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Interview: Cast and Crew of ‘Elfie Hopkins’

Posted on by Janet Awe

“I love a good flick with tits and guns.” – Jaime Winstone

Jaime Winstone and Ryan Andrews met on the set of Daddy’s Girl, a Welsh thriller she starred in, in 2006. Ryan was a trainee camera assistant and as the youngest people there, they started hanging out together and hit it off after chatting about films. They had found their professional soul mate and were soon talking about collaborating. Jaime has championed Ray ever since. Six years later, their joint feature film, Elfie Hopkins, is now hitting our cinema screens. In it, two wannabe teenage detectives, Elfie and Dylan, become suspicious when the mysterious Gammon family move into their sleepy Welsh village. Here, Ryan gives some insights into his work. Then it’s the turn of Jaime and her co-star, Aneurin Barnard.


You said you wanted Elfie Hopkins to be a mix of British twee and American grunge. What do you mean?

I grew up reading lots of Roald Dahl and watching lots of Hammer Horror. So I wanted a slight fantasy element and also a quirky campness. That’s a bit of British heritage we don’t use a lot in film, instead we tend to show ‘gritty’ Britain. Our fashion photography and a lot of our writing have lots more fantasy and heightened elements. That was something I wanted to use, to make me stand out from other directors.

I’m 30, so grew up listening to American grunge. Bands like Nirvana and Hole. You had these kids that so wanted to be in America but who were living in the middle of rural Wales. So I wanted this to mix British and American fashion. That’s great aesthetically, as well as for story-telling.

Was it hard to get this film made – especially as a debut filmmaker?

Really hard. It took a long time to get it off the ground. But as I was working on it, I was shooting other things in my visual style, trying to prove myself. I did a short called Little Munchkins, another called Family Picnic, which I got an award for, and did a lot of music videos with fantasy elements. So I started showing people that I could direct and giving them an idea of how it was going to look. I think that really helped. And I worked with Ray (Winstone) on the way on a film called Jerusalem. Then I told him there was a great part in Elfie Hopkins for him – not so much because it was Jamie’s dad, but for me. A lot of people I’ve worked with before are in this film. It was about building a team around me that would be a support mechanism.

Is there one particular film that really inspired you?

Not for Elfie Hopkins, in particular. There are films that majorly influenced the style of how I wanted to produce something. The first Alien is my favourite film of all time. H.R. Giger’s production design and Ridley Scott’s style with the actors is what made me want to be a filmmaker. It made me look at film in a different way.  Twin Peaks was also a massive influence. The dialogue was quite crazy and off-key. People either loved it or hated it. But I grew up in this kind of Twin Peaks world in my rural village and I’m fascinated with the ‘keeping up with the Jonses’ attitude. This film is an amalgamation of that, plus films like Edward Scissorhands and detective movies for the dialogue. Even the Goonies: I love how crap they are. And I like that element with Dylan and Elfie – they’re actually terrible detectives. For me that’s really funny.

How important was Ray Winstone on the set and to have on the film?

Ray Winstone as Butcher Bryn

Ray Winstone as Butcher Bryn

He was a really good boost to bring some of the other actors in. Our little movie has someone who’s done massive movies. That’s a great presence to have on set because it builds confidence. And he taught me an amazing thing – big actors take direction, so you shouldn’t be scared. I think Jamie was really happy that it wasn’t her getting her dad in. It was because Ray and I had worked together.

How much did the script change from the page to the actual production?

There was loads of evolution once we were on set and we realised that we didn’t have any money and it was a 22-day shoot. You’re like: “Shit! This is insane! We’re shooting three death scenes in a night.” Whereas in a big Hollywood movie, they do that in two days.

Your background is in fine art. How far has it influenced your style?

I started in fine art. Then I went to London Film School where I was production designing loads, from a fine art perspective. When I left Film School I continued that, as well as doing camera work. Building up my visual style, working out what works. So my scenes wouldn’t start off with the character, they’d start with the room. It’s changed quite a bit, now that I’ve got into filmmaking at a higher level – from Elfie onwards, everything starts in a slightly different way, but before it definitely came from the set, from something that I wanted to see.


Elfie and Dylan

Elfie and Dylan

I almost don’t recognise Aneurin Barnard when he walks in. In the film he’s a very slight, glasses-wearing, love-struck geek. He couldn’t be more opposite in person. Tall and broad-chested, with chiselled features and piercing eyes, he has a real presence. Next to him, Jaime Winstone looks very petite, almost elf-like (or is that Elfie-like?). Especially as she’s recently shaved her head for her latest role. Both are very articulate, intelligent and sincere, without taking themselves too seriously.

This film is full of 90s references. You guys aren’t old enough to remember that. Did you have to swot up?

JW: It’s not really about the specific time – it’s more about that generation of suburban kids that don’t have much to do apart from get stoned, read books and listen to grunge music. It’s more about capturing that kind of mood. And a lot of the soundtrack is current, from friends’ bands – like Big Pink and Comanechi – as well as my sister’s band.

