Butterfly memories, part 2

Screenwriter Luke Davies on Lion and what it felt like to win a BAFTA.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

BAFTA wins for Dev Patel and Luke Davies - Lion at The Paris Theatre
BAFTA wins for Dev Patel and Luke Davies - Lion at The Paris Theatre Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Luke Davies, the screenwriter of Lion (based on Saroo Brierley's memoir A Long Way Home) was a BAFTA Adapted Screenplay nominee along with Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals) Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures); Eric Heisserer (Arrival); and Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight (Hacksaw Ridge). On Sunday night, it was announced that he and Dev Patel (Best Supporting Actor) for his portrayal of Saroo Brierley were honoured with BAFTAs.

During our conversation, Luke Davies gave me some insight on Sue Brierley and Nicole Kidman, Burt Lancaster in John Frankenheimer's The Train, Anton Corbijn, looking forward to Gianfranco Rosi's Boatman, his work on Felix Van Groeningen's upcoming Beautiful Boy starring Steve Carell for Jeremy Kleiner of Brad Pitt's Plan B, and what he learned at the World Premiere of Lion in New York.

Luke Davies on Sue Brierley:
Luke Davies on Sue Brierley: "When she told me that story it was like a phenomenal piece of information." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

After I congratulated Luke Davies on his much deserved BAFTA triumph, he sent me the following quote to be included in our conversation:

“I’m so thrilled to receive this BAFTA. I never realised, it’s the strangest, longest, most elongated moment after 'And the winner is …' Time is very elastic! It was a surreal moment. In my rushed speech I forgot to thank Saroo Brierley, the real person our film is based on, and our real hero. I was so thrilled, too, for Dev Patel’s win. I loved how flustered he was - he’s so sweet and unassuming, and all his enthusiasm was just bursting out of him!” Cheers, Luke

Anne-Katrin Titze: Nicole Kidman's moment when she [as Sue Brierley] is explaining adoption, why she adopted the boys, is for me one of the best pleas for adoption that I know on film. Where did that scene come from?

Luke Davies: One way or another, there are two moments in Saroo's book [A Long Way Home] where he talks about that. He talks about how surprised he was to learn from his mother very late in his life, like at 30 years old, to learn that they physically could have had children and chose not to. This was a huge discovery for him because it made him feel really more special. He just presumed like most of society presumes that if you adopt, it's because there's a problem.

Luke Davies on Saroo Brierley:
Luke Davies on Saroo Brierley: "This was a huge discovery for him because it made him feel really more special." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Second choice.

LD: Yes, second choice.

AKT: And she is explaining to him - no, it isn't. It's because we wanted you and your brother.

LD: And I tell you the most incredible thing that I learned two months ago here in New York at the world premiere of Lion. I was talking to Sue and if I'd known this earlier it would have made it into that scene. Sue was 17 years old when she got married to John. From the very beginning this was their vision of their destiny in life. That there are enough children suffering in the world - what she says in the speech, in the monologue.

The way they saw themselves as a couple for life was they were going to alleviate some of that suffering. And back then, the Australian law said that to adopt you had to prove infertility.

AKT: Really?

LD: Yeah. And she couldn't prove infertility because she wasn't infertile. And they waited 16 years for the law to change because their vision was so pure. It's an incredible story. In her early thirties, the Australian law changes. Immediately they begin the process of adoption. And the incredible thought is that in that 16 years Saroo was born and lived for five years in his home village and got on that train and got lost. So their lives literally collided.

Dev Patel as Saroo Brierley wins BAFTA Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel as Saroo Brierley wins BAFTA Best Supporting Actor

When she told me that story it was like a phenomenal piece of information. I was like, "Sue, I was in Hobart with a tape recorder 15 months ago. Why didn't you tell me that then?"

AKT: Still, the scene works so well. Nicole Kidman is phenomenal in that moment.

LD: It's a beautiful speech and it's great seeing both actors doing such amazing work. Even Dev's stuff in that scene, it's so powerful, even though he is being passive in the scene. It's her scene.

AKT: Do you only do films with one-word titles? Life, Candy, Lion? If anybody is offering something longer, you say no?

LD: I wrote a movie that starts shooting in six weeks and it's called Beautiful Boy.

AKT: Oh, two words!

LD: And that's directed … Did you see Broken Circle Breakdown by the Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen?

AKT: Yes I did.

LD: It's his first English language film, his first American film. It's called Beautiful Boy, stars Steve Carell and it starts shooting on March 26, 27 in L.A.. I'm super excited about that. It's like a really intense father/son methamphetamine addiction kind of drama.

Luke Davies on Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel:
Luke Davies on Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel: "It's a beautiful speech and it's great seeing both actors doing such amazing work." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: So you're connecting all your expertise from what you did before?

LD: No, it's …

AKT: Only James Dean is missing?

LD: Yeah, right. When the possibility of this film came up, I thought, I don't know if I want to go and write something else that's also about drugs like Candy. But it's Plan B. I love this company. Brad Pitt's company. It's Jeremy Kleiner. He made 12 Years A Slave, The Big Short and Selma, so he's a great guy to work with. And I decided to take this job.

AKT: Right after working with Anton Corbijn you did this one [Lion]?

LD: Yeah, there was an overlap. They were overlapping a little bit. But this was the immediate one after Anton Corbijn. The connection is that it's the same production company. Not Weinstein but See-Saw films.

AKT: Did you ever see Boatman? An earlier film by Gianfranco Rosi who is nominated now for Fire At Sea for Best Documentary?

LD: No, tell me about it!

AKT: I just thought about the connection with lost boys and India. But I wanted to ask you about trains. Did you watch any train movies in preparation?

Lion poster at The Paris Theatre in New York
Lion poster at The Paris Theatre in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

LD: No?

AKT: Wes Anderson talked about watching train movies in preparation for The Darjeeling Limited. The train here is so important.

LD: I didn't but I rode a lot of trains in India and I learned about how intense and exhausting that experience is. The chaos of the Indian train system, but it's a beautiful kind of chaos. It all somehow works. I didn't think of that. Although one of my favorite movies is called The Train. It's a 1962 John Frankenheimer film. It stars Burt Lancaster as a French resistance fighter.

AKT: Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember that.

LD: They divert the train with all the stolen art the Nazis are taking back to Germany. They repaint all the station signs to make the German soldiers think that they're going back to Germany but they're actually taking them in a circle. It's an amazing movie.

Read what Luke Davies had to say on adapting Saroo Brierley's memoir into Lion.

Coming up - A Long Way Home with Saroo Brierley and Sue Brierley.

Lion is in cinemas in the US and the UK.

Share this with others on...

The image makers Caroline Champetier on Vilmos Zsigmond, Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir, and her career

Sundance 2018: Festival preview Films we're looking forward to at this year's festival

It never was you Laurie Simmons on My Art and pushing boundaries

On the road Paolo Virzì on Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren and The Leisure Seeker

Becker opens French film jamboree Gala screening of First World War drama

Alberto Vazquez retrospective comes to Scotland Spanish animator will also host masterclass

More news and features

We're bringing you news and reviews direct from Sundance, checking out some of the indie films likely to make a big splash this year.

We're looking forward to the Glasgow Film Festival.

We've recently been at the Palm Springs film festival, the first big event in the 2018 film calender. We wrapped up last year with coverage from Made In Prague, Welsh horror festival Abertoir, the London Korean Film Festival and DOC NYC.

Read our full for recent coverage.

Visit our festivals section.


Get your New Year off to a winning start with our competitions to win a copy of Bad Day For The Cut and Sweet Virginia.