In Paddy Considine’s directorial debut “Tyrannosaur,” Peter Mullan (“War Horse”) and Olivia Colman (“The Iron Lady”) play Joseph and Hannah, two troubled souls trapped in destructive home lives that manage to connect and find hope in the other. The two characters meet after Joseph, a bitter widower who’s just killed his dog, stumbles into a Christian charity run by Ms. Colman’s unhappily married wife, who’s also being abused by her alcoholic husband.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this past January and recently swept the British Independent Film Awards, wining awards for best British independent film, best debut director for Mr. Considine and best actress for Ms. Colman. The film beat out more heavily favored dramas “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Shame.”
Speakeasy spoke to Mr. Mullan and Ms. Colman earlier this year.
Speakeasy: Both of you first became involved in “Tyrannosaur” roughly five years ago, when both of you starred in Mr. Considine’s short film “Dog Altogether,” the basis for “Tyrannosaur.”
Peter Mullan: When Paddy first sent the script for the movie, I wasn’t sure about it because the first eight, nine pages were basically the short film and I thought, oh my God, he has sent me the wrong script. And then it got into what is now the film and it blew me away. Initially, I didn’t know where he was going to take the short film, but I became so impressed with how he opened up the Hannah character and all that she is having to go through, and then gently reintroduced the Joseph character. Well, maybe gently is not the right word, given Joseph’s character. And then there was the great twist at the end and it all just blew me away.
Olivia Colman: I also loved the end, the extension of the short. You now see Joseph’s home and his life is not what you might expect. You think he is a complete bum and he’s not. He has got this proud, clean, tidy little house. And it’s lovely isn’t it, to see their whole love story?
Given the quick nature of the shoot, it sounds like Paddy gave you room to improvise and flesh out characters from the page.
Colman: Paddy was lovely at that. He would say, “You don’t even have to say the words [on the page.] Just show us where you think you might go so that we make sure there is no boom [microphone] in the way, and even then, you can change it again and we’ll just move.” For me, it took a little while to get used to because I’m so used to being told [by directors] we’ve already lit the scene, we want you to stand on that mark. So when Paddy goes, “Do what you want,” I panicked a little. I need instruction. It was great.
Mullan: I liked how the story remains as much a mystery to you as to anyone, and I don’t mean that in any kind of bleak way. I mean it is genuinely a mystery because you don’t quite know what you are going to do next or what is going to happen next. You may have read the script and you might know the journey, but for me, if a film is going to work acting-wise, the work can’t be premeditated. Then there’s no pursuit of truth. What you’d effectively be doing is a vanity exercise. If you break it down too much, it won’t work. When you don’t think too much about your performance, you have to feel it more. I didn’t know half the time whether my character loves this woman or if he’s just wanting her to cut his throat. I genuinely don’t know.
Whether or not they’re in love, the characters have a spiritual connection.
Colman: Well it’s shared upset and shared pain and they can sort of sense that in each other.
Mullan: Hannah has declared her faith and that’s the flame for [Joseph’s] particular moth. It’s like, “Oh really, you have faith? Watch us now try and break it into total pieces.” But the truth is, people like Joseph don’t actually want to break it. They want you to resist and then earn their respect. Of course, to Joseph’s horror he does break Hannah’s faith to a degree and then obviously he doesn’t feel good about it. One of my favorite scenes is when Joseph is watching Hannah give the last rites to his friend. I genuinely don’t know why I have no recollection of us doing it but what fascinates me about it is, and my reading of it may be wrong, but my reading of it was there’s this guy looking at someone wishing to God that if he is to die, then you’ll be the one that is there. At the same time, he’s horrified by the very notion of his own feelings.
Does it surprise you that some audiences seem to be more offended by the scenes of animal cruelty than the violence against women?
Mullan: The misplaced priorities anger me, to be honest. I mean there was this lady in the UK who became the most hated woman in all of England because she put a cat in the dustpan. The literally got death death threats, and the venom that was directed at this woman was astounding. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, do you watch the news? Do you know what is going on in Zimbabwe? Do you see what we’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq? I mean, no offense to cats, but it wasn’t like she was putting him through a meat grinder. I wouldn’t mind so much if they would transfer that care to human beings. But no offense to the animals. I love my dogs, you know.
Especially because since it’s a film, there is no harm actually being committed to the animal.
Colman: Exactly, it’s imagery. It illustrates, right away in the film, the extent to which Joseph has got himself in such a place that he’d damage a loyal, gentle thing. It’s a great way of telling you exactly where Joseph is at that point, isn’t it?
Mullan: Completely. I remember when Apocalypse Now first came out. All the press talked about was the whole bit when they severed the head of the cow towards the end. It’s like, you just sat through two and a half hours of a Vietnam War movie, one of the biggest, genocidal war crimes in human history, but you care if someone really cut the head off that cow? It’s what we do, but for me it’s so misplaced and then you really start to wonder about people and humanity.