With On a Clear Day, first time feature director Gaby Dellal has veteran Scottish actor Peter Mullan to help carry her story of an older man, laid off from his job and struggling to find his way. To do so he decides to swim the English Channel — a challenge made more difficult by the fact he is haunted by the loss of one of his twin sons to drowning years ago.
The L Magazine:On a Clear Day seems like a strange subject for a woman director — talk about a testosteroned-themed story… Doesn’t that seem weird?
Gaby Dellal: I know, isn’t that weird (laughs)? Well, I’m a mother of three boys, so I think what happens is really weird. How do I make babies with penises? That’s my initial thing. You look at your baby, and you think how did I create that? How did that come out of me? In the same way I think, “why not allow me to tell a tale about men,” and I felt that it would’ve been interesting to see the male version of this film, wouldn’t it? The male’s side of the story, I think would’ve been different. I think that probably I might’ve pushed the effusiveness more than a man might’ve, I don’t know, but what intrigued me were the father-son relationships, so that’s what turned me on to the script initially anyway. I’ve met very few men who have had good relationships with their fathers, and that interests me. Did you have a good relationship with your father?
The L: No, I didn’t but he’s dead now.
GD: Well, exactly, there you go. Very few men — I think three men have told me — that they have good relationships with their fathers.
The L: It’s interesting that you picked this story, because Scottish men are considered…
GD: They’re uptight, repressed….
The L: So an actor like Peter Mullan must be great to work with. I don’t think that you would have to worry about garnering his respect.
GD: No, but he is difficult, because everyone’s so worried because he’s a director. When I was trying to raise the money for the financing, I did get one distributor who actually put me through the mill. They said, “ You and Peter Mullan? How on Earth do you think that that’s going to work?!” And I said, “Why shouldn’t it work?” They said, “Well, he’s a director!” And I said, “And?” And from that point of view, Peter was very good because he didn’t for one second attempt to direct anything, or say a word to me. He really respected the fact that it was my film, and not his.
The L: If you’ve seen his other films, like Magadalene Sisters, he’s really interested in dealing with the relationships between women and men. And he has that sensible strong left of center point of view.
GD: Yeah, he did. He likes female directors. But he’s still a macho, Glaswegian man. He likes to really think he’s open, and is really in tune with his feminine side. Bollocks.
The L: But he must’ve loved seeing himself on screen, thinking how manly and strong he was.
GD: No, he’s very funny. He talks incredibly fondly about that. People say — I love this about him — people ask did you train for this role? And he says, “Yes, I tried for six months.” And he says, “Can you believe, that the first time ever, I understand women. There are shots in that film, that as a director, I’d not see it, but as an actor, all I could see was my tits. I’ve got fucking big tits, man (laughs).” That’s his obsession; he says that “I’ve got these great big boobs.” And I say, “Peter, I’ve never seem them once.” And he says, “They’re there, and every time I see that scene I’m like this.”
The L: Was this based on a true story?
GD: No. But we did end up researching it, because there have been men who in real life have swum the Channel, so we have a history and a background that they’re trying to get rid of something in their lives. People don’t go climb a mountain just because you feel like climbing a mountain. You don’t think, there’s this little thing that’s happened to me so fuck, I have to go climb a mountain (laughs). No, I found that a lot of people had a story to tell, and that inspired them to do whatever feat it is that they did.