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Hey all, I was so thrilled to speak with the folks behind the romance-drenched new drama, Bright Star.  Stars Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman sat down to chat about Keats, romance in a corset, The Stone Roses, Perfume, “powerful and sensuous and explosive and electric” kisses and Sucker Punch.

Dig it.


Bright Star

Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, director Jane Campion and producer Jan Chapman


Ben Whishaw


The Lady Miz Diva:  How do you begin to prepare to play one of the best known poets of all time?

BW:  Um, I suppose just try and understand as much as possible and read as much as possible, I did a lot of reading.  I read Andrew Motion’s biography, but then I also read about four other biographies, and all the letters, which are really the best way in because they’re so incredibly intimate.  We never wanted to be academic about it.  Both Jane and I read a lot and had to find the right Keats for or our story, which is a kind of a poem on their story, which is all it can be.  I think Jane was a very big influence, as well on the way we represented him because she had a very particular vision in mind.


LMD:  One of the things that interested me about Bright Star is that it’s kind of a love story in a strait jacket.  You have to convey this deep passion with no more than a chaste kiss or the brush of a hand.  I wondered what kind of notes you made about the restraint you had to have for this film?

BW:  Yeah, it’s funny because until we started showing the film to people I never even thought about it being chaste.  I knew there were limitations upon their relationships, but they always felt more like the limitations that were on most relationships in those days.  I remember there was one scene where Abbie and I were sitting together – we were surrounded by some of Keats’ friends - and Abbie and I just instinctively put our hands on each other’s knees and Jane was like, “No, no, there’s no way you could have done that then.”  It was ridiculous.   I was aware there were restrictions, but actually, when we were rehearsing and filming it always felt very passionate, very sensual. Perhaps that’s something you don’t see so much now, but I think just because it’s only a kiss doesn’t mean it’s not as powerful and sensuous and explosive and electric as something more obviously fulfilling.


LMD:  Keats’ friends are interesting because they seem like a He-Man Woman Haters’ club, Mr. Brown in particular.  How did you read the relationship between Keats and Brown?

BW:  Well, I suppose when we were preparing the film and discussing it, I think we just thought they were great chums, you know?  I think it even others of Keats’ friends thought it was a peculiar kind of friendship and couldn’t see what Keats saw in this guy. He was Keats’ best friend, you know?  But I always thought that Charles Brown grounded Keats, kind of stopped him from disappearing into the ether, and I think he had an earthiness, as well, Keats, which is very strongly revealed in the letters.  They shared a kind of sense of humour.  I think there was jealousy perhaps, because there this thing of there a strong friendship and suddenly there’s this third party who’s getting more attention than you.  I think that’s something we got through in our lives; a friendship is invaded by a romance.  It kind of alters the balance.


LMD:  There’s a feeling of real ease and relaxation as I watch the performances.  Was it a relaxed set?

BW:  We had over three weeks rehearsal, which is amazing - quite rare on film.  Yeah, it was great.  It was a strange kind of a rehearsal cos we’d spend a lot of time just kind of lolling around on couches looking out the window, cos I come from theatre, so I suppose I went in expecting something more disciplined and rigorous.  And actually Jane encouraged us, one day I had a headache and Jane said, “Take a sleep,” so I slept for three hours. {Laughs} That was what the rehearsal consisted of.  But there was a kind of strange method, I think in that, because it was to do with just being present, not forcing anything; learning to be completely relaxed with each other, able to be very vulnerable with each other. 


LMD:  Some of most naturalistic scenes are of Keats interacting with Fanny’s family, particularly the younger siblings.  Toots, the little sister is adorable…

BW:  She’s so beautiful, isn’t she? Edie {Martin}.


LMD:  Tell us about working with the younger cast.  You don’t get to see the brother too much.

BW:  He doesn’t say so much, but he’s always kinda there, isn’t he?  Hovering around.  I really loved him.  Well, Keats had a younger sister, Fanny Keats, who he was very protective of.  Lots if his letters are written to her.  Although it’s not mentioned in the film, I think Toots is kind of a little sister, it’s a little sister relationship.  Jane is also magnificent with children.  She loves their energies.  I think if anything, she’d like us all to have to purity of little children cos they can’t lie about things, you know?  They’re just absolutely truthful. 


LMD:  What’s coming up next for you? 

BW:  I’m doing some theatre next; I’m doing a play in London and then I think a play here in New York.  It’s called The Pride, directed by Joe Mantello.


LMD:  What do you think audiences will take away from Bright Star?

BW:  What I love about the film, aside from the fact that I find it a very moving story and I’m always moved to tears when I see it.  I love that it seems to have that effect on other people, not just me and Jane and the people that have made it.  It seems to move people, which I love.  I know that’s what Jane wanted was to leave people feeling sensitised and in touch with what they feel, which is what I think the Romantic poets were all about, really.  They were all reacting against what was happening in the world, which was this mechanisation and industrialisation of human beings and they were putting people and nature back at the centre of life which is what I think the film probably is trying to do.  We’ll see whether we live in the world that will take it or is interested in it, I don’t know, we’ll see.


