At A Glance
Orlando Bloom delivers a mesmerizing performance as the tormented Malky, the demolitions man on his own path of self-destruction trying to reconcile with the sexual abuse inflicted upon him as a child.
Directed by Ludwig Shammasian, Paul Shammasian
Written by Geoff Thompson
Released by Zee Studios
2017, 91 minutes
Available from 26 March 2021, iTunes, YouTube
Orlando Bloom as Malky
Janet Montgomery as Emma
Alex Ferns as Jo
Anne Reid as Mother
Charlie Creed-Miles as Paul
By Claire Bueno
I’ve had the joy of interviewing the Shammasian brothers and Geoff Thompson in the past for their brilliant film The Pyramid Texts starring the captivating James Cosmo. So when I heard that their latest feature Retaliation with Orlando Bloom in the lead was available on VOD in the UK I just had to speak to these passionate story-tellers with the ability to handle sensitive subject matters with care and dignity. They are independent filmmakers whose work I feel passionately about advocating and supporting. We spoke extensively about Retaliation, the full interview is available to see in our video, but I could not help but feel so inspired by them that I could not, not commit some of the interview to print.
Geoff the story starts with you as the screenwriter and I wanted to ask you first if I may the genesis of it and why you wanted to tell this story?
For me the story is about individuation it’s about me going into my deep subconscious and bringing out all the things that are obstructing me, these are things that I’ve experienced when I was a kid. I was sexually abused and groomed as a boy and that incident remained buried, but created filters that projected a kind of very difficult life for me. I read a review today of Watch My Back and some said: “It begins with hell.” And I just thought oh wow that’s just fantastic that’s really where it does, you go into the hell regions and bring that stuff out. So for me writing it was all about individuation, it’s about bringing what was unconscious into the conscious, that’s why it took 50 years to write and it was the most difficult thing to sit and write. It was the most difficult thing to take notes on, it was just never ending, it was never ending it was like Miller Reapers Wall, every time it was up it was down, every time it was back up again, it was down. It was so painful, not just for me but for Paul and Ludwig because they’ve got a great eye for story and they could see where I needed to part from non-fiction coming to fiction, parting reality and coming to an amalgam, you know and allow the story to find it’s best shape. So, Yeah, everything I write comes from a perspective of there’s gonna be a kid out there like me, who’s waking up at four in the morning in a cold sweat with depression and thinks he can’t go on for another day. And I wanna write something that will speak to him in a brutally, beautifully, honest way and it will act as an intercession.
And presumably has the whole process been healing for you?
Yeah massively healing, yeah it started with, I first wrote about it tentatively in a book called Watch My Back and Paul and Ludwig approached me and said: “Would you? That story in Watch My Back.” They called it the handshake story. “Would you do a film for us based on that?” And I love their work and I just said: “No.” I made up lots of reasons why it wasn’t possible and you know get me some money and I might sit down, but really I was just scared to look at it, cos I thought I’ve looked at that I don’t need to look at it again. These two were like pin in a crab shell, they wanted to get all the last juicy remnants out. Which was very good for me, because I was scared of it. I said to my wife, “I’m very scared of this film,” so I need to write it. So I said to Paul and Ludwig I’ll write it, that was Romans 1220. So that was great cos it was like, I’ve done Romans 1220 now it’s done, put that to bed, move on, next lesson please and then that triggered another idea which was Fragile which looked at it from another aspect which is a stage play. Romans 1220 and Fragile became Romans and that came to me in a meditation. The idea came to me in a meditation, and I still thought oh God there can’t be anything else there? But of course you hit it from every aspect, you clean it from every angle so eventually you’re able to see it from an observing eye, and be able to observe it without identifying it. I observe it without emotionally engaging in it so that you can live your life. So it’s that idea of getting the damage out the schema, out bit by bit and that’s why the lads are good cos they’re so persistent, they’ve got a great eye for story so they would say: “What about this? What about that? What can we do with that? Orlando was the same, I think we had about 12 hours at his house, where we just kept saying. “Why is he doing this? What’s he doing that for? What’s he doing with that cudgel? What’s he looking for with that cudgel? What’s his purpose? And it’s so painful to go back into that and say with brutal honesty, you know, and the only way to get this stuff out and to tell a story that is going to have any effect on people at all is to be clinically honest. You know, forensically honest. And with filmmakers like Paul and Ludwig you can’t be anything else cos they still keep going at it until it comes out. I mean the last script session me and Paul had, I think we were both ill weren’t we Paul? In BAFTA we’d sat there, it was just so painful. I’m sitting there thinking I’ve stood at a nightclub door for nearly 10 years, people trying to kill me, wasn’t as hard as this.
For you guys you’re bringing the visual aspect of the film and there are some quite graphic moments that do make you sit and struggle a little bit, and knowing the sensitivity of the material, how did you then want to approach the film from a visual aspect?
