LOACH, KEN – LOOKING FOR ERIC Q&A
Soccer is a gymnasium for your emotions, says Looking for Eric director Ken
Loach in this Q&A – but that’s just the backdrop to a film in which truth of
character is paramount.
Q: How did this film come into being?
I got a message that Eric Cantona was trying to get in touch…It was about two or
three years ago. Without him there would be no film. A very nice French
producer, Pascal Caucheteux, spoke with Rebecca [O’Brien, Producer] and
suggested that he and Eric and we met. Obviously we knew Eric Cantona, knew his
public persona very well, and knew him as a fantastic footballer. And they knew
that Paul [Laverty, writer] and I were interested in football. So we met. Eric
had a few ideas that were all very interesting, in particular a story of his
relationship with one fan. Paul and I couldn’t really make that work in terms of
narrative and characters and development, but we thought it was an interesting
area to explore - not only the enjoyment of football and the part that football
plays in people's lives, but also the notion of celebrity and how celebrities
are built up in the press and on television: they have a superhuman quality in
Paul went away with a blank sheet of paper and wrote a story that tried to bring
in all these elements. There were no major misgivings about showing it to Eric
because we'd met two or three times and we had a good sense of who he was: he
just seemed somebody who was not reverent about himself and had a twinkle in his
eye about the whole project. It was fun, rather than some heavy-handed affair.
We were just hoping he would enjoy it and he was kind enough to say that he did.
Q: Why Cantona?
He's original and bright and sharp and perceptive. He thinks a little outside
the game and his jousts with journalists were always funny and witty. He's
obviously a man of some substance - we knew that about him just from the way
he'd been in public, from the seagulls quote both before and afterwards. As we
talked to him - particularly as Paul talked to him - his thoughts on the game
and on his place in it and what he tried to do and how he approached it all
became part of the project.
When Eric walks in a room you really know he's there. It's true of very few
people but he's a man with considerable charisma and a magnetism. Actors talk
about natural projection, in that you can communicate from the stage to the back
of the auditorium without apparently doing anything. Eric did that on a football
field – he communicated to 70,000 people. That's an extraordinary natural
In Manchester he was treated with reverence and affection. We had to keep him
under wraps a bit - it's the first time I've ever had paparazzi lurking round a
set. And if you were with him in the street the traffic would slow down and
people would seize him by the hand.
I went to a game with him at Old Trafford. Even without knowing he was there
they were singing the Cantona songs - they were singing his name when he hadn't
been there for a decade. Then when they discovered he was there the roof went
up. Grown men wept! As we were leaving old fellas were coming up to him shaking
him by the hand. Very few players have inspired such affection.
Q: Why Football?
I only know it as a spectator but to go to a game is very social: you meet the
same, quite large group of people and what you have in common is support for the
team. It's nothing to do with work, it's nothing to do with anything except the
game and that wide selection of disparate people.
But the game itself is like a gymnasium for your emotions. You experience
everything. Hope, joy, sorrow, grief, suspense, anguish. Delirious ecstasy when
the goal goes in. It's all those things but they’re all contained in a safe
framework that - I can't say, ‘it doesn't matter’ - but in the end it is only a
game and in the end real life carries on. It's a huge therapeutic exercise where
you have all these emotions but nevertheless they're within a safe environment.
Q: Who is Eric Bishop, your lead character?
He's an intelligent man who suffers from panic attacks and it's really
interfered with his ability to stay in a relationship. His response to it is
just to put his head in the sand, go out with the lads, go to the games, have a
drink and not deal with it. The consequence is his first marriage broke down. He
then married someone else who developed a drink problem. She had two sons by
different fathers. When she finally went off the rails he was left with these
two lads and because at heart he's a very generous person, when they were
younger he did have a reasonable relationship with them. But as they’ve become
teenagers they do what teenagers do, which is if they see a weakness they
exploit it. They destroy him. He's left with a big house that he can’t manage,
and of course chaos breeds chaos. He can barely hold his job together and when
we first see him he's in the middle of a panic attack.
Q: How was the film cast?
Next to the script the casting is the most important thing. I worked with
Kathleen [Crawford, Casting Director] again and we saw unknown actors,
well-known actors, everybody - we just try to be as inclusive as possible. It's
always important that the film is rooted somewhere specific, so we did restrict
it to people from Manchester or nearby. The Eric in the film is a Manchester
United supporter when most Manchester United supporters came from Manchester. So
we thought it was important that he was played by a Manchester man. With Steve
Evets we were able to sense that he was a man on the edge. He's also funny but
not in a way that he's playing comedy: he's just being true. We look for true
responses and then when somebody reveals themselves, that they reveal themselves
in a way that is in line with the character. Because you can get somebody who's
really brilliant - right social class, everything right - but as they reveal
themselves in their performance it's something different to the character.
You’ve got to find somebody who's good in all those ways but also true to the
character you want on the screen.
Q: How was Cantona himself introduced in to the action?
There was a moment! It was very elaborate. Surprise is the hardest thing to act,
and Steve (Evets) had no idea - he knew that Eric Cantona was involved as a
producer but he didn't know that he was in the film. On the day he was going to
be in it we brought him in to the house and in to the bedroom. I said to Steve,
“The light's not quite right. We're going to have to put up a bit of black to
minimise the reflection. Give us ten minutes.” Steve went out for a smoke, Eric
Cantona hid behind a black drape that we'd put round the camera and then we
played the scene. Steve was looking towards the life-size Cantona poster and
Eric slipped out and stood behind him, and spoke. Unfortunately we had some
Belgian camera assistants and when Steve heard the voice he thought it was one
of them speaking. So he stood there and he didn't know what to do. The first
take it didn't quite work. But there was still surprise enough for the second
Q: Tonally, how do you go from comic scenes to more serious moments?
You can only be truthful. And that again is down to finding people who can be
truthful and naturally funny. Or truthful and naturally touching. The moment
there's a sense of, ‘Now it's a comedy scene,’ and ‘Now it's a sad scene,’ it
wouldn't work. That's why somebody like John's [Henshaw] a good actor. He's
serious and he's funny without a change of step. Ricky Tomlinson is like that as
well. He can be funny and in exactly the same mood he can be serious. That he
doesn't have to change gear is the essential thing
Q: What do you hope an audience will take from the film?
Just the fact that it's about friendship and about coming to terms with who you
are. It's a film against individualism: we’re stronger as a gang than we are on
our own. You can be pretentious about this but it is about the solidarity of
friends, which is epitomised in a crowd of football supporters. But also where
you work and the people you work alongside. Although that seems an almost trite
observation, it's still not the spirit of the age. Or it hasn't been the spirit
of the age for the last 30 years, where people are your competitors, not your
Q: Cantona plays the trumpet in the film. Does he have a future as a
When George Fenton recorded the music and heard Eric playing, I sent Eric a text
saying, ‘The musicians are impressed but suggest you don't give up the football
just yet.’ He texted back and said, ‘Maybe they think I take their work.’
Published September 24, 2009
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