A gran plan

Karl R Hearne on The G's inspiration, those who target the old and the portrayal of female sexuality as a radical act

by Amber Wilkinson

Dale Dickey as The G. Karl R Hearne: 'The idea for me was to take something that very easily could be a documentary or a social realist sort of drama but instead to put that as the context for a film that is genre and a little more fast paced'
Dale Dickey as The G. Karl R Hearne: 'The idea for me was to take something that very easily could be a documentary or a social realist sort of drama but instead to put that as the context for a film that is genre and a little more fast paced'
Karl R Hearne’s The G focuses on a gran (Dale Dickey) who refuses to go quietly after a corrupt legal guardian (Bruce Ramsay) steals her life out from under her and targets those she loves. Stuck in a carehome, she starts to take steps towards revenge as her granddaughter Emma (Romaine Denis) also starts to try to work an angle to get her tough-talking gran back. The film premiered at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, where we spoke to Canadian director Hearne about the inspiration of the film, those who target the old and the portrayal of female sexuality as a radical act.

I gather this film is drawn, not from your grandmother’s life, but rather based on her personality. I certainly hope this wasn’t something that happened to her - and I’m also hoping that she’s not a gun-toting gran… although I suppose that would be cool.

KRH: You're already on the right track. Some people have been misquoting us a little bit and saying it's based on an entirely true story. It's definitely more inspired by her character but unfortunately, there are a few real life things in there as well that I don't get into because it's some sensitive family details. But certainly, character wise, she was pretty singular. She was someone I always admired a lot. She was a very, very tough woman. And I always felt that I had this sort of, unspoken, sort of loving bond with her. I don't know exactly how much of that was in my own mind. Because like in the film, she wasn't someone who really expressed a lot of affection directly. But funnily enough, other people in the family also felt that I was the person that she loved. You know, but it was something that we sort of felt rather than heard.

Karl R Hearne: 'For me, having older characters having sex and intimate sensual moments on screen in North America is like a radical act'
Karl R Hearne: 'For me, having older characters having sex and intimate sensual moments on screen in North America is like a radical act'
The one thing that I found very unusual about her is that I don't think she expressed fear the way human beings normally do. I don't know if she felt fear, I assume maybe sometimes she did. But when I saw her once or twice in a situation, she never expressed any fear, it always came out as anger. And she just seemed like someone who couldn't be ruffled, who couldn't be made nervous. But she did seem to have a bit of a dark well, a kind of an intensity about her. And she was also a very talented, interesting person. So she was just someone that I did think of as a badass and I looked up to and I admired my whole life.

When you came to write this, did you have Dale in mind from the start

KRH: When I was writing the script, I did not specifically have an actress in mind at the very beginning. But after a little while, she became the person that I was thinking of. I didn't know exactly what would happen but once we reached out, I mean, there was a good reaction to the script. And then we started meeting, unfortunately on Zoom, which I hate, but we hit it off and we had a rapport and we took it from there.

In addition to Dale’s character being able to hold her own in a fight, you also show she has a more sensual side, which includes depicting a sexual encounter, which isn’t something that shown between older people that often onscreen in North American films.

KRH: I totally agree with you. For me, having older characters having sex and intimate sensual moments on screen in North America is like a radical act. I don't think it should be a radical act. But this is something that we discussed before. And Dale isvery kind to say that she trusted that she knew that it would be handled beautifully and all of that. But the truth is, you never know 100% as an actor, and it was very gutsy of her, it was a leap of faith. Now, we talked about it a lot. But you don't know for sure how something is going to be handled until you see it. And it was very important for all of us to be comfortable. But there was also one discussion where Roc LaFortune was saying, “I do hope you really show this because normally, if it's older people what they will do is cut from the massage to smoking in bed”. And that was always the idea. But it had to be something that we were all comfortable with and on board with, but I do think in North America, that constitutes a radical act, maybe that will change. Yes, it's a badass, older female lead role, which is great. But she’s also a multifaceted human being.

KRH: A lot of female sexuality, like it or not in our society, is wrapped up in not just youth, but in being looked at, and there's this idea that past a certain age, especially in Hollywood, or in North America, women are no longer looked at. So female sexuality does become progressively more and more invisible. This film is fighting against that. This is not in any way explicitly political, but I think all of that is implicit in the film. All of that is present in the film. At the same time, there's a genre element, and there's a dark thriller element, but by making this the context and this the lead role you're doing something that's very different.

When it came to the writing, did you do a lot of research about this sort of conning people out of their homes? I assume that this does, in some form, happen to people in North America.

