Interview: Steven Knight, Writer/Director of ‘Locke’ Starring Tom Hardy


Lock interview with writer/director Steven Knight

Tom Hardy in Locke
Photo: A24

I missed the first screenings of Locke in Seattle and as a result, not only did I miss one of the best films of 2014 so far, but a chance to sit down and talk with writer/director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) face-to-face. As luck would have it, I was finally able to see the film three weeks later and even managed to arrange a time to speak with Knight over the phone, though for a much shorter amount of time than I would have likely been awarded had I been in town while he was here.

So what is Locke? Why was I so excited to see it? What’s so great about talking with Steven Knight? Well, Locke (read my review here) is an 85-minute movie featuring Tom Hardy as Ivan Locke, a construction site foreman driving in his car and fielding numerous phone calls for the entire film. It’s a single location drama that, unlike films such as Buried, where the threat of survival is on the line, it takes what could be considered a very normal situation in a man’s life and explores the consequences of either owning up to your mistakes and doing something about it or ignoring them.

Ivan accepts his responsibilities and his struggle to keep his life together is far more harrowing than a film where the threat of death is all that’s on the other end. Yes, the need for survival is at the top of the list when it comes to living one’s life, but living with ourselves based on the choices we make can be far more compelling than merely survival itself, especially depending on what those choices are.

It was this story conceit that I first broached in my conversation with Steven Knight and we then get into some of his script and shot choices and if you have not seen the film, be warned, this conversation contains massive spoilers, but there really is no good way to discuss the major elements of the film without getting into the nuts and bolts.

I hope you enjoy…

I have to admit, there was a little trepidation walking in… one guy, in a car, talking on the phone for 85 minutes.

It’s a hard sell, but once people have seen it, they get it.

To that point, how would you respond to someone that sees it and says, “Nothing happens”?

In a sense they’d be right, but the intention at the outset was to point the camera at an ordinary man, a man who is like anyone else. He’s not Jason Bourne, he’s not James Bond, and he’s made a mistake anyone could make and the movie is about his response to that and his attempt to make it better. Nothing happens that would get into the papers, nothing happens that would get on to the local news, but I think the reason people are responding is because they see their own lives within it.

The number of people that have come up to me and said, “That’s the journey my dad didn’t make… That’s the journey my dad did make… That’s the journey I didn’t make…” and they really do relate to it in their own way. I think that’s a different experience compared to the “normal” cinematic experience.

You say in the notes you told the cast to treat it “like a play” and solve issues on the fly. Is that something you are going to now take to the rest of your films seeing how much it ramps up the realism?

I’m going to try. I’ve got an idea that I’m going to do next. The day job is the same, which is writing conventional scripts with conventional budgets, but I’m really interested in putting together stories that can be told in a different way and my interest is in capturing performance above anything else.

With regard to the screenplay, about 20 minutes or so into the film, I’m not entirely sure, I sort of began to worry. I had this thought of “How many calls are we going to see this guy take and make and is that going to get tiring?” But you did something interesting, which was you had him start missing calls, which I felt was a perfect way of placing importance on not only each and every call he makes, but even more importance on the ones he was missing.

Tom Hardy and Steven Knight on the set of LockeI wanted, as closely as possible, to recreate the reality of a night like that. We will probably all have one night like this where everything is coming at you — work, personal, private, everything. It’s a reflection on the technology as well, it’s almost like an airport with the planes circling, waiting to get permission to land. You’ve got that pressure of other people, waiting to get through, and you know a lot of people need to speak to you.

What I wanted was to do justice to the drama of an ordinary life, so the problem with the concrete is not a problem that’s going to affect anyone outside that small circle, but for those people it’s the end of the world. The same with the family situation and the pressure that someone is under in that situation is immense and it was really part of the piling on of the pressure on Ivan.

What I wanted was to do justice to
the drama of an ordinary life…

The only parts I had to sort of work out for myself were his conversations with his father. It was my impression he might not be having this conversations out loud, but more in his head, which is why I assumed at moments you took the camera outside the car for these scenes and we could hear his voice, but his lips weren’t moving. Did you do this so audiences could try and determine it for themselves or what was the overall intention with these scenes?

