Joanna Hogg: Behind the scenes of The Souvenir

This sumptuous diptych on the birth, life, death and mourning of a first great love reveals the British director to the eyes of the French public

When exactly is born The Souvenir in our head?

Joanna Hogg : In 1998. I knew then that there would be two parts – the first on the love story, the second on the reconstruction after the end of it – but I had no idea who my character was male. So I stopped there…until 2015 after finishing exhibition, my third feature film for the cinema. I reread my notes and wanted to dive back into them. I was surprised at the clarity of what I had been able to write 20 years earlier. I thought my mind was much more confused. Even if this male character remained as mysterious. I just knew the things he liked, Powell and Pressburger movies for example…

How do you immerse yourself in writing to bring this project to life?

By writing a few notes inspired by the logbooks that I kept in my younger years, those of the age of my heroine, Julie when she is going to live her first great love story

The idea that the first part of the diptych would tell this great love and the second the way to mourn it by making a short film on what this emotional rollercoaster inspired him was born there?

No, because I only started to immerse myself in the second part of the diptych after shooting the first. Even if at the beginning, I intended to chain them without downtime. Because my producers and the financiers wanted to see the result of the first one before committing. Which may seem logical but was very difficult to hear at that time because the wait that was announced between the two shoots terrified me. There are always more reasons to be told no than yes, at such times! But, I was lucky that the green light fell during the editing of the first part and that it relieved me a lot of pressure on its reception which would have had in some way the right of life or death on the sequel.


When did the actors enter your creative process?

Tom Burke was pretty quickly a certainty once I had identified roughly who would be my main male character. I didn’t really know his work because he mainly did theater and unfortunately I don’t go there very often. It was a friend, a fan of theater and in whom I have complete confidence, who encouraged me to meet him. At that time, I wasn’t sure I wanted a professional actor for this role. But when he entered the room, he spontaneously seemed to me to be the character. He was something of a young Orson Welles

Was it a longer process to find your Julie, a role that marks Honor Swinton-Byrne’s acting debut, Tilda Swinton’s girl in town and on screen?

I looked for my Julie for months and I saw the start of filming approaching with anguish. But I didn’t want to give anything away on that. It had to be obvious or nothing. So, contrary to my original intentions, I started casting all the secondary characters that went around her before her. To play Julie’s mother, I called on Tilda Swinton, who had acted in my graduation short film. I went to see her at her house to discuss the role. And on my way back to London, at the station, I ran into Honor who was coming to see her parents for the weekend. I’ve known her since I was little, but we haven’t seen each other for a long time. So we took the opportunity to discuss. She was 19 then and when she started talking to me about her life, it immediately echoed my character. I had the impression of having Julie in front of me. But I was afraid that Honor didn’t want to and that Tilda thought it was a very bad idea. Especially since it was a question of committing to two films! Having an actress mother could have been precisely the reason why she wanted to stay away from it all. But I was lucky that Honor spontaneously accepted. I didn’t need to experiment with it. I knew. I wanted to keep all the energy of what was going to be his first time on screen for the set, without damaging it first.

You never rehearse with the actors?

No never ! And for The Souvenir, I even asked Honor that she never meet Tom before filming and that they discover each other on screen like their characters in the story. I also don’t rehearse on set before shooting. I want to capture with my camera what happens spontaneously. The only thing I shared with Honor before filming was my notebooks that I told you about.

But she read the script anyway?

No, because I didn’t want her to know the story in detail either. She only knew the main lines: the love story, the fact that her character was going to become a student at the cinema. But no more. I wanted her to discover it little by little and I had asked the technical team not to spoil anything in their discussions.

Martin Scorsese’s name appears in the credits as executive producer of The Souvenir. How and when did you meet him?

Shortly after he saw my second feature film, Archipelago, in 2010. When we say that Martin sees everything, it’s not a legend! (laughs) He had come to receive an award in London and we were able to talk there for the first time. When you hear Scorsese speak with such enthusiasm and precision about your film, it’s an unforgettable moment, I can assure you! From there, we stayed in touch. Whenever I went to New York, I went to see him. And it was during one of those conversations where I explained to him what I was doing that he asked me to get involved. The references to Powell and Pressburger obviously immediately spoke to him. And his view and his advice have been invaluable throughout this adventure. The Souvenir.

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