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Career > > 2014 > A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down

March 21, 2014 | BBC Films | 96 minutes
Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil | Written by: Jack Thorne | Literature: Nick Hornby | Cinematography: Ben Davis | Editing: Chris Gill, Barney Pilling | Costume Design: Odile Dicks-Mireaux | Production Design: Chris Oddy | Music: Dario Marianelli
A disgraced TV presenter (Pierce Brosnan), a foul-mouthed teen (Imogen Poots), an isolated single mother (Toni Collette) and an aging pizza delivery boy (Aaron Paul) - decide to end it all on New Year’s Eve. When this disillusioned group of strangers meet at Topper’s Tower, a trendy jumper hotspot, they agree to call off their plans for six weeks. Their written pact inadvertently binds them together and sweeps the public up - transforming them into unwitting media sensations - as they discover that even accidental families make life worth living.
Cast: Pierce Brosnan (Martin), Toni Collette (Maureen), Imogen Poots (Jess), Aaron Paul (JJ), Zara White (Shanay), Joe Cole (Chas), Evelyn Duah (Nurse), Therese Bradley (Nurse 2), Sam Neill (Chris), Priyanga Burford (Reporter), Josef Altin (Matty), Diana Kent (Hope), Rosamund Pike (Penny)

Production Notes

A darkly comic tale tackling the twin taboo subjects of suicide and depression? It may sound like risky terrain for best-selling author Nick Hornby to tread, but he tackled it sensitively and successfully in his funny, sad and strikingly humane 2005 novel A Long Way Down. Hornby’s audacious story mines the hearts and psyches of four lost souls who meet atop a London tower block one New Year’s Eve with the intention of killing themselves, only for their plans for a lonely death to be ruined by each other’s appearance. Moving between each of the four voices, Hornby recounts the quartet’s misadventures as they agree to suspend their plans temporarily, forge a dysfunctional family unit and opt to give living one more chance. “The inspiration for A Long Way Down came from hearing that certain nights of the year were the most popular nights, as it were, for suicides,” says Hornby. “And then repeatedly going over Archway Bridge near my home in north London, which is a well-known suicide spot, thinking, ‘Does that mean that on these popular nights of the year, there’s a chance of seeing somebody else who was thinking about the same thing?’”

In conceiving and writing the novel’s four main characters, Hornby had sought to explore different themes. With Martin, it was the concept of fame’s aftermath and living with the shame of both his illegal actions and very public downfall – as the author points out, a subject that’s generated its own avalanche of salacious headlines since his book’s publication. “Martin’s not a pedophile, though,” notes Hornby. “He slept with a 15 year old who looked older, but clearly it’s something he shouldn’t have done when he’s married with kids.” Like Maureen, Hornby also has a disabled son, although her character isn’t derived directly from Hornby’s own experiences but more the lives of other people he met in similar circumstances, whose lives had become very isolated and difficult. “When I had my son, you walked through this door into a room that you didn’t know existed,” he observes. In the case of Jess, Hornby was inspired by his experiences teaching and encountering young Londoners “who had bags and bags of energy but those energies had become misdirected. Jess was a fantastic character to write because she doesn’t obey any social conventions. She could start a fight in an empty room.” With JJ, Hornby wanted to portray a struggling artist – a young man whose dreams of musical success haven’t panned out as hoped: “Anybody who works in the arts will have quite a few dark nights of the soul where you think, ‘Am I embarrassing myself? Should I be giving all this up and, if I do, what the hell am I going to do with myself?’”

Toni Collette was the first actor to become attached to A Long Way Down. Producer Finola Dwyer, who has known the actress since they worked together on the 2006 HBO movie Tsunami: The Aftermath, brought the project to Collette’s attention while she was attending the Sydney Film Festival with An Education. “I knew from the outset that we needed a brilliant actress to pull the role of Maureen off,” says Dwyer, “which is why I shoved the book into Toni’s hands as soon as I could.”

When I read the book, I thought it was the most exquisite story and pretty much agreed to do it immediately. It took a while for things to fall into place but it was worth the wait. The experience is better than I ever possibly imagined it could be. It’s been amazing. Maureen’s a beautiful soul. Emotionally, she wears her heart on her sleeve. Without even really realizing it, she’s quite lonely and a bit sad but she has a full life taking care of her lovely son, who has severe cerebral palsy. Of all the characters, I think when she decides to attempt to end her life, it’s with a selfless motive. She just believes that her son will have a better life without her.

Collette also describes Maureen as “extremely” socially inept but behind her meek, nervous, uncomfortable exterior, in possession of a sweet, thoughtful, kind-hearted nature. Having had to wait a few years before finding out who her co-stars were going to be, Collette describes them as “the perfect collection of folk”. She bonded with the rest of the Topper Tower gang, and agrees they formed a tight-knit foursome during the shoot. “Everyone’s so different and works differently but we gelled brilliantly,” she says. “We’ve laughed every single day”. But the long wait also left Collette doubting whether she was right for the role. “I thought perhaps I should quit at one point,” she reveals. “I felt like Maureen was a bit older, a bit more tired, a bit fatter. But the more I looked into it, the more I thought, ‘I love this person.’ I think she’s so lovely.” The actress did some research in preparation, going to the Bobath Centre in North London to observe the treatments available for cerebral palsy patients and speaking to mothers in Maureen’s situation about how it affects their own lives. “The key to Maureen,” says Collette, “is that she’s so in love with her son Matty, she’d do absolutely anything for him.” The Bobath Centre also provided consultants for the film: whenever they were filming scenes featuring Matty, a mother who has a child with cerebral palsy was always on set to provide advice and details to the director, Collette and Joseph Altin, the actor who portrays Matty.

Collette is also eager to stress that, despite the dark themes of any narrative featuring suicidal impulses come, she wants audiences to latch onto the story’s cheeky humor. “It’s hysterically funny at times,” she says. “If you were to tell this story in a dramatic way, it might be a downer, but this film is laugh-out-loud funny. What I get out of it is how light and true it is. I always gravitate toward stories that fall both sides of the line: it’s sad and it’s funny and so is life. It’s a buddy movie about four buddies! It’s about unlikely but life-changing friendships.” Collette is full of praise for Chaumeil, citing his skills at fostering a sense of camaraderie and playfulness amidst the requisite moments of dramatic intensity. “I’ve worked with some directors where you feel like you’re on your own,” she says. “Pascal is absolutely embedded and dedicated and right there with us. It makes you feel so safe and when there is such an investment in what you’re all doing, which there definitely is with us, it makes you want to give more. He’s clear and confident in what he wants and what he needs.” “Toni is an incredibly skilled actress,” says Chaumeil, repaying the compliment. “I never needed to tell Toni what to do. The only thing I said after the read-through was, ‘Let’s look for the humor in Maureen.’ Toni really responded to that, and brought so much of herself to that even though Maureen is completely her creation and so different from how Toni is in real life.”

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