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Director Oliver Hermanus On ‘Living’: “It Was A Life-Changing Opportunity” — Toronto Studio

Oliver Hermanus’s film Living appeared at Toronto with a clutch of prestigious festival slots already under its belt, having premiered at Sundance earlier in the year and followed that with  appearance in Venice and Telluride. A period film set in ‘50s London, it stars Bill Nighy as an office worker forced to come to terms with his mortality. “It’s the story of a man who comes to realize that his life is coming to an end,” said Hermanus when he visited TIFF’s Deadline Studio. “And he questions whether he’s lived at all.”

If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it has a very storied history. “Living has a long road,” Hermanus said. “It’s a film that we reimagined set in the UK, through an amazing writer, a very famous, Nobel prize-winning writer called Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s based on an existing film called Ikiru, by none other than Akira Kurosawa, which in itself is based on a very famous Russian piece of literature [Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich]. So, we are the sort of crazy people who decided to take on all of that.”

Surprisingly, Hermanus wasn’t daunted by the challenge. “In essence, I think what attracted me to the project was the people who were making it,” he said. “It was the opportunity to work in England, the opportunity to work with Bill, the opportunity to work with Ishiguro and our production company Number 9, and the opportunity to work with our amazing creatives, like costume designer Sandy Powell — and I was able to bring my director of photography [Jamie Ramsay] along with me. So, it was just this life-changing kind of opportunity to make a film that I never thought I’d get to make.”

Asked about his character, Nighy obliged in his usual droll style. “I play Mr. Williams,” he said, “who’s a man who works in an institution — a very large and elaborate arrangement — which is designed solely to prevent things from happening. In other words, it’s a government department, and that’s largely what governments are involved in: procrastination of one sort or another. He is given an ultimatum and he decides to try and actually make something happen with the last part of his life and find some meaning in it. He’s a very reserved restrained kind of character. It’s set in 1953 England, so there is a kind of restraint that is usually referred to as ‘Englishness’, but I’m sure there are characters like that in every country.”

If you’re dying to hear more about Living, click the link.

The Deadline Studio is sponsored by dr Liza + the[fix] and Watford Group. Special thanks to our partner Soluna.

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