Interview: Alexandra McGuinness On Leaving the Life of “Lotus Eaters” Behind

The first-time writer/director talks about the process of piecing together characters and overheard conversations into a decadent debut about pampered twentysomethings attempting to be in pursuit of something other...
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There’s something almost poetic, albeit unfortunate, about the fact that Alexandra McGuinness’ debut film “Lotus Eaters” has been held up for an American release by acquiring the proper music rights after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival two years ago. After all, it is the music that proves a stumbling block for its central characters, which isn’t to speak of the film’s killer soundtrack consisting of an incredible array of Brit bands, but of the group of privileged, young loungeabouts that all dance to the beat of their own drummer. All except for Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), who finds herself out of step with her peers by merely having professional ambitions to transition out of modeling into acting, looking to put a past of empty partying, loud concerts and overstimulated exes behind her.

Thrown together onscreen and filmed in lush black-and-white with a style nearly as decadent as the lives led by the crowd Alice runs with before hoping to run from, “Lotus Eaters” marks a similar breakaway for its writer/director who spent her early twenties finding a proper creative outlet. As the film finally makes its way to theaters this weekend, the Irish-bred filmmaker spoke of the liberating, haphazard production of the film, her film education and setting her next film, a psychological thriller, within familiar confines.

Since it was a little bit ago when it made its premiere at Tribeca, what’s it like to look back at this film with a little bit of distance?

It’s almost two years since we showed it at Tribeca, so it is funny we’re having our theatrical release now. The main reason for the delay is because if you remember, there was so much music in the film and we cleared everything so quickly for festivals, and then we just had to go back and redo a lot of that, so that was really the delay. But it’s great now that it’s out there and in some ways, I feel like it’s a better time for it to come out now. I’ve been watching “Girls” recently and I feel like there are some parallels between us and that it’s readied an audience for “Lotus Eaters” because people are accepting of the humor there. I’ve changed a lot since I’ve made the movie, but now when I watch it, I can watch it as a viewer really.

How did this first feature come about?

I had finished film school in London and I had a lot of notebooks full of character sketches and just kind of grabs of dialogue that I’d overheard or just that I pieced together and I started writing the script. We wanted to make a movie that had a unique style, both in the cutting and the cinematography style that was not so much plot-driven as character-driven. That the style and the music and all of that was as much a part of the film in some ways as the story and to make it hyperreal — its own world. We started making it before we really had all the money in place and we kind of just had to catch up with ourselves.

You were able to place your characters right in the middle of big events like the Nottingham Carnival and public places. Were those moments a bit like flying by the seat of your pants?

It just happened Nottingham Carnival was during our shoot, so we thought, “okay, we’ll shoot a scene there.” We shot Glastonbury before the shoot. That was the first thing we shot. So we just wrote those things into the script. We planned like an extra little shoot in France and then there was like another little shoot at the Serpentine Summer Party. And when things like that became available to us, we made it happen. But they were all little splinter crews.

Did the story organically emerge from the pieces you had?

We had Alice at the core of it and we had these other characters and we knew they had things that had to happen, but like if an opportunity arose, we’d say okay, well if we have something that needs to happen, we’ll make it happen there instead of in a kitchen. [laughs] So we just wanted to up our production value as much as possible and just to show off London and where we were while working with what we had.

Did black and white just feel right from the start?

That was about rooting the film somewhere between the past and the present and also creating a bit of distance from the audience, but that was a choice from the beginning.

One of the things I found so wonderful about it was also something I imagine proved difficult – to capture boredom in an interesting way. Was it a challenge?

I did want to capture boredom, but it was more that feeling of being lost or waylaid and not having anyone to turn to and just not having found your purpose yet in life.

Could you relate? You actually were an actress before turning into a director. Did that experience at all shape how you worked as a filmmaker?

That was only very briefly and it was something I realized quickly I didn’t want to pursue. I went on a lot of auditions and didn’t really get very much work and when I did get work, I would hate having to actually go in front of the camera. I realized I liked being on set, but not on the other side of it. But yeah, I supposed it informed the way that I treat actors. I’m kind of nicer to them. [laughs]

What actually got you interested in filmmaking or film in the first place?

I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t so many people my age around. At the time, we actually had a lot of laserdiscs. [laughs] We had laserdiscs and the TCM channel, so I just watched a lot of movies and I think the thing that’s most apparent to you is the actors, so that was what I initially went into. But when I went to film school, I was thrilled because I found what I wanted to do.

Is it true a psychological thriller might be in the works next?

Yeah, we’re going to shoot in Berlin later in the year. And that’s set on a film set and about someone making a film, but it’s a comedy as well in some ways. A dark comedy.

I hope not inspired by the experience of making this one.

Noooo. [laughs] It’s about someone who goes crazy making a movie but it’s not from any of my own experiences.

“Lotus Eaters” is now open in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.

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