Ludwig: I think our approach to this was always going to be let’s not shy away from any of the material, let’s not shy away from the brutality. We had to represent this story in an honest way and we wanted the drama to play out as much as possible in front of the camera and I think it was just to keep that approach throughout and I think it was about keeping it simple, not shooting it in an ostentatious way. We were quite fond of the idea of having quite long takes when necessary and we just wanted to protect that honesty that Geoff had written in the script. And I think it’s funny because I felt the fear more with the short.
The thing that worried me the most; are we going to find the cast and the team who are also going to support that honesty that we want to represent it. We always knew it would be a very polarising film. And it is a very challenging film, but I remember thinking if this film has the chance to perhaps speak to some people who have gone through similar situations it’s gonna have to be polarizing, and it’s gonna have to be challenging. It’s not gonna be for everyone and I think that was really our approach.
You mentioned Orlando, Orlando Bloom plays the protagonist Malky and what we see in the film is, he’s like a coiled up spring, isn’t he? The more we go through the film and he’s about to let loose and unravel, big time. And what I felt watching the film was Orlando really seemed to have an affinity with the script, and I wondered whether you felt the same working with him?
Paul: Yeah, he came on to the project and saw something in it that he really wanted to play that part. I think with this role it would be difficult to convince someone to do it, they really have to see something in it and say, “OK I can see something in here.” The writing, well Geoff’s writing has a lot of truth in it, you know going back to what you were saying when you first got the script it was really terrifying. That’s because there’s a lot of truth in it and I guess from an actor’s perspective when you get something like that it’s it can be quite, you know, very powerful. There’s a lot of subtext there, for and actor that can be very appealing to play something like this.
Geoff: There are certain issues in the film that resonated particularly and personally with Orlando and that’s why I think. I won’t talk about it because it’s personal to him, but it’s something he talks about quite a lot, but I think that’s why he was drawn to it and that’s why I think this film would have probably cost him money cos we were very low budget, and we couldn’t pay the fees that he wants. But he saw something in there that I think would have been cleansing for him, so I think for everybody it would have drawn on some nugget that needed to be looked at. And I know specifically Orlando it did. When I worked with Ray Winstone on a film once and I said to him, it was a particular scene he’d done in this film and I said, “That’s amazing where did that come from? That’s not in the script?” And he said: “Oh it’s in the subtext, all actors are looking for subtext.” And I think that’s what Orlando saw, there was a subtext, even if it wasn’t conscious there’s a subtext where he’s thinking, this is a chance again for me to individuate, to bring something out and it will go beyond acting then. There’s moments in the film where you can see he’s not acting he’s just this knotted ball of beautiful rage, it’s so raw it’s beautiful, you know. Paul and Ludwig’s job was to tease that out and give him the environment where that can come out fully. There are moments, probably the best moments in the film where it’s so visceral, he even scared the other actors and scared the crew, you know because ‘boom’ there’s something beautiful about that because it’s unedited. As you know the world, society it’s all edited isn’t it, perceptions, its conceptions, its belief. You can’t walk around the corner without bumping into an edit (laughs). This kind of cinema allows you to be unedited, I think that’s why it’s good and if we’re unedited and we have permission to do it on screen and it will give other people permission to be unedited with their life a little bit.
Paul: Yeah I think with a lot of the other cast there was something in the role that they resonated with. And that was really good enough for us and we just thought when we get there, our job would be to where the camera goes, the lighting etc. etc. And if the actors needed support of where they were going it was really encouraging for us that they really resonated. Every main part in the film, during the audition, Alex Ferns as well and Janet.
Geoff: They cried, they cried Alex Ferns cried at the audition, cos he said: “This is me, this is my life.”
Religion plays a very strong part of the film, it’s like we’re surrounded by religion all the time which envelopes us, the audience into a feeling of what it is like for Malky cos that religion is surrounding him and engulfing him isn’t it? I wondered what you wanted to say about the religious aspects and the part that had to play.
Geoff: For me character thinks he’s been abandoned by the priest, who is an emblem of the Church, of God. He thinks he’s abandoned by his Mum, he feels abandoned by himself. But what he’s really feeling he’s been abandoned by God, but he doesn’t want to voice that. He’s scared to tell his Mum that, ‘I think you’ve abandoned me,’ and she hasn’t she’s just afraid. And he’s afraid to tell his Mum so there’s no way with thousands of years of conditioning he’s gonna call on God and say, “You’ve abandoned me.” That’s what Paul the maverick priest encourages him to do. Put your complaint in front of God and God will come back at ya and he’ll say, “I didn’t abandon you, cos I’m omniscient, I’m omni present, I’m omniscient, but did you abandon ya?” And of course Malky realizes that at some level he did abandon himself cos all of his violence, all of the displacement is act of self-abandonment, it’s because he can’t articulate it. So it’s really, really what the character wants to say that God doesn’t exist and if he did, he abandoned me, but what he realizes through the storytelling is that he’s lost his connection with God, but God is always present and that God actually saved him.
