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Sal Mele's conversation with David Thompson, producer of Captives

Where did the idea for the film come from?

Well, the idea actually came from the writer Frank Deasy, whom I'd like to mention. I think there's always the slight danger that people tend to forget the writer in these operations. He actually dreamt up the idea, brought me the script and we got Angela Pope to direct it. I was enthusiastic about the script, as it was a fascinating story of obsessive love and passion.

Where did the funding for the film come from?

The film was funded by a combination of the BBC and Distant Horizon, a company I'd worked with before doing Serafina, the film with Whoopie Goldberg. We put the deal together fairly quickly, actually. The whole thing took only about six months to get funded. The people we asked all responded really well to the script. Tim Roth, who plays the part of the prison inmate, responded immediately, and said he was keen to do it. Angela Pope, the director, was equally enthusiastic and said yes immediately too. The actress Julia Ormond, who's the prison dentist in the film, jumped at the idea, and we were really pleased to get her. She's very much a rising star at the moment. She's in the new Richard Gere film, First Night, taking a role that many Hollywood actresses had been turned down for.

The film is set in a prison and tells the story of a young woman who decides to work in the prison as a dentist. How does the story develop from there?

Well, as I said before, it's a very passionate story, a fascinating study of obsessive love. It's about how people end up doing the wrong thing, perhaps even despite themselves and despite what they think they should be doing. The character, Rachel, is obviously trapped, for all the irrational reasons, into doing the wrong thing.

Rachel's passionate and obsessive love affair actually begins within the jail, with a prison inmate...

Yes. To be honest, these things do happen. There have been quite a number of cases recently of people who are working in prisons having affairs with prisoners. Including a prison governer, actually, which happened very recently.

How much did the film actually cost?

Well, the whole thing cost just under five million dollars, which is more or less similar to the five million or so it cost to make something like Four Weddings and a Funeral. So our costs were very much within the average cost for a film.

If I'm not mistaken, the film was shot on location, in a real prison.

That's right. We actually shot the film in the sex offenders wing of a real prison. The sex offenders were actually all around us. The security was really tight, as well. We were all checked and double-checked, both when we arrived and when we left the prison. Perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea, in retrospect, because the last time this jail had a film troupe in one of the inmates actually escaped with film troupe -- just walked out with them. They've got a good reputation for losing prisoners -- they also lost George Blake, the famous spy. He also just walked out with the crew.

Were the inmates also used as extras in your film?

No, actually. When we shot in the wing, they were all upstairs in their cells. All of the extras are real actors. This was one of the reasons why getting in and out of the prison was so elaborate. It would take about one and a half hours to get into and out of the prison, as all the prisoners had to be moved into their cells while we were being checked by security. We had to walk through double security doors, and our passes were all minutely inspected whenever we went in or left the premises.

Yours is a very emotional or "strong" film, which is not quite all that "British". Did this lead to any problems?

Well, I think you're right. It's fairly safe to say that the British are rather wary of strong, emotional films. They're very cautious about high emotions and tend to go for films which are more emotionally "buttoned-up". And that obviously limits the film's commercial potential. When you do have a film which really sort of takes off emotionally, well, like Four Weddings and a Funeral actually, then everyone tends to breathe a sigh of relief. But I think we're very cautios of strong emotions, of committing ourselves and wearing our heart on our sleeve. And Captives is a really gutsy film, not a restrained film at all.

Why do you think British films tend to be so emotionally cautious?

Well, I suspect because a lot of British filmmakers tend to make films for the critics rather than the audiences. And I think we've not been good enough at making entertainment, and too concerned about critical reviewers. I suspect that filmmakers tend to think that if they're making a film for theatre release, then it's got to be high-brow and impenetrable. I think there's a slightly pretentious element there.

Which is really strange, considering there's a very entrenched television tradition for strong, emotional entertainment... What is the relationship between television and cinema at the moment in England?

Very complex. Television has obviously funded lots of films, even very successful ones like Enchanted April and Four Weddings and a Funeral. I suppose television at the moment finances lots of cinema because that's where the money is. It's very difficult to get financing from outside. But obviously making films for television and making films for cinema is not the same thing, yet at the moment the funding is very much connected. I suppose television is taking a few risks now, and is having great success with some of its least likely operations. It's something that the BBC is now getting into more and more. Along with people like Chanel 4, obviously. They've also invested in films that have turned out to be very successful.

Angela Pope, the director of the film, has done lots of television, but this is her first feature-length film for cinema. Do you think she had any difficulties in making the transition from directing television to directing for the cinema?

I've actually produced other things Angela's done for television, like Sweet as You Are with Liam Neeson about AIDS, which is a brilliant film. She's got a great capacity to make acting ring through. She's really good at getting the best out of the actors -- really authentic performances. I don't think she had any difficulties in moving from television to cinema. She very much believes in the story being the strong vehicle behind any film, whether its for television or the cinema. She basically wants to make films that will move and engage people and deliver some emotional punch. I personally don't think that television and cinema are such worlds apart.

Apropos of Angela Pope's ability to bring out the "authentic" actor, what can you tell us about the two leads in this film, Tim Roth and Julia Ormond?

Well, Tim Roth, who plays Philip, is a very strong and commanding actor. He's got a really insidious screen presence. Julia Ormond, as I said before, is destined for great things. On screen she's just superb, staggeringly beautiful -- and at the same time she's incredibly meticulous as an actress. She actually studied dentistry so she could play the part of the dentist in the film. It's clear now that she's a real star in Britain, and her star is going to rise in the United States as well. I just can't be too enthusiastic about her. Both of them have done some television and cinema (Julia has actually worked on American television), but both of them are really on the rise, and the sexual chemistry between the two on screen is just incredible. See it to believe it.

Captives