“These films rarely have queer characters”: How filmmakers behind Berlin-bound thriller ‘Fame’ wanted to challenge genre stereotypes

London-set, neo-noir thriller by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Chun Ping in fameStarring George McKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, world premiere in Berlinale’s Panorama section this year.

By Paul Verhoeven came Meet the Safdie Brothers good time This revenge story pushes the boundaries of cinematic gender stereotypes.

the misfit Breakout Stewart-Jarrett, whose recent credits include Candyman And mopePlays Jules, a successful drag queen whose life and career are destroyed by a violent homophobic attack.

When his path crosses master criminal Preston (McKay) in a gay sauna, the outwardly macho young man doesn’t recognize his victim without his wig and make-up, allowing Jules to infiltrate his life and take revenge.

in fame Marks screenwriter Freeman’s first feature (the industry, This is going to heart And power) and theater director Ping, who has described himself in the past as “an isolated creator in a simple space.”

Sam H Freeman, Ng Chun Ping

Agile Films

The production began life years ago on the pair’s house-shared sofa as they played videogames and watched late-night thrillers.

“It was born out of our love and enjoyment of high-octane, neo-noir thrillers These are our references, images of old-school stuff like Nicolas Winding Refn, the Safdie brothers, even Martin Scorsese movies,” explains Freeman.

“But as much as we love those movies, we realize that we don’t exist in this world. They are so hyper-masculine and revel in such hyper-masculinity. There are very few queer characters in this film. And when there are, they’re often funny, with a kind of fog.”

Ping is exemplified by Chris Tucker’s character Ruby Road in Luc Besson’s 1997 cult hit The fifth element.

“It’s a very quirky character that adds texture and comic relief. That’s how queer people have existed in thrillers for the longest time, as a flavor, as opposed to the agent driving the action,” he says.

The idea of ​​making Jules’ character a drag queen was originally introduced as a plot device so that she would be unrecognizable to her former attacker, but the concept of drag has become intertwined with the storyline and characterization.

“All the characters are wearing drag not just Jules who is wearing a very literal form of drag at the beginning. Preston is wearing it, all his friends are wearing it, like they’re pretending to be somebody, something they’re not,” Freeman said.

“Jules’ revenge on Preston is trying to take that drag out of him, the way he was literally pulled out of his body at the beginning of the film.”

Ping says the drag theme added another layer to the film: “It enabled us to tell a bigger, deeper story about identity and people’s place in the world and in society.”

The story oscillates between the backdrop of London’s LGBTQ+ scene and the city’s sprawling nightlife world, with a brooding score by Adam Zanota Bozowski to a soundtrack inspired by Gaspar No’s immutable.

“He did an amazing number, creating a sound that’s London, that’s inside Jules’ head, that’s a thriller, that’s subjective, that’s dark, that’s sexy,” Ping said.

The feature follows the duo’s BAFTA-nominated and BIFA-winning short of the same name, starring Papa Esiedu and Harris Dickinson, which they developed as a proof of concept for the long-planned feature.

The filmmakers credit producers Sam Ritzenberg and Miles Payne, founder of London-based Agile Films, who came on board to help get the original idea off the ground.

“We’ve been talking about me writing something purely for a while. We pitched this idea. They thought it was exciting and took a gamble,” says Freeman. “It is not easy to find money for a little. It would be nothing if they didn’t take a chance on us. We owe them a lot.”

The BIFA success and BAFTA nomination helped support the feature for BBC Films and Sebastian Raybold’s Anton Corp handling international sales.

George McKay, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett of Fame

The directors decided to recast the roles for the feature, signing Stewart-Jarrett and McCay.

“We wanted to stay away from short films. There were new characters and a new story,” said Freeman.

“We’ve stayed close to Papa, we really love him and his work,” he added. “Hopefully, we can make more films, and he will come back and be involved. So, there was not much drama in the decision. I think we wanted to start the film fresh.

Directors do not draw on whether actors’ sexual identities were important to them in casting the film.

“We’re proud to talk about the fact that we’ve recruited our cast and crew from across the spectrum of sexuality, anyone who sees our film will know it’s firmly ‘queer’. However, we feel quite strongly that it is not our place to comment on the sexuality of any member of our team,” they said.

Ping said Stewart-Jarrett, who grew up in South London, brought a special understanding to the role of Jules because the character outwardly takes on the appearance and brusque hyper-masculine manner of Preston and his macho friends.

“He has experience with this type of behavior and brings it to the character as he assumes his ‘masculine pull,'” he explains.

Freeman admits that Munich: Edge of War And 1917 Star McKay was less of an obvious choice for Preston.

“Every time you see him, he’s so different, but he’s not necessarily the first person most people would think of for the role,” Freeman said.

“We got the script to her agent and she really responded to it. We had a drink, and he had a lot of passion for it and that was it. He was really, really involved from the beginning, which was nice because it was our first low-budget film.”

Ping emphasizes how Preston’s character is completely at odds with McCoy’s character in real life.

“It always amazes me how different he is from George in the film. In real life, he is sweet, so friendly and such a decent guy. He was unrecognizable from his usual stuff but he brought an essential sweetness to Preston, which deepened the character.”

The film keeps the audience guessing whether it will be a redemption story or a revenge story till the end. Ping said that was one of their goals.

“What we really wanted was for people to root for them to be together, but at the same time feel really uncomfortable with rooting for them to be together,” Ping said. “It’s both a thriller-thriller and a psychological thriller, but it’s also an emotional thriller, where you want to slam the brakes at the same time as you slam the gas.”

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