“AKA” Director Duncan Roy is Queer, Outrageous, and Quite Possibly Brilliant
by Brandon Judell
Duncan Roy’s “AKA” is an autobiographical tale of the director’s own youth. Born working class, in his teens, this quite attractive gay lad took the name of a rich family’s son, went to Paris, and was quickly adopted by the jetset as one of its own. Much sex, drugs, and liquor later, Roy wound up in prison for something having to do with an unpaid credit card, I believe. Imagine “Six Degrees of Separation” meets “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
What a plot! Sounds like an easy sell, huh? There is a catch though. “AKA” has been shot in triptych. There are almost always three shots of action on the screen. Sometimes what’s going on is seen at a trio of angles. Sometimes there is an action delay in one box. Other times, two or more scenarios can be taking place. Additionally, a box now and then might display one character’s fantasies.
But this tale does have a rather happy ending — in real life, off-screen — because now due to the critical acclaim “AKA” has received (including a 2003 BAFTA nomination for the most promising newcomer plus the audience award for outstanding first narrative feature from the L.A. Outfest), Roy has a three-picture-deal under his belt. In fact, he’s now in post-production with “Method,” which stars Elizabeth Hurley and Jeremy Sisto.
Anyway, in a cheap Wall Street diner last week, indieWIRE chatted away with the attractive, charming raconteur whose “AKA” has been described as “further confirmation of a renaissance in British film-making” by no less than Kamera.co.uk.
indieWIRE: “AKA” was my indieWIRE selection last year for best undistributed film of 2002. Now it’s being screened at Cinema Village from Empire Pictures. Why do you think a movie that’s been internationally acclaimed and has won several prizes took so long to get picked up?
Duncan Roy: Three screens. It only got picked up now because we made a single screen version of it for television. As a result, that’s where we’ve made most of our sales. I was forced to do that. It doesn’t have any of the charm or the interest of the original version, but I was forced to do it.
iW: But theaters are screening the triptych version?
Roy: Absolutely. Absolutely. You see the thing is that sales, video and DVD, could only be made for the single screen version.
iW: It is hard to watch on video, but it still works.
Roy: The weird thing about that film is that I wanted to make something specifically for the cinema. I wanted to make a site-specific piece the way films used to be made. It was not made to be seen on the back of an airplane seat. I wanted to make a film that actually examined the notion of a 50-foot screen. It makes you look at cinema in a completely different way. So I came to it from many different angles. But what gave me the real strength to do it my way was the fact that I was paying for it. I made it. I produced it. I put it together. So that gave me the ultimately the choice of making it the way I wanted to. Mainly, you have to be strong in the face of that. As I found out making this last movie [“Method”], if you ever do things in an unusual, different way, you got to fight because there’s no way people will let you. Most people just want you do it exactly like they’ve always done it until you put something into the kind of artistic lexicon that is kind of different, so people can refer to it. Things don’t evolve. They don’t change. So in a way, I’m pleased with myself. I know I’m part of the changing process of the way we look at things.
iW: You sold personal property to make this film.
Roy: Yes, two houses in the south of London.
iW: What did your family say when they saw “AKA”?
Roy: They haven’t. I saw my brother for the first time the other night. He gave me a big hug and said, “I’m not going to let it get in the way of our relationship.” So he hadn’t seen it, and I know he’d be really furious.
iW: Your mother, too?
Roy: Yeah, my mother’s kind of angry about it. I still come from a very working-class family. My mother’s still a cleaner. And my brother is the gas man. And my other brother runs a cab. I have become a stratified, different, exotic beast, even more so than I was when I was a young gay man. I just sort of built on that. Now that I’ve made several films, I don’t even know how to placate them with money like so many people do with their families. People make some money, and they give it to them. I did make some money, the first money that I ever made, doing this last one, and it’s an extraordinary feeling just being given the freedom to do something. Because part of what I do is always, in spite of having nothing, in spite of people saying no. When somebody say no, it’s a red flag to a bull to me. I just absolutely go for it when somebody says, “No, you can’t have this.” That’s why I spent my entire life sucking off straight men. “Okay, so you think you’re straight, do you? We’ll see about that.”
iW: One reporter wrote that you seem “magnetically drawn to aristocracy.” Are you over that?
Roy: As you get older and more successful, you don’t get magnetically drawn to aristocracy, you get magnetically drawn to power, and it gets magnetically drawn to you. It’s a symbiosis whether you like it or not. I’m part of an industry that everybody wants to be a part of. I do hang out with a lot of sort of powerful, interesting people like Bella Freud or Jay Joplin or Tracey Emin. I’m part of that group of people. You know, Brit artists who are doing things. That’s what I do. Some of them happen to be aristocrats. (I just think there are a lot of people who are very bitter again.) I found my friends very amusing the first time because they are funny and amusing. They really are because they’re people who’ve got everything. They’re sort of like camp caricatures of what you expect an aristocrat should be: vicious, rude, caustic unpleasantries. Whether it’s Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde, they’re brilliant with genius bon mots. Of course, I find them extraordinary. Also, they’ve got great toys.
iW: Your next film is an adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” correct?
Roy: I’m using Will Self’s version, his novel “Dorian.”
iW: This is the controversial updating of Wilde’s novel that shocked the New York Times’ reviewers.
Roy: Right, because of the AIDS thing. It was a badly researched thing. [Self] would phone all me the time and say, “What is this club like?” “What was the Mineshaft like in 1979?” I’d go, “This is what it was like.” And verbatim, it was all written down. So I really feel there’s a relationship between me and the book. But I’m taking and evolving it. He’s not very happy with my film-izing of it. He doesn’t like my take on it. In fact, we really fell out. Because we were really best friends. We’ve really fallen out about it. But writers and filmmakers have this age-old relationship to the material.
iW: Take Salinger.
Roy: Exactly. But then I really want to do a prequel to “AKA” as well called “Loony Boy.” Or “Loony Tunes.” Or “Loony Something.” Or “Mental House.” Or “Mental Being.” Or “Mental.” We’ll just call it “Mental.” But that would make it sound like “Yentl.”
When I was thirteen, I had a nervous breakdown, and I was put into this grown-up mental hospital with all these 50-, 60-year-old men and women. This big, Victorian mental house. There were like five boys in there, all my age, looked after by this woman who was 22 or 23. And it was like “Empire of the Sun” meets “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-type of arrangement where you’ve got this young boy overcoming and becoming heroic in the face of this awful place. Not being able to escape. Running away and being caught. And being sedated. Basically I’m telling you how it was. Looking at this sort of adventure, this rite of passage thing. But again making it very, very dark. That woman who looked after us ended up having an affair with one of the boys, which I caught them at. I was very inspired by Peter Mullan’s film about those kinds of places where you put people who’d been bad.
iW: Which one was that?
Roy: About the nuns and the girls.
iW: “The Magdalene Sisters.”
Roy: Thank you.