Andrew Haigh says that when it came to casting All of us strangershis romantic fantasy inspired by Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel Strangersit was important that his lead role – played in the film by actor Andrew Scott – was homosexual.
The writer-director opened up about his approach to casting and talked about shooting the film in his childhood home and capturing the intimacy scenes with editor Jonathan Alberts during a post-screening discussion at the New York Film Festival on Sunday. The film follows a gay man in London who, after a chance meeting with his neighbor, develops a relationship with the man, while at the same time beginning to meet with the spirits of his deceased parents during brief visits to his childhood home.
During the Q&A at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Haigh explained his thoughts on casting Adam, the quiet gay screenwriter at the center of his spooky drama. Haigh said he always casts his leads first before all other members of the ensemble. But mainly for All of us strangerswhich was cast by Kahleen Crawford, getting someone who could identify with Adam’s sexuality was “an important part of it.”
“I’ve liked Andrew for a long time, and I felt like this was a perfect role for him,” Haigh told the packed audience. “And I’m not one of those people who say you have to be queer to play queer roles, but in this case it was important to me. Because I was trying to achieve so much nuance, I didn’t feel like having an endless conversation with someone trying to understand.”
For Adam’s mysterious neighbor-turned-lover, Harry, Paul Mescal came on board very late after Haigh initially did not go to the actor, convinced that Mescal would not be interested. But after finding out it was, the writer-director says it was “brilliant” news and he worked with the duo “a lot to make their chemistry feel real and authentic.”
As for Claire Foy and Jamie Bell, who play Adam’s mother and father, Haigh said he was looking for characters who could feel like Scott’s parents, but who also felt personal to him. “I wanted them to make sense as Andrew’s parents, but I also wanted them to make sense as my parents,” he explained. “So I tried to find people who made sense for both things, which wasn’t always easy.”
His parents weren’t the only things he wanted the film to feel deeply personal. The filmmaker, who said his goal was to create a story that felt both specific and universal, revealed that Adam’s childhood home also had a direct connection to him.
“Anyone who knows me knows that (the film) is quite personal. For example, I shot the film in my old parents’ house, so the house was my old house, and I hadn’t been there in 45 years,” he said of the house, which was the first house his family lived in and is located just outside London . “When I wrote the script, I had that house in mind, and then I went back to the door and they said, ‘Yeah, okay, you can film here.’
“It was a very emotional, strange experience filming scenes with the actors in my old parents’ bedroom,” he continued. “It felt like I was becoming a child again.”
During the moderated conversation, Haigh also talked about the film’s intimacy scenes, both from a filmmaking and editing perspective. The mind behind it Looking And Weekend is somewhat known for its artistic take on intimacy scenes, but when it came down to it All of us strangersthe moments of intimacy he says were ultimately unlike anything he’s done before – despite the director still believing that “they have to feel like they have story relevance, otherwise there’s no point.”
“We talked a lot with the actors about how we wanted it to feel,” he said. “I wanted it to feel real, tender and delicate, and sometimes a little sexy and a little dirty – all those things that sex is.”
For Alberts, the job was made easier by Haigh’s strength in this element of storytelling. “I think Andrew really has the ability to direct actors in that situation,” he said. “The other thing is that there are so many possibilities when you have such great actors and such nuanced performance, you just have a wealth of material and good material.”
In addition to wanting to try something different stylistically with these intimacy scenes, Haigh said something else was different this time: the presence of an intimacy coordinator.
“We had an intimacy coordinator that I’ve never used before, which was standalone,” he said. “But I’m all for them. I understand why they exist. I think they’re a great thing. It’s a slightly strange experience having the four of you talking about the scenes now, when before it was just the three of you, but I completely understand why they exist.