Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar

At a recent Gotham screening of Morvern Callar,
writer-director Lynne Ramsay and Samantha Morton, the star of her
new film, were a study in contrast. The 32-year-old Scottish writer/director
was talking non-stop, even as she kept puffing on a cigarette. Morton,
who is 25 and from Nottingham, England, didn’t want to talk at all.
It’s not always easy to decipher what the director is saying, between
the thick Glasgow accent and the speed of her sentences. But there’s
no denying the passion she has for her work.

Lynne Ramsay made her auspicious film debut with Ratcatcher,
a coming-of-age tale set in a poor Glasgow neighborhood during a
garbage strike. The story, which Ramsay also wrote, is about an
anxious 12-year-old who believes he’s responsible for his best friend’s
death. Like Morvern Callar, much of the action takes place
near or in water, with scenes that are both beautiful and squalid.
The effect is unsettling and riveting. She challenges the audience
with her nontraditional narrative. And there’s an openness about
the actors, many of whom are nonprofessionals, that gives Ramsay’s
two films a sort of heightened realism.

Now tackling the script for The Lovely Bones,
based on Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, Ramsay will also direct
the film, scheduled to begin shooting in the spring. It’s quite
a coup for the moviemaker, who first became interested in the project
when she read the book as an unfinished manuscript. The book presents
challenges and firsts for her: it’s budgeted at about $15 million,
which is considerably more than her first two features; and then
there’s the fact that the film will be set and shot in America.
Because the book has become such a huge bestseller, the project
has garnered loads of attention and interest, both from readers
who love the novel and moviemakers who wish they were directing
the film adaptation. The pressure will be on. From the looks of Morvern Callar, the unconventional and confident Ramsay is
up to the task.

MM: You’ve accomplished a real coup: your
next project is directing
The Lovely Bones. How did you wrangle
that assignment?

LR: It wasn’t based on the fact that it became
a bestseller at all. I was shown the first half of the manuscript
by a very smart producer. She knew my work and she went through
my friend at Film Four, Jim Wilson, and they sent it to me. I was
planning on doing another original screenplay, because I don’t see
myself as someone who does adaptations. I’ve done one original so
far, and then this adaptation. Then I just read this half-finished
manuscript and I thought it was a beautiful idea; it was brilliant.
I thought it could make a brilliant film. That was my predominant
feeling and I said ‘Yeah.’ And then a year later it becomes this
big thing.

MM: It’s a monster hit.

LR: It is a monster hit. I knew it was accessible.
If you tell the story to someone, it sounds quite dark. A young
girl is murdered by a neighbor, speaking from limbo land, watching
her family deal with grief. But people, I think, can find something
in this kid’s voice [that is] really accessible, and the idea was
really accessible. And for me it’s fantastic because I think it’s
a very beautiful, very poignant story and I think I can make a brilliant
film from it. Not only that, I think that I can explore the subtext
of coming here as a European, looking at America and looking at
what is basically quite a different culture.

MM: Aren’t you stressed out about adapting
the film from such a popular book?

LR: The bottom line is I’ve got to do it my
way. I think if I was changing the integrity of the book a lot,
that’s different. But I think a film’s a film and a book’s a book
and they’re very different things, and I’m going to do it my way.
I don’t think too much about what the book’s become for people.
Of course it’s very popular, but I think it’s popular because of
the subject matter and the way it’s been treated.

MM: Have you been researching locations
for the film

LR: I’ve traveled through a lot of the country.
I’ve been trying to be here as much as possible. I think that if
you’re trying to write an American novel, or an American piece of
work, you’ve got to be here. I can write it in London, but it’s
like I’m writing somebody else’s movie. It’s a different culture,
no matter if you all speak English. It’s still different.

MM: Will you cast unknowns, as you have
in your last films?

LR: Yeah, probably in this case, too. I’ve
used a combination of non-professional and professional actors in
everything I’ve done. You get something very raw and something that
doesn’t feel like acting, even. It feels real, and I think it would
be great to find a fantastic kid for [the character of] Susie. She’s
14 years old in the book. To find this kid is going to be really
challenging. She’s the voice of the story and she might not have
ever acted. I’m going to be looking for this very special kid and
that’s going to be the first thing.

MM: Are you “going Hollywood” in this film?

LR: I see it more like an independent American
movie. It might have a bigger budget, but I think the kind of people
it will speak to are probably going to be people I know very well.
People like Bingham Ray at UA and James Schamus from Good Machine.
So it’s going to be my version, with some financing maybe from America-the
kind of financing which will give me the capacity to make the kind
of movie that I want to make and still have it be an accessible

MM: Is it true that Steven Spielberg was
interested in directing the film version of
The Lovely Bones?

LR: Steven Spielberg is interested in everything,
you know. [laughing]

MM: What is the screenwriting process for
you in adapting a movie from a book, as opposed to writing something

LR: [With adaptations,] you have to replicate,
destroy, then reconstruct.

MM: Will the process be the same for The
Lovely Bones? Will the fact that it’s set in the States and written
by an American author affect the way you write the screenplay?

LR: I think coming from a different country
can be a bonus. You look at a new culture with fresh eyes and from
a different perspective. But largely, the adaptation process is
still the same.

MM: How much research do you plan to do?

LR: I spent six weeks driving through the States
earlier this year, which was invaluable, and I will probably spend
half my time writing the script there. Although writing can be done
anywhere there is a desk, research is the important thing.

MM: What are your favorite and least favorite
parts of the screenwriting and filmmaking processes?

LR: The casting couch!