Without wanting to give too much away, there is a self-redemptive story here isn’t there, because this guy clearly hates himself, but he learns to find a way to find peace?
Ludwig: Yeah I think the empathy for us was key in him finding himself, but I think when we say he found himself at the end, it’s the very beginning of the journey and I think that really appealed to us. We didn’t want to wrap it up and say well, you know this happened, he chose this path and then this is what happened to his abuser and everything is now over. I think it was for me the very, very beginning of a new journey, perhaps a very similar to when he was a child and this event happened to him and it took him on a different path, perhaps this event that happened to him as an adult also now has the power to take him on to a different, positive path and I think that’s what really appealed to me.
Tip for the Filmmaker - Casting a Marquee Name!
And, also we’ve obviously talked about Orlando Bloom. As independent filmmakers how important is it to have a marquee name attached to your project not only to get funding? But maybe to attract other recognisable names? For other filmmakers wanting to set out to make a film, should that be a priority?
Paul: Yes and no. Obviously having a name attached is key to getting attention, the thing with Orlando when we met him I think we all met him all three of us.
Ludwig: When we first spoke to him on the phone and then we went up.
Paul: Yeah that’s right it was instantly we knew that he was right for the part he was there for the right reasons, he really saw something in the script and so that was really nice. There was one thing that we were told actually, that with Geoff’s script and this is just generally speaking there is a lack of good scripts that are in circulation, and the thing is if you have a good script and a good team you can go out to A-listers. That’s something Geoff, you’ve got a great story about going out to Ray Winstone and they said, “You wouldn’t even be able to afford his lunch.” The advice we got is, if you have really got a rock solid script and it’s done for the right reasons you can go quite big, even bigger, as big as you want. People who have made it, who want to do artistic films, who want to prove themselves, who wanna get back into the craft, that’s the reason why they wanted to act in the first place, so there is that. So that’s why we felt fairly confident going for this particular script. Because we just knew there was a lot of truth in it and there was a lot of subtext, and it was just something that actors would really want to do. I don’t know if that was a long winded answer but, getting Orlando it just raised it, you know and everyone started taking interest in it.
Ludwig: I was just going to add something just briefly in that it obviously it helps when you have big name, but specifically this film, my biggest concern was, was an actor going to go there? And when our casting director suggested Orlando Bloom, I think we were like, “Wow is he really want to go there? He is gonna read the script and ‘no thank you’”. He’s an actor who’s been in two of the biggest franchises in the world, so there was that. And then they sent us some of his material and I think it was one of his films I saw Zulu, this crime drama with Forrest Whittaker and he was great in that and I remember we thought, OK this is really interesting, let’s have a chat with him. I remember the three of us spoke before the call and let’s speak and let’s see how we feel, cos the three of us said the casting was going to be a choice between the three of us, it was something that we thought was really important. And he really understood the story, so much more than I expected, the character, the subtext, everything. But the thing that was most impressive was that he wanted to protect the honesty and that happened from before, that happened during the shoot, and I remember once we had a conversation, ‘if we drop the ball on the honesty, if we try to water this down we are going to fail.’ And I was like oh my God, yes, ok. So we just knew it had to be him.
Paul: I think the good thing as well when he came on board was that we all had a journey, Geoff, you and myself through writing it, we got to that final stage and it was quite exhausting as Geoff said. There were days that we were just completely shattered and exhausted and then it was if Orlando gave that extra strength once he came on board, because we thought no one can really push us now any more that we’ve been pushed or we’ve been pushing each other, and then when he came on board he was like: “Right that’s it get up. We need to do this and we need to protect the honesty.” And he brought that energy to the mix, and I think we really needed that, at that point.
Geoff: He was extremely professional, he really did the homework.
Paul: Yeah I think we were as prepared as could be, and I just think someone who had come on and not treated it with that honesty and the integrity and the sensitivity it would have been really difficult.
Ludwig: It’s like you said Paul, it was the whole; everyone from Janet Montgomery, Anne Reid to Charlie Creed Miles, and everyone felt that we were all there to serve the story.
Geoff: There’s only one part of that that’s lacking, I think and that’s where we cast Orlando as me. (Laughs) My wife was like, how narcissistic, doing a biography about your life, so who can we get? Well I don’t know who can I get? What about Orlando Bloom? Orlando Bloom! (Laughs). I never let my wife anywhere near him, honestly (laughs) she never even spoke to him. I’m not allowing you anywhere near him, this is what she thinks handsome is. (Laughs).