Working on Le Week-End

Hanif Kureishi and Roger Michell talk about their latest collaboration

by Amber Wilkinson

Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as Meg and Nick in Le Week-End - 'Slowly the characters come into focus and it becomes clearer how you should cast them'
Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as Meg and Nick in Le Week-End - 'Slowly the characters come into focus and it becomes clearer how you should cast them'
Listening to Hanif Kureishi and Roger Michell spar at the San Sebastian Film Festival press conference and roundtable interviews for Le Week-End, you can't help feeling that their own enduring relationship must have played, at least a little, into their creation of middle-aged couple Meg and Nick. The writer and director - whose collaboration began back in 1993 with mini-series The Buddha Of Surburbia and has included 2003's The Mother and Venus in 2006 - enjoy a quick-fire, easy repartee. In their film, Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) have a similar conversational cut and thrust - although they are skating on much thinner ice. We follow them over the course of a weekend as they do runners from restaurants, bump into Nick's old college chum (Jeff Goldblum), who seems to have it all, and wonder whether a quick exit from their relationship might also be for the best.

There must be people that you, as successful people, did go to university with you, who you still know, who didn't make it but who were extremely intelligent?

Roger Michell: There are far more people who are much more successful.

Writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell at San Sebastian Film Festival
Writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell at San Sebastian Film Festival Photo: Montse Castillo/©Festival de San Sebastián
Hanif Kureishi: But actually Jim Broadbent goes to Birmingham and works in a rather ordinary place because he doesn't want to be a glamorous, successful figure, he wants to teach ordinary people. I had friends at university who are like that and I'm sure you did.

RM: I think the education system overtook him. We spent time at a university in Birmingham, probably the third most prestigious university in Birmingham - or the least prestigious. And we spent time with the person who teaches philosophy there. It was a real shock to talk about his work. How he felt about how he was treated and how he felt about his work was, to me, a huge shock. I think Jim's character started out differently, with great idealism.

How did you collaborate with the actors?

RM: There isn't much improvisation. We worked with the actors for a long time. We wrote the script as it was developing with the actors, met round the kitchen table many times. And we rehearsed with the actors for a week in London, so they came well prepared.

And the Jeff Goldblum character?

HK: Well, he's a success. He, in a way, is what the Jim Broadbent character could or might have been. He's glamorous, he's got a young, beautiful wife, he's got an apartment in Paris, he's got a good job. So the idea of this rather depressed, gloomy man from Birmingham running into this rather dazzling figure in Paris, played by Jeff Goldblum, seemed to me to be a rather good idea.

RM: What's surprising about him is that we discover he's also riven with self-doubt and confusion and uncertainty about his future and that makes him, to us, intriguingly attractive, because we're addicted to self-loathing in people.

RM: He came right at the end of our shooting. It was a real tonic to have Jeff. I've worked with him before so I knew what to expect. He's a very committed, eccentric actor, who's unlike anyone I've ever worked with.

Le Week-End's Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent at New York Film Festival
Le Week-End's Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent at New York Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
When you were first writing the film did you have Jim and Lindsay in mind?

HK: When you write a film, you sort of vaguely think it would be great if you could have certain actors in the film. But the whole process takes so long, you never know who's going to be available but in the end Roger cast it very well.

RM: We talked about it from the very beginning. Slowly the characters come into focus and it becomes clearer how you should cast them, then it's symbiotic - we wrote that part for Jeff and when he agreed to do it, we tailored it to fit him.

Have you ever done a runner from a restaurant?

RM: I did once, yes. I felt deeply embarrassed afterwards. I was young and I was broke and it all went pear-shaped. It all ended in the worst possible way but I did do it. Here's what happened. We were in this restaurant in Hampstead in about 1977 and we decided to do a runner. So I went out and she stayed and we had a prearranged place where we were going to meet. I went to the prearranged place and I waited and I waited and I waited. I waited for an hour, and I thought, 'Fuck, they've caught her. She's in the kitchen washing up. So I went back to the restaurant and I went in and said, 'I'm so sorry, I think we forgot to pay.' The waitress said, 'You've just made my year. You realise that if you hadn't come back, it would have come out of my salary.' So, of course, I paid. We'd gone to different rendezvous points. So, it was a very moral fable. I never tried it again.

Le Week-End has also been screening at New York Film Festival and will open in the UK on October 11.

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