Jane Campion and Jan Chapman


The Lady Miz Diva:  I’ve just finished talking to that lovely young leading man of yours.

Jane Campion:  Isn’t he dreamy?  He’s adorable.


LMD:  How did you know he was your Keats?

Jan Chapman: It was pretty clear, pretty quickly that Ben was like Keats was, even though we’d looked at other people, as well.

Jane C:  The strange thing was when people said, ‘You gotta meet Ben Whishaw.  He’s been in this film called Perfume.’  We went to see it and we were like, “Ahhhh!”  As far away from our visualisation of Keats as there is.  I just decided he couldn’t be this savage, murderous wolf.  I just couldn’t come round to it.  Then his agent sent me some photos that made him look so dreamy; he looked like a rock star.  And you know, Ben can put it on, too, he can sort of do the poses.


LMD:  He sort of reminded me of Ian Brown from the Stone Roses in this, but then the Romantics poets were like the rock stars of their day.  

Jane C:  They were, they were, yeah.  I think the thing that’s so surprising or charming is that Ben’s got this real kindness in him.  He’s very, very sweet and strong.  We were coming through the airport; I thought we were going get into trouble coming through customs.  There was a woman who was taking her job of telling you to stand behind the line {Laughs} very seriously.  You know, a little bit of power can do crazy things {Laughs}.  It was kind of horrible; she was treating us as if we were in a concentration camp. *in growling voice* “Get up there!”  And he said, “I don’t like to be talked to like this. Can’t you speak more gently?” 

{Both laugh}

Yeah, he will stand up for what he thinks what’s what.


LMD:  Can you tell us about Abbie then joining a long line of Campion women?  How did you know she was Fanny?

Jane C:  She did this amazing audition.  Jan knew her beforehand.  I’d met her a while before that.  When an actor has got a special quality, people talk about it from day one as soon as they see it.  It’s that rare thing where there’s a mystery to them, a strength, it’s the element of surprise - you don’t know quite what they’re gonna do.  Abbie apparently liked the script, she said she felt it was alive and it was breathing.  What surprised me is that she could do the kind of sassy, young Fanny, but she did it in a way where she was so pleased with herself. {Laughs} It wasn’t cheap or irritating, she just loved being young and alive and beautiful and gorgeous and on the other side of it she had this heart.  So, it wasn’t like a hollow thing, she could really travel that distance. When the game playing started to hurt them and they didn’t know where they were and Keats said, “I can’t take anymore of that.  Be sweet to me, be kind. I’m too vulnerable.”  She got it, you know?  And I think their connection was pretty profound in anybody’s book and very loyal.  Meeting different girls made me realise that there’s something about Australian girls that they’re brought up in a much less submissive way than English girls, sure even Americans {Laughs} Challenge to you!


LMD:  Reading up on Fanny Brawne and John Keats for this interview, I was surprised how badly she was regarded by many of Keats’ peers and by society for keeping his letters after her marriage.  What was your take on her?

Jane C:  I think I did feel somewhat that Fanny had been misunderstood. To me, reading the letters, reading anything that you can get your hands on that’s actually from the time that would be actual evidence, all you can see is incredible loyalty, incredible love.  And yet, still some people persisted in saying that she was…


LMD:  “Promiscuous” is one description I read.

Jane C:  Yeah, I dunno where that came from.  Sometimes it came from paranoia of Keats when they were separated that she was dancing.  She loved to dance, y’know?

Jan C:  Yeah, he was imagining that she was doing things, but it was so obvious...

Jane C:  He was imagining that she was maybe flirting, but it was obvious that she wasn’t and she was heartbroken that he might think that. As a matter of fact, his illness made him pretty paranoid at one stage.  I think suffering from fever and things like that can make you paranoid.


LMD:  That speaks to my question of Mr. Brown’s relationship with Fanny and how you pictured the triangle of himself, Fanny and Keats.

Jane C:  Even Mr. Brown came round to realising that and commenting that Fanny and her family gave Keats final life a caring that he wasn’t able to do.  I dunno if it was he was afraid to go to Italy, or the coming of his own son that had distracted him, or he was exhausted, no money.  Whatever it was a decision he regretted for the rest of his life.  But he did see and when he had to actually tell her… Keats wrote to Brown, “I know you don’t necessarily like Fanny, but for my sake, please, do anything you can for her now that I’m gone.”  And he had the job of having to go and tell Fanny {of Keats’ death} and he waited a day.  He couldn’t begin himself to bring her the news.  She had said to him, “When you hear the news, tell me immediately.”


LMD:  What do you think audiences will take away from Bright Star? 

Jane C:  I know that they’re all gonna take something different away and I like that, but the thing I hope is increased sensitivity.  That’s it.


Abbie Cornish


The Lady Miz Diva:  How did you come to play Fanny Brawne?

Abbie Cornish:  I read the script and I was instantly swept off my feat.  Just loved it.  I did an audition with Jane that was about two hours long and it was just myself and Jane and the composer of the film, Mark Bradshaw.  He’s a young guy, he was just twenty-five at the time, the same age as Keats and kind of Keats’ energy.  And it was a really nice day; it didn’t feel like a heavy audition or anything, it was more like a workshop than anything else.  I was the first person Jane saw, so then she went off around the rest of the world and auditioned other people and she came back to the beginning and gave me the job.


