One of the most anticipated British films of the moment is this month's release The Face of an Angel directed by Michael Winterbottom. Not only does the film circle around the infamous Amanda Knox trial (although claims to only be loosely based on this story) it also sees newcomer model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne take a lead role. We chatted to Michael about the film and what he thinks about the trial and media-frenzy surrounding it.
How did you get involved with the project? Did you have to think it over (due to the sensitive subject matter?)
Well I read Barbie’s book (Barbie Latza author of Angel Face) and met her and thought it had 3 interesting angles to look at – e.g. UK, US & Italian.
I liked the stories of the journalists going up to Puglia partying and making friends, plus exploring the life of the students. Although they were writing and commenting about the students they also had their lives running in parallel to that.
It was quite a difficult film to make. We had to balance the fiction and the real case. There was quite a bit of publicity about us making the film too. The Italian press said we were saying something about the Italian justice system and we weren’t. The heart of this is that a girl has been killed. The Kercher family actually avoided the media during the case and I didn’t want to drag the family into this. Since we made the film, the family saw it they liked it and they were happy with us putting a caption at the end of the film.
Can we discuss the casting? How were Daniel, Cara and Kate become involved? Were they keen from the outset?
Well it varied. We were working on the script for a long time.
Daniel was the first person I cast for the film. He’d done Rush with producer Andrew Eaton and I knew from Andrew that Daniel was a great person to work with. I met Daniel in Brussels and thought he’d be great for the part. It’s hard to portray a writer, it’s a passive art, you’ve got to seem intelligent and believable. I wanted his character to appear sympathetic enough that people would want him to come out of his personal crisis.
Kate I met in LA. We were looking for an American really, she’s not American but she’s been there a long time. Kate’s extremely bright and speaks multiple languages, which impressed Daniel. She’s very good at German so Daniel and her were always chatting away. She has the natural sharpness and quickness that fitted the role.
Cara's role was the hardest one for me to cast. She needed to embody something of the girl who had died. She’s also representing the daughter that Daniel is missing. It was very tricky to find someone who filled that role and makes you remember that you should grab life and live for the moment. I met lots of good people but noone who was right for the part. I didn’t know who Cara was to be honest. Someone in my office said have you thought of Cara Delevingne and showed me a picture of her online. So then I met her and she’d flown in the night before from the US! She came straight from airport to the meeting full of energy and it was obvious that she was the right person for the part.
We get a glimpse of the inner circle of the media, and Thomas (Daniel's character) often has a negative point of view towards them and how they earn their living. Is this negative viewpoint one that you share?
Well all the journalists I met were bright, intelligent people. They start wanting to tell people about the world and the whole point of trials is that they are meant to be public and that everyone should know about. The role of the court reporter has a long history.
But the journalists also know they have to sell stories and the if the market is for gossip and speculation about how someone was murdered and their sex life, if you want to live and make money then they have to satisfy that market.
There are some hilarious deadpan scenes concerning the film industry (e.g. when Thomas is trying to discuss his project at lunch), did you bring any of your own experiences to these scenes?
No I’ve never had conversations like that! (I’ve been told by my financiers to say that) Of course you do have conversations like that all the time. Daniel is not the good guy and I’m not saying he’s great and the financiers are terrible, but yes meetings like that do happen. I’m not saying they happened in the making of this film however. A director has one job to do and a financier another but I’m not trying to slate them.
Did you form an opinion on whether Amanda Knox was guilty?
No I haven’t. I didn’t have an opinion at the start of this project and I didn’t have an opinion at the end. We got to know the journalists covering the case and from the outset they were equally divided between the Yes and No camp. Think how long the case went on and the amount of evidence uncovered. This is one of these cases that we’ll never really know for sure what happened. I don’t have an opinion. I don’t think that the why or who of the matter are that interesting, the fact that at the centre of it all a person died is the angle that I wanted to explore.