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‘The Imitation Game’ Director on Lack of Gay Sex in Movie and Working With Benedict Cumberbatch

'The Imitation Game' Director on Lack of Gay Sex in Movie and Working With Benedict Cumberbatch

The Imitation Game” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a World War II British mathematician famous for cracking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code, but ultimately punished by the government for his homosexuality. The film is based on the true life story and book by Andrew Hodges, “Alan Turing: The Enigma” — a story that Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”) was fascinated by and brought to the big screen with the film’s equally passionate screenwriter Graham Moore

“The Imitation Game” also stars Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard. The film will be released in U.S. theaters November 28 by the Weinstein Company. Over the weekend in Los Angeles, Tyldum won the Best Director award at The Hollywood Film Awards, while Cumberbatch was honored with Best Actor, and Knightley, Best Supporting Actress.

READ MORE: Why Weinstein Pushed Back ‘The Imitation Game’

Indiewire recently caught up with Tyldum at the Middleburg Film Festival to talk about more about the upcoming film.  

This is your first English language film. Did you have any “lost in translation” moments during the course of directing this film? 

Very few. We rewrote the scene where Alan comes back home to Joan [Keira Knightley]—because of her parents and all that. So Graham wrote [in the script] ‘indecorous’ and I was going like ‘what the hell does that even mean’ and it’s actually in the movie. 

Yeah it is. That’s hilarious.

I had no idea! Indecorous? What is that? What does that mean? I had no idea. And it was really funny, so I said why don’t we put that line in for Benedict? But—film language…everything is about not what people say but what actually goes on in the scene. What the scene is about, on a deeper, more fundamental level. That’s why international directors from all over the world can direct movies because we have accents, yes, but we’re not saying the words. So the intentions and decor and what the scene is actually about—that’s what you actually have to communicate to the actors. So none other than ‘indecorous,’ I actually understood the script. [Laughs] I worked really close with Graham for almost six months. We did several drafts together. 

Something that’s been a pretty hotly debated topic around this film is the inexplicit expression of homosexuality. Even Graham Moore said last night that this film was a “secret queer history of computer science.” So what do you have to say to the people who think you should have included more suggestive material? Who thought that aspect of representation was important to have? 

Well, first of all, I think the way it is in the movie is very historically accurate. It’s how it actually was. Are you debating why we didn’t add sex scenes? 

I wouldn’t even say sex scenes—I mean there wasn’t any kissing or things of that nature. 

At some point, we really wanted to have that in. But [Alan Turing’s] relationship with Christopher is the whole core and it’s a love relationship—which I think is very clear in the movie. That it’s someone [Turing] falls in love with. The whole reason why it’s become so strong is because it’s unfulfilled. It’s someone he loves that dies and he never gets over it. Which is how it really was. We don’t even know Christopher was gay. We know from Turing’s letters, especially his letters to Christopher’s mom—how Turing felt…because we have all these letters Turing wrote. That’s why we know how important this was and how he himself claimed how he was and what inspired him to do a lot of his work. So we wanted to get that much in—sort of like a love story became the fundamental. 

And then at Bletchley [Park], in his own words that he described in a letter to a friend that it was a sexual desert. He was engaged to Joan for six months and their friendship was the core of that period. So you have that and to add in something in any way, we felt, would be disrespectful to this character being gay. It’s almost like adding in an unnecessary sex scene for a heterosexual character…like because he’s gay, we have to have that. We’re not shying away from him being gay. It’s pretty obvious from the moment that [Turing] falls in love with a boy. It’s there. It’s not because we were afraid to show it, it was because it didn’t fit in the story naturally. There was no natural place for it. And it also didn’t happen. He was a closest gay man doing the whole World War, which was really part of the whole [film]. He was keeping it a secret. 

That’s an interesting perspective. So there’s a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding this film—does that make you excited or nervous?

Excited, of course. The good part is that a lot of people will see the movie. It’ll give attention to the story, it’ll give attention to Alan Turing’s story which is very important story. His achievements are so staggering. Oscar buzz is a good thing, I don’t take it too heavily right now. If it happens, it happens, it will be a great thing for the movie. But so many people are enjoying the movie and there’s so much positive buzz around it, which is of course, what you hope for as a filmmaker. 

You made this film in eight weeks on a $15 million dollar budget. What challenges did you face with those restraints? 

You have to shoot fast. You have a lot of scenes with five, six people, long dialogue scenes—and so, you couldn’t go back. You had to really nail the blocking…you couldn’t figure out midway ‘oh, I need to change something,’ I mean you had to be very prepared. You had to go in, get the scene blocked, shoot it. There was no stopping. That was the main thing. I had rehearsal time, thank God. I could make all the mistakes in the rehearsals and really fool around—which was very important to Benedict, to try out a lot. We spend a lot [of time on] how we felt Alan should be. Because there’s no real recording of how he talks, there’s no films, there’s nothing on how he moves. We just had snippets of description. [Turing] could have easily become a clichéd character. You know, this eccentric professor type…

He could have easily turned out like Benedict’s character Sherlock Holmes. 

Exactly. So you have to avoid all of this and at the same time—[Turing] is in that kind of world. He is an eccentric genius. So you have to create his own [character] and have him as many-layered as possible—and we wanted it to be subtle. So yes, the rehearsal time was crucial for us to nail it because we didn’t have enough time during shooting to play around with it. 

READ MORE: For Your Consideration: Assessing The Major Oscar Races In The Calm Before The Storm 

Any funny or crazy moments that happened while directing and shooting for “The Imitation Game”? 

In many ways, it was a very sobering shoot, actually. There was very little drama. We have all these great actors—we all sort of became like a family that all wanted to be part of telling his legacy.


I’m glad you had such a great crew involved in telling an important story, that’s also universal as well. You said this film was based on the importance of being different, about being an outsider. How do those themes relate to you personally? Have you ever felt like an outsider? 

Oh definitely. Especially during the time as a Norwegian director [just coming into] Hollywood. I think it’s very related to the struggle to fit in and…I have a great admiration for Alan Turing and I’m not saying I’m even close to the brilliance of Alan Turning but it is very relatable to fitting in. A lot of time, I’ve been looking at things from the outside…feeling like I never really belonged in the Scandinavian world and coming to Hollywood trying to figure that out. This was also me being Norwegian, trying to understand the British. So again I was an outsider, looking at all of this. 

I see—how are Scandinavian films different from British and Hollywood films

[In Scandinavia] we’re very suspicious [toward] perfect characters. Anybody who is too good or too perfect or too anything. We like shady, flawed characters. We like people who are struggling, which I think is strange of the filmmaking, that it becomes more interesting and it becomes more true in many ways because we all have shades of everything. We have darkness in us, we have light in us. It’s the battle between the shades of [light and dark] that’s interesting. I think the hero who always rides in and does good things never really attracted us. I believe that’s Scandinavian and Norwegian fiction and stories…we can relate to that darkness in many ways and appreciate it in some ways because it’s all apart of us. And that’s something I look at when I’m looking at projects—that I want characters to have that flaw, to be that complex. 

Great. So what are you working on now?

This is a good time for me, of course. I’m reading a lot of interesting things. I’m developing a project called “Chain of Events” for Warner Bros. Mark Smith is writing [the script]. So I have that…but now it’s all about ‘The Imitation Game.’ We’re traveling the world with it and it’s actually very enjoyable. 

READ MORE: Keira Knightley Impresses Benedict Cumberbatch In Clip From ‘The Imitation Game’ Plus New Pics 

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