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A Long-Buried Secret, Once Revealed, Rattles '45 Years' Of Marriage

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling play a married couple forced to reassess their relationship in Andrew Haigh's film, <em>45 Years.</em>
Sundance Films
Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling play a married couple forced to reassess their relationship in Andrew Haigh's film, 45 Years.

Director Andrew Haigh believes that age doesn't change a person's essential nature. "We get older and we get more wrinkles," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "but fundamentally we stay the same. ... You have the same fears and doubts and concerns and dreams and passions and all those kinds of things, so I feel like you don't change as much as you think you do."

Perhaps this explains how Haigh, who is 42, was able to write and direct the story of a much older couple in his new film, 45 Years. "I just wrote these characters as if they were in their 40s. I didn't try and think about it too much. I think both [actors], Tom [Courtenay] and Charlotte [Rampling], found that very refreshing, reading the script."

In the film, Courtenay and Rampling play Geoff and Kate, a couple who are preparing for their 45th anniversary party when Geoff gets a letter about a woman he loved when he was a young man. Though the woman died before Geoff met Kate, Kate is devastated that Geoff never mentioned her before. Suddenly, both husband and wife begin to reassess not just their relationship, but also themselves and their identities.

Haigh says he sees the film as a meditation on the parts of themselves people share — as well as the parts of themselves they hold back.

"I think it's always interesting to me how we keep secrets from the ones we love the most," Haigh says. "You could be so close to someone, but still there was something you can't express, you can't tell them, because it's almost too painful and too hard for you to articulate yourself, because you don't fully understand it."

Interview Highlights

On how memory can be frozen in time

Andrew Haigh's previous projects include the film <em>Weekend</em> and the HBO series <em>Looking</em>.
/ Sundance Films
Sundance Films
Andrew Haigh's previous projects include the film Weekend and the HBO series Looking.

I think it's amazing how those moments of our lives — they can be painful or they can be joyous or they can be whatever they are — but they become, like, solidified in a moment, and they can lodge themselves in your brain and they stay like that. Even if it's not entirely the truth about the event, they stay as some kind of weird thing in our brains, and they kind of linger and they come back when you least expect it.

I think also what's so strange about memory is it brings yourself back to that period, and it makes you kind of realize who you were at that point. I think for Geoff, for example, it's less even about this woman and this girl that he loved, but about who he was at that point and what he wanted his life to be, and having to live, having not to be frozen in the ice, you have to compromise. You have to make decisions and your life becomes something different. I find that very interesting — when you look back at memories, you almost remember yourself at that period and what you wanted then.

On coming out

I was quite old, I was, like, 24, 25, so it took a long time. There was a big version of me that people knew that wasn't that. It was someone that had girlfriends and all that kind of thing, so I had to kind of challenge that. Even with filmmaking, I never went to film school when I was young, I went to university and studied history; it was like no one thought that it was something I wanted to do, so I had to kind of do that as well. So I think constantly you're trying to reassess what you want, and some of your closest friends are like, "Wait, hold up, that's not the person I know, you're not that person."

On feeling like an outsider

Being gay, you're kind of forced to ask, I suppose, very existential questions from a very, very early age. Your identity becomes so important to you, because you're trying to understand it, and, I think, from the age of, like, 9 you're being forced to ask questions .... that other kids maybe don't have to ask. "Why am I feeling different? Why do I feel like an outsider? Why do I not fit in?"

I think you keep asking those questions, and then when you do come out it's a lot of people that have all been outsiders, and then they do want to make up their own rules, a little bit; they feel like they can make up their own rules. Again, I do feel like it's changing again. I feel like there's so much more acceptance now that those people are coming out earlier, they're not having to have those big questions as much anyway. ...

I remember coming out and thinking, "Oh, my god, finally, there's going to be a whole community that understands me." And then you come out and within about two weeks you realize it doesn't. And I remember being quite shocked by the fact that I felt actually just as much of an outsider within the gay community as I did [in] the non-gay community. I think the gay community is made up of so many little different things, different parts, different people. ... I think that can be quite hard for people. You think you've found your tribe, but actually that isn't your tribe, and then you have to keep searching for what kind of makes sense.

On the HBO showLooking

I think it was just about trying to show just how complicated it is for these people to work out what they want. I think for [the main character] Patrick especially, it's just a story about a character trying to be happy. It's as simple as that. He's really trying to work out what he needs to do to be happy, how he can develop a relationship, how he can sort out his work life, how he can sort out his friendships. ... I think it's just following those kind of complications.

It wasn't about making some grand statement about "this is what it means to be gay"; it was just about "this is what it means for these three people." It isn't just about the fact that they're gay. It's about a lot of other things, but being gay obviously factors into a lot of the parts of their lives. It was just really trying to do a character-based story.

On doing a film about a straight couple after gaining recognition for his work on movies and TV shows about gay people

I think some people were surprised. I think some people were a little bit kind of disappointed. I remembered being at a party and telling someone about this story, and they were like, "So who is gay in it?" I'm like, "No, nobody is gay." They're like, "So the husband's not gay secretly?" I'm like, "Nobody's gay in it." It was like I had turned my back on the gay film community for not making something that was gay.

I mean, for me, it was never a conscious decision to say, "I have to do something non-gay for my career." ... People always like to put you in a little kind of box. I understand that. I think we're all trying to parcel out the world to understand it a bit better, so I don't mind it.

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