Roadside Attractions releases The Last Word at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Village East Cinema on April 14th, 2017.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to finding the right balance between entertaining the audience, provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was the most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Jason Connery: When I look at the process of editing, you never really know, when you're shooting, what you're fully getting. I was very lucky to be working with such talented actors because I got a lot. In fact, in the editing process, I cut about 45 minutes out of the film. It's normal to cut about 15 minutes, but the thing about the visualization of a film when you shoot it is the transitions from one scene to the next, one of the most important things for me. Making those transitions is an art and it means, hopefully, that the story's unveiling doesn't feel clunky. It is a balance, absolutely. Even before I got to the editing room was this idea that this was a golf movie and that it would only be thought of in that way. These people had a passion for it and they lived their life for it and it was the beginning, so it had a very different feeling compared to how golf is today. Finding the balance between the game and what they did and their passion for it and how different it was compared to now----as well as the relationship between the father and son and Meg and Tommy, the tragedy of that relationship, and the differences between the class systems at that time and the church being powerful and influential. I truly believe that we are not what we do. If you say that you're a journalist and that's what you are, and then you're not longer a journalist, does that mean that you no longer exist? You have a whole myriad of things in your life and emotions, and then there's your profession. So melding those two things is important and being able to bring in an audience who can meld those things as well.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If Tommy Morris were still alive today, what would you talk to him about?
JC: Every time that the film ends when I've watched it, I always think, "What could Tommy have done?" He had Meg by his side and obviously the tragic event, but if he and Meg had carried on, what would he have done? He says things like "Golf is your God," when he's talking to his dad. He had this amazing talent and it came easy to him, so he didn't have this sense of his own legacy or anything. I don't know if he would have carried on playing golf. Maybe he would have, but I feel like he would have opened the game and opened the world, as he was already doing, to perhaps another idea of it. I believe that he would have possibly gone on to do something else. I feel sad that he wasn't able to.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be fair to call the land in Tommy's Honour a character in itself?
JC: Yes. What's ironic about that is that I wanted to shoot the film, to a certain extent, staying away from the idea of the romantic, sunset, wind, bagpipes, fluttering flags, beautiful vistas. I wanted it to creep up on you. Of course, the opening shot spanning across the sea was about bringing you into this world with the irony of old Tom coming out of the water because he did swim in the sea every day---and then the end shot of the sea taking you out of that world. They were beautiful shots, but I tried to stay away from the idea of having a big vista shot of beauty. Yet, I do feel as though it creeps up on you. The light in Scotland---they just announced that they're going to build a studio there right near Edinburgh. I remember when I lived in California, I really understood why a lot of filmmakers shot there because you have the versatility of all of the landscapes: the desert's right there, the sea's right there and the light as well. Scotland has such a depth of light and the beauty of the clouds. I love Scotland and love the countryside.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would something be lost by watching Tommy's Honour on the small screen?
JC: Yes, of course. Also when it comes to performance. I come in close on a character's face on occasion and you really see nuance on their face which is lost somewhat on small screens. It's great that people are seeing the film to begin with, but the best place to see it, I think, is on the big screen for sure.
NYC MOVIE GURU: As a filmmaker, do you know when you've captured all the intangible qualities associated with humanism, a truly special effect?
JC: I have a love of understanding people and hearing people's stories. I don't quite know where it comes from. The strange thing is that people often tell me their stories because I'm genuinely interested. I do have a genuine enthusiasm for it. It's intangible, so it's very difficult to know fully when you have it. It's a bit like lightning in a bottle. There are some filmmakers who think that they have it and then suddenly realize that they don't, and because they did have it, they think that they always will. You make a film and then so many other things happen and then suddenly it's the right time and people are moved by it and they go see it, and then you try to recreate that. I think that can be a terrible blow. The wonderful thing about it is that, because it's intangible, no one has a formula for it. In this film, when I saw Jack [Lowden] and Peter [Mullen] working together and Ophelia [Lovibond] and Theresa [Bradley] and all of the actors to a certain extent, I felt that we had an authenticity. I worked hard at finding as many elements as one can and building it like an onion which I think is where my experience in acting comes in. I love echoes in stories. To give you an example, I gave Jack a golf ball that he's throwing up in the air when he's talking with James Hunter when they just had the fight. Then he sees Meg, he's still got the ball, we see him in the pub, and he's playing with the ball on the table. Eventually, he throws the ball on the window to get Meg to come with him. It's something small, but for me it feels nice to have those kinds of echoes and emotional echoes too and consistencies with characters that people can relate to and go, "Oh, yes, of course! Because he feels that way!" Those are things that help with intangibles.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Are you capable of detecting your own charisma?
