Andrew Haigh: “I put a lot of my life into Without Ever Knowing Us”

Andrew Haigh: “I put a lot of my life into Without Ever Knowing Us”

The British director tells us behind the scenes of his film, which brilliantly mixes melodrama and fantastic cinema against a backdrop of a story of love, mourning and homosexuality

What made you want to adapt? Strangersthe book by Japanese Taichi Yamada?

Andrew Haigh: This book tells a traditional ghost story in which there is no mention of homosexuality. But there is this idea of ​​going back in time and finding your parents at the time of your youth. This is what made it click for me because I saw in these exchanges a way for a gay hero to express things that had always been buried within him and to make peace with himself.

So how did you approach this adaptation?

It was quite a long process because I really put a lot of my personal life into this story. I wrote this script during the pandemic, locked at home. Which pushed me to go even further in this introspection, in the perception of my own past. But at every step, I tried to make it resonate personal and universal. To see if what I write is not self-centered, can speak to others. In the way of talking about homosexuality, in the exchanges between this son and his parents who died thirty years earlier and to whom he can come out, based on what he has been through.

You knew from the writing that you were going to shoot Without ever knowing us in 35mm?

Yes because I wanted Without ever knowing us has the texture of films from the 80s, into which my main character Adam finds himself immersed when he discovers his parents – who died twenty years earlier – alive in the house where he spent his childhood. What I do through the soundtrack where we hear The Power of Love from Frankie goes to Hollywood or Always on my mind of Pet Shop Boys, I intended to do it in the image so that this sort of nostalgic memory would always be present on the screen throughout the film, even in the scenes which take place in the present day. However, with my ops director Jamie Ramsey, our references were not films from this period but paintings by Francis Bacon. Just before filming, we both visited the exhibition dedicated to him at the Royal Academy of Arts and he influenced us in terms of colors, movements, sensations. My goal was that what we see on screen reflects at each moment the manifestation of Adam’s state of mind. His great solitude like his inner upheaval when he begins his love affair or reunites with his parents. And to translate this broad spectrum of emotions, Bacon’s works have inspired us a lot


Adam’s parents’ house in the film… is none other than the one where you yourself spent your childhood. How did you experience filming within its walls?

What’s crazy is that the person in charge of scouting came across this house. I hadn’t been there for 40 years! But I didn’t hesitate for a second before deciding that we would shoot there. By embarking on writing this film, I accepted a certain vulnerability and I had to maintain it on set. But what could be better for this than a place where, at any moment, a memory from your childhood – good or bad – can resurface. Like Adam, I faced these feelings and, inevitably, it nourished the film, taking it even further.

What made you choose Andrew Scott to play Adam?

For this role, I wanted a gay actor because I had the feeling that only a gay person would understand what it meant to grow up gay in those years and would be able to translate it on screen. In fact, I didn’t see how to explain this feeling to someone who hadn’t experienced it. And Andrew’s immense talent did the rest. In the close-ups on his face, the way you see the emotion rising to the surface tugs at your heart every time. He delivers an incredibly subtle performance and had the courage to expose himself emotionally and physically. Without obviously counting his chemistry with Paul Mescal, another essential key to this film.

In the end, what are the biggest differences between the script and the film as we can discover it?

I have refined a lot, cut dialogues, precisely thanks to Andrew and Paul, to what they manage to express through their looks, through their silences. It was obvious on the editing table and incredibly lucky for me.

Without ever knowing us. By Andrew Haigh. With Paul Mescal, Andrew Scott, Claire Foy… Duration 1h45. Released February 14

Similar Posts