Award winning actress Lara Lemon (SIFF Best Actress in a feature & Chelsea Film Festival Best Supporting Actress – Off-Piste – Jack in the Box Films) is experienced in film, TV and Theater.
In our interview we discuss Lara’s inspirations, experiences and her approach to working in film and on stage.
I always loved being on the stage but as I was a painfully shy child, I only ever really played statues in school plays (true story). It was only once I’d joined a youth theatre at 17 that I seriously considered a career in the business. I have my parents to thank for being hugely supportive too.
I’m forever seeing performances that make me feel a mixture of pure inspiration and ‘well, I could never top that’! I have a theory about the actors I love watching; I believe you can tell when an actor loves what they are doing as there is a sense of play. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Helen McCrory, Denise Gough, Kate Fleetwood, Billie Piper, Julie Walters, Maureen Beattie, Zawe Ashton, Olivia Colman, Parker Posey, Daniel Mays, Rory Kinnear, Leonardo Di Caprio, Stanley Tucci. I know I’ve missed so many actors off this list but it’s a start…
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented actor and directors who have shared invaluable advice. Most practically it would be learn your lines for auditions. But more personally, be honest and take risks are the pearls of wisdom I try and live by. And I love this quote from Gustave Flaubert – “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work”
Sensitivity and honesty. I want to be challenged by a director to bring out the best work possible and if something is not working, I’d like to be told. We are all, after all, working towards the same goal: a great final product. For me, sensitivity in a director is important; to the script, to the cast, to the crew. I’ve worked with directors who have been dictatorial, bordering on bullying, and I’ve always felt like they haven’t got the best out of people. Trust throughout the team is important and this comes from the director.
A great story told well. I am often sent scripts to play ‘the girlfriend’ or ‘the wife’, and it can grow a bit disheartening to read parts where the character’s only purpose is to serve the man, but saying that it does appear there is a movement towards more rounded female characters in the industry. I have been lucky enough to work with some wonderfully talented film makers who are helping this shift.
‘Off-Piste’ gave me a great platform and I’m over the moon with the awards – more than anything, it was such a confidence boost. However, I’m still working hard to secure projects I want to work on. I hope that I continue to work on exciting and challenging projects, film and stage, with as many talented people as I can.
I believe that collaboration in this industry is hugely important – not only are you able to practice your craft (whether it be acting, directing, designing, cinematography etc) but you are able to meet and work with like-minded individuals and build a network. I do think that fringe theatre and the no-low budget film industry have similarities and both face similar challenges. Unfortunately people are easily exploited in this industry which is giving true collaboration a bad reputation. It’s important to know your worth and recognise what is worth your time. I am hugely grateful for experiences I have received from fringe theatre and low budget films (‘Off-Piste’ was made for a mere £25,000!) but I’ve become a lot pickier when it comes to these projects.
I couldn’t choose one or the other – both come with different disciplines. In theatre voice is key. You need to share the story truthfully while being heard by 800 people each night. There is also the pressure of getting it technically right each night – you have no editor to make you look better! But then the beauty of stage for me is that you can return to the world and scenes night after night to try new things. Having an audience in front of you is energising and running through the play in one go builds a momentum which certainly helps with the character journey. Plus, you have the luxury of three weeks rehearsal. Filming in a non linear fashion and starting & stopping scenes are aspects of filming I find challenging, but in comparison to theatre, I love film because of the collaboration between different departments.
I’m back into the world of theatre for a while on a tour of ‘Strictly Murder’ by Brian Clemens. It is directed by Brian’s wonderfully talented son and film maker, Samuel Clemens, and we will be travelling all over the country from Swansea to Inverness to Eastbourne to Lowestoft. It’s a great thriller set in France just before World War II begins. Then, who knows what’s around the corner…
I suppose, like most actors and creatives, my belief is that the art is finding the truth in the work you do. And in terms of my personal philosophy towards my work, Judi Dench got it just right: “I think you should take your job seriously, but not yourself”.
If you can deal with the lifestyle, stick with it – even with the lows, it is the best job in the world! Take risks. Say yes. Know your worth. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Don’t beat yourself up. And be kind to people, it costs so little but means so much.
