Layke Anderson : On the Other Side
For magazine.topman.com, April 2012
From appearing in L'Uomo Vogue and working with photographers such as Steven Klein and Pierre et Gilles, Layke Anderson rose to recognition as a teenage stripper in coming-of-age AIDS drama, House of Boys, opposite Stephen Fry and Udo Kier. With a colourful resume including breaking horses in Buenos Aires and studying in Paris, 2012 will see him fighting to keep his brains intact in apocalyptic zombie-horror, Re:Kill, and battling with his sanity in the dark, psychological short film, The Equestrian. This year Anderson also unveils his first directorial effort, Dylan’s Room, starring Joanna Scanlan (The Thick of It). With Newport Beach, Cannes and Bulgaria adding to the list of festivals showing Anderson’s debut, he tells us what inspired his move to the other side of the camera, and why filmmaking outranks acting when telling the truth.
What motivated you to make the move from acting to directing?
Making Dylan’s Room began as a totally private exercise. I'd been thinking about the story for a while and over the time I was developing it, it became clear that that was where my heart was. Although, not even necessarily directing per se; I didn’t want to make a film for the sake of making a film, but over time I realized how capable I was of doing this, and started to really enjoy the experience of working on my own project as opposed to somebody else's.
Your first leading role was in House of Boys, which proved to be quite controversial. Now that you're directing, how important do you think it is for film to include controversial subject matter?
In a way, House of Boys was sold as a sexploitation film, which it isn't, but it's harder to sell AIDS than it is to sell sex. Initially, my agent wanted me to turn the part down. Now with hindsight, maybe that was the attraction to it. I can’t say I regret it, but it wasn't an experience I enjoyed. I've only seen it once.
I think the most controversial aspect to any film is always the truth, or how characters handle it. Reality is stronger. A recent film I really enjoyed was Snowtown, which was deemed controversial because of how honestly the torture scenes were depicted. Pasolini's Salo is said to be one of the most controversial films ever made, but to me it's one of the bravest statements about fascism, and the fascism is what's controversial, because it's already in our lives and our history.
Dylan's Room is your debut, how much of it was storyboarded? Was there room for improvisation from your actors?
I storyboarded everything down to the last detail and experimented with camera angles, light, lenses, etc... and used stand-ins for this process. This was all weeks before we began filming. Finding the right aesthetic was very important for me, and I’d already met separately with both actors and decided to keep them from meeting until we began filming due to the nature of their relationship in the story.
The script was a blueprint for them. I presented it to them that way. I wasn't interested in the dialogue so much as showing an intense relationship between two characters, so I gave them the freedom to develop that together. I wanted them to be comfortable, but I wanted them to work.
What was the hardest thing about directing for the first time?
The film was made with little money and with no real game plan. I was fortunate to have a team of hugely talented people who were interested in collaborating, which made the whole thing more enjoyable. They trusted me and understood what I wanted to do. Ultimately, you're leading a team so you obviously have to be fully committed, or it just won’t work. I've never really felt more comfortable than working on Dylan’s Room, though I’d say the hardest thing was learning to let go of footage during the edit. Not being able to keep everything felt brutal; it took me three months to cut the film.
How much of an introduction to your sense of style is Dylan's Room?
I'm interested in exploring what isn't always immediately visible within a situation, what's hiding underneath it and however that may affect us; that undercurrent of our lives that we don't always listen to. In this film I wanted to create something very personal, very stark and very private within a character's life. I'm obsessed with details, gestures, silences; the filming style is very intimate. From research I did beforehand, it doesn't follow the rules of a short film. I wanted it to burn slowly and reveal itself at the right time. In terms of style, that’s where I am so far.
I wanted to take my time; it was very cathartic. Films should be made when they’re ready to be made.
Dylan's Room deals with drugs and a relationship between a mother and son, what lead you to put the two together?
I always think that love stories can be about any two people, and not just romantic. I wanted Dylan’s Room to be soft, while still showing a relentless bond between a mother and her son. It's not a film about drugs, but I wanted to show genuine maternal tenderness with the generally unusual slant of a conservative-looking woman lighting a joint and smoking it.
That element is one that juxtaposes a motherly-figure with an unexpected practice, ultimately leading her to extraordinary truths.
What do you get from filmmaking that you don't from acting?
I never planned on a long-term career as an actor, even when I was living in LA and auditioning for films like Twilight. I went with the flow for a while and listened to other people. It can be an easy routine to fall into; directing became a completely new and tangible prospect.
It’s becoming more and more commonplace for actors to move into directing, but I'm just starting to scratch the surface of what really makes me happy. It's both a freedom and a fulfillment to have an idea and to see it through from the writing stage to completion and finally being able to share it; even though acting is a great job, if you really love it.