Sensitive 'Secrets & Lies' Reflects Creative Journey
INTERVIEW MIKE LEIGH
Mike Leigh is on a roll.Skip to next paragraph
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His new movie, "Secrets & Lies," is coming to American theaters after opening at the prestigious New York Film Festival and winning the highest prize at this year's Cannes filmfest, where it also earned the best-actress award for Brenda Blethyn.
His previous picture, "Naked," did almost as well at Cannes, garnering the best-director prize for Leigh and best-actor honors for David Thewlis, before arriving in theaters in a blaze of debate over its searing story of wasted lives in contemporary England.
Leigh's reputation soared when "Naked" became one of this decade's most talked-about British movies, and "Secrets & Lies" should boost his fortunes even more as audiences experience its sensitive story, superb performances, and compassionate approach to a potentially troubling subject.
Leigh paved the way for its US debut at Colorado's respected Telluride Film Festival, where he was the recipient of a special tribute in celebration of his career, still going strong after a quarter of a century.
"Secrets & Lies" centers on Hortense, a young woman who was adopted as a baby and now wants to meet her biological mother. Her search doesn't take long, and it leads to some major surprises. Hortense is black, well educated, and a solid member of the middle class. By contrast, her mother, Cynthia, is white, meagerly educated, and firmly rooted in the working class.
The women circle around each other warily at first, then grow into a warm and companionable friendship - which raises the question of how they'll break all this to Cynthia's family, which has no idea this member of the clan has ever existed.
Like all of Leigh's movies, "Secrets & Lies" was a fully collaborative project in which everyone from technicians to stars made meaningful contributions. Key members of his process are the performers. They invented their own characters and dialogue in conjunction with Leigh, who jotted down the sketchy "screenplay" only after five months of discussion, consultation, and improvisation with his cast.
"Filmmaking is very much a creative journey that involves all of the craftspeople involved," he said in a Telluride interview, acknowledging that he embarks on each movie with only the "vaguest notion" of what it will eventually be about.
"It's a question of getting together with a group of people ... and discovering what the film is by making it," he added. "That consists of inventing the characters, creating their whole lives, doing a huge amount of discussion and research, and most particularly a vast amount of improvisation with the actors ... going through the years of relationships, living through things, and arriving at a point - very much under my control - where [we have] the dramatic premise."