TROCHE ROSE: BEDROOMS & HALLWAYS
NICK RODDICK talks to director Rose Troche about her new film, Bedrooms &
Hallways, a comedy about sexual identity which brings Troche firmly into the cinematic
mainstream after the highly successful but niche-oriented Go Fish. Of course, Sleepless in
Seattle it isn’t: Troche still marches very much to her own beat.
Rose Troche, says John Pierson in his wickedly
funny series of snapshots of the US indie scene, Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes,
"is a live wire with a cutting sense of humour". He might also have said that
she talks a lot, very fast, although maybe that is pretty much what you would expect of a
film-maker from Chicago.
"Cutting and generally hilarious new film about sexual
We’re talking about Bedrooms & Hallways,
her sparky, definitely cutting and generally hilarious new film about sexual identity, but
I foolishly begin by asking her to "talk me through" how the film came to be
made. Troche proceeds to do just that, starting from the beginning, with occasional
time-outs for detours and embellishments.
This is time-consuming, because the making of Bedrooms
& Hallways took about a year-and-a-half from when Troche first read Robert
Farrar’s screenplay to the film’s unveiling in Cannes 1998. And, as Troche
talks, a quick calculation suggests that the narrated version is proceeding at about a
minute for every week of real time. At this rate, it will be an hour-and-a-half before I
get to my second question, so I decide to short-circuit things a little. Quite a lot, in
"What would you like people to be talking about when
they come out of Bedrooms & Hallways?" I ask, disingenuously.
I should perhaps explain here that the film is about a gay
man called Leo (Kevin McKidd from Trainspotting) who ends up in the situation that all gay
guys fear: he falls in love with a straight man called Brendan (played by Royal
Shakespeare Company regular James Purefoy). What makes the film especially interesting,
however, is that the problem doesn’t arise out of Brendan’s straightness: he
responds to Leo’s advances and even begins to fall in love himself. No, the problem
has to do with the fact that Brendan is having difficulty getting over the break-up of his
long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Sally (Jennifer Ehle, who starred in the
BBC’s Pride and Prejudice), which is a glitch any reader over the age of 16 is likely
to have come across at least once in his or her life.
"if I could make a genderless movie..."
But this isn’t real life: it’s a romantic
comedy. So Sally, with whom Brendan used to live, turns out to be one of Leo’s oldest
friends. In fact, if he hadn’t come out, they would probably be an item. Indeed, he
is still very fond of her.
In fact, Farrar’s script has less to do with men
thinking with their dicks instead of their heads than with people following their hearts
rather than their minds. It’s a romantic comedy in which the characters’
sexuality is almost a secondary issue.
"Back when we were casting," says the director,
"I thought if I could make a genderless movie, that’s something I would so love
to do. As we go into the next century, can we please leave some of our identity politics
back here? Cinema is so influential: I think that’s one thing it should do. Films are
out there for a lot of different reasons, but a movie like Bedrooms & Hallways happens
to be out there for a similar reason to, I think, The Object of My Affection, which is to
further an understanding and to loosen a grip on what is right and what is wrong and say
that these things are understandable. Can we not treat them as being so different any
Then, as her words-per-minute rate hits maximum, Troche
says something that doesn’t quite come out right. What the film sets out to do, she
says, is "to normalise gay relations. Like when we started on Go Fish, that was
probably part of the manifesto..."
'Rose Troche wants to normalise lesbians!’
I ask her whether "normalise" as a word
doesn’t rather conjure up images of those 50s psychiatric programmes designed
precisely to iron out all forms of deviant behaviour, especially anything not completely
and aggressively heterosexual?
"Oh my God, yes, it does", says Troche,
shrieking with laughter and imagining the headline. "‘Rose Troche wants to
normalise lesbians!’ I think you’d better change that to ‘demystify’,
or I’ll really have people hating me."
It would, I think, be hard to hate anyone who had made
Bedrooms & Hallways. It’s every bit as much a feelgood movie as Go Fish, but it
brings a much more sophisticated, mainstream sensibility to bear on the lives of its
characters - not just Leo, Brendan and Sally, but also their friends Darren (Tom Hollander
from Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence, who has a lot of fun here meeting Jeremy and
Brendan); Jeremy (Hugo Weaving as a very straight-looking estate agent whose pin-striped
suit hides some pretty kinky habits); and Leo and Darren’s flatmate, Angie (Julie
Graham, who appeared alongside Troche’s co-writer on Go Fish, Guinevere Turner, in
Preaching to the Perverted). Plus there is Keith (Four Weddings star Simon Callow), who
runs a New Age men’s group which provides the film with some of its funniest moments;
and his partner, Sybil (award-winning stage actress Harriet Walter), who does clever
things with crystals.
