Birdwatchers

Dominic Bridges and Mim Shaikh on pigeons, scary movies and Freehold

by Jennie Kermode

Mim Shaikh in Freehold
Mim Shaikh in Freehold

Hussein (Mim Shaikh) is a real estate agent in the cutthroaat property market of modern London. Determined to get ahead, he hasn't given a thought to who he steps on in the process, but one man, Orlan (Javier Botet), has paid a high price for Hussein's success and isn't going to take it lying down. Secretly moving into Hussein's flat, he begins a campaign of revenge.

That's the plot of Freehold, a socially astute comedy that goes to some very dark places. It reminds me of when, as children, my brother and I used to blame any mess or unexplained thing that happened in the house on our supposed secret lodger, Mr Nowhere Man. I suspect a lot of kids have tried things like this, and I suggest as much to Dom Bridges, the film's director.

Dom laughs. "That's a good way of putting it actually - blaming someone else for things if you don't know the answer to them."

He co-wrote the script with Rae Brunton. I ask him how the idea developed.

"I've been exposed to reckless estate agents myself on occasion," he says, "and I've found myself behaving in a bad way in reaction. There was also a newspaper article that I found in an airport in Hong Kong about a woman who had been living behind a guy's fridge for three years, so I got thinking about how someone might seek revenge in a subtle way."

What about the pigeons who sit on the window ledge observing it all?

"That was the film's original title, Two Pigeons. It was always about how beautiful these birds are. In London we call them all sorts of horrible things, like flying vermin, and there's this kind of image of pigeons sat at a table in Burger King or eating KFC, but they're beautiful things. To me they represent freedom but they've been reduced to this because everyone finds them annoying, and it's awful. It's a weird mindset."

"I agree so much," chips in Mim, who has joined us for the interview. "It made more sense that that should be the name of the film. I actually really love pigeons that way, I think they're amazing. They were my first my first pet I had on the balcony, and I'd come home from school and play with the pigeons 'cause I didn't have any friends 'cause I didn't have any brothers or sisters, and then one day the cat got out there and ate one of the pigeons and it was awful. My grandmother told me I was distraught. What you say about the pigeons representing freedom, it makes so much sense because that's what they meant to me."

In an odd way, it seems it's part of what drew him to the film.

"I got the script send out to me from my agent and I saw the title, Two Pigeons, and I was intrigued. So I read it and I just remember thinking what? Who, why, where? I had so many questions so I read it again and I just thought it was really interesting. There's a lot of depth to Hussein and I was reasoning why doing what he does make him way he is. I knew the way I meant to play him, I got that straight away.

"I see the goodness in everyone so even if an individual is being an absolute idiot or a bad person I have to understand why they do what they do, I know they have a heart deep down."

They key moment in the film for him, he says, is when Hussein realises that all he really has in the world is the two pigeons, and goes to talk to them. Then he does a double take.

"Hey, that's scary! It's only talking about this that I realise for the first time what I did when I was a child and now at age 25 I'm starring in a film doing the same thing. That's actually scary."

Dom, meanwhile, says "The key thing for me is every scene," and they both laugh. "Really though," he persists. "Because there's always an opportunity to make it better. I'm always thinking, what happens if we put the camera over here? even though we've worked it all out beforehand."

That's dangerous though, isn't it? With that approach, it's impossible to get anything finished.

"Yeah, but I never want to miss an opportunity to make summat better. And it's not just me - it comes from a lot of people, an amazing group of people."

They're both very excited that the film was selected for Frightfest.

"When I walked into the first screening it was huge," says Mim. "I mean, because it's an IMAX screen but there were a lot of people and the reaction was great. They were intrigued with the ending and afterwards they had some questions about Hussein's suits."

I had been going to ask about that. It's a really striking wardrobe.

"Our costume designer, Georgina Napier, has a great eye for detail and she chose them really, really well. They show him as someone who's quite cocky and has a lot of bravado. Afterwards she gave me couple of the suits. I have them in my wardrobe. The red checkered one I was going to wear here but then I thought no, that's not a good idea."

"It's quite surreal being here," says Dom. "I think we don't support big screen enthusiasts enough. It's great that there are so many people here just to watch films, especially horror films."

"I love the cult following Frightfest has for one particlar genre," says Mim. "I'd love to say that it's because I love horror films but the truth is that I've grown up my whole life not watching any horror films, I'm so scared of them. When I was a child I had a really vivid imagination so I would get scared really easily. I guess now that I've starred in one maybe I can watch them because I'll know they're not real!"

Dom, who doesn't share this problem, says he enjoys horror and his favourite horror film is The Thing. "The original," he stresses.

Whilst Mim is now preparing for a BBC television drama which will start shooting around the end of the year, Dom has several scripts to read through but admits that he's now tempted to go back to Rae and suggest they work on something else together. "I don't want to spend my time trying to be something I'm not," he says, and says that the reaction at Frightfest has strengthened that feeling. "It's all about confidence."

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