Exclusive Escape From Pretoria Clip & Interviews with Radcliffe, Webber & Annan
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with stars Daniel Radcliffe (Guns Akimbo) and Daniel Webber (The Punisher) and co-writer/director Francis Annan for their upcoming biopic thriller Escape From Pretoria, and also has an exclusive clip that can be viewed in the player below!
Escape from Pretoria is the true story of Tim Jenkin (Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Webber), young, white South Africans branded “terrorists”, and imprisoned in 1978 for working covert operations for Nelson Mandela’s banned ANC. Incarcerated in Pretoria Maximum Security Prison, they decide to send the apartheid regime a clear message and escape! With breath-taking ingenuity, meticulous surveillance, and wooden keys crafted for 10 steel doors, they make a bid for freedom.
Beyond a thrilling will-they-won’t-they-escape, this is the story of an oppressed majority’s struggle and two ordinary men who stood up to be counted in the pursuit of equality for all.
The film also stars Ian Hart (The Last Kingdom), Mark Leonard Winter (The Dressmaker), and Nathan Page (Underbelly). The movie was directed by Francis Annan (The Longest Drive) who co-wrote the screenplay with L.H. Adams. The project is based on Tim Jenkin’s autobiography Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison.
When coming to this project, the trio all felt that it was the right time to tell this story of discrimination, with Annan seeking to bridge the connection between “converting beliefs” and “tangible action,” which he felt we “saw a lot of” in the ’60s-’80s, but not now, and Radcliffe feeling the story still held a lot of relevance today.
“I think it is a very good time to tell stories about people who used their white privilege to help a cause that was not just about them,” Radcliffe explained. “Just the fact that I think there is something incredibly impressive about how we all sort of like to think that if we were raised in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa that you would be able to see that system for what it was, but in reality very few people do. There were white people in the apartheid South Africa, but it was the vast minority. So it is at least impressive and valuable to tell stories about people who are able to look at the circumstances which surround them with this sort of outside perspective and with a deeply honed moral sense.”
In addition to the timely themes of the project, Webber found himself drawn to the film due to Annan, whom he found a thoroughness in “his understanding of the subject of Tim and Stephen’s escape” and that even though he was a first-time director, he helped relieve the star of some of his own uncertainties.
“I had questions about how he wanted to shoot this, about the actual storytelling,” Webber described. “He just knew so much and had such clarity in how he wanted to tell the story. The second thing was only in just learning about Tim and Stephen’s escape. It’s such an unusual, brilliant way to escape out of a prison which I have never seen, I couldn’t even conceive this notion of making keys and breaking out. It’s just genius, the ability to think of it and also to be able to have the functionality to pull it off. It’s just an interesting idea on how we could make that cinematic and exciting, you know, this film has to be a thriller. It has to have people sitting at the edge of their seats. I just thought it’d be brilliant if you pull that off.”
One of the key aspects in the film is the friendship between Tim and Stephen and their new prison partner Leonard Fontaine (Winter), a fabrication for the film, and Webber and Radcliffe describe tapping into that camaraderie between their characters as relatively “easy,” with Radcliffe also adding Winter to the list of people they built chemistry with.
“Building chemistry with people is not a problem unless there is somebody there who is like, actively resistant to it,” Radcliffe said. “If you got on set and everyone kind of has the same attitude and the same understanding of how fast they’re going to be moving just that you are all on the same page, it’s sort of quite easy. With them and Mark, I think we are all quite like-minded, straightforward people who like the challenge of making the film and the speed we were going to be working at.”
“We had the rehearsal process for two weeks, which we got to pull apart the script and the story and the characters and the ideas and try and enhance the narrative that we’re telling,” Webber said. “Through that creative process, we just got to know each other and started to understand who each other were, and the same thing goes during filming. You just started to get that shorthand of friendship where you sort of understand the other person where they’re going with certain things. I remember it was a very easy, wonderful relationship on set with both of them, very organic, it just happened and very naturally, as it should. It’s perfect for us because Tim and Stephen were great friends and they really shared this passion for social issues and values and moral issues.”
The filmmakers had a lot of help developing the project as the real Tim Jenkin was on set consulting with the crew on bringing the story to life, as well as during the rehearsal process, which Annan described as “interesting” and Radcliffe felt was “lovely.”
“Tim is, despite I’m sure having told this story a hundred thousand times, very, very patient and took the time answering all our questions and was able to be there on set for quite a bit of the film, which was both sort of lovely to have him there as a resource, but also slightly intimidating because you’re very aware that you’re in costumes playing at someone’s life and how strange that must be for him watching that,” Radcliffe said. “He seemed actually very into it and seemed to really enjoy being there. But yeah, you’ve got his book as well as a point of research material as well, so between reading that and having him there and having Francis as well, whose knowledge of the story is second to almost nobody at this point.”