KRH: It happens in so many forms across North America, both in Canada and the US. There's some articles that I've read about certain states in particular, where it's been almost institutionalised and legalised, that, I think if you put them in a film, people wouldn't believe it. Because I get that sort of reaction, like, “Well, that can actually happen?” The reality seems much more far-fetched than anything we put in the film. So I think those are the scariest ones, the ones where it's legal. I think they may have reversed this because of public outcry, but at one point in Nevada, you didn't even have to get consent of a judge any more to take over someone's assets and life. There were guardians, who were well known at the court, and they would just go to a county clerk, who could just sign a piece of paper, with doctor's notes and whatever, or doctor's advice. And you could literally just take over someone's entire life up to and including all their assets, what drugs they take, and who, including family members, are allowed to see them. The guardian can say their children are no longer allowed to visit. So this is all true.

Karl R Hearne: 'It's not easy to pay attention to these details when you have one hour to get five set-ups, and you're just like, “Shoot, shoot, move on, move on”,  but every single thing is there for a reason'
Karl R Hearne: 'It's not easy to pay attention to these details when you have one hour to get five set-ups, and you're just like, “Shoot, shoot, move on, move on”, but every single thing is there for a reason'

Now this is not in every single state, and there's definitely been some hue and cry about it. But there's also a gamut from that down to quasi-legal and out and out scams. I know in Montreal and Toronto in Canada there are scams that are just illegal, are frequent. There aer news stories like every month or two. So I think this is something that, unfortunately, is not going away. And so you have this marginalisation of the elderly, but you also have this preying on people who are vulnerable. There's an anger about all of that, that's also at the root of the film. And there's a little bit of a revenge story happening, and there's a bit of a cathartic arc.

It's interesting that you've chosen to tell this within a framework of genre. You could have told it as a straight drama but I know you’ve previously worked with thrillers so is that just something you particularly like as a genre

KRH: The idea for me was to take something that very easily could be a documentary or a social realist sort of drama but instead to put that as the context for a film that is genre and a little more fast paced, and something that is certainly fiction, and we can also sit back and soak up this performance and enjoy the film at the same time.

While I was watching it I was reminded of Seventies conspiracy thrillers a little bit

KRH: I wouldn't say that specifically discussed rooting it visually, or in that timeframe. We spent a lot of time watching a chaotic mix of different films. The nature of the beast is a lot of our ideas, we didn't have time to implement, so we would make sure to get the bare bones and then we will get as much as we could extra. All things considered, I’m delighted with what we were able to pull off.

There’s an attention to detail in the film as well, when we see Dale smoking for example, or you focus on feet in the initial scene at the surgery - first Dale's and then Romaine’s. Is that the sort of thing you try to look out for as a director?

KRH: Well, very much so. But I'll give you two specific examples that you just mentioned. So it’s something that fascinates me, little details like this. There's this famous author and surgeon Atul Gawande, in the US. He's a big writer for The New Yorker, and he said, the number one way to tell immediately if an older person is being well taken care of, is if you just look at their feet. They're often not able to take care of their own feet, often they have reduced mobility, they can't reach them, whatever. So this is something that I guess gerontologists have identified at one glance, it's one of the most important things. And so that's a detail throughout the film that you mentioned.

And the cigarettes, you just mentioned, that's also something for my grandmother, there's a little shot that people may or may not notice. But it's in that montage, where we think you're dying, you're expressing regrets about like the daughters in Buffalo, but there's this shot of a cigarette, that's all ash. And my grandmother who used to drink a bottle of vodka, smoked two packs a day, not eat, and she would walk around - this is when she's like in her 90s - with this giant ash cigarette. I'd be like a little kid or a teenager, she'd be like, “Karl, let me make you a sandwich”. And I'd have to watch the whole time the ash. [He mimes someone making a sandwich with cigarette hanging dangerously over it]. So anyway, every little detail in there is taken from something. It's not easy to pay attention to these details when you have one hour to get five set-ups, and you're just like, “Shoot, shoot, move on, move on”, but every single thing is there for a reason.

Of course, I realise you have just made this film, but I always have to ask the question of, you know what, what you're thinking about doing going forward?

KRH: One thing that's come up in the Q&As is will there be a sequel and we always tell them: The G2: Judgment Day. There was some thought about doing something that involved her backstory, because she has quite an interesting life. So that's one idea that actually we have talked about developing a little bit.

  • Read what Dale Dickey told us about The G.

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