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The rebel rules: Brit filmmaker John Maybury brings his new queer edge to an exclusive talk on directing Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley in the creepy-cool new thriller The Jacket.

It's one of the more panic-inducing screen sequences in memory: In a hospital morgue, a mental patient is trussed in a straitjacket and locked away in the airless dark of a body storage drawer. He screams for help. But then the visions come ... The film is The Jacket, which just hit theaters; the man in the morgue drawer is Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), a Gulf War veteran dumped in a V.A. psych ward with a sadistic doctor.

In charge of the chills is director John Maybury, an iconoclastic queer British artist and filmmaker who's basically unknown in the States except to those who saw Love Is the Devil, Maybury's riveting 1998 film biography of the brilliant and decidedly kinky gay painter Francis Bacon.

Now, under the aegis of Section 8, the production banner of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, Maybury makes his Hollywood debut--his queer continental sensibilities intact. He sat down with The Advocate hours before The Jacket's world premiere.

People are already talking about The Jacket.

I'm very proud of it. I love the film, and I don't give a shit what anyone else thinks. I set out to do something, and I did it.

I love that. Talking about the film, during the first scene of Adrien Brody in that box, I thought I'd have to leave the theater.

Funnily enough, at the preview I was only allowed to invite two friends. The two friends walked out after five minutes, and had they not, it would have been the first preview in Warner's history to have no walkouts. After that initial claustrophobia, though, once Jack wants to get in there to have his experiences, you want to go with him.

During his sessions in the box, Jack starts to hallucinate--and then fall in love with a mysterious young woman played by Keira Knightley. Famously, the rumor is that you didn't want Keira for the part.

Those rumors were true. I'd seen Bend It Like Beckham and I'd seen Pirates of the Caribbean, and I mean, Keira's a beautiful girl, but I was like, if this kid can't do an American accent, this film's down the dumper. When she came to meet me she'd had food poisoning, so she looked fabulous. And I was very blunt. I said, "I've met amazing American actresses. I don't want you for this; why should I have you?" She said, "If I don't do this, I'm going to be in corsets for the next 20 years." And I thought, That's a smart thing for this kid to say.

How did you get those groat shots in the box?

My production designer, who is brilliant, constructed variations--there was, obviously, the wall of morgue drawers, which Adrien actually did go in. But we also built sections so we could film sideways, we could film down. It was an extreme experience for Adrien, because he was bound in this weird straitjacket.

Was there a limited time he could stay in there?

No. He was amazing. He gave me what I needed. I mean, it was an enormously demanding role for him. What I loved about Adrien in this role was, he has a kind of young Al Pachlo quality about him, kind of a boy from the Bronx, but also there's a sort of Modigliani elegance to him.

This movie is a far cry from Love Is the Devil, but I certainly see similarities in technique.

It's such a long time since Love Is the Devil--1997--I kind of wanted to remind anybody who might have seen that that this was the same guy.... The color pattern, reflections on metal, little flourishes, things I love to see that have existed tight back to my Super 8 work and my kind of freaky weird queer cinema ... what was great was to impose that on a Hollywood movie.

When Steven Soderbergh called, did he have a script in mind?

After Love Is the Devil, I had lots of scripts sent to me from the States, and usually by about page 5, I'd throw them across the room. And then Steven sent me the screenplay of The Jacket, and I actually read it through from cover to cover, which was a breakthrough. Then I met with Missy Tajedin, the writer, a brilliant woman. The film was set in Vietnam originally; it was very testosterone-heavy. Missy came to London, and I said, "Look, [we should set the story against a war] that's more relevant to now."

Kosovo, or the Middle East.

I chose the Gulf War in the end. I had two nephews in that war, and I knew we could use the idea of Gulf War syndrome as one of the elements later on in the story. We did a lot of research, looked at a veterans' hospital--particularly people with mental problems--and it's like the lowest on the food chain in terms of funding.

Well, they couldn't cut it, could they? Mental problems, not very masculine.

Exactly. As we were filming, the story gradually became more and more and more prescient. Because in a way the film became a metaphor for Guantaname Bay and then for Abu Ghraib. What was extraordinary was, when I first got out to L.A. at that time, it was the time of the Oscars, when the second invasion of Iraq was going on, and it was like, Oscars, adverts, Peter Jennings, Oscars, adverts, Peter Jennings.

That was also the night your future leading man, Adrian Brady, won Best Actor for The Pianist and spoke movingly for peace.


You were working for a long time on a film about Christopher Marlowe, weren't you?

In the U.K., I'd worked for three years on that project, and various things along the way scuppered it. One of the producers and myself now own the screenplay, and I actually have a rather cool idea for it, which is to try and do it as a Japanese anime manga cartoon.


I'd always said I wanted to make some Elizabethan Blade Runner; since Marlowe was a spy. And also I think that costume dramas have gotten sort of hoary, whereas the archness and the extremeness--especially of certain animators--I adore some of that stuff. Apply it to that period, and then the sort of darkness of that story and the violence and even the sexuality would be much more permissible because it's animation.

How has being gay influenced the way you do your work?

I'm very sensitive to the needs of actors. I love actors, actually, which I don't think is true of every director. Also my aesthetic, the fact that I went to art school. Especially because of all the work I did with Derek Jarman, for instance, my work is kind of the English branch of the new queer cinema. Also I create a pretty good atmosphere on set, because I camp out with people.

Do you have a partner?

We've been together for 17 years. I'm still happy to know if there's anyone you can set me up with while I'm away. We're very modern.

Chatting with Keira

The young superstar salutes John Maybury--and her lesbian fans

Digging into one's first adult American role under the uncompromising eye of John Maybury might daunt another teenage British ingenue. Not Keira KnightIley, who turns 20 on March 26.

Describing your first meeting, John Maybury said, "She'd had food poisoning, so she looked fabulous."

[Laughs] Leave it to John to say that. I was puking all over the place. I was green

He was concerned about whether you could master an American accent for the film. You certainly did.

I worked with a dialogue coach for a month end a half before we started. Also, John wanted my voice to be a hell of a lot deeper than it actually is, so we worked on breath control and oil that kind of thing to get it really deep and husky. He said to me, "I want Courtney Love."

Tell me one story about John on set.

John on set is amazing. He's himself. He's wicked and brutally--I mean brutally--honest. But I absolutely love him, because for all his honesty and sometimes, dare I say it, nastiness on set, he knows exactly what he wants. And he's so calm and so together end so in control, everybody wants to work to please him. We finished early every single day, for chrissake. The chance to work with an artist like that, who's an artist, is amazing.

I'm sure you know this, but you're an enormous lesbian icon.

Am I? No! Excellent!

Is there anything you want to say to your lesbian fans?

That's fabulous! Thank you so much. That's the biggest compliment I've ever been paid in my entire life.
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Article Details
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Author:Stockwell, Anne
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 29, 2005
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