What I wanted to do was reflect the fact that when you’re on your own in a car, I think you’re alone in a very particular way, different from being alone in a room. I think because your body is driving the car, your mind is free and you can’t do anything other than speculate and think and that’s when you go into memories, speculate about the future…

The oddness of being alone in a car gives one permission to, for example, have someone talk to themselves. Often, you look across at the car next to you and the person is probably talking to themselves or doing something weird because they’re alone, anyone that can see them doesn’t matter because they’ll be pulling away from them in ten seconds time. There is a sort of absolute honesty to that place.

[When it comes to the scenes with him “talking” to his father,] I see it that some of those things he’s thinking, sometimes he spills out and he’s talking to himself in the rear view mirror. Even a man as practical and solid as Ivan, he’s prone to that.

Lock interview with writer/director Steven Knight

Tom Hardy in Locke
Photo: A24

Were there any movies shot in a similar fashion that inspired the look and feel of this film? Collateral is one of my all-time favorites and I definitely got a little of that vibe from the shot selections to the music.

Personally, I try to avoid the influence of other films. I think there is a lot of “films influencing films” going on and I try, especially in the dialogue, to write things more like people speak rather than the way people speak in films.

I haven’t seen — I’ve seen Collateral — any of the other, sort of, single location things that people often talk about. I sort of deliberately avoid too much delving into other people’s styles. I mean, Collateral is a fantastic film and any comparison is always welcome, but there was no conscious effort. I think if you’re in a car and it’s night time there’s bound to be similarities.

Well one comparison I think is apt is to Richard Linklater‘s Before trilogy and how you throw us into the story and how abruptly you end it. Did you struggle with the ending and finding that right moment to end it and can you see yourself returning to this character?

No, the ending was one of the first things that came along. What I needed was for Ivan to have made a mistake, that wasn’t a fraud or a crime or a murder, but something anyone could do. He’s the most rational man, his name is a reference to John Locke, the philosopher who argued that rationality and reason were predominant in human behavior, and Ivan Locke tries that. That’s how he lives his life — through reason, through concrete, solid things, shaping things and fixing things.

I wanted him, when he arrives at the other end with nothing, to realize the one thing he’d done that was a mistake, the irrational thing, has led to that moment where he hears a baby crying. That “mistake” has made something that’s better than even the building he’s so in love with, which is made out of concrete and reason. I think he arrives changed, realizing, out of the stupidity, chaos and daft things that human beings do, comes the next generation.

I think he arrives changed,
realizing, out of the stupidity, chaos and daft things that human beings do, comes the next generation.

Also in comparison to Linklater’s Before films, have you thought about revisiting Ivan 9-10 years from now? I think it would be a fascinating, largely out of the questions we’re left, primarily that question of what’s next.

I’m not planning on revisiting Ivan, I think part of the pleasure is not knowing what he does, where he goes and what happens to him.

What do you have coming up? You mentioned something along the same lines as your approach to Locke?

Yeah, I’ve got an idea for something, which I’m hoping to shoot next year, which would be a small cast of good actors and we would just be capturing performance primarily and shoot it in a slightly different way. That’s the direction I really want to go now.

Our conversation ended with Knight confirming Pawn Sacrifice, which he wrote and features Tobey Maguire as chess champion Bobby Fischer for Edward Zwick, is expected some time in October, which suggests a Toronto International Film Festival premiere may very well be in order.

He also confirmed Chef will begin shooting in June with Bradley Cooper set to star. At one point David Fincher was attached to direct and then Cooper’s The Place Beyond the Pines helmer Derek Cianfance. While Knight confirmed a director is in place he wasn’t sure he could tell me who. I have a suspicion it very well may be John Wells (August: Osage County) who was attached almost a year ago to the day.

As for the plot, Cooper will star as Paris chef, Adam Jones, who blows his status as an up and coming chef when controlled substances lead to out of control behavior. Jones straightens out and returns to Paris sober, and becomes devoted to building a restaurant that can attain three Michelin stars, the mark of cuisine supremacy.

But that’s far in the future, you can see Locke in theaters now. Check your local listings and see if it’s playing near you and read my full review right here.