Tour dates for “Strictly Murder” can be found here… Strictly Murder Tour
You can find more information on Lara here…
The vast majority of romantic comedies will follow a relatively predictable structure. Boy meets girl (a ‘meet-cute’ more often), boy meets girl again (a more in depth get-together), boy and girl actually get together, boy and girl split up and finally, boy and girl realise their feelings and get together for good. There are complications along the way – careers, third parties, parents etc. – but come the end, love conquers all.
Yet what happened next? The credits roll and the audience goes home happy that the two people who were meant to be together ended up together. What of the couple though? Do they stay together forever? Do they get married and have a wonderful life? Or do they get bored with one another or drift apart? Could, conceivably the central marriages in Sam Mendes films American Beauty and Revolutionary Road have started with much joy and love in the way many romantic comedies end?
Ideally, we’re not meant to ponder on this. It ruins the illusion, the magic of the movies. As Basil Exposition from Austin Powers would say – try not to think about it too much and just enjoy yourself. The happiness of the relationship is preserved in an almost inverse way to Romeo & Juliet where the titular couples tragic demise preserves their short relationship for all the ages.
Some films do try and give us a glimpse of ‘what happens next’ often via a montage or clip set some time after the main bulk of the action. Notting Hill ends with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts sitting together in a park, both happily married and her obviously pregnant. Wimbledon shows Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst teaching their children to play tennis. Maid In Manhatten shows us a magazine cover from boasting that Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez are ‘Still together – One year on!’ It’s a way of extending the fantasy.
Yet when films play with the convention of genre, it can make for something rare and unique and there have been few better genre-benders in recent cinema than the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Bizarrely, their 1987 screwball comedy Raising Arizona actually does conform to the aforementioned structure yet it brilliantly subverts it. For the opening ten minutes serve like a whirlwind rom-com. H.I (Nic Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) meet and get married all before the opening credit has rolled, just ten minutes into the film. It’s an absurd set-up that we often get in romantic comedies- she is a cop and he is a criminal and they meet via his appearance in a police line-up. The rest of the film then follows their attempts to start a family – by kidnapping the son of a furniture tycoon. It’s a romantic comedy that manages to squeeze the standard bulk of a romantic comedy into its opening gambit before stretching out what is traditionally a closing montage into the bulk of a ninety minute film. It’s a simple but effective trick that makes for a unique film. It reminds us of the difficulties that may lay ahead, post-wedding.
Similarly, with Intolerable Cruelty the brothers made a screwball romantic comedy that also follows the standard structure. However, the key difference is that Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones) plans much of the plot out herself. She sets things up so that she can meet Miles (George Clooney), have him fall in love with her and get together before she divorces him and walks off with a healthy cheque. The only un-planned element of the whole thing is that come the end, she actually does fall in love with Miles – love conquers all, even in the bitter world of divorce lawyers and gold-diggers. It may be more conventional, but its application is almost post-modern.
Of course part of the reason that many romantic comedies do culminate in a wedding or a moment of union is that they often represent the happiest point of a relationship. Many relationships do run a joyful course with, as mentioned, many films demonstrating a snapshot of life after sunniest of moments but some of course do not. In life people get bored, drift apart, have affairs, decide they’re not right for each other or discover things about the other that they don’t like. Some relationships end in bitter separations with the couple having nothing good to say about one another. Romantic films rarely deal with this idea – with a notable exception of Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) are experiencing one such break-up leading to him visiting Lacuna, Inc. to erase all memories of said relationship. However, as the process takes place, the bad memories from later in the relationship are the first to go leaving Joel with happy memories of his time with Clementine. These memories are ones he forgot he had and he realises he doesn’t want them erased. In showing the relationship in this way, the film is doing something unique – it is working backwards. Instead of leading up to the happiest moments, it is working back towards them. At a relationships start we don’t know they’re coming – at the end we’ve forgotten they were there.
It’s a shame that there aren’t more examples of love stories which subvert the genre in the same ways as the aforementioned films. While the not-so-secret formula works well for audiences and bean counters alike, it takes the likes of Raising Arizona and Eternal Sunshine to show up the most predictable of genres which is, ironically, about the most un-predictable human emotion.
So, what is love? It can be evoked with a minor chord and a lyric from your favourite song, it could be imagined freeze-framed in a candid photo of successful celebrity couple, or it could be just like in the movies.
There’s the straightforward black and white love, naïve teenage love, the jealous kind, the unrequited kind, tragic love, and the happy ever after love.
There’s every romantic comedy Hollywood ever produced; the binary perfection, the yes/no, up/down, often simple and idealistic version of love. Devoid of its strangeness, and lacking complexity, just hair and shoes, heroes and villains, in love or not in love.
With the confronting complexity of the modern world, where just being alive can be confusing, knowing what love is and attempting to find it within the homogenised cityscapes and monotonous conveyor of a grey working week can be difficult.
We can feel lost as we aimlessly doggy paddle across the surface of the vast oily ocean of our own seemingly endless and bewildering needs and wants.
There’s a strange love that Hollywood occasionally reminds us of, a messy, awkward, but beautiful thing that exists because we are messy, and we are awkward, and we’re living in a messy, and awkward world.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ is a study in loneliness, and how we can survive but not exist, and how we can tolerate but not fight back. We sit back and become half of what we’re capable of, experiencing half of what we possibly could because the world sometimes just doesn’t feel right.
The film wants us to be in love, and it wants us to love Barry Egan, played with subtle intensity by Adam Sandler – a truly inspired casting choice and a surprise to everyone who previously only knew Sandler as the Waterboy or Happy Gilmore. Yes, the guy can act.
Punch Drunk Love appeared three years after Anderson’s three hour epic, ‘Magnolia’, a film that is everything a three hour film should be. Magnolia was a critical success, and really did showcase the skill and competency of Anderson as a filmmaker. With ‘Punch Drunk Love’, Anderson decided to do what many successful artists do, and instead or doing what would be expected, and take Magnolia as a template for his next film, he decided to strip things right back and make what in essence is a very simple film, with a small cast, few shooting locations, and a running time of only 95 minutes – a truly concise film.
Anderson’s film hurls us immediately into the mundane and awkward existence of Adam Sandler’s ‘Barry Egan’, his straightforward world being spun chaotically by those around him.
The film begins with the onset of big changes for Egan, when a motor vehicle spectacularly crashes before a another vehicle drops off an unusual gift. Its change that Egan needs, and the changes seem to be finding him.
Emily Watson plays Lena, a friend of one of Egan’s seven bullying sisters, and someone who is determined to force the change that she can’t possibly know that Egan needs. She speaks his secret language, and they fall for each other almost immediately. She then becomes the centre for all that Egan is, and his reason for existing. He becomes an unlikely romantic hero.
Egan’s character is complex, but more than anything we see him as extremes; passionate and sometimes violent extremes.
Anderson’s film gives us a spectacularly dizzying view from inside Egan’s head, as we vividly live his conflicts and anxiety through Jeremy Blake’s hallucinogenic artwork and Jon Brion’s evocative score – which together are stunningly effective.
During some scenes the film seems to moves at an almost headache inducing pace, with dialogue crashing against dialogue as much as the physical world around Egan is being smashed apart. The high tension and then calm release within Egan can feel so palpable, and the aesthetic created by Brion and Blake works perfectly to create something really quite beautiful and unique. Anderson moves the handheld camera subtlety and smartly to describe the bubbles of tension within Egan, then gives us Brion and Blake to allow us a moment to breathe.
A special mention goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman and his portrayal of Dean Trumbell, the ‘Mattress Man’. A hilarious performance of a character that is almost the antithesis of Egan, a man that presents Egan with an opportunity to face up to himself. In challenging the Mattress Man Egan validates himself, he’s the good guy, and he becomes hero he deserves to be.
Also, the Hawaiian sex scene involving Sandler and Watson’s characters is quite unlike anything seen on film before. It’s weirdly playful and it’s untidy, but it’s familiar, and the dialogue is hilarious. There’s a wild and natural sense of the real with what is presented, even if it doesn’t quite seem right.
‘Punch Drunk Love’ stands out as a film quite different to Anderson’s other work, and perhaps because of this it’s a little bit misunderstood and underappreciated. Maybe it’s the title, maybe it’s Sandler’s name on the poster, maybe it’s the fact it has to live in the shadow of Magnolia?
Whatever it is, it altered the perception of how a romantic comedy should be and added something unique to the genre.
As a piece of work it could be considered Anderson’s best, it doesn’t really put a foot wrong and it’s practically perfect in its execution. It feels like nothing else, and it also gave us a different version of Adam Sandler, a Sandler we’d all like to see again.
Words: Marc Heeley