Drive, He Said
A conversation with 'Locke'-smith Steven Knight
Ivan Locke is "an ordinary man going through what I like to think of as an ordinary tragedy," says his creator Steven Knight. From this premise, the writer/director – heretofore best known as the screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises – builds a taut dramatic thriller in which the only action we see is a man in a car driving from Birmingham, England, to London. During the drive, which seemingly occurs in real time, Locke makes and takes a series of calls that we can hear on the car's speakerphone and gradually come to understand his predicament. In 85 minutes we discover that doing the right thing can often be a complicated endeavor, leaving unintended victims and unmet obligations in its wake.
The actor Tom Hardy (Bronson, Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises) plays Locke and delivers a riveting performance. "If you're going to have an actor onscreen for that length of time, he's got to be good," says Knight, "and I think he's the best we've got. He's one of those actors where even when there are other actors on the screen, people look at him. And that's exactly what was required of this project.
"There was a lot of serendipity surrounding this film," Knight continues. "It so happened that I was meeting Tom about a different project that he wanted me to write, and in talking about the other project I mentioned this idea and the journey, and he was really engaged. So when I wrote it, I was pretty confident that he would do it. We met in November, I wrote it over Christmas, and we were shooting by February, so it was a very fast process."
Prior to Locke's nine nights of shooting, there was a week of table readings with Hardy and the rest of the cast, whose disembodied voices we hear throughout the film. "With a low budget you get a level of control, and I decided to shoot it for real, effectively. So we put the car onto a flatbed truck, put three cameras in the car at all times, had the other actors in a conference room in a hotel near to the motorway, where I put in a phone line to the car and then I would say 'Action' once, and I would cue the other actors to come to the phone line and make their calls. Tom had a teleprompter, so he had the script in front of him and in the rearview mirror. So he was always able to read from the script, and then we would shoot the thing from the beginning to the end. We would take a break, and then we'd shoot it again. We ended up with 16 versions of the film. And then we went into an edit suite and cut together the best of it. Because there was no continuity issue, the choices could always be made on the strength of performance rather than other things. It was a great luxury."
Although he has penned numerous screenplays, Locke is only Knight's second feature film as a writer/director (the first was the Jason Statham actioner, Redemption), and that brings added attention to Locke's experimentalism. Knight explains: "I'd just finished making a more conventional film, and I wanted a different way of doing the same task of having people engage with the screen for 90 minutes. Also, as part of the same process, we shot a lot of test footage with digital cameras from moving cars in nighttime to see how sensitive they were to light. When I watched that test footage I found it absolutely hypnotic, and I wondered if I couldn't make that into a theatre and put an actor into that theatre and shoot a play, effectively."
Even such things as the head cold Hardy had at the beginning of the shoot were incorporated into Knight's narrative. "We wanted to invite the reality of the world into the process, and on the first day of shooting Tom turned up and had a bad cold. Rather than try and disguise it, we said OK, Ivan's got a cold, and the medicine that Tom was taking was the medicine that Ivan takes, and it worked. It helps with the whole business of him being under pressure."
By stripping down to the basics, Knight has delivered an original work, one that ensures a bright future as a movie-house multihypenate.
See this week's Film Listings for our review of Locke and showtimes.