Interview: Director Steven Knight Clicks on ‘Locke’

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CHICAGO – Driving all night has taken on a different reality, with the invention of the mobile phone. There is no sanctuary within the confines of the automobile, which is now a rolling office or coordination tank. Writer/director Steven Knight portrays this new reality in a fascinating and unique new film called “Locke.”

“Locke” is main character Ivan Locke, portrayed with intense regard by actor Tom Hardy (he was the villain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”). The film takes place all in Locke’s car as he drives toward a destination, and this sudden “crisis of life” is managed through his bluetooth phone receiver while he’s in the driver’s seat – which is as cutting edge a modern commentary as a film can be. The original concept was conceived by veteran screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”), and it is his second major directorial effort.

Tom Hardy
Drive, He Said: Steven Knight Directs Tom Hardy as the Title Character in ‘Locke’
Photo credit: A24 interviewed Knight as he swung through Chicago on a promotional tour. The avuncular and urbane Brit had a fine definitive perspective regarding his film, gave away some technical secrets on directing the unusual events and gives background to his creative invention of the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” This is a film that couldn’t have been made even five years ago. What are you saying about technology as much as the relationship we now have with people on the phone?

Steven Knight: We’re now available to all parts of our lives at all times, which we not before. Which is good and bad…but mostly bad. [laughs] I think when the phone rings and you look at the phone to see who is calling, you change. You become the person that deals with that name on the screen. So in a sense, everybody does a master class of acting every single day, because we’re different with the boss, the kids, the other half – with whoever calls we become a different person. I just thought it would be interesting to point a camera at a person in that situation during a particularly stressful situation. This is purely a British film. Besides the football [soccer], what cultural elements are within the film that Americans might not pick up on?

Knight: Any element that is particularly British, like the motorway, road signs etc., are still a universal language. Even the football is about when fathers talk to sons, they talk about sports, because it’s a nice and neutral way to talk – even with my sons, when there is a tense problem, instead of dealing with it, you talk about football, American football, baseball, you name it. I did choose the character’s Welsh accent in the film because it’s a working class accent, but also it’s very intelligible to the English speaking world. This is your second directorial effort and it required some pretty subtle composition. What did you study visually about being on the road, that you reflected onto the final composed film?

Knight: With the film I made before [‘Redemption’], we tested the cameras by shooting from moving vehicles, and then watched it on screen. I thought it was hypnotic, and wondered if we could put an actor in a moving vehicle – make that car it like a theater – and shoot a play. The advantage is no continuity problem, because if you’re always shooting on the motorway, you can cut between takes without a problem. And also it looks like chaos, it looks like the universe out there, and there is Ivan in his bubble of light trying to bring order to it. How did you and Tom Hardy agree upon the tone for Ivan? How did that tone build the legitimacy of the character?

Knight: I wanted him to be a really ordinary man. With Tom, it’s the first straight role he’s ever played – he’s not a monster or a villain. It was trying to get that ordinariness across, because he wants to be a good Dad, he wants to build the building and he has a responsible attitude towards everything that is happening. In a contemporary sense, he doesn’t have the typical traits of a hero, he’s very sober and down to earth. He doesn’t go with the emotion of the people who are calling, he stays calm. The motivation for the the trip is an unseen father who abandoned Ivan in life. What do you think is the most unbiased way to judge your parents once you get to adulthood? And do you think we were getting the full and fairest assessment of Ivan’s Dad?

Knight: Almost certainly not, because I think kids look back on their parents in a particular way, and they never manage to look at their parents with anything except a child’s eye. It’s difficult to be objective – I guess it’s fair to observe how your grown children will look at you, you’ll probably think, ‘that’s so unfair.’ But that is exactly what I did with my Dad. Ivan is doing what he does in order to prove he is not his Dad. I’m hoping people will leave the film asking, ‘was this the right thing to do, or not?’ Given that you were working with one on-camera actor and the rest voiceovers, what technique did you use to get the right reactions on both sides? What were the technical challenges?

Steven Knight
Director Steven Knight in Chicago, April 14th, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

Knight: I went for the simplest possible way of doing it. which was to put the phone call actors in a conference room near the motorway, and get a phone line right into the car. So the calls are real, and there was no problems with pre-recording or false reactions. The technical issue was putting the voice in a earpiece and not in the car as portrayed, because sound design would have been effected by that. Is it possible that the screenplay could be a metaphor for prayer? Could Ivan Locke be a symbol for God and the prayers we give to an unseen force in the universe?

Knight: I think those issues are there, the universe is surrounding the car, and it’s all chaos. He – like a divine force – is trying to bring order. It’s a legitimate interpretation. You were part of the team that created ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ What part of that game show – besides the money – gave it the most appeal and allowed it to be embraced by large audiences, in your opinion?

Knight: It was almost accidental. I worked on the format with a couple of other people. We had worked on game shows before, but there were just okay. With this, it started with the idea that it was an unlimited pot, that you could win any amount of money. The insurance companies balked at that, so one million became the number.

As contestants went through the various stages, they kept keeping the money. That’s how the variations developed, we had to figure out a way to keep them in – so that is how phone-a-friend, ask-the-audience and 50/50 came into the mix. Phone a friend was the most dramatic. On our second episode in Britain, the contestant phoned her Dad, on a subject that he knew everything about. But this time, he didn’t know. The drama that came from that, was the ‘something else’ about the concept, besides just winning money. You obviously were surprised when it exploded in America?

Knight: Yeah, I knew it was going well, but the indicator was when I took my kids to T.G.I. Fridays in London during the initial American run, and the restaurant used to have the front cover of ‘USA Today’ on the wall in the bathroom. And that cover was all about ‘Millonaire.’ I thought, ‘how could this be happening?’ Of all your previous relationships with the amazing directors on your screenplays, which one did you learn the most from, and which do you believe was most the contentious relationship?

Knight: I’ve never had a contentious relationship with any of them. In a nutshell, David Cronenberg [‘Eastern Promises’] was methodical and prepared, he would film a certain amount of pages per day, and lets the events happen. Stephen Frears [‘Dirty Pretty Things’] is much more interested in performance, and I’m with him on that. He says, ‘alway cast faces.’ And Michael Apted [‘Amazing Grace’] is just the best person in the world, he’s brilliant. He’s a gentleman and runs a crew so professionally, which was a real education. Finally, who do you picture in that empty seat behind you during a long road trip, and what do you generally say to them?

Knight: [Laughs] For me, it’s a changing cast of people. Could I have done or said something better with them? It becomes a very honest dialogue with one’s self. Well, that used to be a refuge for being by yourself, but now, as your movie points out, that’s gone with the wind.

Knight: I suppose you could rip the phone out.

“Locke” continues its limited release in Chicago on May 3rd. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Tom Hardy, Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson and Andrew Scott. Written and directed by Steven Knight. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

Mr. Leland's picture

Great Interview

Highly entertaining. Nice curve ball for subject with the God thing. One note, it should be ‘affect’ rather than ‘effect.’

Mr. Leland's picture

Great Interview

Highly entertaining. Nice curve ball for subject with the God thing. One note, it should be ‘affect’ rather than ‘effect.’

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