Daniel Wolfe's cocaine-fuelled nightmare

The cinematic visionary talks street casting his modern-day Western and how FKA Twigs taught the star to get jiggy to Patti Smith

Catch Me Daddy is one of the most exciting British debuts for years. The first film from music video director Daniel Wolfe (the mind behind that brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal hipster-killing video for The Shoes), it tells the story of Laila, a young Pakistani girl who goes on the run from her family after falling in love with a white boy. But with mercenary thugs in pursuit, it’s only a matter of time before her past catches up with her.

Stylishly shot, scored and scripted, with fascinating experimental elements – non-actors pack out the cast – Daddy is a compelling watch. To mark the British premiere at the BFI London Film Festival this month, we spoke to Wolfe about Thai brides, Daddy’s drug influences, how FKA Twigs transformed a key scene, and how Jeremy Deller influenced the poster…

You pitched the film in a paragraph; what was in that paragraph? 

Daniel Wolfe: I pitched it as a modern-day Western. The films I love fuck with genre – I like a lot of the New Hollywood and American New Wave stuff – so I just wanted to use a very simple genre like a Western, with these guys rolling into town looking for a girl. I’m loath to use the term "bounty hunters" because the press touts that term around a lot: "bounty hunters seeking Asian girl"; but in a way, that’s what they are. We wanted to make a modern-day Western with Yorkshire as the backdrop; big landscapes, real faces.

Did it also have Eastern influences?

Daniel Wolfe: It’s funny, we were both brought up Buddhist. There’s a whole backstory where Gary (Lewis)'s character (Tony) has a Thai wife, but it didn’t make it into the edit. We met a couple of guys when we were researching the script that married Thai girls. They brought them back with them. In terms of Eastern cinema, my brother’s massively hooked on Eastern cinema, and he wrote it and made it with me so those influences are there.

You did a street casting for the film. Can you tell us about that process?

Daniel Wolfe: I struggle in the UK with actors' authenticity, certainly with particular roles. It became necessary to street cast. Hundreds of girls turned up at the open calls – there was an amazing standard of acting. I really believe in non-actors and the talent they have, but no one quite had the personality we were looking for. Then my brother saw this girl Sameena (Jabeen Ahmed) in a clip and she was funny, and a bit piss-takey. So we had to see her. She walked in, started playing pool, and asked us if we’d watched the darts – she had a different attitude. I just thought, if we were going to make a documentary, we’d want to make it about her.

And then Barry (Nunney) is just amazing. He was working on security at a scrap yard in Bradford and a friend of mine saw him when they were filming The Selfish Giant there – he wasn’t in it, he was just working – and sent us a picture of him. But in the snap, I didn’t really buy him. Then weirdly, he turned up at an open casting in a pub because someone there owed him money. The casting director filmed him, we saw that and he was so believable. He’s a very interesting guy.

There is some very interesting sound design in the film — we hear nail polish leaking out of a bottle, a boiler switching on, and it adds a surreal quality to the film

Daniel Wolfe: We wanted it to feel heightened when the characters are on drugs. Codeine is an audio-hallucinatory, so we wanted to play with that. Any normal sound on codeine you can hear distances and stuff – it’s quite strange. We wanted the whole thing to feel heightened, it’s why I wanted to street cast – they bring something heightened. I don’t want social realism.

My favourite director is Bruno Dumont, I love when he street casts; he has that heightened thing. But in terms of the sound design, I didn’t want it to sound drab. It’s a codeine/cocaine-fuelled nightmare.

“Sameena had never danced before, so we got Twigs to come up to Yorkshire. She helped her overcome that obstacle of being in your early 20s and dancing in a room full of people” – Daniel Wolfe

What was it like shooting the scene where Laila dances to Patti Smith? It’s such a cool scene.

Daniel Wolfe: It was amazing. Really amazing. A dance scene was always in the script and originally we were going to use the Nicki Minaj song, "Roman’s Revenge", but it felt really cheesy, it didn’t feel right. And Sameena had never danced before, so we got Twigs to come up to Yorkshire, and she spent a couple of days with Sameena, and really helped her – even on a psychological level. Sameena had never danced, literally never danced, so Twigs was really brilliant with her, she helped her overcome that obstacle of being in your early 20s and dancing in a room full of people.

We didn’t want something that felt like a routine, we wanted it to be spontaneous and feel like it was a part of her. My brother and I are massive Patti Smith fans and Sameena really responded to that song, she wrote the lyrics down. You can see it in her eyes, she enjoyed it. That scene is the heart of the film for me.

It’s interesting that FKA Twigs was involved. She’s going through a lot because of the situation with Robert Pattinson, being hounded on Twitter by Robert Pattinson fans and getting racist abuse, so it’s interesting she was involved in the project — there’s so much of a sense of release in that scene.

Daniel Wolfe: It’s mad. I knew FKA Twigs would be great because a lot of people involved in dance just do it to look good, but she sees it as more – it’s a bigger thing. Getting some release is exactly right.

Nicki Minaj is on the soundtrack, what do you think of her as an icon?

Daniel Wolfe: We always felt she was right for the film. It’s not because she’s a strong female and we’ve got a strong female character – but that may have been the case with Patti Smith, who is also a super strong female. We were trying to clear a mixtape track with Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne, it’s just a funny mixtape track, but we couldn’t clear that. To me the soundtrack will sound good on codeine, that ties it together.

The ending has been divisive. I thought it was perfect, but how do you respond to the criticism?

Daniel Wolfe: I don’t see the problem. We knew it was an issue, there was a lot of discussion about it, but all of the people involved – Film4, the BFI, Studiocanal, let us make the decision. And in Cannes, people representing those bodies said we made the right choice. Why should we offer closure? There isn’t closure, things keep moving. And that goes for the whole film – people have said they wanted to know more about what’s in people’s heads, and it’s just like, 'What the fuck?' With cinema, it’s what you project on to it. I don’t like cinema where people explain everything. People say there’s not enough psychological investigation – investigate yourself.

Catch Me Daddy is showing at The London Film Festival on Thursday 16, Friday 17 and Sunday 19 October and opens in UK cinemas early next year. Find out more here.