I feel that two people reaching out and becoming intimate, even if it's not in a sexual way, but in some way surrendering to another person, is one of the most courageous things you could possibly do.
I wanted to make sure that the character of (Bernard) Lafferty was treated in a dignified fashion, and a humorous fashion, and also that you could believe he was capable of running a huge house. So he had to be smart. That was the first concern I had.
Ralph (Fiennes) was at the top of the list. I had met him socially but I'd never worked with him before, but I thought that he was certainly handsome enough to desire and smart enough to be able to run a house. I trusted that he would not be a cliché over the top, queen-y kind of guy, which I thought would be such a cliché.
I was concerned that both of them care about each other, not just him being obsessed with her, which wasn't as interesting. So we had to identify what she gave to him, not just what he gave to her, which was more obvious. And it was a story that for me lived in the spaces between the dialog. It's really about the looks, the moments between them. And it's a little voyeuristic in that they're always kind of in on a joke that nobody else shares. That's what bonds them.
But the question, again, is do you ever really want to ever be intimate? If you do, then it might as well be this person. It's not about gender. It's not about race, or age, or anything. The hurdle is intimacy. That's what we wanted to focus on.
For me the most interesting films that I've worked on are films that are funny and then suddenly there's a poignant moment that pops up when you least expect it. As opposed to watching films where you know where they're going. I'm more interested in things that catch you by surprise like life does. If you can manage to do that, then it's really fun.
And the collaboration, since this was so cheaply done, everybody's learning curve was very steep. They say that you relax in the jaws of a lion, [LAUGHS] - we were very relaxed because it was just completely impossible to think that we would pull it off for the amount of money, in that amount of time. Not that I haven't worked that way before, but not where you're supposed to be living a lifestyle with jewels and gowns and estates and animals and servants. That's a whole other thing. So it added a certain amount of energy because we didn't have time to over- think it. It was just like a big free-fall, with Ralph and I in the middle of it.
It sounds like the budget freed everyone up creatively and gave you a great deal of autonomy.