Was it difficult to get into Elfie’s head?

JW: Not really. I think Elfie just has a fear of growing up. Of accepting she’s not a teenager anymore and she can’t just sit around smoking weed and listening to Nirvana all day long. But in a way what happens in the film propels her into being an adult and a good detective, so it’s a weird balance.

Aneurin, you’ve said one of your favourite scenes is when Dylan tells Elfie his true feelings and kisses her.

AB: Yes, it’s very real. And for once it’s nice to see that the guy has grown up faster than the girl. She’s still in the Peter Pan world, living in that childhood fantasy. While Dylan’s got to accept going to university, leaving the village, and needs to know if there’s a relationship there beyond friendship. So it becomes very adult very quickly. In that moment, with that kiss, it goes 100 miles per hour straight away and Elfie has to deal with it.

What was it that originally hooked you into the project?

Ryan. He’s super talented and this industry has space for new, up-and-coming exciting directors. They’re the future of film for the next generation and it’s very exciting to have someone like Ryan Andrews involved because he’s definitely not the norm. People say: “He’s very Tim Burton-esque”. I kinda disagree. I think he’s very Ryan Andrews-eque. I think he has his own touch on things.

What’s it like working on set with your father?

Jaime & Ray Winstone as Elife Hopkins & Butcher Bryn

Jaime & Ray Winstone as Elife Hopkins & Butcher Bryn

JW: I’ve watched him do it since I was a kid, so it’s not a big deal. It’s just our jobs. I was a bit nervous when Aneurin and I were doing the scene with him, but mainly because of the reaction on set. Suddenly people are whispering “Ray’s here” “Ray’s here”. Then I’m reminded that people think that way about my dad. But it’s like working with any other actor, because he’s very giving and non-judgemental.

Aneurin, you do a lot of stage as well. Do you have a preference and what are the different challenges?

AB: For me it’s not about whether it’s stage or film, it’s about the different characters. It’s very important to show people that I can do anything. Well, I hope I can – let people judge me. If they think I’m crap, fine, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s about challenging myself as an actor, including doing my own stunts. I’ve a very old fashioned perspective of the film world. My biggest inspiration is Richard Burton. He would do anything he wanted. He’d even sing, the poor sod, and he didn’t have the best voice in the world, but he’d go for it. For me it’s that all-or-nothing, pit bull kind of attitude. Either grab it by the throat and go for it or don’t bother at all. Just be different, constantly, and through that, hopefully, your talent grows.

JW: “Totes!” [laughing and stroking her recently shorn head]. I’m really lucky to be able to do theatre, film and then a bit of really good TV drama. You’re an actress and that’s a whole pallet of things that you get to play with.

Did you enjoy the fight scenes?

JW: It was good fun. I love a good flick with tits and guns, to be honest. Tits, guns and blood. It’s easy to watch. This is a serious British film but we’ve managed to slice in some of the genres that we love – the blood, the gore, the stylisation of the look, the way it’s shot and the lighting.

AB: The fight stuff was difficult for me. I’m used to doing the stunts. I used to box. I’ve been training with 13 weapons since the age of 11. And all of a sudden, I’m not allowed to be any good at it, I have to take it in the face and be very weak.

JW: [laughing] “Don’t do that, Aneurin, you look too good.”

AB: [laughing] It was a challenge for me. I really wanted to get involved and start knocking people out left right and centre but I had to let it all happen around me.

You produce it as well as act in it, Jamie. Do you feel closer to it as a result?

Yes, completely. I’m an associate producer so that’s getting it off the table, getting it made, being the force behind it. But there’s a moment when you have to step back and it’s really hard because it’s your baby. I feel extremely vulnerable, even sitting here talking about it. I’m so excited about it but I have to wait for the audiences to see it, really. But this is the sort of film we want to watch. And that’s been the drive for me and Ryan the whole way through. If one of us has gone a bit off track, the other one’s pulled them back.

We had people come to us with a lot of money but by the time they’d finished unpicking, it was just a different film. So we pulled it. We kept real, held back a year and stuck to our guns.

The costume design is very striking.

The Gammons

The Gammons

AB: It’s a mix of different images, complementing each other in the best way. You’ve got the story, the action, the lighting – the filming qualities. But then you’ve also got the imagery of each character. Which makes it easier for the audience to define who’s who. It’s a secret little skill that costume designers are bloody good at.

Are you tempted to write?

AB: There’s a lot that I’d like to do but right now, I’m just going to concentrate on my acting career.

JW: Me too. I’m currently working on my next project with Ryan, called Black Unicorn. But it won’t be for a while yet.

AB: [Laughing] You should do a real life version of The Last Unicorn – you know, the cartoon. It’s the scariest and saddest cartoon going. Ryan would nail it! He would twist it. Now that I’ve said it, and it’s on record, it’s my idea. I’m executive producer!

[For my review of the film, visit New Empress Magazine]

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