Interview: Scott Hicks (director, THE BOYS ARE BACK)

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
September 22nd, 2009


Director Scott Hicks' list of nominations for his work reads like a filmmaker's dream: Oscar, AFI Award, BAFTA Film Award, DGA Award, Golden Globe, Emmy, WGA Award, and further nominations from film festivals including Toronto and Rotterdam. His 1996 feature SHINE garnered seven Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor win for Geoffrey Rush in a role that all but defined his career. But for all those accolades, Hicks is a lovely, grounded gentleman, who seems to like nothing better than to discuss his work with others. His latest, THE BOYS ARE BACK, starring Clive Owen, returns him to his home in South Australia, where much of the project's filming took place. It is a warm, sad, funny, moving portrait of a family putting itself back together in the face of unimaginable grief.

At THE BOYS ARE BACK press junket, I was lucky enough to not only participate in a rousing roundtable interview with Hicks, but I also got to have my own sitdown with him. Hit that jump to read the interview, including what types of films Hicks likes to make best, his favorite things that actors do, and the influence of the film's music. Beware, though, there are some spoilers!

There's just so much about this film that is so true about family life. And, as a husband and a father, how did you approach this really personal stuff?

Well, it was really important to me to try to keep the movie feeling real and feeling, because that's what struck me when I read the script, felt authentic, you know, in the sense that, the way, for example, those elements of how Joe responds to his son, and how is son behaves, didn't feel like a movie parent or a movie child. And so I wanted to maintain that feeling of - the best compliment somebody paid me coming out, was a huge Clive Owen fan, actually my oldest son, to be honest...and he said, "you know, I forgot I was watching Clive Owen in a movie. I just was feeling for this guy." And I thought, "wow! Well, I'm really pleased!" and it's a credit to Clive, as well that he was able to fit in that world.

It took so many parts of his other work, even in DUPLICITY, he had little funny bits in that, and the drama of something like CLOSER, and it was just this amazing part that he made his own and all of the best parts of his acting were in it.

That range, that full range of what he is capable of, I think, including vulnerability, and being able to open up emotionally, a hundred percent in ways that you don't often associate with his persona. And that, I think, was really telling and really powerful. And, for him, I think, the part of the challenge was working with such a young child whom he knew, unless he was careful, the kid was going to make it look like he was acting, because the kid would be real, hopefully, that was my intention, keep it real. Don't groom and prepare this child to the point where it's a manufactured performance, try to catch it while it feels spontaneous.

Clive was saying, some of the scenes, like the pillow fight, Nick (Nicholas McAnulty, who plays youngest son Artie in the film) didn't necessarily think that he was acting, he was just having fun with Clive.

That was very good little choreography! Having a pillow fight, which is why Clive gets wacked in the head when he's least expecting it! And gives it back, too, because it was a good illustration.

The veracity to it, it still effects me thinking about it now. I was telling my mom about it, and she was asking, "well, is it sad?" and I said, "no, it's not sad, it's just affecting."

I unashamedly say I like to make films about light at the end of the tunnel. Now, that means you go down a tunnel, I mean, sometimes you go deep and you go dark, but you will emerge, and I love the feeling that I get still if I see the movie, at the end, I see them spinning along in that little convertible and I feel that they are a funny little unit that has been restored and "the boys are back!" They really are, and they are off into an uncertain future, they go over the hill, the dust drifts across, you don't know what lies ahead, but they are together, and that's the key to me. So the emotion is more complicated than just sadness, it's sadness filled with hope.

So much of it is the family love story, and when they go to get Harry (the film's older son, played by George MacKay), there is this real tension, is he going to come back with them? And just thinking about what if he didn't, it's a tragedy.

And that's where little Artie physically attacks Joe, and futilely sort of pummels him, because he's so angry at what he see that Joe has done, ruined everything, and I feel so deeply for Joe at that moment, because he also recognizes that he's really blown it, in a shocking way. And you don't know if it will come good. So that moment when Harry appears on the platform, there was actually a lot of dialogue there originally, and it wasn't really working, I felt uncomfortable about them having too much to say to each other. So I said to the editor, let's make it play with looks. It's like a love story, actually, but the love story is about a father and his son. And the son is prepared to come try again, and it's written in the looks and glances between them, and that's much more powerful than all the words you care to write. I love when actors - in this case, I cut out the dialogue - but sometimes you play a scene where an actor says to you, "oh, I don't like the words," so I've actually said to them, "do it without words then, just do it, if you have another way of doing that, and you don't need those words, then forget about the words." And sometimes, something magic comes out of them, because it's about the feeling and the intention they have, and not just, "blah blah blah."

Another huge part of the movie was the music, and you talk so much about that, and I wanted to hear a bit more.

I decided that acoustic guitar was going to be an important voice in the film. And then, in the editing, I started using some of those elements of Sigur Ros and some of their bigger, sort of anthemic music and vocal. And it was done in the hope that I would be able to license it, but I was warned that they were very tough about that. It wasn't until I actually went to see them in Iceland and screened the movie for them that they completely fell in love with the film, which was the unexpected thing for me, all I went was to ask permission to use their music, and they came out saying, "this is the most amazing film!" And I thought, from the coolest guys on the planet, that was a really great recommend! So I got the permission to use it, which was thrilling, and then by searching around, lighted on Hal Lindis as a composer. Heard some pieces he'd written for other, like television work and film work, and I thought, this guy, his playing is just sublime, and brought him on and he was fantastic, just created a marvelous weave with the Sigur Ros.

None of the music is intrusive, but it's so present. Even the last scene, is so hopeful, but the way the music is, it still has this sadness to it.

The intention was it would sort of steal in on you, and that you're not conscious of it, because that's why I was avoiding the conventional movie score. Because then you risk the music trying to drive the emotion, or force the audience to something they may not necessarily be ready to feel. I like it when people find their own release in a movie, their own emotional release, and it comes for different people at different places in the film, and when the music is trying to dictate that is when people fall out of the film. So it was a very conscious process, and I'm pleased if it seems to work.

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