Saturday Telegraph Magazine, 18 February 2006
Photographs by Laure Sparham

Click photos for larger images
I had wanted to do As You Like It in a Japanese setting since I spent an afternoon in a garden in Kyoto in 1990, where I had a wonderfully calm and meditative experience. It seemed to me that the play is, in part, about the effect that nature can have on us and that this would allow the audience to experience it in a different way.

The film opens with a Kabuki piece. During my research in Japan I went to see everything pertinent, from calligraphers to bonsai gardeners, and the film attempts to evoke some of these cultural elements of Japan and to celebrate them. This [the photo] is my attempt to convey to Stuart Hopps, our choreographer, and the young lad Takuya Shimada, who is playing the geisha, how he should dance - which seems to suggest a level of confidence in my Kabuki work that isn't entirely justified.

Stuart has worked for me for 10 to 12 years. One of his great gifts as a choreographer is to be adaptable, because when you are putting dance on to film, last-minute changes are inevitable. I think the expressions here are to do with having been asked for the 15th time to do something different from what we have already agreed, and which I'd OK'd three weeks previously. This is one of those occasions where we are in the world of the DFI, which you might translate as 'Different Flipping Idea'. So, this is the pained look of the geisha who is on the receiving end of a DFI. A DFI ill-executed by the so-called director.
One of the things I like about this shot is the attitude in it. This is the very beautiful Romola Garai as Celia, who first suggests the flight into the forest to her friend Rosalind but then finds the change from the life of a pampered princess much harder than she imagined. Here she is having to do manual work for the first time - raking the stones on the bed of a formal Japanese garden. I love the incongruity of the young 19th-century aristocrat on a rock in a gravel garden.

We shot all our exteriors at Wakehurst Place (Kew's sister garden) in Sussex where they have an extraordinary variety of gardens, including a Japanese one, and some wonderful rare woodland. One of my favourite films is Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus where they created the Himalayas at Denham Studios and at a location in Sussex not far from here, which gave me the idea of creating Japan in England. It was a highly unusual setting, unfilmed-in, away from air traffic. If we had gone to Kyoto it would have been hard to find a location with the variety that we found here and the peace and quiet that we needed for such a dialogue-heavy film.

We were of course trying to have fun with the comedy. Alfred Molina and Kevin Kline are two extraordinarily gifted comic actors so it was a treat to see them working together for the first time. This is Touchstone, the professional fool, trying to impress Jacques, the dry philosopher, by producing his version of t'ai chi which has clearly not been handed down to him by the masters. The town/country clash that is at the heart of the play is very much alive in Touchstone, an urban guy in a country environment. To emphasise this we kept his clothes ludicrous, and Fred suggested the enormous silly blow-dried quiff which makes him look like a grotesque period Elvis, completely contemptuous of the beautiful landscape around him. And this makes for an unlikely alliance with Jacques who admires the selfishness, the complete disdain for others and Touchstone's absolute certainty about himself, whereas Jacques is constantly dissatisfied and questioning who he is and what things mean and why we are here.
This is Celia trying to use her feminine wiles to convince an indifferent shepherd that, merely as a result of her beauty and her ability to loll sensually against a tree, he should give them food and lodgings. But it is also a prelude to something that Romola and Bryce Dallas Howard (Rosalind) were very good at, which is physical comedy. The hardships of the forest produce a lot of physical comedy and the two girls and David Oyelowo (Orlando) were always keen to undercut any moments where the romance seemed too precious or the characters take themselves too seriously. There is a lot of slapstick in the film, so this is a ravishing picture of Celia just before what you might call a 'custard pie' moment.
At the end of every Shakespeare comedy, in a way that depresses some people, there is a wedding, with dancing and singing, so one of the challenges was to do this in a Japanese setting. I have always found prayer flags very attractive and was struck by the way the Japanese use paper throughout their culture. I though it would look wonderful against the green of the English spring - it would also make our point about how Japan meets the play. So we put all our men against the flags at the top of the hill, waiting for their brides.
Many thinl that As You Like It is a bucolic, lyrical comedy and yet the very first couple of scenes are about the racorous dispute between Orlando, our hero, and Oliver, his brother, and I wanted to keep the play away from being too soft and lyrical and easy. So it was wonderful to get David Oyelowo as Orlando and Adrian Lester as Oliver. They are fantastically adroit with Shakespearean language but also vigorous and masculine - they do all their own stunts. David was scarily smart with his sword and dagger and it's a very positive force in the film that sets a lot of the lighter romantic comedy stuff in sharp relief. This is him at his most aggressive in the scene where Orlando attacks the camp fo Duke Senior (Brian Blessed) looking for food for Adam, his old servant. This discord runs through the play, keeping a disturbing energy beneath it which means that all the romances and good deeds are set against the possibility of real danger.
This is the very first shot of the movie. Alex Wyndham, just out of RADA, was playing the lovelorn Sylvius and this was his first day as a professional actor. The first thing he had to do was lie on a boat and yell - and we gave him a round of applause. I found something very touching in it, it really took me back. Not that Alex specifically reminds me of me at that age - he's about five million times more handsome and hunky - but here's a guy at the start of his career, super-enthusiastic and getting an instant education in filmmaking. That's a mark, you must hit it; that man will be running a tape up to your eye [the focus puller] - you could see his mind whirring. And then at lunchtime looking like a man of 65 because he was so burned up. It was a lovely mood to have on the first day and very much in the spirit of the film itself, which has the follies, vulnerabilities and frailties of youth at its centre. His enthusiasm and optimism were a breath of fresh air.
When I started making films, with Henry V, we didn't have a video village full of monitors where the director sat away from the action - and over the years I haven't got much more used to it so I still try to watch things live. But this was a special-effects shot where we were burning a stable. In my body language you can see the 'Did we really do all that?' feeling I always get at the end of a movie. The process is still miraculous to me. To get from idea to shooting is, in itself, a five-act drama of meetings, travellings, hopings, wishings, disappointments and humiliations that might take anything from six months to six years. Here I am on the last day or two of filming thinking, 'I sat in a stone garden in Japan 15 years ago, another five years to get to the stage where HBO wanted it. Could we find a location, could we get the cast, how do we make Japan work in England?' So I'm amused, bemused, thrilled, excited, exhausted and very glad to be sitting down.

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