A few hours before the world premiere of their movie, Double Date, I caught up with director Benjamin Barfoot, actor and writer Danny Morgan, and producer Matthew James Wilkinson to discuss friendship, gore, and unfortunate love lives.
The three of them are sitting in the corner of a disproportionately large room in Edinburgh’s swanky Caledonian – drinking coffees and enthusiastically chatting about their upcoming showing. There’s an infectious atmosphere about them – the same aura of genuine chemistry that permeates their movie. They’re clearly very happy to be here.
So, Benjamin, What challenges did balancing humour and horror present?
- Ben: There weren’t too many challenges because I was resting on the comedy abilities of the actors and my writer – so really a lot of it’s already written for me, and there’s a fair bit of improv play in it as well. I sort of feel, as a director, that my job is to facilitate and be as open as possible so that people will be comfortable and have fun. There’s a fair amount of material we took out – there was a lot of heavier stuff in the script around the girls’ backstory; that stuff was quite full on and aggressively dark. We took a fair amount out because we were trying to get the comedy and the horror working together.
And Danny, as a writer, was it difficult to manage these duelling genres?
- Danny: I think the script has gone through different iterations. When I first brought the draft to Matt, it was very much a mess and we didn’t know what it was. I think originally, I wanted it to be more horror: more of a funny horror. But then in the end it turned out to be much more comedy – I think it’s around 75% comedy. Naturally, what I tend to write veers to comedy anyway so it was where I was always going… But I think we got the balance right in the end. It’s a comedy with horror elements – but it’s definitely a comedy.
Benjamin, you’ve worked with both Danny and Kelly before on short films, what was it like reuniting with them for your first feature length film?
- Ben: It was incredibly exciting, because everything I’ve ever made, I’ve paid for myself; and suddenly I have my good friend Matthew coming along and saying ‘here’s some money and here’s a crew’. So, basically, me and Danny have known each other for 10 years – we have a way of working with each other – there’s a certain feel and a kind of environment that we’re familiar with when we work. The thing I was most strict on when receiving a load of money was to not lose sight of what it was like to work with Danny – and to keep that filtering to the crew and the rest of the cast. An atmosphere of not taking ourselves too seriously and that we’re not really making a feature film; we’re just trying to have fun and enjoy ourselves – it was just great fun.
And Matt, what attracted you to Double Date?
- Matt: I think what attracted me to Double Date was its heart. I’ve watched a lot of genre films, and I still watch a lot of genre films – often it’s easy to do the tropes but it’s not easy to make you feel something. When I met Danny and read the scrip I thought ‘it’s funny, it’s gory, and it’s energetic; but actually, I like Jim and I want him to do well’. You like hanging out with these people – this is the core of the film.
Danny, do you think playing the character of Jim was made easier because you’d written the part? And did you write the part specifically for yourself from the beginning?
- Danny: Yeah I definitely wrote it for myself. I thought, nobody’s given me any lead roles or anything so I’ll try and write myself one. And so even in the first draft I wrote ‘Jim (ginger hair, 6”1, 16 stone)’ – that was always the case and never in doubt – Matt was very good at making sure I got to play that role. In terms of if there’s any truth in it, yeah, basically it stems from a large period in my 20s of being cripplingly shy and nervous about talking to women – all that stuff – dating and everything is really terrifying to me. So it was about exploring that. Obviously now I’m a total player – I don’t have problems anymore – I can’t move for it (riotous laughter). So I thought I’ll try and manoeuvre that into something funny. I like the idea that the guy is cripplingly shy and nervous about talking to women – and the one night he conquers his fear is the one night where he really should be afraid. So it kinda stems from that – and there’s little elements in it from stuff that happened, but it really just comes from a fear of women.
You and Michael have such a great chemistry in the film – did that happen instantly or did it take a bit of time to get used to each other?
- Danny: Pretty instantly. We were so lucky – we didn’t have an Alex up until a few weeks before we were shooting and Anna Kennedy, our casting director – brilliant woman – sort of threw Michael at us – and we knew a bit about him, but as soon as he walked into the room it was just obvious he was Alex and I clicked quickly with him. He didn’t know who I was – he walked into the room and went ‘aight so who’s playing Jim?’ and I said me and he said ‘ah, you alright mate?’ and it felt like we’d been talking for ages. We hit it off really quickly, thank God, because that relationship is the most important thing – they’re old friends, that needs to feel authentic. And he’s such an open, lovely guy and he’s such a good improviser – I thought okay, this is good, we can develop a bit of a rapport here.
- Ben: And speaking on his behalf here, he absolutely adores Danny. He met Danny and in a couple of days he was like ‘this guy’s brilliant, he’s having a brilliant time’.
This movie is very gory, how was it to do some of the messier scenes?
- Ben: When you’re doing them it’s just like ‘go go go’ – it’s relentlessly fun. They’re kinda a blur. The big fight at the end is just two cameras in a room that you can smash up, and break walls; and we had three goes at it. It was so quick just: smashing everything up and trying to get all the shots in.
- Danny: Ben was like a kid in a sweet shop. If you’d gone and asked thirteen-year-old Ben what his dream two days on set was, it would be (high pitched) ‘smashing up a room and people beating each other up’. I came in, and the fight lasted two days, and you could see him running and going ‘yeah he throws her into a wall; and I was like ‘right I’m gonna shoot off now because there’s no lines or anything…’ and he was like ‘yeah yeah whatever’…
Have any of you ever found yourselves in a bad double date situation?
- Danny: Not really any double dates, they’re a bit less awkward generally. But I’ve had plenty of awful dates.
- Ben: My sister – I probably shouldn’t tell you this – went on an online Tinder date thing once and the guy turned up straight from work and asked if he could iron his shirt. So at the beginning of the date he was ironing his shirt which I thought was really, really awful. And now that guy is my brother-in-law.
Do you have any funny stories from set?
- Ben: Not really… For a comedy you’d think we’d have more… The first film that me and Danny ever did was Where Did it All Go Ron. If you like Double Date and you haven’t seen it, you can get that online.
- Matt: It’s what I saw that made me want to work with Ben and Danny.
- Ben: It’s a really cheap film that we made for nothing, and it got me a feature film 5 years down the line. Basically, it’s the eve of Ron Weasley’s 30th birthday and he’s a depressed alcoholic who blows his brains out with a wand. When we interviewed Georgia, who plays Lulu, and I met her in Bethnal Green, she said ‘oh I looked you up online to see what films you’d done; and I found a film called Where did it all go Ron?’ And I said ‘OK what did you think about it?’. She said ‘Did you know that my long-term boyfriend is Rupert Grint’ – who is the real Ron Weasely.
Double Date is having its world premiere tonight at 11:30. What do you want people to be thinking about in their cars on the way home?
- Ben: How funny it was.
- Danny: How funny it was. How much fun they had watching it.
- Ben: I really want people to feel like they went out on a date with these four people. That’s the idea – you have a feeling of going on a night out even though you’re just in the cinema.
- Danny: And that we should hire Danny to do more acting.
- Ben: And we should tell all our friends to go and see it.
Lastly, can you describe Double Date in 3 words?
- Ben: Funny… violent… (pauses)… chicken.
- Matt: Somebody described it in two words: bloody marvellous, which I thought was good.
- Danny: How about really bloody marvellous?
Featured image: ScreenDaily.