Photograph by Hugh O’Connor
When Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) meets Victor on the dance floor of a Liverpool nightclub, the attraction is instant. After wandering through the night they find themselves at her flat, making love with a passion and urgency that neither had experienced before. Both Kelly and Victor are struggling to get by as best they can, while the people around them are choosing illegal lifestyles; she is escaping a brutish former lover, while he is being dragged into a world of drugs. It’s when they make love that their darker instincts take over.
Kelly + Victor is a raw, compelling, passionate love story. Susan Leahy sat down with Antonia Campbell-Hughes to discuss her role in Kieran Evans’ film, which is released in cinemas 20th September 2013.
I saw the film on last week you come across as though the film is made for you. How did you come to play the role of Kelly? Oh, and your accent was brilliant.
Thanks. It’s funny, when I first read the script I was very drawn to the character. I read the book and was aware that I couldn’t do a Scouse accent and that Liverpool was such a part of these people and I thought that because of the following of the book and the integrity of the writer, Niall Griffith, who was so involved with the project, that I didn’t stand a chance of getting the role.
I’m a complete obsessive when it comes to being true. I’m an adopted Irish American person in the UK, not a true Brit, never mind Liverpudlian, but the second I walked in the room and I met Kieran Evans, the director, he felt I was the person for the job immediately. It furthered my interest in the role – that he was able to discard surface and could focus on the intensity and energy and soul of the character and hold that as key.
It really comes across that you trusted him, not just the sex scenes but because of the way he filmed it. There had to be a real trust there?
He kind of bowled me over all the time. The thing is, I don’t think anything is black and white in any walk of life but I think there’s beauty and integrity and art in every arena and there’s saccharine in every walk of arts or the media, so when it comes to nudity and sex scenes in the vast majority of film and television it’s handled quite crassly and that’s because sex sells and money makes films and television and we all buy into a bit – I’m guilty of it too. I don’t necessarily want to make it. So when it came to nudity there was this, ‘oh, you can’t do that, it would be horrible’, but I knew Kieran was someone who would handle it well. For him, everything is valid; everything he does has purpose, and I kind of picked that up from him from our first meeting. The way he spoke about it, there was a respect and trust there, and he’s truthful. That’s how I like to approach my work; everything has to be 100% truth. If you don’t believe in it why would anyone else?
What is different and what was interesting about the sex scenes, and the reason I don’t find them shocking, is because it wasn’t very voyeuristic. You feel like you are in it with them, the two people, Kelly and Victor. They’re not role-playing; it’s not dubbed on S&M nonsense – not that it’s nonsense – but for them it would be, it would just be too glamorous almost. It’s a leap. It’s as though they are finding something that they don’t have labels for or names for. They are just existing very much in the moment in their encapsulated bubble. And when we were filming it Kieran was in that bubble.
I felt that the way he cuts between the sex and the conversation, that really, from the audience’s perspective, takes the voyeuristic element out of it. It becomes part of their conversation as opposed to their sex?
Exactly, myself and Kieran talked about it a lot and again what really resonated with me was the chemistry between everybody and it’s not like this glamorous fairytale thing. That’s the beauty of it – they are people whose lives maybe aren’t fantastic and they’ve had pasts littered with mess and awkwardness and maybe they have very simple jobs or not but it doesn’t really matter. It’s when they come together that there is that kind of almost euphoric drug-like blindness where the world disappears and all that matters is what’s happening; the energy between them. It doesn’t really matter if it’s love or lust or friendship. It’s like a chemistry crackling. It’s like a time bubble, and so in order to get that across in the film you have to sort of disappear into that.
I don’t want to be all hippy about it but it was a really enjoyable shoot because it was kind of like participating in a magical moment in this person’s life. In terms of shooting the sex scenes we went into a room for a week and we had conversations about what was needed to be caught on camera for logistics because there is a certain way that they choreograph their own sexual playout. Like it’s only a game; it’s a thing but there is a rhythm to it that they discover. I don’t think it’s manicured or orchestrated. So we went into a room and just shot and shot and shot. Kieran was just literally beside me, with a little monitor, and he would almost sometimes even move us physically apart and not break or interrupt something, like if there was a boom or something in the frame he would just push it out. There was an organic constant in that week of shooting.
The film also comes across as a contemplative criticism, if that’s the right word, of modern culture of modern society. How do you feel about the film’s portrayal of women?
It’s interesting, something I struggled with and we talked about it a lot… it’s like, how do you show Kelly’s strengths without making her too dominant? If she’s callous, if you show her weakness, then she’s just another revenge-seeking girl. Then there’s also that neurotic crazy girl stigma. This is something I was constantly questioning – asking how do we find the balance?
The way I was watching it, she comes across as somebody who’s not that into sadomasochism. She couldn’t really hit the guy for money, stuff like that. It’s more as if she can’t receive, as if she has been so destroyed by life that she can’t receive physical love?
I know. It’s like if you kick a dog it’s going to bark and bite whenever a human comes near. There is a comparison I suppose, people find hurt I guess. I think a lot about the work I do. I don’t just do it. Maybe I think too much? At the end of the day the film is a collaborative process of all kinds of factors. Your performance is only one thing and what I did love about Kieran is we talked about all these things a lot.
Sometimes great roles for women are horrible women.
I kind of saw her and Victor as gender interchangeable, the tender heart-bearing soul one is Victor; he almost takes on the Eve role.
He’s the garden and nature, she’s the city?
I just saw them as two lost souls who are in want of closeness striving to connect, but can’t find away to tap into that. Sometimes people say they have to feel pain to feel they have found something because there is this callous layer and it’s also like a self protection.
You put so much preparation into really getting inside a character . I know you’re an actress but how do you come back to your self afterwards? Is there something that you do? Do you have a ritual after you make a film?
The thing is its not like I have a way or a method of doing things, it’s certain roles that demand a level of responsibility, or require you to be in a quiet place, Kelly + Victor was very different. It was such a short amount of time on screen. It was done at a much faster pace so it’s just down to the material – it’s not like I have my method.
It’s a performance and I want to constantly learn, to change. I’m not the type of person who does an amazing performance and then goes home. I want to keep learning and changing and developing.