Casting Forest Whitaker
NJ: I’d met Forest once or twice, and I loved him as an actor. The minute I’d finished the script I thought of him immediately, and I asked him if would he play it. It caused some controversy at the time because there weren’t that many parts for black British actors, but he’s a great actor and I go for actors more than anything. He’s had a great career since, hasn’t he?
Stephen Woolley: People always think we cast Forest Whitaker for the Americans. We didn’t. We cast Forest Whitaker first and foremost because he’s a great actor. I’d made A Rage in Harlem (1991) with Forest, and he’d made Bird (1988), which was a huge success. The European distributors loved Bird and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), so they all wanted Forest. It wasn’t at all tricksy casting, certainly not for the Americans. But it was a good, solid casting for the Europeans, weirdly, because there was no black actor at that time. There was Lenny Henry, but he didn’t mean anything in Europe or anywhere.
Casting Jaye Davidson
NJ: We came across him in the club world of London. When I tested him first he had no interest in acting. He was a very beautiful, kind of glamorous figure in this very specific world that he moved in. The great thing about his performance is that he wasn’t an actor.
Casting Miranda Richardson
NJ: Oh yeah, she’s pretty great. There were a lot of republican women like that at the time, much harder than the men. It was one of those things where all the men became feminised and all the women became muscular and male. It just happened. When you write a movie, it establishes its own little universe. The more feminine the men got, the more masculine her character got. A lot of people took exception to the fact that she played such a hard-arse male kind of character.
SW: It was freezing cold in Hoxton [east London]. It was so cold I remember having a discussion (which was another word for an argument) at about three o’clock in the morning, and snot was freezing on my top lip. It was one of those movies where everybody’s walking round with a hangover or a bad cold.
NJ: It was really intense. I think everybody felt they were making something special, perhaps because it had been so hard to finance. All the actors had been so committed to it. Like a lot of independent movies [when] you’re about to start, things fall through, the actors wait around… When you finally get going they’re primed and determined to do something good. So even though we had a tiny budget, it created a little community of believers.
Watch The Crying Game cast and crew on stage
SW: We played in Telluride [film festival], and there I met the guys who made Reservoir Dogs [released the same year as The Crying Game]. Interestingly, Reservoir Dogs wasn’t as successful in America as it was in the UK, and I think that’s because gun culture in the UK is something that’s alien to us. I mean people just don’t get out guns in Tesco, not normally. So Reservoir Dogs felt like a movie to us, whereas in America I think it felt a bit like reality.
For us, the IRA bombing is a reality, and I think that element of the film put people off from going and put people off from trying to empathise with the lead character. Whereas in America they saw it as a film; he’s a good guy trying to escape. Critics were very mixed with the film in the UK, which didn’t help much. They were universally praising in America.
The film today
SW: I think it’s relevant now. It’s about people who are marginalised, people who are demonised. I think we demonise people for their sexual identities. We demonised the IRA for a long time. No one would listen to the cause then; people wanted to make them into hateful people, nobody would try and work out why they were doing what they were doing, and I think we’re still doing the same thing. I think a lot of those ideas are still fresh and, sadly, 25 years on we’re still facing the same problems.
NJ: There’s so much violence in the world at large now, isn’t there? People are being driven insane by beliefs. They allow beliefs to define them. We show Stephen Rea’s character Fergus with a very defined and brutal set of beliefs, as the movie forces him to change every one of those. I think we should live and not die, basically. Haha. We should make love and not kill people.