Leigh: Turner story made for cinema
Mike Leigh can't believe so much has been made of the fact that Timothy Spall, who stars in his latest film Mr Turner, spent two years learning to paint for his role as landscape artist J.M.W. Turner.
"He was playing Turner, what else do you expect him to do?!" exclaimed the acclaimed director. "People seem to think it's remarkable, but it isn't remotely remarkable. I couldn't possibly make a film about Turner and keep cutting to someone else's hands."
Mr Turner marks Spall and Leigh's fifth collaboration, and the film received rave reviews at Cannes earlier this year, with Spall walking away with the Best Actor award.
Leigh's always been excited by the artist's work. "It does invite a film, it's cinematic," he explained. "And when I started looking at Turner the personality, this flawed, eccentric, grumpy, passionate, consumed, driven guy, it seemed to tick all the boxes for a potential character in a Mike Leigh film."
The film explores the last quarter century of Turner, a man who was profoundly affected by the death of his father, loved by a housekeeper he took for granted and formed a close relationship with a seaside landlady, with whom he eventually lived incognito until his death in 1851.
"The reason Turner works isn't just Tim Spall's characterisation, it's a world being brought into existence," said Leigh, 71. "What I obviously aspire to do is to make a film that's real and resonant, detailed and full of moments, and smells just as if it was contemporary."
The actors Dorothy Atkinson and Marion Bailey, who've worked with him numerous times, have both said they don't even need to know what a project is about before agreeing to appear in a Mike Leigh film.
"Ha, that just shows how stupid they are," joked the director. "But seriously, any director needs people who are committed for this kind of stuff, where we absolutely conjure stuff out of the air.
"You have to have bright and talented people who are relentlessly devoted, and these guys are," added Leigh, who's famed for not having a script at the start of a project but develops an idea through lengthy improvisations with his actors.
"Of course, I'm a writer, and we arrive with something precise, but there isn't the security of a script that's been cooked up separately somewhere in an ivory tower."
:: Mr Turner is in cinemas now.