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Michael Winterbottom Vs Imogen Poots

Two of Brit flick’s best hopes on tricky father-daughter relationships and the King of Soho

Taken from the April issue of Dazed & Confused:

Paul Raymond turned Soho’s dirty streets into gold. A working-class lad from Liverpool, he broke into the entertainment industry with an end-of-the-pier mind-reading act, before opening London’s first continental-style strip-revue joint, the Raymond Revuebar, in Soho in 1958, getting around England’s nudity laws by making it a members-only club. The massive soft-porn publishing empire he built as an offshoot was lucrative, enabling him to buy up a huge chunk of the area’s property and eventually become Britain’s wealthiest man.

Michael Winterbottom’s new biopic, The Look of Love, charts the impresario’s career and the not-so-rosy fate of the three loves of his life – his wife, Jean, his mistress, Fiona Richmond, and his favourite daughter, Debbie. The director’s frequent collaborator, Steve Coogan (who starred in Winterbottom’s freewheeling take on another Brit cultural empire, Factory Records, in 24 Hour Party People), plays the fur-coated, Rolls-driving Raymond, whose line of work and hedonistic version of family life were scarcely divided. Imogen Poots is the doomed Debbie, whose spiralling coke habit disrupts her business ambitions as her dad’s heir. Dazed met Winterbottom and Poots in the heart of Raymond’s old stomping ground to find out how they channelled its hard-partying past.

Imogen Poots: The good thing about making a film about Soho is that it’s a living environment – it’s all still there, and you can film in the locations. Where (burlesque club) The Box is now is where the Revuebar used to be – the sign’s still there above it.

Michael Winterbottom: I started going to Soho in the 1980s so I did research over a long period of time. Paul Raymond was one of the people who created the change in Soho, but it’s just a different version of the same thing. In the 50s by all accounts Soho was a mix of glamorous bits and seedy bits and prostitutes, and it’s still a mix of people working in film, restaurants, bars and clubs and the seamier side.

Imogen Poots: Shooting in a location like Soho is extremely claustrophobic, isn’t it? There’s not a lot of time. But I love the way you work, the pace of it, it was always about intuition and something immediate. I find that the best way to work. When things are done spur of the moment that’s when they’re fresh and believable.

Michael Winterbottom: I was trying to be as relaxed as possible but with a period film you obviously have more restrictions. And this was a period film in Soho with lots of periods – from 1958 through into the 80s – so it was hard work.

The good thing about making a film about Soho is that it’s a living environment – it’s all still there. Where The Box is now is where the Revuebar used to be – the sign’s still there above it.

Imogen Poots: The environment everyone created really helped with getting into character. The costume designer was awesome. I have this problem – I’ll do a job, then get attracted to very strange items of clothing. With this film, I brought these wooden clog platforms home and my flatmate was like, ‘What’s going on?’

Michael Winterbottom: Someone said to us that when you went back to Paul Raymond’s flat after a big night out it was just a continuation of the club – it was not domestic at all. For the film we kind of merged two apartments – he had one north of Oxford Street and then he moved to Mayfair. I went to his first apartment and it basically had been kept the same, for 30 years. It was designed by Ringo Starr’s company (ROR). We almost filmed there. They were about to rip it all out. It was way, way more extreme than our version. It had sort of metal, silver-painted stalactites all the way down from the ceiling.

Imogen Poots: It will be interesting to see whether people judge Paul Raymond or perceive the film to be a kind perception of him. The characters are products of that specific era and what was going on.

Michael Winterbottom: It was Steve who approached us and said he’d like to play Paul Raymond. Then he did a quick impersonation, and it was so good.

Imogen Poots: Also, from day one people obviously know Steve for his comic acting.

Michael Winterbottom: And misadventures.

Imogen Poots: Yep, and those! But the role’s also very melancholic, and he’s extraordinary as Paul Raymond because he humanises him. There’s a brilliant moment when he walks into his apartment and knocks his head on a lamp. Things like that take you out of the situation, so a biopic becomes something very accessible – it could be anyone.

