more acceptance now that those people are coming out earlier. They're not having to have those big questions as much anyway, so I think it is changing again. I think, you know, in another five, 10 years, it will be completely different again.

And I also think the gay community is so - like, I remember coming out and thinking, oh my God, finally. There's going to be a whole community that understands me. And then you come out and within about two weeks you realize (laughter) - it doesn't.


HAIGH: And, you know, you - I remember being quite shocked by the fact that I felt, actually, just as much of an outsider within the gay community as I did the, like, non-gay community. Like, I think the gay community's made up of so many different things, different parts, different people. There's not one - some overall feeling of what it is. I think that can be quite hard for people. You know, you think you're - you've found your, like, tribe, but actually that isn't your tribe and then you have to keep searching for what kind of makes sense.

GROSS: Did you find a tribe?

HAIGH: I don't know (laughter). I think I've maybe tried to find my tribe within relationship, I suppose, more than anything else. I feel like I've definitely always wanted to find, you know, someone or somebody or a group of people that kind of, I feel like, understand me and what it is that I want to do. And I understand them. And I think, in the end for me, it's probably come through relationship rather than finding, like, a tribe of people.

GROSS: Are you in a long-term relationship now?

HAIGH: I am, yes, yes. Ten years now, yeah.

GROSS: But not 45 like in your movie (laughter)?

HAIGH: (Laughter) Not 45 years, no. That's a scary thought for me. That's longer than I've been alive.

GROSS: Being of a different class from somebody who you're seeing, you know, from a new boyfriend - I think that's a bit of a theme both in "Looking" and in "Weekend." And I'm just wondering if you think that people of different classes may be - or even of different ethnic groups or races - perhaps come together more in, like, the gay subculture because it is a culture that has traditionally been marginalized - not so much now - so that people of different types who are defined by being gay - at least defined by the outside world by being gay - are kind of brought together in the subculture and have this kind of inherent common bond that maybe trumps anything that might separate them.

HAIGH: A hundred percent - I mean, that's exactly what it is. And I remember, you know, coming out. The school I went to was basically loads of middle-class white people (laughter). And then you come out, and you start going out on the gay scene, and it's incredibly diverse - classes, ethnicities. You're right. What brought you together was the fact that you were an outsider because you were gay, not you're an outsider for your, like, you know, ethnicity or, you know, from whatever your class might be. And it was really, like - I remember going to, like, my first kind of gay club and walking in and being, like, overwhelmed by it almost and being so excited that it felt like oh, my God, there's - everybody has come together in this moment. And class did not become important. And England is incredibly, you know, class-ridden and in a really, really unpleasant way. And I felt like within the kind of gay community, it didn't become important anymore.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Haigh. He wrote and directed the new film "45 Years." He wrote the film and directed the film "Weekend" and was the showrunner on the HBO series "Looking."

Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Andrew Haigh. He wrote and direct the new film "45 Years," starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Cortenay as a couple celebrating - about to celebrate their 45th anniversary. Something surprising happens - is revealed that causes them to re-evaluate their 45 years together. Andrew Haigh also wrote and directed the film "Weekend" and was the showrunner for the HBO series "Looking."

Your first movie is called "Greek Pete." Tell us something about that.

HAIGH: Yeah, that was a film that I made, basically, out of frustration of not being able to make anything and wanting to do something. And it's basically - I suppose you'd call it a docudrama about gay male escorts in London. And I remember thinking about making it, and I just wanted to find something that was completely out of my comfort zone (laughter) that I could throw myself into, that wouldn't cost any money and would just be, like, an interesting thing to explore. And I basically contacted and met some male escorts, and I kind of followed them for a year - every now and then, couple of weekends a month - and filmed them and, like, created a kind of story around that.

GROSS: Did you film them with paying customers?

HAIGH: We essentially re-enacted moments from their experience.

GROSS: OK, because I can't imagine that they'd gladly sign a release form (laughter).

