Working with Mike Leigh is what you would call an actor’s dream true. Since his debut in 1972, the seventy-five-year-old legendary British director has made twenty films and consistently refined his craft to fit a process where the collaboration with actors is paramount.
This is due in part to his own experiences at acting school in the 60’s, where he felt confined by rigid Shakespearian premeditation and hostile attitudes towards experimentation. Perhaps his only rule now is that he must discover what his film is through the making of it.
This starts with the actors and in effect, it begins as early as the audition process. Here he negates modern methods, instead opting for one on one improvisations with those going out for the part. Later these improvisations will become the basis for building scenes throughout the production and as a result, they are stacked one upon the other to build a narrative.
I sat down with Leigh at TIFF this year, where his latest film Peterloo made its North American premiere. We nail down his process with actors, from audition to production and confronting your own status quo by challenging yourself as a filmmaker with every new film make. The advice he gives is invaluable.