There’s no doubt that 2019 has been a big year for Adelaide director Sophie Hyde. Earlier this year The Hunting, a series which she co-created, screened on SBS, captivating critics and audiences alike. This week sees her second feature film Animals launching on the big screen. An adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name, Animals is a fierce and unapologetic look at female friendship starring Holliday Grainger (Cinderella) and Ali Shawkat (Arrested Development). DAVID O’CONNELL had coffee with Hyde, and asked about bringing that larger than life friendship to the screen.
What drew you to Unsworth’s novel?
Actually I was sent it. I didn’t really know about it, but I was sent a very early film draft. So I read that, and the book on the same day. What drew me to it was firstly the characters, and their central relationship. So Laura and Tyler, and the way their relationship was described, it’s something we don’t get to see very much. And it was very much in Laura’s point-of-view; from waking up with a hangover, to feeling desire, and the conflict that she felt. These things were really present in the novel, and I liked the ending a lot. I saw something, and felt a strong response to it. So I wrote back to them, with a long letter, containing lots of images and ideas, about how to make the movie.
How important was it for you to capture that central friendship… in all the greatness and the messiness that’s there?
It was crucial to find that, but because that story is told from one person’s point of view, that central friendship is the important thing. It’s not the story of two women. We made a distinct decision, somewhere in the making of it, that it was actually about one woman (Laura), but it was about their friendship.
That was crucial to all of us. It didn’t feel like it was saccharine, or filled with jealousy (which I think is often how female friendships are presented), but they’re a bit more difficult than that. They’re very codependent, very physical, it’s challenging in the good way, but sometimes problematic. It’s not easy.
Was it a challenge not to lose Laura in the story of her own life, with such a “big character” as Tyler around?
You don’t want the lead to be the boring “straight guy” (so to speak). We were so inside Laura’s head most of the time, seeing all the other characters, and they were more glorious than her in a way. I find Holliday so seductive in some ways. I don’t mean mean that in a sexy way, I mean, so intriguing and compelling.
We talked a lot about object and subject, and that women on screen are often portrayed as objects, even in their own movie at times. We looked a lot at Call Me By Your Name, and the way that Elio is presented in that film. You’re watching him all the time, you’re looking at his body, the way his face is – you’re always looking at him but he’s the subject of that movie, he never feels like the object. And we felt that was quite amazing, and we were looking at how we can achieve that in Animals.
I mean, Holliday gives quite a quiet performance (despite the drunkenness and the partying), but you can’t look away from her…
A delicate performance in a way. She sits just below the surface so things come out on film that you just don’t expect.
Other side of the equation, Tyler, that sort of friend that fills a room when she enters it. Was it hard to portray both the positive and negative aspects of that sort of friendship?
Yeah. I mean I love that kind of character. She can be a bit abrasive, definitely theatrical. To me that’s really enjoyable, when they say things they shouldn’t say, or do things they shouldn’t do, but also tell you the truth, and push you to be more interesting and better. I mean obviously, in the narrative, you need Laura to feel like she needs to move on with her life, but you don’t want to demonise a character to do it. So how do you do that in a way that doesn’t feel just like Tyler’s jealous, but she’s also making sure that Laura doesn’t just settle?
Was there one scene you were very happy to be able to bring from page to screen?
Whenever someone asks me something like that, I always think of the things that are hard. There’s two scenes that were really hard to shoot, and very different than I imagined shooting them, but I really love them as they’ve turned out on the film.
One is the cocaine sex scene. You know the scene I’m talking about. It was a closed set and everyone was being a bit too sensitive. I kept interrupting the actors in the scene, and going back, and ask them to redo. I really thought I fucked up that sex scene on the day, but I go back and I really love it now.
The other one’s a scene… they’re dancing in the bar in the beginning, and they’re going, “you are my team”. We had this big idea that it would tip into slow motion at some point. But, you have to be very precise when shooting, and we had 15 minutes. So we decided to film as many times as we could in 15 minutes. There was this real energy, and everyone just rose up and did it, and it’s amazing.
OK. What’s that say about you as a director, that you name your biggest challenges as your favourite scenes?
I know, right? It’s funny. I do believe in things being difficult, I guess, which is terrible. I mean, I had a really nice time with that shoot, but it was a tough shoot as well, like all indie films are. I think those of the memorable moments.