Paul Andrew Williams
In March 2010, I interviewed London To Brighton director Paul Andrew Williams for his then forthcoming suburban thriller Cherry Tree Lane. An alternative version of the following interview was featured in the September 2010 issue of Clash.
Dressed in ripped jeans, white trainers and a green hoodie, Paul Andrew Williams doesn’t strike you as a man with three feature films under his belt. We meet soon after he has returned from LA, having signed a deal for one of many forthcoming projects, and it’s immediately apparent that he’s exhausted. It’s hardly surprising. His independently produced 2006 debut feature London to Brighton was a surprise hit and since then he’s been working non-stop. “I was in that very fortunate position of being the buzz boy,” he admits nonchalantly. “I think I could have got pretty much made anything within reason at that point.”
Following his 2001 short Royalty, Williams was the first British director to be picked up by Fox Searchlight – the studio’s independent wing, an experience he doesn’t look back on fondly. “I was on a deal for a year but it was just a waste of forty pages of legal jargon. The only thing that really came out of it was I made a short that went to Sundance.” That short wasIt’s Okay to Drink Whiskey which garnered enough acclaim at the festival for him to be offered the opportunity to direct his first feature, a project he would abandon after a week. He won’t name names but he describes the resulting film, eventually completed with a different director, as “shocking.” “It really fucked my head up,” he admits. “It was a horrible week. Just such an awful experience.”
Putting that experience behind him, Williams went on to direct two features, the independently-produced thriller London to Brighton, and The Cottage, a gory and distinctly British horror comedy that marked a departure from his gritty depiction of London’s murky underworld. “I remember the very first screening of the rough cut of The Cottage. All the financiers and the distributor left the cinema saying ‘this is gonna go fucking crazy – this is brilliant – it’s hilarious.’” Unfortunately, the sudden genre shift polarised critics and, although The Cottage attracted a wide audience, it wasn’t the follow-up success that had been expected.
His new film, a psychological thriller titled Cherry Tree Lane, centers on a married couple who are held hostage in their own home by youths waiting to enact revenge against their son upon his return home, and represents yet another genre departure for the director. “I’d had the idea for a while, and a few other projects of mine were stalling. It was just doing my head in. So I wrote it and we shot it three months later. It was quite a quick turnaround.” Cherry Tree Lane’s depiction of hooded youths terrifying a middle-class family is sure to resonate with nervous British audiences, but Williams is adamant the film is a response to a situation rather than a social ill. “The distance between class and generation is just so odd,” he muses, “but it’s certainly not saying ‘we should be afraid of the kids.’ It’s not about that.” Similarities have already been drawn between Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a comparison with which Williams is visibly annoyed. “I haven’t seen those films,” he states bluntly, “and I’m now definitely not going to see either version. This is just my interpretation of what I think it would be like.”
Despite an impressive line-up of projects ahead of him, with British films still struggling to make an impact at the box office it’s clear that that the decline of the UK film industry is taking its toll. “You’re better off making French movies,” he concedes. “America make big movies that take over five screens of a ten screen cinema and it’s getting harder and harder for a British movie to get anywhere, even in England.” Still, he remains a committed filmmaker, with numerous projects lined up, although there is very little he can say about them. A film with Warp Films subsidiary Warp X is on the cards, whilst another is currently planned for shooting this summer. “I’m writing a play as well,” he adds “and one day I’m going to make a foreign language film.” For the meantime, variety appears to be Williams’ main concern. “Maybe one day people will look back and go ‘I have no idea what the fuck that guy was doing because you can’t pigeonhole him.’” With such a varied batch of projects lined up in the near future, he certainly doesn’t have to worry about that for the time being.