By Hollywood standards, openly gay writer and director Andrew Haigh’s career has been both highly conventional and highly unconventional.
It’s been highly conventional because he has worked hard and risen through the ranks. One of his first assignments was working as an apprentice editor on Ridley Scott’s Academy Award-winning film “Gladiator.” (Ironically, both Scott and Haigh are prominent on this year’s list of directors who were snubbed by Oscar this year: Scott for “The Martian” and Haigh for “45 Years.”) He’s also worked as an assistant editor for such films as “Black Hawk Down” and “Hannibal Rising.”
But, despite his successful career as an editor, Haigh wanted to tackle his own creative projects. He worked on a series of shorts, but then made the leap to working full-time on his own feature-length films.
“It’s difficult to make that move because you go from making a little bit of money to earning absolutely nothing.” he says. “But it was the right choice.”
His choice has led to a highly unconventional career as writer and director in the astonishing diversity of the stories he has brought to cinematic life. Haigh made that leap with the full backing of his husband, novelist Andy Morwood.
“He doesn’t work in film, but he’s very supportive of what I do every step of the way. It’s good to have him there. We’ve been together a long time.”
Haigh’s first feature was “Greek Pete” (2009) which chronicled a year in the life of a London rent boy. He worked as writer, director, cinematographer, editor and producer. His next film, “Weekend” (2011) was about a one-night stand that unexpectedly turns into something potentially more serious. It received a limited theatrical release and won thunderous reviews on the indie film circuit and at several LGBT film festivals.
While he was editing “Weekend,” Haigh discovered a 12-page short story called “In Another Country” by David Constantine. It’s about a straight English couple who are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. But as the celebration nears, their relationship is rocked when a long-buried secret from the husband’s past emerges. While the ailing husband Geoff retreats into himself, his wife Kate is forced to rethink their entire marriage while still planning for the festivities.
“I loved that short story,” Haigh says. “It got stuck in my brain and I became pretty much obsessed with trying to find a way to adapt it.”
Haigh’s obsession turned into the script for “45 Years” which is now being shown in area theaters.
Once the script was finished, it was time to find a cast and scout locations. Haigh and his casting director Kahleen Crawford quickly zeroed in on Charlotte Rampling, the controversial actress known for her performances in “Georgy Girl,” “The Damned” and “The Swimming Pool,” as well as for her role as Dr. Evelyn Vogel in the last season of Showtime’s “Dexter.”
“We sent Charlotte a copy of the script and a copy of my last film and a begging letter,” Haigh says. “Then we had a very nice conversation on the phone and she luckily decided to come on board.”
They decided to shoot the film on location in Norfolk, England.
“It was a lovely shoot. We had five-and-a-half weeks, so we didn’t do any rehearsing. We just kind of went straight into it. We shot the film in order which gave us an idea of the subtle flow of the film and what was changing scene by scene. That helped me and the actors understand what we needed to do in any particular moment.”
Haigh did spend time before the shoot discussing the film with Rampling, who has been nominated for an Academy Award.
“I spent like three days with Charlotte. We talked about the character and our understanding of what the film was about. And then you just turn on the camera and let her do her thing. She’s an amazing actress.”
Once shooting on “45 Years” was complete, Haigh returned to work on his most famous project to date, the provocative HBO series “Looking.” His work on the series bookended the filming of the movie.
“I had just finished season one of ‘Looking’ and then went to shoot ’45 Years.’ The day after the wrap, I went right back to work on season two of ‘Looking.’ I spent mornings in the writer’s room for ‘Looking’ and afternoons editing ’45 Years.’ It was a very hectic period.”
The increasingly in-demand Haigh will head to Portland this summer to direct his next movie project, “Lean On Pete.” Haigh adapted the script from the acclaimed Willy Vlautin novel and describes the film as, “a coming-of-age story more than anything else. It’s about a kid that works in a racehorse track. It’s moving away from the relationship-oriented material I’ve been working on, but there are still thematic similarities.”
After that, it was just announced, he will direct a biopic of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. The script will be written by London playwright Chris Urch; this will mark the first time Haigh has directed a movie written by someone else.
In the meantime, after enjoying “45 Years,” American audiences can look for “HBO’s Looking Special,” slated to premiere in April. Haigh was grateful to write (with series creator Michael Lannan) and direct the movie that will wrap up the storylines that have played out over the series’ two season.
“It’s nice that we got to end it the way we wanted to,” Haigh says. “There’s definitely some conclusions to all the stories that have been started. It was nice to have one last visit to that world.”
Unfortunately, Haigh offers no hints about what will happen in the “Looking” movie.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” he says. “I’m giving nothing away.”