Breathe: Andy Serkis, Andrew Garfield and Jonathan Cavendish discuss their latest film at Curzon Mayfair screening
At the Curzon Mayfair post-screening Breathe Q&A with director Andy Serkis, co-writer and producer Jonathan Cavendish and actor Andrew Garfield, the inspiration and joy surrounding the making of this remarkable film was palpable.
Breathe is Serkis’s directing debut. When asked whether being an actor helps or hinders his directing, he responded that directors who are actors understand actors, whereas many directors do not. In terms of his source of inspiration, he cited first his close friendship with the son of Robin Cavendish (on whom the work is based), Jonathan, who is also a business partner. After reading the script, Serkis was “blown away by it, very moved” – in that it was a tragic situation handled with courage and humour; and because Robin and Diana had a lust for life and were pioneers in the breaking of taboos and prejudices regarding the severely disabled.
About his use of humour, the director emphasised that to depict the story as mournful would have been a lie, considering that all the movie’s events and dialogue are completely true. Friends of the Cavendishes who viewed the film said it is exactly how it happened. This is important, as criticism of the piece involves the belief that there had to be so much more suffering than is portrayed, that it is glossed over, but this is false – the Cavendishes’ outlook on life was about suppressing emotion while transforming pain with enthusiasm, high spirits and wit.
Serkis added that the plight of the disabled is also a topic near to his heart because his own sister is wheelchair bound with MS. Since his father was a doctor and his mother taught children with disabilities, he is familiar with the subject. Conditions today are still difficult for the disabled, but in the 60s they were kept isolated from the public. Taking Robin out of the hospital was groundbreaking in those days. No one had done it and it was perilous. But this was the family’s attitude about life: risk enhanced its intensity, they thrived in the moment.
Although he and Cavendish sought absolute truth, they also wanted the work to be effective cinematically and to have a “fairytale” quality. Serkis was inspired by Robin and Diana’s spirit, that they were brave trailblazers – affirming that, in these hard times, we need films that joyously celebrate living.
Lead actor Andrew Garfield – brilliantly portraying Robin Cavendish – an athletic performer, took on the role of someone who can only move his face and has to express emotion this way. About managing the challenges, he noted that the breathing machine was tricky as he had to synchronise his breath and not move his chest while communicating only through facial expressions. With regard to sounding and looking like Robin Cavendish, he had listened to many of his recordings for dialect, and was given false teeth to wear, moulded from Jon Cavendish’s teeth.
Garfield cited his admiration for Robin, Diana, their family and entourage – that they did not see tragedy, but viewed existence as a kind of great cosmic joke: “There is wisdom in that”.
Jonathan Cavendish, son of Robin and Diana, said it was strange making a movie about his own parents, but he longed to be close to his dad. Describing him, he noted that he was always the centre of attention, not because he was pitied, but because he was the most interesting and the funniest. He was such a charismatic man that people would queue to speak with him at parties.
Despite his paralysis, Robin tried to be as independent as possible, buying and selling stocks to make a living and having his own mind – though also happily surrounded by a loyal, collaborative family. Vis-a-vis public reaction to his father: since the severely disabled never left the hospitals, no one had ever met them, so strangers were highly nervous around him.
On the making of Breathe, Cavendish is sentimental about his parents. He wanted it to be about what he had observed: a compelling love story – a love as strong the day Robin died as when they met.
Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI
Breathe is released nationwide on 27th October 2017. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Breathe here: