The Principles Of Lust : Penny Woolcock
The Principles Of Lust director talks . . .

The Principles Of Lust - Click to enlargeAlready firmly established as a successful writer and director for television, with the hugely acclaimed dramas Tina Goes Shopping and Tina Takes A Break, an adaptation of the John Adams opera The Death Of Klinghoffer and the heart-rending and fascinating documentary The Wet House, Penny Woolcock has just written and directed her first feature film.
    The Principles Of Lust is about Paul, a man torn between the stability of a steady relationship with his girlfriend Juliette and the excessive temptations offered by Billy and his world of debauchery and danger. counterculture spoke to Penny Woolcock about what went into making the film, and just what to expect from The Principles Of Lust . . .

counterculture: So, what is the film is about?

Penny Woolcock: The story is about the central character, Paul, a writer who is kind of stuck in this torpor, just dwelling in his bedsit, not getting any writing done. Then he meets these two characters who completely change things for him. He meets Juliette who he falls completely in love with, and then Billy who literally crashes into him, and Billy draws him into this world of excess. He slowly finds himself more and more torn between the two until he's forced to make a choice.

cc: The story is adapted from an unpublished book by Tim Cooke. What initially attracted you to the story, and do you feel that those elements remain in the final film or did you find it evolving somewhat into something slightly different?

The Principles Of Lust - Click to enlargePW: Well, in some ways, the film is radically different to the book - there were none of the orgies or bare-knuckle fights in the book. What did remain though was the idea of that moment of falling in love and the excitement that comes with it; that huge erotic 'whoosh' that you feel at the beginning of a new relationship. That feeling though is something that inevitably fades, and that invariably leaves you with a choice between developing that same relationship into something deeper and more meaningful, or looking for something else that can reproduce the thrills that the relationship initially provided. That is very much what the film tries to explore.

cc: With this being your first feature film, was there a noticable transition from your previous projects?

PW: A lot of the techniques, such as the documentary style, were applied to both, which I like to use because of the freedom that it affords actors with regards to their movement and their dialogue, and for the general feel it gives to a story. In a sense, making a film allowed me more freedom than TV because I didn't have to take into account the remote control or the ad breaks. When you're developing a story for TV, there is a certain amount of pressure to explain everything as soon as possible to reduce the risk of the audience drifting off or switching over, which can be a bit restricting, but with film there is more space for adventure and you can pace yourself a bit more with the story telling.

cc: How did you set about casting the three main characters?

The Principles Of Lust - Click to enlargePW: I had certain ideas in my mind of the kind of actors I wanted in the main roles. Alec Newman came in and I knew straight away that he was right for the part of Paul - I just had an immediate sense that he would fit. Funnily enough, he also really reminds me of Tim Cooke who wrote the book, and I think that added to my certainty that he was the right choice for the part.
    Mark Warren, who plays the part of Billy, is such an interesting character in his own right - there is something wild about him that is essential for the part of Billy.
    For the part of Juliette, I actually originally pictured her being overweight and not overly pretty, and at the time that was something I felt quite adamant about. I thought it would be far more interesting for her not to be the typical pretty female, but a rather more unconventional heroine. Sienna Guillory, who eventually played the role and who couldn't be more physically different from how I pictured the character, came across the script through another actress who had received it, and she contacted me about playing the part. Initially I turned her down because, like I said, I felt that she really didn't fit the part as I saw it, and the physical appearance of the characters is obviously an important aspect of making a film. She was adamant about playing the part though, and really persistent, so I invited her in for a chat. She immediately blew me away, as well as my preconceptions of how Juliette should look. She turned the character into something that I was really happy with - this strong, stroppy, passionate character that worked really well. Something else that's great and unique about Sienna is that she is not at all vain. There is a scene in the film where Juliette is in bed with Paul, and Sienna had this huge blotchy stubble rash all over her neck. I pointed it out to her but she really didn't care. She just wanted it to look and feel as real as possible, which was great.

cc: As with previous projects, you also used non-actors for the film. Did you have a very set idea of what you were looking for or did you mould certain things in order to fit around individuals you'd met that had something particularly unique and interesting to you?

The Principles Of Lust - Click to enlargePW: I had certain ideas, but there were some big changes made based on the people I met. There was a line in Tim's manuscript; "Billy had a girlfriend he called Hole," and I was really curious as to what kind of woman would allow herself to be called that, and I decided that she was a stripper and initially wrote her as a victim. I realised though that I didn't really know enough about that lifestyle, and my friend Sarah Ainslie who was putting together a book of photography with a stripper introduced me to that world. When I met Lara Clifton [who plays the part of Hole in the film], this strong powerful woman who loves stripping, I realised how wrong I had been about the part and re-wrote it especially for her. She had never acted before, but I think she did a great job.

cc: There are several pretty strong scenes in the film. Was it a conscious effort on your part to push the envelope a bit, and did the strength of those scenes have a bearing on the atmosphere during filming?

PW: To be honest, I didn't quite realise just how powerful some of the scenes were, and looking back at the film afterwards I was somewhat shocked. The nature of the scenes did make the shoot quite intense, but everyone really went for it and were very much in the moment during the more demanding scenes. At the time, it was carried out almost unconsciously, and the shoot itself was really trouble-free. The scenes themselves though were an important part of showing that Billy is the kind of person who is always looking to take things one step further than everyone else; someone who wants to keep going and keep going at the end of the night when everyone else just wants to go home and have a cup of tea.

cc: So what does the immediate future hold for you?

PW: At present, I'm working on two scripts for FilmFour. One is for a heist movie about a bunch of magicians looking to rip off a casino, and the second is for a story centred around a group of Asian teenagers in Bradford, which I'm having a lot of fun doing.

Nothing if not diverse. On the strength of what she has already achieved, any future projects from Penny Woolcock will certainly deserve our full attention . . .

:: Philip Goodfellow

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