A twisty and unrelenting thriller, The Owners is also blessed with a talented ensemble (Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Maisie Williams) to anchor the narrative. Director/co-writer Julius Berg talked about his approach to his feature and how strong performances is a key to his feature’s effectiveness.
The Owners centers on a group of friends (Ian Kenny, Andrew Ellis, Jake Curran, Maisie Williams) who rob the home of an elderly couple (Rita Tushingham, Sylvester McCoy). Their dreams of a quick score evaporates after the couple turn the tables on them, leading to an extremely horrific encounter.
Director Julius Berg elaborated on what made Maisie Williams a perfect lead for the film why he considers this film more of a psychological thriller with horror elements.
What was your overall visual approach to The Owners? It starts off in the countryside but ultimately it’s mainly set in a spacious home.
The Owners is an adaptation of a graphic novel which is already cinematic. The story takes place in one location.
I wanted to give the audience a feeling of being trapped so I started with a rectangular aspect ratio and eventually we make this picture smaller and smaller with a more squarish frame.
This story was interesting for a director to develop a lot of tools and to create this feeling of claustrophobia.
Growing up as a cinephile were you a fan of Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham? That must have been a huge get for your film.
It was a great opportunity to work with Sylvester. Of course I knew him fromDr. Who. A few months before I started production on The Owners, I went to the cinema to see A Taste of Honey (which starred) Rita Tushingham.
She was 20 and I fell in love with her. But I didn’t have this thought of working with her on The Owners. It was thanks to the casting director who proposed that I should work with her.
Of course she was perfect for this character. We shot in 23 days so we wanted to have this kind of family feeling and to have a very good atmosphere on set with the crew and the actors. We had to be really efficient.
It was delightful to work with them. I liked the potential of Sylvester and Rita to start with sweet and very polite, all British manners, and also in the same moment to be very violent, intrusive and weird. And funny, but not in a good way; just scary.
I think it’s an amazing component in the movie. I didn’t want to do a horror movie with just a lot of blood. It had very strong characters. It’s a psychological thriller mainly. There is horror, but not so much jump scares. It’s mainly based on talking, manipulation and lying.
Was Maisie Williams the perfect person to anchor this narrative?
I’m very lucky to have this opportunity to work with her. When we started shooting, the final season (of Game of Thrones) was released everywhere in the world. It was this famous scene when she killed this villain (the Night King). She was very famous at the moment when we started (the production).
In addition to that she’s a very intense actress. She can bring all the energy from her generosity. I wanted authority and smartness and intensity. She was the perfect actress to interpret this character. She’s delightful and it was fun to work with her.
You also co-wrote the screenplay. Were you always a writer as a youth or was directing always your primary focus?
It was a very simple but long process with my great partner Mathieu Gompel. Because we started from the graphic novel – we found new ideas to bring the story further. The last chapter was very different (from the movie).
It was a process I really enjoyed. But to work alone as a writer, I’m not sure I’m able to do that. It was more simple because Mathieu is an experienced writer and I bring ideas as a director. I am a co-writer, but my main job is as a director (laughs).
A lot of filmmakers cite movies that educated them as directors. For example, William Friedkin cites Citizen Kane and the films of Alfred Hitchcock as films that influenced them. What specific movie enlighted you as a director?
It’s hard to answer this question because (so many movies) influenced my work. One movie that is really important to me is The Graduate because it’s a very elegant but very original in the way it was developed.
It’s very poetic and dramatic. At the same time, it has strong characters and a strong visual approach. I like when (a film) is simple, pure and very strong.
I like when the filming is not so visible but where the focus is more on the story. Sometimes a strong signature is not always visible. William Friedkin is a good example because it’s very raw and fresh. At one moment, you really forget the filming and you have the characters bring you into a new territory. I like those kind of directors.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you very much for this interview. Have a good day Greg!