MMM: What was it about Lynn Barber’s memoirs that you found so irresistible?
Scherfig: I loved the tone, and the period, and the characters – they’re all very different and they’re all very typical for their time. When you read the screenplay you feel like meeting them and getting them off the page and on to the screen.
Beard: Well, my character wasn’t part of the main theme of Lynn Barber’s book. But I just thought it was nice to see a male teenage character that wasn’t either a complete jock or a complete nerd, but is somewhere in between and is actually quite nice. So, that was it really.
MMM: Were you a rebellious teenager?
Beard: Well, I’m still in education so I suppose I can’t really claim to have broken out of the system. I really wasn’t. I’d like to make up some story that I was, but I wasn’t. I’m at university now and I like it! I’m enjoying it. But I have the opposite regret to Dominic [Cooper] in that I look back and think of all the possible opportunities I had for rebellion and I didn’t take any! As Nick Hornby says, education was the smallest part of my education. So, I probably should have taken more advantage of those.
MMM: The film captures the period really well. How did you achieve that?
Scherfig: I haven’t done it by myself at all. I’ve been surrounded by a really, really good crew of all ages. I think it’s important to have a good age range in the crew so that some of us have experienced that period, or something close to that. But the script, of course, is really inspiring and you just have to trust that. Sometimes on film a glass can be as big as a car, so if the details are right, then they take up as much space on screen as the streets that we didn’t have a chance to show because most of London really has changed since that time.
We worked hard to not just get things right and authentic, but also to make it consistent and visually right. I think part of the look of the film not only has to do with the way it’s shot and lit, but also the lack of certain colours that give it a softness which really suits it because it gives you more focus on the characters. For instance, there’s no yellow at all until we get to Miss Stubbs’s flat at the very end.
MMM: Matthew, how much did getting into costume inform who you are? And is there anything you’d have like to have kept?
Beard: Well, I had everything a size too short which instantly makes you feel gangly and awkward – especially somebody with my unfortunate limbs! One of the biggest things for me was the material my suits were made out of. I was literally always hot under the collar and sweating, and not comfortable, which was good for the character. Tucking both trouser legs into your socks when you’re cycling… there are just loads of little things you can play with, which for a character like Graham are really important.
MMM: Matthew, who’s been the biggest influence on your acting career?
Beard: People like Paddy Considine. I’m from up north, so any northern actor who makes it is a hero of mine. I just watch all films, any type of film and admire anything that anyone does really. It sounds really sickly, but it’s actually true because when you’re young you have this amazing, idealised notion of what it’s going to be like to be an actor and how you’re going to approach things. And then you get on set and it doesn’t work out like that ever and you slowly, gradually build an appreciation for anyone who can pull off an amazing performance on a set, under pressure and under time constraints. It definitely warps your opinions of other actors, I’d say.
MMM: Peter Sarsgaard was the only American actor on set. How did you find working with him?
Scherfig: He’s an unbelievably good colleague. He set a high standard for work ethic from his very first day. He never complained, was never home sick, never jet-lagged… He set a really good example. I’ve talked a lot about the discipline and high, high skills of the British actors as seen from my Danish point of view, but I have to say that Peter is unusually disciplined and humble and a good friend.
By film journalist Jan Gilbert