To much of the world, the stars and writers of “Sightseers” are still only vaguely familiar at best. Alice Lowe was perhaps the best known, thanks to being one of the principle cast members of the cult comedy classic “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” and for an appearance in “Hot Fuzz,” while Steve Oram is a fixture on the UK comedy circuit, but has mostly taken fairly small film and TV roles so far.
But their feature film writing/starring debut, directed by “Kill List” helmer Ben Wheatley, looks very likely to change that. The film’s been a huge hit on the festival circuit ever since it premiered at Cannes back in May, and rightly so; funny, rich and beautifully made, it might well be the best comedy of the year. And it means we should be seeing much more of the pair, both in front of and behind the camera, as we discovered when we caught up with Lowe and Oram at the BFI London Film Festival over the weekend.
We were interested if the pair had ever considered directing the film themselves, before Wheatley got involved, and they were adamant that it was never an option. “I think you’re too close when you’re playing parts like that,” Oram told us. “You need an outside eye. I think that’s a big ask.” Lowe added “There’s two of us as well, so if we disagreed about something… you just need one authority figure. Writing is a thinking job, and acting is about feelings, so you need someone to allow you to play.”
But as it turns out, both are planning to make separate directorial debuts in the near future. “I am about to direct myself in something…It’s early days at the moment, and [‘Sightseers‘ backers] Film4 are helping me with it, and it’s hopefully going to be a Warp Films production,” Lowe said. “It’s called ‘Lily,’ and it’s about a woman who lives in a fantasy world. It’s quite exciting.” And although she didn’t step behind the camera on “Sightseers,” she’s confident that this will be achievable. “I’ve worked a lot with a director called Jacqueline Wright on stuff that I’ve written, so I don’t feel like it’s a massive leap. As long as you use improvisational processes, and you can improvise for a long time, it enables you to be in that acting mode for long enough to act and direct as well. It’s also about the team, if you’ve got an intimate, close team that you’ve got a really good relationship with, I think you can do both.”
As for Oram — who’s also got roles coming up in thriller “Welcome To The Punch” and Nick Frost comedy “Cuban Fury” — he’s got his own directorial debut in the pipeline too. “Yeah, I’m gonna direct something, but not be in it. Based on those Lincoln films I’ve been doing, a low-budget one of those, for no money,” he said. “It’s being written at the moment, early days as well, hopefully next year. For me it’s linked to the writing, but having said that, it’s doing lots of different things with lots of different people. Because collaboration is where the really good stuff lies, that weird unique chemistry you get with people.”
The Lincoln films are a series of low-budget shorts that Oram’s directed in recent years, revolving around the conceit that a studio trying to rival Hollywood has been set up in the cathedral town of Lincoln in the East Midlands. They have featured British comics and actors like Simon Farnaby (“Bunny and the Bull“), Justin Edwards (“The Thick of It“), Jessica Knappett (“The Inbetweeners Movie“), Beattie Edmondson (of sketch group Lady Garden) and Sarah Daykin (of the brilliant duo Toby) and you can watch a few the films below.
The pair both acknowledge that they’re a bit nervous about the prospect of directing, but feel their experience with Wheatley, and others, has put them in good stead. “It’s terrifying the idea of directing a film,” Lowe says, “but someone’s got to do it. It’s about having the balls. There’s plenty of people who say “what makes you think you’re good enough to do it?” Oram added, “And you don’t know until you do it,” before joking, “Maybe halfway through the shoot you go, ‘Oh, shit, I’m rubbish at it. I think I’m going to become a grip. I’m gonna write my own film and become a grip.'”
In stepping behind the camera, Lowe is joining two of her ‘Garth Marenghi’ co-stars, Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness, who’ve also become directors in recent years, Ayoade with the acclaimed “Submarine” and next year’s “The Double,” and Holness with short “A Gun For George,” and the upcoming feature version “The Reprisalizer.” We were curious as to whether Lowe thought that there was any reason the three of them have all ended up as directors.
“It’s a weird thing,” Lowe responded. “It was a weird, cult show, and didn’t get recommissioned, and I wonder if that made us seek different ways of fulfilling our ambitions, in a good way, cos of that early rejection. We were quite young when we made it, and really believed in it — we’d done that as an Edinburgh show, and taken it on tour, so getting a rejection, we sort of felt, ‘Well if TV doesn’t want us, what do we do now?’ I definitely had a long struggle, and I’m going to stick to my guns in terms of doing the stuff that I think is good, and not kowtow to these sort of mainstream ideas. You’d have to talk to Matt and Richard, I don’t know why either. But all of us had aspirations to do something that had a lasting quality to it.”
Having seen it, we can certainly say that “Sightseers” has that lasting quality that Lowe is talking about, and both “Lily” and the “Lincoln Studios” project could well follow in our footsteps. We’ll have more from Lowe and Oram closer to the film’s UK release date on November 30th, while U.S. audiences should be able to check out the film courtesy of IFC Films early in 2013.