Following the success of Go Fish, Troche was flooded with
movie offers. There was a script called The Summer of Sirens - a yelp of laughter
indicates that she thinks it’s a funny title - and she got nine-tenths of the way
towards making a film called A Low Life in High Heels before the very last person who had
to say yes said no.
"Sometimes you get yourself attached to things"
One of the good things about that period, Troche
claims, is that "I learned what I thought a good script was like, from reading so
many bad ones that I’d been sent! But I was getting to the point where I felt,
‘I have to, have to do another film...’ I think what happens to directors,
particularly writer/directors, is you get kind of starving to do a film... I mean, like,
you have to work. And I think sometimes you get yourself attached to things that are not
wholly the right thing to be attached to."
Bedrooms & Hallways she knew straight away was the
right thing for her to be attached to, however. "Dorothy [Berwin, a London-based
producer who, with her American partner Ceci Dempsey, produced Troche’s new film]
sent it to me. I was sending her a script and she was sending me a script. Actually, they
crossed in the air."
The writer, Robert Farrar (who had adapted his novel,
Watch That Man, into the screenplay for last year’s Bill Murray movie, The Man Who
Knew Too Little), had stipulated that he would only agree to have Berwin and Dempsey do
the movie if he could approve the director. So Troche flew to London to meet him.
By the time the two met, Farrar, having already seen Go
Fish, had only one problem with Troche doing his film, and it wasn’t the fact that
she was a woman or that she was American. "Robert’s hesitation was like,
‘How old are you’?" recalls the director. "And I said, ‘I’m
31.’ And he said ‘Oh good, your Saturn’s returned. Because if your Saturn
was still returning, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t say yes’. And I’m
like, ‘That seems so random and weird’.
But it turned out to be the beginning of an extremely
fruitful 18-month collaboration, during which Troche had lots of input into the script and
Farrar made sure that its distinctively English voice was retained.
"This is the whole reason why I made this movie...you
can leave your options open."
"I would be in New York and I would take a
stab at a scene. Then I would fax it to Robert and Robert would British-ise it," she
says. "Only the sensibility stayed - only the core of what was there - and he would
totally make it a) funnier and b) turn it into something British." They did 12 drafts
For Troche, the key to Bedrooms & Hallways is that
it’s a comedy about sexual and gender identity. The funniest scenes focus on
Keith’s men’s group, as they explore the pleasures and pains of being male,
including one hilarious camping trip designed to promote bonding.
But the core of the film is Leo’s refusal to accept
that there is a ‘gay’ way to behave, either in terms of his dress or,
ultimately, in terms of whom he sleeps with. Hence the ending, where it appears - Troche
is ambivalent about this - that Sally and Leo have slept together. Actually, they have,
but it depends on what you mean by ‘slept’ - that’s where the ambiguity
lies. "This is the whole reason why I made this movie," she says. "The
ultimate theme of it to me is that you can leave your options open."
That, in many ways, is the key to the joys of Bedrooms
& Hallways: it’s a film about people, some of whom are gay, not a gay film. And,
whether or not it’s the right word, it does ‘normalise’ the relationships:
they seem natural - so much so that it takes a little gem of a scene to bring out the fact
that the world at large does not always see things in the same way.
Leo and Sally are walking in a park, arm-in-arm, talking
animatedly about the situation and their feelings for Brendan. Another (presumably
heterosexual) couple passes them going the other way and offers a casual,
couple-meets-couple ‘Good morning!’ greeting.
‘Everyone knows what I am!’
"If you’re a gay man and you’re
walking down the street with a woman, you’re going to code completely
differently," declares Troche. "You will, all of a sudden, be accepted.
‘Oh, that feels different. I don’t feel like I’m being looked at as
gay’ - which is how a gay person always walks down a street - like, ‘Everyone
knows what I am!’
"And, all of a sudden, when Leo’s walking in the
park with this woman, it’s like there’s a little tingle of power there. And you
will never get that unless you are someone who’s been on the outside, who’s
walked down the street looking at the sidewalk. You know: ‘I won’t bother you if
you don’t bother me’."