Ellie Murphy played Ellie Powers and Miss Bell in Django Away!

Hugh Moir: How did you meet Daniel Hutchings?

Ellie Murphy: I first met Daniel Hutchings when I responded to an advert that I saw on Arts Jobs. He was looking for "Laughers", that's what it said, and I thought "Ah, I can laugh! I can do that". When we met up, Daniel actually had some roles for me to play which was fantastic because I was just happy to be a Laugher. We met in a cafe in the middle of Manchester and just had a little talk about the script and the characters.

Murphy as Miss Bell shares a glance of disapproval with Nina Gilligan's Madame Bonneville while Sophia White's Miss Violet fixes a glare at the giggling farmhands.

Was there anything about the script that struck you as unique?

Yes, how each actor played two different roles. I thought that was really interesting because both roles that each actor was playing was quite different. I also thought it was good how there wasn't really anyone in the cast who had the main role, it was equally shared between the whole cast. It gave everybody their own little opportunity in their scene, which I thought was great.

Murphy's Ellie Powers a few moments after she's tried to end the film before it started.

What convinced you to work on it?

The fact that I've never really done anything quite like it before. When I met Daniel I was pleasantly surprised by how professional he was and how serious he was about it. I'd had meetings with other people in the past which were like "Er, it might happen, it might not. Let's do a bit of filming". But Daniel seemed very professional which just excited me really. I thought it was quite a challenge since I'd not had any screen roles before. Most of the professional work I'd done before was in theatre, in particular location acting, so I thought doing Django would give me some screen experience.

What was your most satisfying moment on set?

Getting to wear a beautiful dress that was donated by Nina. We used her bridesmaid's dresses from her own wedding! I loved wearing that. Another very satisfying moment for me was managing to hold it together when I really wanted to laugh and I had to keep a straight face (laughs) because I found a lot of it very funny. Like when Daniel was stood next to me in the opening scene and he shouts "Django AWAAAAAYYYYY" (laughs). I didn't expect him to say it that way and I really, really wanted to laugh. I don't know if you can see me laughing a little bit, but I thought I held it together quite well (laughs). There was another moment when me and Sophia had to be in the background talking but the way that the camera was angled meant that we had to stand very, very close together and we both found that hilarious. We both struggled with the giggles but we did get the shot.

"Django AWAY!" Murphy, Ryan and Titley's genuine surprise at Hutchings' pitch.

Do you have any thoughts on how your Exifestern character and your Reality character related to each other?

I mostly approached it separately with Ellie Powers and Miss Bell. I did find a link that I felt they were both strong female roles, they weren't playing the damsel in distress. They were both independent women (laughs). But I think I kept them quite separate mainly because of the accents. But I found it very enjoyable being able to play two characters. In the theatre work I've done in the past, I've played multiple roles in one play. So actually it was really nice to be able to get stuck into two different characters. And the fact that it was filmed gave me a bit more time, perhaps even more than in a play, to prepare the characters because instead of jumping straight from one to another I had a bit of a break between shoots to prepare.

How did you feel about Hutchings' zero budget methods?

The whole concept of doing the film for no money didn't bother me at all and that's the truth because I was absolutely loving the whole experience of it: the atmosphere of being on a set and working in front of a camera with professional people. To me, it was what I imagined it would feel like on an actual set where you would be getting paid so I was just loving it! And, a bonus, I got some material for my showreel so it was a win-win situation for me. It was very important for me to get some filmed work to start building a showreel because I've found, in this industry, there's a bit of a vicious circle: if you don't have a showreel you don't get the screen roles but if you haven’t done any screen roles then you can't have a showreel. So it was really, really good to get this footage down.

Did Django Away! turn out how you envisioned it?

If I'm honest, I don't know how I envisioned the end film to be (laughs). I just came in and did my scenes so I was thinking they'd all be along the same sort of lines. But it was a lot wackier than I expected (laughs). But that was a good thing, not in a bad way. When I first started the project I really didn't think it would be as professional looking as it is. Watching it on the screen, it could be any film that's on at the cinema now. It's filmed very, very well.

Murphy's ridiculing "Laugher" is one of many that haunt the film. But they are shown to be placated somewhat by the end of the film as Hutchings performs Comedy Makes Me Cry on stage.

What are your favourite moments of Django Away?

My favourite funny moment was quite near the end when Django meets Joe King and he just kept answering "I know you are but what am I" to all of Joe’s putdowns. The first time I saw it, it reminded me of being a kid but then it just carried on, and on, and on and I, personally, thought the longer it went on the funnier it got. I loved that. And there's a scene where it seems like Daniel's got a job going round a rest home, talking to people at their bedsides, sort of doing his act there. He's talking to a guy that's actually in a coma and he's just carrying on and on and you don't even know if the guy can hear him. I just think it's really sweet how he just carries on and on and he's really trying. It's very poignant and sweet and kind of sums up him up really.

What do you think films of this scale can offer?

I'd say it can probably effect an audience on a more personal level. You sort of have little subtitles in there that you wouldn't necessarily get in a bigger budget film. Even if it hits one member of the audience in a certain way I think it's worth it (laughs). Because it was zero budget, it didn't have that pressure to hit targets and get a certain number of viewers the first weekend it's out. It's actually nice because it can grow at its own pace and more and more people can become interested in it. As long as it's out there then there's no reason why it can't get a large audience. It just might take a bit longer (laughs).

Extracts of this interview were used for the What4 Film Specials that Presents Inc made to promote Django Away!