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Gerald McMorrow ('Franklyn')

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Gerald McMorrow ('Franklyn')
With short film Thespian X under his belt, Brit filmmaker Gerald McMorrow penned Franklyn, an urban fairytale where four characters' lives intertwine and cross between fact and fiction. Visually impressive on a modest £6 million budget, McMorrow creates expansive futuristic metropolis Meanwhile City inhabited by mysterious vigilante Preest. Digital Spy gave Gerald a call to discuss Franklyn and making a fantasy in the gangster-movie dominated British film industry.

Franklyn is quite a complex movie with overlapping stories. What was your starting point?
"It was after the first short film I did, I immediately went on to write another short film and this was something that was going to be about a young woman who was going to commit suicide in her apartment and a killer upstairs who's about to take someone out across the street. As that started getting more meat to it, I wanted to know more about those characters and it started trailing back and became a bigger thing. The third act of Franklyn essentially became the short film - a reverse 'what if' situation. The plotlines are complex but at least they started by being finished up."

Was it a fight for you to direct this, being as it's your first movie?
"I was very lucky in that my agent had sent me and the project straight to Jeremy Thomas, who is one of the few producers in town who takes on brave projects and has worked consistently with David Cronenberg and done left-field cinema. I was rather protected by the company I ended up keeping. For every possible time we could've ended up getting dumbed down or get developed into non-existence Jeremy was there fighting for the integrity of that story. I also knew there was no way I was going to be given something like that to direct my first time."

Can you talk about Ewan McGregor and Paul Bettany's involvement in the movie?
"We started off with Ewan and Paul and you can't start fighting agents and studios when things go awry. Ewan broke his leg that year doing his second Long Way Round and when you have a wobble in a cast as precarious as that, suddenly things start falling apart really quickly. While we were developing the script, I had one eye on the trials and tribulations of casting. Eva [Green] was always involved and she was there from day one. As others dropped out we weirdly ended up with the right people. The moment Sam [Riley] walked in, this was before we'd seen Control, he was just so obviously Milo. Ryan coming in at the last minute got everything up and running and flying."

What was Ryan's reaction when you approached him about this?
"I remember his manager had read the script and passed it on to Ryan. By that point we were really right up against it, it was now or never. You have preconceptions about people and it's only when you get the chance to work with someone that you start looking them up and I couldn't believe that here's a guy who's done 36 movies, but you look at what he's chosen to do and they're all really, really interesting off-piste choices. You expect the bleach-blond Californian kid and what you got was an incredibly erudite, brought-up-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks Philadelphia actor. When I met him we did not stop talking all afternoon. Not just about the script, but the political situation in both our countries."

What were your visual reference points for Meanwhile City?
"It started with what Preest hated, and what he was riling against was religion. It came together when I was in Mexico City. Right next to my hotel was a shopping mall the size of Westfield. In every window, it was all religious paraphernalia. I suddenly realised, 'What if you had this place that was run by iconography of religion and faith?' The idea was that if you're going to have a capital city based on religion, you've got somewhere like Florence or Rome and send somewhere like that three miles into the sky."

Preest looks a little like Rorschach from Watchmen. Is that an influence?
"It's weird actually, seven years ago I had no idea Watchmen would be coming out. Our influences for Preest, we wanted a simple mask, really the costume designer based it on Claude Rains's Invisible Man. Part of Preest's delirium and fantasies are based on the religion surrounding him and comics he read and films he saw. He sort of pieces together a jigsaw of his own delusions."

Why do you think the British film industry is so reticent to make films like Franklyn and leans towards rom-coms and gangster films?
"People end up looking at things that work and I think British film is associated with romantic comedies and gangster movies. I think what needs to happen... the more you experiment with things that are slightly different, the more chance there is that one of those genres will work and work at the box office. Adversely you see something like Slumdog coming out of nowhere and now everyone's going, 'We need to do a Slumdog.' It just doesn't work like that. Hopefully, things like that do give producers a little kick up the arse and they can start entertaining the idea of doing something left-field."

Franklyn is released in cinemas today.

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