LMD:  I think she was little impressed with her Australian-ness. 

AC:  Yeah {Laughs}


LMD:  She said that she found Australian girls were brought up to be less submissive than either British or American girls.  Do you think that’s true?

AC:  I guess so… yeah, yeah.


LMD:  Why?

AC:  I dunno why.  For me personally, I grew up in the country, I grew up on a farm and I have brothers – one two years older and two years younger.  So, I was riding horses and riding motorbikes.  I was driving cars when I was eleven and twelve years old, racing around the rally track at the back of the house.  I don’t know, it definitely frees your spirit y’know?  You’re like “Whoo!”  And even city girls, you know, a couple of my girlfriends, they’re from the city, they’re sure of themselves and they’re bold and they know what they’re doing.  I don’t know what it is.


LMD:  I asked Ben what it was like to film this love story in a strait jacket, or maybe a corset is more appropriate.  You have to express so much passion with just a touch or a few fairly chaste kisses.  I wondered how you and he worked on getting so much emotion to work onscreen while working with such limited ways to get it across?

AC:  I don’t feel like we overanalysed that stuff.  I feel like that stuff just was and because everything was in its right place, the set, the crew, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all that seemed so real and Ben became Keats.  Ben was Keats just from the very beginning, y’know?  Yeah.  And I felt like Fanny Brawne, so when you put all of that together, those moments just come organically.  And we knew in the script when it said, “Keats reaches for Fanny Brawne’s hand,” and it was such a simple direction.


LMD:  Ben mentioned one scene where you’re sitting together and just naturally putting a hand on each other’s knee and Jane correcting that.

AC:  True!  There was like one or two times, cos Ben and I just loved each other, as well, you know?  So it was easy and the intensity of the love story between them.  But that was in the scene where he’s just about to leave to Italy and they’re having tea and they’re discussing his trip and they’re sitting in the window sill.  I felt really strongly about having my hand on his knee and I still did it I think. {Laughs}


LMD:  The first film that made you a name in your homeland was Somersault {2004}, directed by Cate Shortland.  You got great notices here working with Kimberly Peirce in Stop Loss {2008}, and now you’re working with Jane Campion.  Do you find that there’s a comfort level working on films helmed by women?

AC:  Yeah, I do love working with females, but I like working with males, too.  I think you’re working with female energy, which is just different to male; it just is.  But I know with Jane on Bright Star, she’s an incredibly special person, very sensitive, so intertwined with what was going on.  There’s a couple of scenes that Ben and I did together and I think the first AD would call cut, cos Jane was glued to the monitor with the headset on totally in the scene with tears dripping down her face.  So, the first AD would call “Cut,” and I would turn around and see Jane, she was just like, in the scene with us.  The invisible person in the scene.  It was so amazing, so nice to have a director that invested in what they’re doing.


LMD:  Do you find that occurs more with females than males?

AC:  Yeah, I’ve never turned around and seen a guy crying at the monitor. {Laughs} Though Shekhar Kapur {Director of Elizabeth: The Golden Age – 2007}, he reminds me a little bit of Jane in regards to how incredibly visual he is and wise and also just such an awareness and understanding of what’s in front of him and what’s going on to the most minute detail.  But again, he’s male so it’s different, but definitely similarities in direction.


LMD:  I wondered what you thought of Fanny’s part in the triangle between herself, Keats and Mr. Brown?  Here’s this sheltered teenager coming up against this older man who really dislikes and is jealous of her.

AC:  That takes a particular type of person to do that.  There’s lots of teenagers that I’ve met who wouldn’t know what to do in a situation with a guy like that, particularly an older guy, y’know?  Especially when he sends her the Valentine’s letter; that strange sexual tension which is really weird particularly from a young girl who hasn’t had sex before, who’s barely probably held a hand with a guy, or kissed a guy on the cheek.  It’s kind of really strange and weird.  Jane was adamant about her charisma and her vibrancy in the beginning of the film; she really wanted to put that in there.  For me, too, as an actor, I knew that I only had a limited amount of time to show that, because once the love becomes painful, once Keats starts to get sick, I don’t have time to show that side of her at all.  So that was important at the beginning.  I think she was like that, I just think she was really strong and knew who she was.


LMD:  I spoke with Vanessa Hudgens a short while ago who told me about a very male project coming up that you’re involved in.

AC:  Yes! Well, male in direction but full of chick power!


LMD:  Is it fun?

AC:  It’s so much fun.  Yeah and Vanessa is such a sweet girl.  She’s so gorgeous.  I love her.  So, it’s a film called Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s directing it and it’s the story of five girls who try to escape a psych ward in the sixties, but then the film goes into this sub-reality where the psych ward turns into a real sort of burlesque world and then each time they sort of try to get something to escape it goes off into a dream world which is where the action happens.  So it’s really trippy, y'know?



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 14th, 2009




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