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why not?
JC: Because it's a bit like not being able to smell yourself--you don't know your own scent. It's something that has to be looked at from the outside. The thing about Jack is that I Skyped with him originally and he was in his mom's house and I could see all of the crockery and dishes in the background. I could tell that he was nervous and was quite intense. Then I said something---I can't remember what it was---and he started laughing, and everything changed. He relaxed and suddenly we were talking from a position of just talking. That's where the true nature of people reveal themselves: when they're not self-conscious. I try to create that environment on my set so that the actors feel that it's ok to muck up and ok to fall over as long as you have the opportunity to play. Peter is a master of that---he's playing all the time and then, boom, he's in it. I would say to Jack, "Get out of your own way!" The freedom that he has physically, the way he walks, is a joy for me. As a person, he tapped into that which is not something that is obvious when you meet him.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is the purpose of struggle in life?
JC: The irony of life is that the only way that you can know utopia is to know struggle. You have to. It's like the only way that you can know what hot is is to feel cold. There's a beauty in the struggle. In that struggle and strife, when we as an audience see someone going through that and overcoming it. The worst thing that you can play as an actor is feeling sorry for yourself because if you feel sorry for yourself, apart from the fact that I'm not going to have any sympathy for you, how can I feel sorry for you? When you see somebody struggling with whatever the context is, we as an audience can do that for you, associate with it, and have the ability to be invested in it and excited by it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Tommy's Honour work in black-and-white?
JC: I hope so. In the costumes, there's some wonderful tweeds and layers, but there's also a simplicity to black-and-white. The irony of black-and-white today, because we're used to seeing films in color, is that it's initially shocking. It makes you pull out different things because it makes you focus on things that aren't vibrantly colored. When I watch Raging Bull and I see the blood going down his face and it's not red, it feels so intense because of your imagination. When I watch a horror movie, and they don't show the monster, my imagination is pretty vivid. Your imagination is going to tell you what the monster is and my imagination will tell me what the monster is to me, so therefore, they've created a monster that's very multifaceted compared to seeing a guy in a suit pumping his arms. Black-and-white makes you look at different things and your imagination fills in the gaps.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Francois Truffaut once observed that every great film has a perfect balance of Truth and Spectacle. Do you agree with his observation?
JC: I don't think that I do agree with that. I think that it depends how you define spectacle. A long time ago, my father did a movie called The Offence. In the movie, there's a very, very simple idea which is basically about a man who spent his life watching hideous things as a detective policeman. Then there's a man who's a pedophile, and he's going to get away with it. All of that rage builds up and he hits and kills the pedophile, and he's left with that. As a spectacle, it's very muted, but as a truth, for him in that environment, it's one of his best films---and there are only 4 characters in the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which do you think is harder to find: Truth within Spectacle or Spectacle within Truth?
JC: If the Spectacle is within Truth, I think there is the ability to have both, I believe. If I had the choice, I'd rather find truth anywhere more than spectacle. In essence, the truth is spectacle.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What actors from the Golden Age of American Cinema would you have liked to work with?
JC: When you go back to the Golden Age, the styles of acting changed so exponentially. In the 20's and 30's, you're just getting into the talkies, so it was all a bit stagey and there was a way of speaking that was so much more pronounced which was almost sort of jarring. Then you get through it and there've been some fantastic actors. There are actors and then there are stars, so it's difficult. I know that I always would want to work with Cary Grant because I never saw him really push. I never saw him put into a position where he felt like he was really in jeopardy as an actor. Say, for instance, that he played old Tom at the right age. It would be interesting to see what he would do with relationship with his son and the hardships of that. The margin for a great actor is that whatever they're saying, I can never imagine it being written down.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think Tommy would have liked to live in modern times with all of the social media? Would you have liked to live in 19th Century Scotland?
JC: In a way, Tiger Woods is a sort of Tommy Morris of our time. His demise and all of the stuff that happened to him is a sort of massive change of where he fell apart. If I did go back to that environment to live when they lived, I would much prefer to be an upper class gentleman because the average age was 43, and many children didn't make it to 5 years old. Those were very difficult times. It was exciting in the sense that it was the beginning of the industrial age, but I kind of like modern times.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What would make for a great double feature with Tommy's Honour?
JC: I love Local Hero. There's some wonderful characters in that film. I'd love to double bill it with Local Hero. That would be great!