Disgrace

The Australian actor and director Steve Jacobs talks about shooting a film based on JM Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel.

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JM Coetzee’s Disgrace won the Booker Prize back in 1999 and it's an understatement to say that it divided opinion. There was never any dispute about the quality of the novel but the fact that book was based in post-apartheid South Africa and brought up just about every raw issue related to the changes which followed meant that the author had to move to Australia. Move on a few years and Australian actor and director Steve Jacobs has made it into a remarkable film.

The film follows Professor David Lurie a narcissistic literature professor who has lost his job, following an affair with a young student and lives on his daughters’ remote farm. The simple life she lives there is destroyed when they are both attacked in their home. Dazed was lucky enough to grab some time with Director Steve Jacobs to find out more about the project...

Dazed Digital: What was it about the book that inspired you to make this film?
Steve Jacobs: Well, it was a great book. I'm naturally attracted to great works so when the opportunity came to go for the book, we went for it.

DD: How did you begin casting the film?
Steve Jacobs: We always start like a pyramid, we start with the lead and we work our way down. Initially Ralph Fiennes was attached to the project and then he left. And then John Malkovic came on board.

DD: Was it mostly in South Africa?
Steve Jacobs: We spent seven weeks in South Africa shooting and one week in Sydney. It was logistically very difficult and exhausting. It was not an easy shoot and it demanded a lot physically. Intellectually, it is something that has so many layers and it demands a focus that is quite exhausting sometimes.

DD: What has the reception for the film been like in South Africa?
Steve Jacobs: It has divided opinion. There’s been people who have been passionately for the film and those against it. It’s what we expected, but we didn’t make the film for a South African audience, we made the film to be faithful to the book.

DD: I was struck by the way you maintained the non-judgemental aspect of the book?
Steve Jacobs: I think it’s very rare in cinema. Generally, filmmakers lead the viewer by the nose, whether it’s dramatic or whatever, you always know where the sympathy should be lying. In this situation. I’m hoping that people have thought about the issues after the lights come up, it’s not something that is dispensable

DD: Cinema can simplify things sometimes. I guess it’s good to show things as they really are...
Steve Jacobs: That’s the beauty of Coetzee’s work. It is complex, and I think the characters are complex and believable and we live with people and we work with people that are the same as the characters in Disgrace.

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