Mike Leigh is an English writer and director of film and theater. He began his career in theater, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and directing and writing for the stage. In 1971 he made the transition into film, directing his first feature film "Bleak Moments," but it would be 17 years until he directed another feature—"High Hopes" in 1998. In those intervening years, he focused on television plays, characterized by their gritty "kitchen sink realism" style. His most notable works are arguably "Naked" (1993) for which he won the Best Director Award at Cannes, the BAFTA-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Palme d'Or winner "Secrets & Lies" (1996) and Golden Lion winner "Vera Drake" (2004). His most recent film is "Another Year" (2010).
Question: Do you judge your characters?
Mike Leigh: I don’t. For me, I make films because I am endlessly fascinated by people. I want to know about you. I want to know about this guy who is sitting next to me who is operating the technology in this studio. I’m fascinated immediately to know about the lives that are going on around me. That is... you know it’s a compulsive disorder on my part. That is what drives me. And that is because everybody matters, everybody is there to be cared about, everybody is interesting and everybody is the potential central character in a story.So judging people is not acceptable. Of course if you look through my films you will find different ways in which people are presented and sometimes they are presented in... certainly in some of my earlier films, in a way that relates to how they’re actually behaving towards other people, but to me it’s about celebrating what it is to be a human being.
Question: Is Mary to blame for her loneliness?
Mike Leigh: Well I dare say she is to some extent, but there is absolutely no doubt whatever as well, and very importantly, that she is a victim of life. And it is very much for anybody in this world it’s absolutely a function of your fortune, your luck. And some people have good luck, some people have bad luck. Sure, you can make it worse. Sure you can... some people can fight to overcome things and some of us have the ability to overcome, to make choices and make the right choices or overcome things or redress the balance, but a lot of people are vulnerable you know and it’s not so easy and I think Mary for a variety of reasons to do with the fact that she had a bad childhood, due to the fact that she is to some degree a victim of the problem of her being kind of sexy and where that leads—but at the same time not being able to deal with it with confidence—therefore she has been abused by men. You know for a whole complexity of reasons she is somebody that is not dealing with it and finally is resorting to alcohol, so I think it’s unacceptable ever to ascribe to anybody that all their problems are entirely of their own making and they’re to blame because we are all a product of our environment and of conditions and circumstances which are not necessarily within our control.
Recorded on October 7, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller