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HURT, JOHN: Love & Death

With any luck, he says, John Hurt’s next movie will be shot in Australia – but it’s still a bit early to be sure. In the meantime, he talks to ANDREW L. URBAN about his unusual character, Giles De’Ath, in Love and Death on Long Island.

Names, says Hurt, are a great pointer to a character, even if they are inscrutable, such as his own. Hurt. But he’s proud of it. So is Giles De’Ath, who has lived with it stubbornly all his life, the affectation of the spelling his only attempt to tamper with it.

Hurt is at home in London and it’s 10 am there; he’s still bi-territorial with homes in both London and Dublin. And sometimes he spends time in Kenya at his ex-wife’s place, where he did a lot of the preparation for his role as De’Ath.

"This is a real film. I want to do it."

Love and Death on Long Island is Richard Kwietniowski’s first feature, although as Hurt points out, the man is not as inexperienced as that makes him sound. In fact, Hurt found him quite sophisticated and immensely talented. "Richard is quite clearly steeped in film…All the time I felt I was working with an extremely good filmmaker. Actually, I think he’s remarkable. I think this is a highly sophisticated film in all the best ways." What really appealed at first, though, was the script, which landed on Hurt’s desk in Dublin. "I read it and then immediately read it a second time. Then I rang my agent and said, ‘This is a real film. I want to do it.’"

(Love and Death on Long Island was screened in the Cannes, New York and London Film Festivals, and was the winner of the Best First Feature Award from the New York Film Critics Circle.)

It is indeed a real film, not only in its writing but in its execution – cinematic and haunting. Middle aged widower and reclusive English writer Giles De’Ath is allowing the 20th century to pass him by, until a small mistake lands him in a cinema watching College Hotpants II, in which a young actor, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley) catches his eye – and heart. The moment triggers an obsession for the young American star, which he fuels furtively by collecting memorabilia and magazine clippings on Bostock. Eventually, De’Ath even makes the trip to Bostock’s Long Island home in the hope of catching a glimpse….he manages more than that, by engineering a meeting with Bostock’s live in girlfriend, Audrey (Fiona Loewi), who takes the eccentric Englishman home. Bostock is at first flattered by the man’s attention and enthusiasm, and the astounded by the offer of a possible European career. But not as astounded as De’Ath himself, perhaps…

"I am always looking for something that tickles my imagination"

If you feel there is an echo of Death in Venice (1971, dir: Luschino Visconti, stars Dirk Bogarde) you’d be only half right. As Hurt says, "it is nothing like Death in Venice at all, but on the other hand that was one of the inspirations for it."

But what appeals in this script, in this film, to Hurt, an actor whose range is as wide as any actor could hope for? He’s very honest about this; "I am not the kind of actor who’s always had the great ambition to play Hamlet. I am always looking for something that tickles my imagination. And this definitely tickled my imagination in many different ways."

When it came to the actual making of the film, Hurt found "the writing was excellent and leads you where you feel you should go at any rate. If it had been played by someone else it would have been completely differently – and it would have probably succeeded on that level too. I just found it to be script everything you want a script to be – in terms of being able to use your imagination and …just let go. And the process…hell, you have good days and you have bad days. I guess one of the things about being a professional is that you have to make the bad days into good days too…"

To be visual doesn’t mean you have to create some sort of visual madness."

One of the things Hurt appreciates about Love and Death on Log island is Kwietniowski’s sense of the visual: "He understands that to be visual doesn’t mean you have to create some sort of visual madness. An image on screen can be a simple two shot, which is what I have always loved about filmmakers like Bunuel and Truffaut…they’ve been people I’ve admired most in film."

Hurt made four films in 1998, after Love and Death in Long island, including two for two German brothers one after the other; one brother was 23 the other 25, and one was with Brenda Blethyn, who has been spruiking Australia ever since she came here to make In the Winter Dark. Now, Hurt is hoping to be coming here with Blethyn for a "high romantic drama…I hope so, I’d love to work in Australia."

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