Dexter Fletcher is back in the director’s chair this week with his brand-new film Sunshine On Leith; a project that is already being called the feel-good film of 2013.
We caught up with Fletcher to chat about his second directorial outing, tackling a musical and what lies ahead.
- You are about to return to the director’s chair with you new film Sunshine On Leith, so can you tell me a bit about the movie?
It is a musical; it has all the music of The Proclaimers in it. It is a story of two lads coming home from the war, as they return to their families and their home. It is a film about family, home, sunshine and love.
- The movie is based on the hit stage show of the same name, so how did you get involved with this project? And what did you think of Stephen Greenhorn’s script when you read it for the first time?
I got involved when the producers approached me after seeing Wild Bill. They sent me Stephen Greenhorn’s script; which I read and loved.
I didn’t a lot of The Proclaimers songs, so I just read the lyrics as I went through the script and found that they really just told the story of these characters that I was getting involved with.
I think Stephen has done a brilliant job. The show was very successful, like you say, and while I didn’t have a chance to see it, but I read all the reviews; which were very good.
I realised very quickly after reading the script that this was something very different and fun and could be really exciting to be involved in.
-That does lead me into my next question. This film couldn’t be further than your debut Wild Bill, so how did you find tackling the musical and all the choreography and music elements that come with a film in this genre?
That was intention. Wild Bill was a gritty drama and here was an opportunity to do something that was full of music and fun and life and these great characters. I had a whale of a time. It was difficult; I won’t lie, and sometimes I would lie in bed at night thinking ‘oh my god, what am I doing?’
But then you get to work and start working on the songs, and you find that something really great started to happen.
I have always been a big fan of Singing In The Rain and An American In Paris, and I just found that all the years of watching those movies really did put me in good stead.
I was quite canny as I got my mate Jason Flemying in there to do a dance number. I just thought that if I enjoyed it as much as I can, that is what will come over.
- What major challenges did face as you were taking this story from the stage to the big screen?
I think I just worked on it as a film. Stage and film are very different mediums, and when I did the casting, I certainly didn’t say ‘get me all the best stage musical singers and actors that you can’.
I went for actors first. I knew that the film would allow me to choose actors who were more film orientated, rather than big West End performers; which is a very different kind of discipline and a very particular skill.
All the musical numbers were a challenge; just to make them work and not to make them feel too jarring in this very real human story. This is really a story about a family more than anything else, and about the dynamics within a family and how they work. So the challenges were huge and many.
- George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie take on the central characters of Davy and Ally, so what were you looking for when you were casting these crucial roles?
I suppose I was looking for… these characters start in quite a difficult place; they are in Afghanistan at the beginning of the film. So I wanted those guys to come back and not just be light and fluffy - I wanted guys who had a bit of weight to them; that was important as well as being good actors.
So I needed two guys who could create a good and strong friendship here, that was going to go through a lot of changes; that is what they did. I went for actors first. They had a really good energy, and they are really different from one another.
They did become good friends very quickly and are good friends to this day; they hang out together all the time. You have in your mind the kind of people these characters are, and when they come in the room, you can feel the energy.
It is then just a case of matching those actors and finding a good energy; they both had a really great energy.
- A great cast has been assembled around them with the likes of Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks being two of the stand out stars. So can you tell me a bit about the casting process? Jane is fantastic in the roles, and she gives a great vocal performance. Was she your only choice for this role?
She was certainly the first choice. You say what is the dream team? Peter Mullan was our choice to play the father as we have never seen him take on a role like this. So we thought that it would be great if we could get him.
Then we asked who would be great as Jean? And it was Jane Horrocks, because we know that she has a great voice. People love her, and she has also got the experience and is a great actress. So they were top of the list and the first choice.
You think ‘we will go to them first. When they say ‘no', we will start looking at other people’. Fortunately, for us, they read the script and both loved it, and both said ‘yes’.
It made it a lot more straightforward to us in that respect because we didn’t have to go to our plan B.
What is important about them is they are the heart of the film. Jean and Rab are the nucleus of the family. Jean sings the title song Sunshine On Leith, and it was so important to have someone there who we really relate to and like and can bring all of her experience to bear; it is a very difficult role.
Jean is a woman whose son has gone off to war, and her daughter wants to leave home. On top of that, her husband has got a big dark secret that she does discover half-way through the film.
It was important to have an actress there who could carry the weight of that drama; Jane is certainly that person.
- It is quite interesting you say that we have never seen Peter Mullan in a role like this. So did he throw himself in there? How did you find working with him?
I thought he was an absolute joy. I think he relished the chance to do something that showed him in a different light, and show what other skills that he has as an actor.
He takes on the role of a loving and caring father beautifully. He is also a man who goes through quite a trauma with his wife, and he wants to fix that broken bond of twenty-five years.
Anyone who knows anything about Peter will know that he is a great actor, and a great family man himself, and he was smart enough to go ‘here is a chance for me to do something different’.
That is exactly what he has done. I think Rab is a lovely character as well. Him and Jane together are a bit of a dream team; they really were great.
-This is your second directorial outing so how much confidence did you take from the work and the success of Wild Bill into this new project?
I tried not to take anything for granted; although I am an old actor, I am still a very young filmmaker, and it is important to learn, get better and progress at making films. I also understand that there is still an awful lot for me to learn.
I don’t take anything from granted and I wasn’t like ‘I have made one film, I can do another one’. They are both very different. I just have to keep working hard at that.
- The movie is released at the end of the week, but how have you found the early response? It does seem to be incredibly positive?
It is exactly that. It is such a feel good and happy film where the characters win out against tough times and situations. They do make the best of it and come out smiling having found each other. Everyone really does seem to be responding to that.
Essentially it is about a family, and everyone has family so people so relate to that and the situations. The responses have been overwhelmingly good.
- The movie also played at the Toronto International Film Festival so how was the film received overseas? And how was your Toronto experience?
That was our premiere. It was really great. Getting into a festival is hard enough as it is as there is a well-educated bunch of people selecting for a very particular film going audience; just getting into the festival alone was a huge enough thing for it.
But then it got the standing ovation was more than the icing on the cake. It was overwhelming. We all stood on the stage afterwards a bit gob smacked. Because it is a film about family first, and Scotland second, it does seem to travel well.
People get what’s going on and the characters, and then they get a nice bit of Scotland as well. So it seems to travel well, and I hope that proves to be true.
- Finally, what is next for you both in front of and behind the camera?
I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, unfortunately. I am focusing on getting Sunshine On Leith out there and letting people see it and knowing that it is a feel-good film that they can see with their families; it is a PG.
I haven’t made any decisions or spoke to anyone about future projects. I wouldn’t mind doing some acting, but I will have to wait and see.
Sunshine On Leith is released 4th October.
Tagged in Dexter Fletcher