Mike Leigh was born in Salford - the home
of Coronation Street - in 1943 and has been working in the
theatre (including a sojourn in Australia) and television and
making films since 1971, the best known of which are Meantime
(1983), High Hopes (1988), Life Is Sweet (1991) and Naked (1993).
His films have won prizes everywhere in the world and, since
Naked took the Best Director and Best Actor awards (for David
Thewlis) at Cannes in 1993, Leigh has been one of the most
bankable of British directors. Secrets & Lies - which won
both the Palme díOr (the top prize at Cannes) for Leigh and
the Best Actress award for Brenda Blethyn in May 1996 - was made
mainly with money put up by the French company, Ciby 2000, which
has backed the work of David Lynch, Jane Campion, Pedro
AlmodĘvar and Robert Altman, among others.
(Secrets & Lies was shot in 1995 and opened in Australia on
October 24 1996.)
Q. The Palme díor for Secrets &
Lies made you the centre of a media frenzy in Cannes. Does that
kind of thing make you uncomfortable?
A. If anyone finds it difficult to
reconcile my subject matter with my enthusiasm for the razzmatazz
of Cannes, then they are naive and take a very narrow view of
things. Apart from anything else, the dinners are good.
So far as what has happened over the past few years at Cannes is
concerned, I regard it as entirely a good thing. I made films -
as you know - in total obscurity for many, many years. I never
dreamed that one would go to Cannes, let alone win a couple of
prizes as Naked did, let alone have the experience that we are
having here with (Secrets & Lies).
As a film-maker who began life as a film student in the early
sixties, being far more inspired and involved with international
cinema than with English-language cinema, it seems entirely
natural - and very good news indeed - to finally become part of
that international cinema. I never thought it would happen, but
itís brilliant that it has, and I have absolutely no
reservations about it.
Q. Secrets & Lies is very different
from Naked, which is much bleaker than most of your films. In
Naked, there was no resolution, no coming-together at the end. Do
you think audiences in Cannes who may not have been familiar
with, say High Hopes or Life is Sweet, were expecting something
less life-affirming than Secrets & Lies?
A. Naked, as a matter of fact, was quite a
hard act to follow. You make a film where you scrape away to the
rock-bottom of things - and then you have to make another one!
And one always lives under the threat - or the possibility - that
you are just making the same film over and over again.
Thatís a problem for anybody who does anything: that you
always tell the same story. And, in a certain sense, it would be
true of what I do.
Part of what I do as a film-maker, is to be an entrepreneur. That
is what it is about: putting entertainment on for people. But,
having said that, Iím quite comfortable about returning to
the general subject matter which I have always done, which is
relationships and people and family and all that. And, frankly,
Naked was no different. Life is very complex. I should know:
Iíve had to put up with it for 53 years!
Q. At Cannes, Brenda Blethyn won the
Best Actress prize but, for me, Timothy Spallís performance
was the revelation of the film. Thereís much more of a sense
of desperation about the character than we have seen in other
films heís done with you - that, and a sense almost of
A. Weíre very disappointed heís
not here (in Cannes), because he would have cut a very fine dash
indeed. Apart from anything else, as a confirmed gastronome, he
would have had a good time! Tim and I share a healthy taste for
the grotesque. Weíre both avid Dickensians, and heís
really good at all that. But heís also a sensitive and
emotional guy, and heís really pared away and got down to
that here in a very special way. Heís managed to create a
good guy who doesnít make you feel sick sentimentally.
Q. Youíre renowned for developing
your screenplays in collaboration with your actors. Indeed, you
must be the only film-maker in the world who can raise money to
make films without showing anybody a script!
A. Yes, but, for me, although there is much
discussion about characters, it is all really about the texture
of life. Iím very excited by what is around us and what we
wear. That, to me, is part of the joy of exploring real life -
and of film-making.