From being a dyslexic child, who left school without certification, to winning a BAFTA Award for his debut film, Pride And Prejudice (2005), British film director Joe Wright is certainly an example of strong will and relentless effort. He confesses that he still considers himself “a misfit”. Here, he talks about his “good friend and sister” Keira Knightley, how he finds Indian classical music “complicated”, his wife — ace sitar player Anoushka Shankar, and more.
You are known to turn classics on their heads. But do you pause to ask how much change could be too much for the audience?
I go where my creativity guides me. A book is something that happens in the writer’s mind. Therefore, I have to tell the version that happens in my mind.
What do you prefer — directing a play or a film?
Both the mediums are very different from each other. And one of the reasons I started doing theatre was because I wanted to spend more time with my family. When you’re making a movie, it takes three years of your life. I love the immediacy of theatre, but film is my first love.
How do you handle criticism about your work?
I ignore it. What’s most important to me is the audience’s reaction. That’s my reward.
You have worked with Keira on several projects. How is it like to work with her?
I have been lucky enough to know Keira since she was 18, and I have watched her develop as an actor and human being. Now, she’s a wife and mother, and it’s great to see her entering that stage of her life. I like Keira very much, and it’s like working with a good friend and sister. She understands me. Sometimes, we may fight a little, but generally, we know that underneath, there is great love.
Is there any collaboration with her in the pipeline?
I don’t have any plans to make another film as of now. At the moment, I’m focusing on co-producing an album for my wife, and coming to India to do some concerts in December and January, and so on.
Your wife is a sitar player. Do you understand Indian classical music?
(Laughs) No, it’s so complicated. I try, I really try, but Anoushka is far cleverer than me. And her mind works in many wonderful ways. So I just have to accept that there are certain things that she is good at and then there are certain things that I am good at.
Is it true that Anoushka encourages you to practice mindfulness?
Yes, absolutely. It has really changed my perception of life. We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary recently, and it’s amazing to look back and see how we’ve developed emotionally and spiritually. I have never been happier.
You’ve been quite vocal about how you felt like a social misfit during your school days. Are you comfortable in society now?
I still feel a little like a misfit. But there are a lot of other misfits as well. So, we can create a little gang and look after each other. Through my work, I find I am able to connect with people, and, in a way, that’s why I want to make films — to communicate with others. It’s just a wonderful form of communication.
Watch the Pan trailer here
Would you be making a movie based in India?
I’m hoping to develop a project that is centred in India. But I don’t want to do a white man’s story, or a European’s story of India. I want to tell a story from the Indian perspective.
You’ve always said that you admire your son, Zubin Shankar Wright’s imagination. Is that the reason why you chose to direct a fantasy film like Pan?
Yes, it’s completely the reason why I chose to do it. I made this film for him. I wanted to bear witness to Zubin’s incredible bond with his mother. I also wanted to tell him a story, in which his fears are reflected, in which he learns that, with courage and imagination, he can overcome those fears.
How different is directing a movie when you have a child actor (Levi Miller) playing the lead character?
I really like working with child actors. I had a great time working with Saoirse Ronan on Atonement (2007), and again with Levi. I’m okay, as long as they are very talented, come without baggage, don’t have bad habits learnt from the use of television, and want to learn. It’s a privilege to watch a young person experience the magic of making a movie for the first time.
You have Hugh Jackman as part of the film’s cast. Do you believe that bigger names help garner better box-office collections?
I think the audience first comes to see a story, and then the actors. Sometimes, it is the other way around. That’s just part and parcel of the business we are in. If you’re making a big movie, you need a big audience. And definitely, having someone like Hugh really works. I try not to put famous people in my movies just for the sake of it.