Michael Winterbottom: Paul’s excesses were eventually partly why so many bad things happened. But he lived in a world where most people go on a night out. It’s just that most people only do that a few hours every now and then, they don’t live it. It’s not about judging – when you’re making a film you’re trying to make that world as real as possible. Whatever you feel about the way Paul Raymond behaved to his daughter he does love her. The problem is she wanted to be like him. So it’s a very close relationship that ends disastrously.

Imogen Poots: The relationship had to be ambiguous – you had to question what was going on for a split second. Talking to Fawn, Debbie’s daughter, I think Debbie was the ‘kept’ woman in the sense that she was idealised in Paul’s eyes. But at the same time there was an innate frustration towards her father because she wasn’t good enough, and there was jealousy that his relationships with other women were based on something sexual, which she couldn’t access with him. The only thing left was trying to make him proud and she felt she couldn’t do that either. There’s a scene where he won’t get out of bed and she goes to pep him up, and it’s a reversal of roles. Debbie may be perceived as being brattish and easily slipping into a miserable state of mind, but it’s the father who plays the child a lot of the time too, so they’re sort of in it together.

Michael Winterbottom: Fawn and John James, the father of Debbie’s other daughter, India, came on-set when we were shooting in Ronnie Scott’s. John said the way you and Steve were playing Debbie and Paul reminded him of them, and that dynamic was kind of how it was.

Imogen Poots: It’s not difficult to fall into that dynamic with Steve, it’s the ease of his humour.

Michael Winterbottom: Debbie was obviously someone who did a lot of drugs and was the daughter of the boss, and a lot of people found her quite a difficult person to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to show someone who was quite self-destructive, but at the same time that you wanted to be alright. You were great in that you made us care for her. Debbie’s struggling with her own demons rather than just being a complete pain in the ass.

Imogen Poots: That dynamic really humanised everything. There are a lot of strong women in the film, all very varied.

Michael Winterbottom: Yeah, someone who’s a centrefold in a magazine usually ends up being made the victim of the story, whereas Fiona Richmond, played by Tamsin Egerton, is not a victim at all. She never took it very seriously. It was that period of time when those kinds of things seemed morelike liberation than exploitation. Fiona was very bright, she wanted to do it because it paid well and she thought it was all a bit of a joke. Now she owns hotels in the Caribbean.

Imogen Poots: I was cautious playing Debbie, having had conversations with her daughter. But ultimately you research the role as much as necessary and from that you have to identify with it personally.

Films often like to take a simplistic moral view of the world. When you’re dealing with real people it makes you more cautious and that’s good because the world’s not as simple as all that.

Michael Winterbottom: Films often like to take a simplistic moral view of the world. When you’re dealing with real people it makes you more cautious and that’s good because the world’s not as simple as all that. Fawn and John James have seen it. But a lot of people in the story are dead now. Tony Power (longtime Men Only editor) died in a fire while he was drunk. At one point we thought he had a drug overdose but then we looked at the coroner’s report and it said it was alcohol. But basically he used to do a lot of everything. There were a lot of things we couldn’t get into the film that were great stories. At one point he went missing for a year in America – he was running the magazine division and he just disappeared.

Imogen Poots: What was he doing?

Michael Winterbottom: Massive amounts of drugs. And Paul Raymond, despite being Paul Raymond, took him back on because they were so close and Tony Power had been so important to the magazines.

Imogen Poots: That dynamic was really important to me playing Debbie too, because she was around these men the whole time, around that situation. Apart from taking drugs it was socially really important for her. If I want to play a role I just seize the opportunity, have a lot of fun and try things out.

Michael Winterbottom: I’ve stopped working as much, but you’re working all the time.

Imogen Poots: Yeah, picking up the pieces of your career. (laughs)

Photography by Giovanni Carozzi