“I hadn’t seen a portrayal of grief like that. It was beautiful”: Ben Whishaw and Tom Stuart on short film Good Boy
Tom Stuart makes his directorial debut with Good Boy, a quirky short film that sets out to encapsulate big feelings in a diminutive format. The story begins with the protagonist Danny (Ben Whishaw) as he parks his camper van in front of a bank with the intention of robbing it. He is startled by the voice of his mother (Marion Bailey), who is sitting behind him giving him unsolicited advice and cheering him on. As he walks towards the bank, he awkwardly tries to conceal a vintage gun, but to his dismay he sees their family doctor approach him. Danny’s day becomes more bizarre by the minute as financial struggles and the affectionate yet overbearing presence of his mother torment him.
At an intimate preview screening in London attended by Stuart and Whishaw, the director explained that the film was his way of coping with the loss of his own mother. It was also an attempt to make sense of the feelings that her passing generated, and to retrospectively analyse their relationship, which he describes as slightly co-dependent. In the film, the protagonist’s grief manifests as various characters who played a role in his mother’s final days. Although he is alarmed by their presence, Danny ends up accepting these intrusive figures, and at some point effectively carries around his grief personified (as nurses, doctors and vicars) in his camper van.
When explaining the circumstances that led to his directorial debut, Stuart says that the desire to direct had been in the back of his mind for a while when a conversation with Whishaw himself pushed him to finally do it. “During the pandemic, Ben and I went for a five-hour walk on the Southbank,” Stuart recalled. “We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Ben knew my mum, and I was telling him about my writing, and out of nowhere he said: ‘I think you should direct something,’ and it was a magical moment because it was something I hadn’t given voice to before.”
Whishaw immediately wanted to be part of the project as soon as he read the script: “It was just brilliantly written and original and funny,” the actor said. ”I hadn’t seen a portrayal of grief like that. It was beautiful.” Once on set, Whishaw was particularly impressed with Stuart’s skill in switching from actor to director. “I actually don’t think it’s easy for an actor to step outside and know what to say to an actor to get them to do something they want them to do,” Whishaw reflected, adding playfully: “I think if I were directing, I would make an actor’s performance worse! Really, I would. Tom just knew how to speak to me, and the thing that was really amazing was that he was enjoying himself. I could tell he loved it, and that’s so infectious.”
Stuart was equally thrilled with his actors, saying that “the cast made it extremely easy. I mean, Ben and Marion are such finely tuned instruments as performers that you just suggest one thing to them and they run with it and deliver, way better than you could possibly have imagined.” The stars aligned in every way for the director, as he was granted permission to film near Worthy Farm, a location that’s usually hard to secure, just as preparations were afoot for Glastonbury Festival nearby.
The location was meaningful for the director as he had visited the area shortly after his mother’s funeral, and it’s where he first began imagining the film. The story had its genesis in the way he experienced sorrow. “Grief looked nothing like what I thought it was gonna look like,” he explained. “My understanding of it was what I’d seen in films and TV, which is a lot of people crying and not being able to get out of bed, which of course there was some of that too, but generally, it was more like – I’m at the supermarket choosing some cereal and then wallop! Here is a memory of the doctor that looked after my mum…”
Described as a labour of love by both artists, Good Boy is a promising start to Stuart’s career behind the camera. “I’m glad I had the bravery to give it a go,” concluded the director. “The hardest part of any creative endeavour is to start. Despite the self-doubt and all the mitigating circumstances to make you think you shouldn’t do it, you just have to have faith and step up.”
Good Boy does not have a release date yet.