HAIGH: No. I mean, it was a strange film to make. It was like, you know, when I met the main guy in the film, a guy called Pete, you know, he didn't want it to be a straight documentary, which I completely understood. It was about kind of showing a version of his life. And so things were kind of recreated, but all the kind of conversations that he had with his friends and his boyfriend in the film were all just, like, their real lives. So it was kind of a hybrid drama/documentary.

GROSS: How did you find him?

HAIGH: I put an advert on a website, and, like, two people got back to me. And he was one of them. And I found him just such a, like, fascinating person. He was, like, he had absolutely no shame at all in what he did. And in a strange sense, he was, like, proud of what he did. And he was, like, look I want do well in the world. I want to make some money. I want to do something that I feel I'm good at, and I'm good at this. And this is what I'm going to do. And it was a strange experience. I, like, had preconceived ideas of what a male escort would be like, and he wasn't that. And so it was very interesting. You just kind of - yeah, just being with him and watching him.

GROSS: What did your ad say?

HAIGH: I think it said - looking for male escort to make a film. I think that was about it, like, a non-sex-based film (laugh).

GROSS: Did you say non-sex-based? Because I would absolutely think it was a porn film.

HAIGH: Yeah, I definitely made it clear that it wasn't a porn film. And then I, like, you know, interviewed them. They came out to my house. And I remember my boyfriend was, like - really? (Laughter) This is what you're doing? You're having escorts coming around to your house at lunchtime to have a chat about things? And I was like yeah. It's going to be great.

And I think most people thought I was crazy for doing the film. But, you know, I think it's a - for me, you know, it got a very, very small release in the U.K. And, you know, it had a mixed response, but I'm, like, very kind of proud of that film. I think it - to me, knowing Pete, it feels like a very kind of truthful look at his life. And so yeah, I think it was a good experience.

GROSS: So because you've made, like, three gay-themed things - you know two movies and the TV series "Looking" - did people - were people who followed your career surprised that you just did a film "45 Years" that's about a straight couple?

HAIGH: I think some people were surprised. I think some people were a little bit kind of disappointed. I remember being at a party and telling someone about this story, and they were like - so who's gay in it? And I'm like no, nobody's gay. They're, like, what - so he's - the husband's not gay secretly? And I'm like nobody's gay in it.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HAIGH: (Laughter) And they were like - oh. Like I'd turned my back on, like, the gay, kind of, film community for not making something that was gay. I mean, for me, it was never a conscious decision to say I have to do something non-gay for my career because, as I say before, I came across a story before "Weekend" had even come out, and I knew it was something I really wanted do. And, you know - but, I think, for other people, it's - they very, you know - they want to put you in a little box and know - OK, he's that filmmaker. And even now, I've done this film, and it's, like, OK, he's the filmmaker that does films about relationship. Like, you know, people always like to put you in, like, a little kind of box. And I understand that. You know, I think we're all trying to, like, parcel out the world to understand it a bit better, so I don't mind it.

GROSS: You started your career working with Ridley Scott as an editor on blockbusters like "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down." How did you get to work with Ridley Scott?

HAIGH: Well, the weird thing is I was, like, an assistant editor, which - it always sounds. People always come up to me and say, oh, you edited "Gladiator." I'm like no (laughter). I was, like, an apprentice editor that, like, sunk up some dailies and made coffee. Like, that's the truth of a lot of those jobs.

But I was an assistant editor for quite a long time. I wasn't a very good one. Most of the time, I was unemployed, but it was basically how I was making my money and the films I was working on. And it was a really interesting environment to be part of. You know, and - you know, working on those big films then I worked on some smaller films. I worked on Harmony Karine's "Mister Lonely" that was really interesting to work on. And just seeing that kind of process, seeing the decisions that directors make, seeing the decisions that editors make, seeing what's shot and how much, you know, how much stuff is shot that you just really do not need, you know, to tell the story. It certainly kind of focused my interest.

