BL&F 10: STEVE TITLEY INTERVIEW
Steve Titley played Lee Hill and Lee Cobb in Django Away!
Hugh Moir: How did you meet Daniel Hutchings?
Steve Titley: It was on a stage or backstage somewhere, doing some stand-up. Getting a bit old, my memory’s going here (laughs). It was something to do with a stage (laughs). I can't remember exactly where it was but do I remember enjoying what Daniel was doing. It was different, sort of a bit wackier, I suppose in the mould of Django Away! It was not straightforward, it sort of knocked you a bit sideways first, you had to get into the vibe of it. It was good though, it was different! And it's good to see someone doing something a bit different because it can get a bit formulaic in comedy, as with everything else.
What was it about Django Away! that convinced you to work on it?
Well, I'm not in massive demand, I have to say. I mean Spielberg had me down for something but then he let me down again, for the third time, so I've taken his number off the autodial. But aside from that, I thought it would be different. Again, it's something that when you read it you can't quite get your head around it and I couldn't quite get my head around it until I was in it! Now I get it, so it's just that it was that bit different and not your straightforward comedy-drama (laughs) shall we say. But when I read it I could see that it was worth pursuing a bit further. I thought “Well if I can't get my head round it, it probably means it's good” (laughs) and it was.
Titley's Lee Hill has little time for Paul Ryan's Westwood and his ideas of what's hot and what's not.
What made it good for you?
I enjoyed the inter-cutting of the fantasy and reality and the echoes of the Spaghetti Western. I grew up with watching The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and all the other Spaghetti Westerns. Clint was the man to be back in the 70's. I enjoyed that and when I saw the final thing I could see that there were quite a lot of shots that, not being a filmmaker I'm not able to describe properly, but they were reminiscent of Sergio Leone. And the music as well actually, not just the filmic stuff. Quite cracking sounds! Up there with Ennio Morricone for me. I was singing away there at the first screening, getting into it.
Titley as Lee Cobb with Bonneville's Boys.
What was your most satisfying moment on set?
Risking sounding like an Oscar speech here, but I enjoyed all of it. It was a fun experience. The people were really nice, everybody was supportive. Daniel was very good in the way he'd deal with me: a not massively in demand unknown actor. But you feel like De Niro when you’re on his set. He builds your confidence up. I think one of the things I most enjoyed was my scene as the farmer where I was laughing, because I don't do it very often, sadly, and I'd forgotten it was fun! I had to laugh for about ten minutes, which is half a lifetimes' allowance for me, but it was strangely liberating. Laughter therapy. I've tried Primal Scream Therapy but I think I might go onto Laughter Therapy now. It was really enjoyable all round.
Do you have any thoughts on how your Exifestern character and your Reality character relate to each other?
Thinking about it, they’re obviously very different characters in very different realities. Getting all Stephen Hawking here, different universes and all that, but I suppose, thinking about it, the Lee Hill character is a bit world weary and cynical and sort of trying to test Hutchings. The Farmhand, in a more obvious way, is there with a more basic ridicule really. So I suppose he's getting it in the neck in both realities. I don't want to give a spoiler away but maybe he overcomes that. Let's hope anyway, we want a happy ending don't we (laughs).
"Watch and learn...." Cobb tells Bonneville's Boys how it's not done.
How did working with Hutchings' zero budget methods compare to other work you've done?
As a performer I was treated well, both on and off the set, so it didn't really affect the performers in that sense and I could see the production values in the final film so it shows you don't have to spend thousands and thousands to make a high production value film.
Did Django Away! turn out how you envisioned it?
Not quite, because I couldn't envision it from the bits I read (laughs), but that was part of the thing that made me want to do it, aside from that I was available. I still am if anybody's reading, almost permanently! (laughs) I wasn't sure until I saw the whole thing how it was going to turn out. But when I did I got the through lines about attitudes to comedy and the purity and life affirming value of laughter and the value of comedy. I didn't get all that until I saw it all together. I could tell it was going to be surreal, in some ways, with moments of slapstick and farce with character stuff as well, but it wasn't until I saw it that I really got the through lines, which is probably a good thing.
Cobb and the Boys have a good laugh at Django's digging, but only while Madame Bonneville is out of earshot.
As one of the first cast members, how did the project grow from your perspective?
When I saw the final version it struck me how it had developed from those early ideas. I remembered the shoots, just one camera and us, without loads and loads of people around. I could see that there must've been a lot of energy and imagination gone into it to make it look like a proper film (laughs). It's quite cinematic on the screen! The route of just going for it, going with the idea, shows us that that’s what counts in the end: the ideas are important and the technical expertise but it's the broader vision that makes it work. And it was quite a thing to see it go from fairly modest sets and set-ups to what it was like when it was all put together. I could see how it had grown, grown organically, a non-GM film (laughs).
Is there anything that films of this scale offer that larger films can't?
Yeah, again, I suppose, it's show business isn't in (laughs). You can go for the business but I think this scale of film has more purity when you have less money. If you start getting accountants and finance involved then they'll want to see a return. So unless you’re Ken Loach, or someone like that, where you run the show completely, directors probably feel under pressure sometimes to curb their vision or do something differently or make it more commercial. I think with this type of filmmaking there's no pressure from backers and there is definitely some artistic value in that. You end up not doing the obvious.
Lee Hill gives Hutchings the benefit of the doubt as his company is running out of options.
What are your favourite moments of Django Away?
I enjoyed the slapstick element of it, despite not being a massive fan of the genre, but I did enjoy the daftness of it. Especially the naivety of Hutchings' character which made me smile quite a lot. Also, spoiler alert, there is a serious through-line, I'm sounding pretentious now, but there is a serious element to it in terms of attitudes to comedy and the value of comedy. It was also interesting how it looked at comedy as a medicine, that it's something we all need and can make us feel better. It's one of the greatest things in life but it can also be used as a weapon. Comedy has to be treated with respect as it can tear people down or build them up. That was what I took from it in terms of the more serious side of it, which I found thought provoking. (Laughs) But, as I said, I am available: weddings, bar mitzvah, any religious or non-religious or humanist events of any description, I am available.
Extracts of this interview were used for the What4 Film Specials that Presents Inc made to promote Django Away!