Is the Yorkshire accent really so difficult to understand? This was pondered at the God’s Own Country screening at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, since this English language movie was presented with English subtitles. This curiosity aside, the feature is an elegant depiction of the love that blossoms between Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Romanian farmhand Gheorghe (Alec Secăreanu) Happily, director Francis Lee’s film manages not to espouse so many of the tragic stereotypes that are common in many gay love stories, and there’s a hopefulness that overcomes the bleakness of many of the situations depicted onscreen. We sat down with Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu at Berlinale.
How did you both become involved in the project?
JOC: I didn’t know Francis, but I was sent the script back in 2015, in the summer. I read it, loved it, and had to do it because I had never read anything like it. And then I met Francis, and we just clicked, and then we met some Romanian actors.
AS: I actually sent a tape of myself, and then Francis came to Romania and wanted to meet with some Romanian actors. I was one of them. And then I went to London along with a few other actors to do chemistry tests with Josh, and this chemistry test went really well.
JOC: We had chemistry! I have to say – how many Romanian actors did I meet?
AS: Those three.
JOC: They were all phenomenal. They were all so talented, but Alec just blew my mind. But with those actors I was thinking, dammit, those Romanians are so talented.
So much of the film is shot in close-up. It’s interesting for the audience to see everything so intimately. But was it daunting to know that your performance would be observed so very closely?
JOC: There’s a pressure because everything is going so much smaller. The biggest problem with that… well, not really a problem because it made everything better, was that Joshua, the director of photography, was right there. It was like a three-way relationship a lot of the time.
AS: Four-way, with Francis.
JOC: And so you’d be doing these intimate scenes and Joshua would be right in there with us, and it was an amazing thing. As you said, it’s great for the audience because you’re right there with them too.
AS: Joshua really understood the mood, he was very into the story and was present all the time. He took care of us and was never pushy.
Was this closeness ever uncomfortable, particularly during the sex scenes?
JOC: Those sex scenes… well, I’ve done a few sex scenes before in my career, and they are so unsexual. It’s very technical. Obviously the scenes should be sexual for the audience, but as an actor, it’s all so technical.
AS: We rehearsed them a lot, and it was very explicit in the script. We queued our sex scenes. We had 12 or 13 moves, so if we got lost we could just go back to position number four, or whatever.
Did you have any training regarding how to work with all those farm animals?
AS: We trained for two weeks, we both worked on different farms. I was on the farm owned by Francis’s father, and Josh worked on the farm where we shot the movie. And we had the schedule of a farmer, from 6am until late and all these long days with really hard work. But this really helped us for the filming. It got us to be very natural and organic with the animals, because they can be very unpredictable and you have to know how to control them. We did all that stuff with lambing and sticking our hands into the animals and well, yeah… It was hard work.
Josh, did you manage to do that scene where you need to put your arm inside the cow’s backside in one take?
JOC: No… (laughs). But the cow was pregnant, and so you go to the cow’s arse; there’s a thin membrane between the arse and the other… you know. The farmer would check that cow four to five times a day anyway. So I didn’t have to do that many takes, but it’s apparently quite comfortable for them… I am assured.