GROSS: Were you on set for any of the "Gladiator" scenes?

HAIGH: I used to have to go - yeah, I went to Malta, so I was there on set for when they're doing all the, like, the big, like, arena things. And I used to go down on set and show, like, the dailies to the crew when they were filming in England. So it was me, terrified little apprentice editor, sitting at the back with a little projector, like, loading up the rolls of film - because it was still on film in those days to project on - to like 30 people of the crew just watching it. And it was, like - my hands were, like, shaking. I was, like terrified.

But the set is like a town. It's like a city. They built a city. You know, and there was - I remember going to the, like, craft service and getting something to eat. And there was an elephant, like, just passing by.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HAIGH: Like, it's so crazy (laughter). And there's, like, six cameras. And there's so many, like, people and hundreds and hundreds of extras. And I mean, it amazes me. I think Ridley Scott's an incredible director. Like, it amazes me how anybody can wrangle that and make something within that environment with all of that chaos and noise and everything. It's kind of incredible.

GROSS: And your films are kind of the opposite. They're basically people talking to each other.

HAIGH: (Laughter) Yeah, that's true. It's definitely like I've definitely gone the opposite way. I mean, I suppose they're the films that I like. I mean, I like all kinds films, but I do like to watch those kind of films. And, you know, I think, for me, my films are about me just trying to kind of try and express how I see the world.

GROSS: Did working as an assistant editor help you to edit in your mind before you actually shoot so that you know what you're going for?

HAIGH: Yeah, definitely. And it was also, like, you know, I've - you know, a lot of the times in an edit, people will cut, you know, within, like, a dialogue scene for emotional effect. And I - when I was editing, I would always look at the master scene between, like, two people in a room, and I would want to stay on that. I don't want to go into all those close-ups, and I've stuck with that in my work. And I love being able to see, like, emotional transitions between characters happen in front of my eyes. I don't want them to be forced by a cut every time. I want to see it unfold. And I think, especially in relationship movies, I want to see them both in the frame. I want to see their body language. I want to see how they interact. So it was definitely about, like, trying to find a visual way to kind of, you know, tell my stories in the kind of simplest but most effective way.

GROSS: Are your parents still alive?

HAIGH: Yes, they are.

GROSS: Do they go see your films?

HAIGH: They do. My mom is like an insane, like, crazy fan. I think she's seen "45 Years," like, about 25 times...

GROSS: (Laughter).

HAIGH: ...Which is lovely but also kind of exhausting. And she reads everything all the time and listens to everything. And my dad - you know, they both come and see my films. I made a big point of when "Greek Pete" was shown, which is, you know, it's a...

GROSS: Your movie about male escorts, yeah.

HAIGH: ...Sexually explicit film, about my movie about male escorts. And it's an explicit film. And I, you know, I had probably only, like, been out for, like, six years or something. But I made them all come to the cinema to watch it, sitting on the same row as the escorts that were in the film. And it was a really important moment for me. It was like saying, OK, look guys - this is what I am (laughter). This is, like, the kind of movies I'm interested in making. So, you know, this is what you have to expect. And they were, you know, they were great. And they watched it, and, you know, they enjoyed it. And they chatted to the guys afterwards. And - but it was a good turning point. It was when I finally felt like - OK, I can actually tell authentic stories and not hide them.

GROSS: Well, Andrew Haigh, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

HAIGH: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Andrew Haigh directed the new film "45 years" about a couple preparing for their 45th anniversary celebration when a long-kept secret is revealed. Here's a song that figures into the film, The Platters's version of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."


THE PLATTERS: (Singing) They asked me how I knew my true love was true. I of course replied something here inside cannot be denied. They said someday you'll find all who love are blind. When your heart's on fire, you must realize smoke gets in your eyes.

GROSS: After we take a short break, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review the reissue of the Kenny Barron album "At The Piano." This is FRESH AIR.

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