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“If I saw an actor dressed as somebody from my past, or somebody who’s passed away, just standing right there, it would be such a mind f***!” Imogen Poots stars as Debbie Raymond in Michael Winterbottom’s The Look Of Love, opposite Steve Coogan as her father Paul Raymond and Anna Friel as her mother Jean. Film4.com editor Catherine Bray visited the set to ask the 23 year old about ageing up to play 36, improvising with Alan Partridge, and taking cocaine - strictly within the fictional world of the film, of course - with Chris Addison...
Imogen Poots, as numerous profile pieces have been falling over themselves to point out, is a star in the making. With projects either recently released or about to be released with directors including Terrence Malick and co-stars ranging from Philip Seymour Hoffman to James McAvoy to Zac Efron, she’s seeing her steady work since 2004 beginning to transition into A-list projects.
In Michael Winterbottom’s The Look Of Love, Imogen plays Debbie Raymond, the daughter of Steve Coogan’s Paul Raymond, British entrepreneur and adult entertainment impresario. Debbie was something of a precursor to the modern phenomenon of teenagers with media-world parents who become tabloid celebrities, teenagers familiar with awards shows, red carpets and member’s clubs from an early age. In the film, Imogen plays Debbie from 18 up to 36, and when we meet in April 2012, that performance is still in the process of being captured, with the shoot about half complete.
Filming that day is taking place in an enormous house near Denham, in Buckinghamshire, a stand-in for Paul Raymond’s SW19 mansion. We sit by the indoor pool beside sun-loungers laden with inch-thick luxury property magazines, but Imogen doesn’t blend in with her luxurious but faintly soporific surroundings – she overflows with energy, good humour and casually amiable swearing. She’s one of those interviewees where you have to make an effort to keep the conversation on the subject at hand; it’s far too easy – and enjoyable – to veer off into discussing The Hunger Games, or Film4’s thirtieth birthday, or how beautiful Catherine Keener (her recent co-star in A Late Quartet) is. But here’s what she had to say about The Look Of Love...
Catherine Bray: In The Look Of Love, Debbie Raymond comes across as a poignant combination of older than her years at certain points and yet somewhat arrested or stuck in her childhood at other moments in her life...
Imogen Poots: Yeah, she just refused point blank to grow up, I think. She accepted responsibility but couldn’t really follow it through. We’ve been lucky enough to speak with her daughter Fawn who’s now in her mid-twenties, so it’s also important to be aware of that and understand that this lady was someone’s mother.
CB: You play Debbie from 18 to 36 – of course you’ve been a teenager yourself, and you’ve experienced your early twenties, but how do you go about embodying her later on into mid-thirties, mentally and physically?
IP: We’ve done bits with makeup, but I think fundamentally Debbie didn’t really change all that much. She’d gone through a lot regarding the business and taking on her father’s empire and having a child and getting heavily involved in drugs and all of that, but in terms of the dynamic or relationship between Paul and her, she very much stayed the same. They were best friends. There are changes along the way, but she’s pretty much the same kid inside, which is ultimately why she couldn’t really do it anymore, I think.
CB: It must be helpful to have the support of the family, but at the same time is it also scary?
IP: It’s daunting because a) you don’t want to let them down and b) you don’t want in any sense to construct a false idol. You want to do something real and pay homage to the actual person. I think it was odd for Fawn when she saw Steve as Paul Raymond, and Chris Addison, who plays Tony Power, in their make-up. I know myself that if I saw an actor dressed as somebody from my past, or somebody who’s passed away, just standing right there, it would be such a mind f***!
CB: Could you tell me a bit about the scene between Debbie and Tony Power you were doing today?
IP: Tony Power, who was editor of Men Only, worked in the business side of Paul’s empire and knew Debbie very well. I always like to think of him almost as a combination of like a big brother, but also the guy you’ve always kind of always fancied since you were a kid, and now you’re 20. It’s a moment where he’s trying to give her a bit of an upper really - she’s just seen Fiona Richmond [Tamsin Egerton] in a show, and Fiona’s been showered with praise, she’s been a real success and Debbie’s in the dumps because her own show, that her father put her in, hasn’t been a success. So Chris [Addison], who plays Tony, says ‘do you want to come to the loo and do a line?’ and she’s like ‘yeah, sure’, putting on this pretence that she’s done this before. And that is really the start of her demise, her introduction to cocaine. I think that must be a very difficult position to be in, because it’s not just anyone giving her the cocaine, it’s someone she’s known her whole life, and she’s still young enough to respond ‘oh yeah, of course’.
CB: And then later you have the scene where your dad discovers you taking cocaine in the loo with Tony?
IP: Yeah, it’s funny; I love the way she says ‘we just had a snog!’ as if that’s going to be any better for him. That’s a pure example of this innate naiveté she has. She’s not quite savvy enough to carry off the ‘I’m a rebel!’ thing. And then her dad doesn’t lose it with her, he’s not cross. It’s about differentiating between the parent who’s your best friend and the parent who’s your parent. It’s about hitting that age, which I don’t think Debbie’s quite come to at that point in the story, where you realise that your parents are just people, and your parents become your friends.
CB: I wanted to ask you about Michael Winterbottom’s shooting style - he has a reputation for moving things along quite rapidly, and Steve Coogan has a reputation for being great at improvisation – how do those traits work together on set?
IP: The script is obviously the foundation, and that’s the core of it and the story, but Steve does love to improvise and so there’s loads of that, which is a ton of fun - heaps and heaps of fun! I think as dark as the story gets at times, what pulls you through it is the way Michael works - we move at such a rapid pace and I love it, it’s addictive. Michael is a real breath of fresh air, and Steve’s just a joy to improvise with really - anything goes. With Michael, you’re navigated towards the goals of the scene, but with this sense of play that’s very, very apparent.
CB: The story of The Look Of Love is such an essential – and yet maybe not too widely known - part of London’s heritage, isn’t it?
IP: That’s the coolest thing, yes – I’ve been filming around these locations that I’ve passed for years and years and now I know ‘oh, that happened there.’ It’s just extraordinary. It’s like a character in some ways, the city. I wasn’t that aware of Paul Raymond before, and I think it’s extraordinary to be able to check out his places and have such a blast. I feel like a kid, like a sort of bouncing child! I think I’ve reverted back to dressing like I’m 15, which is slightly worrying.
The Look Of Love is a Film4-backed film released by Studio Canal in the UK on 26th April 2013
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