Interview: Lesley McKimm, co-producer of ‘Call Girl’



Call Girl is set in the model utopian society of Stockholm in the late ’70s. But under the polished surface lies the reality of underage prostitution in the world of high society. The film tells the story of how young Iris is caught up in this world, recruited from the bottom rung of society, into a ruthless world where power can get you anything.

Deirdre McMahon spoke to Lesley McKimm, one of the Irish co-producers of Call Girl for Dublin-based Newgrange Pictures. 


How did an Irish production company come to be involved in a Swedish film?

The whole notion of European co-production was something that was really encouraged by Simon Perry when he was Chief Executive at the Irish Film Board. Although there were UK/Irish co-productions, he felt that we weren’t really availing of possibilities as much in Europe and he felt very strongly that if we could foster a spirit of reciprocity across countries we could help get each other’s films made. It worked on a project we did called Happy Ever Afters, a romantic comedy that had German money in it. And we in turn put money into a film called Kill Daddy Good Night.

There’s strict things around it in terms of spend in each country and if the Irish Film Board puts money into a “non-Irish film” they look for certain things in return – will it be shot here? Will some of it be post-produced here? What creative elements or crew can be involved in the project? As well as the reciprocity.

I think it was via a Finnish producer who had met with myself and Jackie [Larkin – who runs Newgrange Pictures with Lesley] in Cannes and first put us in touch with Mimmi Spång, a Swedish producer. Mimmi contacted us saying that she had a gap in her finance plan for this film Call Girl and could we do anything. At that stage, she already had a Norwegian co-producer and a Finnish co-producer on board and had money from Northern Sweden. It’s quite complicated – you’re dividing up how you spend  the money in lots of different ways.

We looked at what we could do that would be Irish and the main things really were that we would send a design team across and that we would do the visual post-effects – and we knew they would be substantial enough given that the film was set in the 1970s and Stockholm has changed quite a lot. The Film Board loved the scripts and the directors  and knew this would be good for relations between Newgrange Pictures and Garage in Sweden.

So they were kind of the main cornerstones around which we got involved and the Film Board coming up with money. We also did a small amount of Section 481 on the Irish spend that was here. We then approached Windmill about the effects so they got involved.

They did a terrific job. The look of the film is visually slick.

Yes I think the period detail is incredible and that’s partly the design work; Hoyte Van Hoytema, the cinematographer; and Michael Higgins, the Irish designer on it. And it really looks great. And the director Mikael Marcimain , he’s a real cinephile and he loves those paranoid political American thrillers from the 70s and really wanted to create that atmosphere from films like The Conversation.

What first attracted you to the script?

I suppose at first it was the character of Iris actually. She’s at the heart of the film and her plight; you really feel for here. It’s a tragedy but she’s on this collision course with John the policeman and you know he wants to save her. I thought that was a really strong spine to the film that here was this girl getting completely lost and the knight in shining armour trying to save the day . But of course he can’t and doesn’t. It’s very tragic. I thought that was very strong. The quality of actors in there as well – I’m a fan of Pernilla August – who plays Dagmar [the brothel madam]. She’s amazing in it, playing such a nasty vile character.

The character of Iris leaves a lot for the audience to fill in – it’s not spoon feeding the audience. 

I don’t think the writers style is to explain. It’s quite a dense story in a lot of ways and there’s different strands to the film but at the same time they don’t over explain any of it. Even why Iris’ mother couldn’t cope – they don’t go into a huge backstory with her. So Iris becomes this kind of canvas then on which is painted.

The film juxtaposes the story of Iris with the backing of the political scandal. 

Yes and the worlds collide – the collision of prostitution and corruption and the police and the ideological policeman and the loss of innocence of this girl in the middle of it all.

Interesting that it’s Sweden – a country known for its liberal attitude. It made me think of Lukas Moodysson’s 2000 film Together, which is also set in 1970s Sweden and the people who fall through the cracks. 

Everyone picks up on that – that we hold up Sweden as being liberal – lots of great things happened in the ’70s. Lots of great things still now – we see them as very advanced. And Mikael is aware of that and is saying that actually there is a lot that was wrong in the ’70s as well.

The parties reminded me of the Berlusconi bunga bunga parties!

Totally! It’s still happening…

 What are you working on at the minute?

We’ve gone back to Mimmi with an Irish script and she’s coming on board  as a co-producer so that’s kind of an example of the whole reciprocity and the relationships that Irish producers have with European producers really working.

The project we’re working on is called My Name is Emily by a writer/director called Simon Fitzmaurice with another Irish producer Catherine Kennedy who came to us with it. It’s a teenage road movie. We’re just at the financing stages at the moment.

Simon did a great short called The Sound of People a number of years ago, which went to Sundance. After Sundance he contracted Motor Neuron Disease – so it’s an unusual situation He’s done a ot of work with The Irish Times and he’s incredibly inspiring because the disease has completely incapacitated him – he can only move his eyes. But he hasn’t ever let that stop him from working and writing. He wants to direct My Name is Emily – so we’re hoping to do that early next year.



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