“We were rehearsing in an old cinema and projected Stephen and Tim up on the cinema screen, so they were 10 feet tall and we had to interview these giant figures via Skype,” Webber laughed. “It was quite a funny experience. I really just wanted to try and understand when he realized — because when he realized what was happening in the country, because there was a certain ignorance and naivete and a veil that the government sort of pulled across a lot of people’s eyes. There was a lot of ignorance about how unjust and inhumane the system was, he would learn about how they would ban literature at university and to educate themselves, they had to find backroads into sort of that educational part. Understanding when he decided that the system that they’re living in was antithetical and immoral and inhumane and needed to be stopped because essentially they’re fighting their government. These guys are taking action to take steps against their government to try and change it.”
“I’d been to Cape Town and seen him and driven around to all the location, the places,” Annan recalled. “I had a working conversation and knowledge with him, but I was grateful to actually have him on set and he had lots of conversations with the art department about the keys and the wood and how it all worked. There were interesting bits he conveyed with the actors, how it really was in the prison and the ending of the film as well. There was a real footnote that he gave the actors which really helped them, and so he was there for a week. He enjoyed the fond experience of doing the same thing lots of times and building sets, he found it interesting.”
With all of the thriller action set pieces and more dramatic moments, the trio found that the biggest challenge of the production came in the shortened time they had during filming, with Annan having to find an “economical” way to shoot and having storyboarded “70 percent” of the film ahead of time to help with the process.
“There’s a lot of frank details, close-ups, hand shot, a lot of detailed shots which I had to think about. I had two cameras, so I ended up splitting the second camera and using it like a sort of second unit and then got a lot of the detail shots either down or with a twist.”
“Normally you’d have a few months to do something like this, and we were always under the crucible of time, which was great,” Webber said. “I think it added to the energy of the storytelling and how we told the story. There’s something about time pressure that you can’t really get in your head and second guess things, you have to go off of instinct and what works in the moment and what’s practical.”
“Every day, every scene is challenging in some way because you’re figuring out the best way to tell the story,” Radcliffe described. “Particularly on this film, I feel like there’s such a lot of detailed work in terms of how you actually end up telling the story. There’s a lot of where the action isn’t happening, and turns or looks or eyes. I think what I remember is that every scene required a huge amount of shots, and we obviously didn’t have that much time, so the challenge of the shoot was getting enough to be able to tell the story. We were all a part of that process and it was very much thanks to Francis who was really, really skilled at being economic and really had to be. It wasn’t like this was a film where there wasn’t an immense sort of physical aspect to this film. It’s a physical film, but it’s not like the play I’m doing right now where I’m running up and falling down ladders and stuff. It didn’t feel like this was a particularly physical one, but it was just an intense short shoot, and so, it had that kind of feverish quality every day.”
Annan found himself wanting to tell this story due to having family who came from the country and similar areas and wanting to explore the prison of Pretoria, which based on his research appears to be the “only white-only political prison.”
“My parents and grandparents were African and West African themselves and always had a very detailed take,” Annan said. “It was always like voyeuristically kind of interesting to see this regime and this kind of institutionalized system. I think a lot of Africans look at this kind of peculiar arrangement, and some of it always has the lends on it. I found that interesting, but you know, why is that a cause for fight or put in this special prison? A, for being political, and B, for being white. I just find that interesting that there’s nothing else like that anywhere else in the world. Then also, being a prison escape, it’s interesting, 35 prison escapes having tunnels and digging and climbing, but this was a very sort of mechanically oriented escape, which I’d never seen before.”
With the film, Annan really hopes that audiences understand that the tension of the story was “a very hard-won thing” for the characters, as they were able to manage to escape and keep fighting for their message, with Radcliffe having two hopes for what audiences get from the film.
“First and foremost, I think I’m interested in telling the story of remarkable people in this instance,” Radcliffe said. “The fact I get to be a part of making this, I think incredibly making the story more widely know, ultimately, that is the goal. I think people will hopefully see Tim as the hero that he is for all the amazing qualities that he has, which aren’t just his incredible genius and his ability to escape from this prison, but because of the sort of moral compass these men had and what they were willing to do for their beliefs and what they were willing to suffer for their beliefs and not just for the people that escaped, but for the people that stayed. These men gave up decades of their life for a cause they believed in, and that’s obviously an incredibly powerful thing.”
Escape From Pretoria hits select theaters and Video on Demand on March 6!