Interestingly enough, one of the elements of this production which I'm most proud of is also the one I've been most keen to keep hidden, and to protect. It's also one of the things I've had to work on most. You see, as a female director, making a story from a woman's point of view is never going to be challenging. And getting sympathy for a female character in a situation which borders on sexual abuse is not difficult. What's more, I had the added bonus of working with Sarah Lamesch in character during the Ashes Teaser Trailer shoot, so I know that she will nail the part without needing much rehearsal time.
What is difficult, on the other hand, is finding an actor who is able to play the other character in the relationship, the one who turns on his girlfiend in such a shocking way, and not portray him as a 2-Dimensional villain. As the director, I have to understand the scenario from this perception - and from that of a masculine being - and bring his motives across on screen. All of this with barely four lines of dialogue to give to the actor playing this character.
Casting for Ashes has been one of the most difficult decisions of my career to date, and there were a couple of applicants for the part of 'Sarah' which blew me away in the auditions, so I was nearly pulling my hair out for months. But as soon as I met Adam Lannon, I knew we had found the right man to take on the difficult challenge of 'Mark'.
|Adam Lannon's audition at Studio 3b, Nottingham|
Up until his audition, I didn't know much about Adam. But, having since looked at his IMDb page, I know that his background is a very active, sporty one (he was once sponsored by Converse as a proffessional basketball player), but he moved into acting through evening classes. Since then he hasn't stopped working as an actor, and shall be doing so right up until the night before the Ashes shoot, when the rest of us will have put up all the lights, made the last minute costume changes, and are winding down to cooked food.
But what really stood out to me about Adam - apart from how quickly he responded to direction (seriously, I ended up throwing stuff at him on the spot because we bounced off each other so well) - was the fact that he completely understood and embodied the character of Mark, but it disolved completely the second I called an end to the audition. I don't mean in a bad way (sometimes actors stop acting between lines in a really obvious way which makes their performance seem fake). I mean that Adam is completely different to the character of Mark, but that he could naturally move from one persona to the other, and completely become either.
The reason I'm so protective of Adam, and why he hasn't been so public about his role in Ashes until recently, is because I don't want people to judge him for the part that he plays. I don't want people immediately seeing him as a villain or seeing his character as him, due to the fact that he plays it so magnificently. And that is why I've been working with Adam more than I have done with Sarah, even though Mark is a secondary character to her. With minimal screen time, myself and Adam need to show the audience a character who has a problem, and not one to be in any way dismissed, but who isn't a bad guy.
|Sarah and Adam in character together|
As the polar opposite of Mark, Adam is easy-going, open about his feelings and very warm with people. So much so that he and Sarah have gone beyond the call of duty and had regular meetings, in character, so as to build the bond of friendship and trust that they will need for a shoot as raw as this one.
At the audition, way back at the end of 2011, I asked Adam why he wanted to work on Ashes, and this is how he responded:
"I think it's a very daring, risky script that covers a lot of areas that people are afraid to address, and go to. There's kind of a lot of beautiful imagery, but underlying that is there's some very painful dark emotions that some people are going to face and often not discuss, as couples. And I think it's pretty marvellous that it's doing that.
"I was entranced by the imagery. I mean, metaphor-wise, it's absolutely loaded.
"It's so easy, at this point, to make Mark's character a villain. And to turn around and say, 'he's just a guy who...' and there's so much more to that, I think."
Tomorrow I'll tell you all about the second half of the 'couple', and the central figure of our film - the driving force that is Sarah Lamesch.