Image Macall Polay.
© 2929/Dimension Films/MGM.
The Road will be released in North America by the infamous Bob and Harvey Weinstein, but Penhall refuses to be drawn into the familiar litany of creative outrage at the brothers' style of doing business in general and the re-editing antics of "Harvey Scissorhands" in particular. In fact, he says, the Weinsteins wanted scenes put back in rather than taken out. "I'd love to be able to say they're a bunch of idiots and they don't know what they are doing but, with this film, they largely did know what they were doing. The trailer is a stinker, obviously, and that was an unwise thing to do. But everything else is damn good."
Yes, the appalling trailer cannot go unmentioned, padded out as it is with stock shots of natural disasters that aren't in the film. Fans of the book may be surprised, too, at Charlize Theron's equal billing with Mortensen, and Penhall admits that her character -- a shadowy, dream-remembered presence in the book -- has been considerably built up. "I liked the idea of this guy haunted by his dead wife," he says. "My first great love was killed very young in a car crash and I've written about that in two of my plays, so it chimed with me. But also Charlize gives a great performance and I think we all wanted to see more of her."
The film was shot in freezing temperatures late last year in Pennsylvania and around Mount Saint Helens, the Washington peak whose top blew off in a volcanic eruption in 1980. There was little glamour about the shoot, least of all the scenes where Mortensen runs naked into the freezing sea. "The insurance company told him not to do it," smiles Penhall, "but he's mad as a snake." And Hillcoat, whom the blogosphere has portrayed as being at odds with his star, pays tribute to Mortensen's unswerving commitment. "He was down and dirty, in amongst it and very intense," says the director.
Even so, says Penhall, the shoot was hard for everyone. "Viggo was running round half-naked most of the time with nobody but a boy [the talented Kodi Smit-McPhee, aged 12 when the film was made, but already with a dozen credits to his name] for company. I was there with nobody for company, getting addicted to cheeseburgers. John was there with nobody to back him up, just a bunch of Hollywood producers who thought he was a bald weirdo from Down Under. Everybody had a tough time because we weren't making Love Actually: we were making something about deprivation and starvation and terrible weather."
Despite this, there is no doubt that Penhall prefers the balls-and-all directness of making movies in the US to the chummy, collegiate world of the UK film scene. "Over there, it's a huge industry and that's all they do, all day every day," he says, "so they're ruthlessly expedient. If they really want to make your film, they really want to pay you a lot of money and they're ruthlessly expedient in achieving that. But also if they want to fire you or drop you or just mysteriously lose you, they're ruthlessly expedient at that as well."
And here? Penhall snorts. "I directed a short film for the BBC," he says, "and the deal was that that would be a pattern for a longer film. But the BBC is so overridden with ineptitude and confusion and chaos and childish behaviour. The film department has fallen apart; it's died. I get so much more encouragement to make films in America than I do here," he says, citing an upcoming adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel Deep Water, set in southern California, with Mike Nicholls as director. "Shit yeah! It's a waste of time here. It's like a cottage industry."
The Road will be released on 8 January, and screened in the London Film Festival which runs 14-29 October.