Seven Questions with Iain Softley, the Director of "The Wings Of The Dove"
by Cheri Barner
After years of paying his dues in commercials, music videos, and BBC
documentaries, Iain Softley made the difficult leap into feature films
directing. Softley’s first film “Backbeat“, the story of Stuart Sutcliffe,
received critical raves, allowing him to go big budget with his second
film, “Hackers“. But after the techno-thriller “Hackers” proved to be a misfire
both at the box office and with critics, Softley nearly became one of
independent film’s many one hit wonders. Recently, Softley answered
question about his new project. “The Wings Of The Dove” is being released
indieWIRE: How did the director of “Backbeat” and “Hackers” come to choose a
Henry James novel for his next movie?
Iain Softley: I was offered the book when I was in post production for
“Hackers” by Steve Evans, who is one of the producers on the film. I looked
at the book about the same as Hossein Amini the screenwriter, and I think
we were both confused as to why this book had been chosen as a potential
film, because it’s very episodic, there is very little dialogue, it’s all
action that you can’t translate at first sight. It’s almost a series of
psychological commentaries, almost an impressionistic piece, it was
obviously going to be quite a chore to adapt it. But in the process of
discussing this, we both realized that it, particularly in the character of
Kate Croy, was a very interesting story about love and betrayal.
The characters themselves, have a dark side to them that to us, made them
fascinatingly human. (They are) full of contradictions, not easy to read
initially, which suggested to us that they were really interesting
characters for a film treatment. We had the idea of approaching it as film
noir. My approach was from the beginning was to not make something that was
to the traditional literary adaptations — to reach an audience that was
interested in cinema, but who might be unaware of the book, as most of the
audience would be. There was a sense in which I wanted to be different from
those films in that we were concentrating on the things that were perhaps
similar between those periods and now, as opposed to the things that
distinguished it. And to only include things if they worked in terms of
film, and be really ruthless with the source material. So I started working
with Hossein, and we spent about eight months on the script together.
iW: Since Kate was the impetus for your interest in the project, was that
the most important role for casting purposes?
Softley: Yes, she was, and the relationship between Kate and Merton was
very important as well. There was sort of an age span that the part could
be played in, and it was really when I met Helena (Bonham Carter) that I
realized that (her’s) was really the right kind of combination of ages. She
needed to have a child like vulnerability on the one hand, but also to have
a womanly sexuality — and Helena can really play that gamut.
iW: You chose to change the novel, creating a nude love scene at the end of
the film, why?
Softley: Well, it was really on two levels; one, was that it was a piece of
social observation, you know that this is something that often happens in
relationships that are breaking up, that people make one last desperate
attempt to resuscitate the relationship. Often it ends in a desperate
clinging to each other, almost like drowning souls. On the other level it
really was a portrayal of the fact that all of the deceptions, all of the
veils were pulled away, that here were the characters naked in front of
each other, confronting each other with just themselves. In a sense there
is, I feel, a redemption at the end, because for the first time they are
aware of what they’re doing. They’re being honest with themselves. They’re
asking each other direct questions, and giving each other direct responses.
So it was really the inexorable move towards the core of the relationship,
and the realization of what it’s come to.
iW: How was the translation of the book?
Softley: It was a massive, I mean the only way to approach the book was to
say “We’re completely forgetting the book.” We didn’t refer to it when
writing the script at all, it was just done from memory. Interestingly in
the notes for the book that I read, there is an interview with Henry James
where he talks about the possibility of doing a theater production of “The Wings Of The Dove”, and I was very reassured that he had as a bold an
approach to reconceiving his work for a different medium as we had. That he
took to completely changing the story once he put it on stage, which really
indicates to me the hopelessness of attempting to be too literal in a
iW: Did you have an idea of who you wanted to play the parts when you were
writing the script?
Softley: I don’t really envisage people at the beginning. I try not to
because, apart from the obvious thing of avoiding disappointment if one
cannot get the person that one had in mind for the whole process of writing
the script, I think that it’s important to start with a blank sheet of
paper through audition process, and really to be open to be surprised by
people. We might to have seen people in one role when they come in, and you
might see a woman who is only known as an action movie actress who actually
has this incredible background in some independent work that one might not
be aware of, and when you put the actress together with the text in an
audition it’s interesting how often one’s surprised that people reveal a
side that’s different from the stereotypes that you might have.
iW: Did you know there were other Henry James films coming out at the same
Softley: The first we knew of it was when we realized that there were other
actresses and other people auditioning for another film in the Chateau
Marmont at the same time as we were, and it happened to have been another
Henry James film. So that was quite interesting.
iW: Were you worried about the competition?
Softley: I think in an ideal world there wouldn’t be any other’s around. I
have to be honest about that, but there comes a point when one has to have
confidence in the work of oneself.
iW: What’s next?
Softley: I’m hoping to get a film about Otis Redding that’s been written by
Joe Esterhaus. I vowed never to do another music, biographically related
film but this one is fantastic.