Question: Do all films need to entertain?
Mike Leigh: If a film is not entertaining, forget it. It’s a failure. I am unashamedly in the entertainment business. I think I would make that statement on two levels. On the primary level, I would say if a film or any piece of work doesn’t entertain, it fails—and that is using the word entertain literally, meaning it holds you there and you become absorbed by it so that you don’t walk away and get bored and so on. But over and above that, I mean, sure I make films that are about real life, sure they are realistic and I go to great lengths to achieve that, sure they resonate with people's real experiences, sure they’re emotional, sure they’re properly psychologically motivated, sure the characters are rooted in society. You absolutely can recognize and know that we’re dealing with a substance of the real world in terms of the texture of the thing, but at the same time my films are funny. They are heightened. They are all kinds of… There are all kinds of juxtapositions, which are not simply life un-distilled as its hewn from the seam... and what at the most basic level are my influences.
Question: Should entertainment challenge us, or play to our most basic instincts?
Mike Leigh: Look, the thing is, again, you know I’m reluctant to proclaim about what entertainment should or shouldn’t do. You talk about reality shows and all of that, which are basically, if you think about it, just simply the modern equivalent to Victorian freak shows, where people with anomalous growths and things and—you know ladies with beards and whatever it was, people with three feet—would be put on exhibition for the public. There have always been and there always will be the peripheral sideline activities which are a form of entertainment, which is to say you pay a couple of cents and you see something freakish. Well that is what reality TV is and I don’t think, with all due respect, that really belongs in the conversation that we’re having. Because what we’re actually talking about is art. We’re talking about work that in some way, however it does it, wants to get to some kind of truth and therefore have something substantial to offer an audience. So entertainment is an essential... that the thing be entertaining is an essential ingredient, as I’ve said. And I think we should dismiss and tolerate and in fact, keep our sense of humor about peripheral crackpot activities because they don’t really come into the job of the proper artist or the job of the committed audience, which is to say the audience that really wants to be stimulated.
Recorded on October 7, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller