How we made Wish You Were Here
‘It was wonderful to see the film’s phrases – like “Up yer bum!” – enter the vernacular’
Monday 17 April 2017
David Leland, writer and director
The inspiration for this film was the famous British brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne, in particular her rebellious adolescence spent in Worthing and Bognor, but it was just as much about my own memories of growing up in a village near Cambridge. That parochial life we captured – with every kid’s party taking place in the British Legion and all the men wearing blazers and playing crown green bowls – is taken from my dad and the older generation in my village.
Emily Lloyd played Lynda, as our Cynthia character was called, and we consciously created a family atmosphere on and off the set. Every now and again, they’d all sneak out to a local disco and I wasn’t supposed to know. In one scene, Lynda shows her knickers to all the bus-drivers and conductors. I planted people from the makeup department in among the extras. At first they hid. Then, when the camera was back on Emily, they stood up and waved. You can see her laugh – and it’s magic. It works.
Tom Bell was playing Eric, the friend of Lynda’s dad who forces her to have sex with him in his room above the cinema. He arrived early and went to set up the room. When I arrived, someone said: “Tom’s up in the room – I think he’s drunk.” But he wasn’t. He was just lying on the bed rolling up cigarettes and smoking them. He had claimed the space as his – people had to ask to come in. It created an extraordinary atmosphere.
In the evenings, Tom would sit in the hotel bar drinking gin and tonic, and I would be upstairs planning what to shoot the next day. But Tom got it into his head I was smoking marijuana. He’d say: “Off upstairs to smoke a bit of weed, are we?”
We got into Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. At the end of the screening, there was a lot of cheering and I thought: “That’s nice.” Then we went out on to the balcony overlooking the lobby and everyone went wild. “My God,” I thought, “we’ve got something big here.”
It’s wonderful how some of the film’s phrases – like Lynda’s “Up yer bum” – entered the vernacular. It’s like Personal Services, the film I wrote inspired by Cynthia’s later life. When she can’t pay the rent, she gives the landlord a handjob. His name was Popozogolou and that became a euphemism for a wank.
Emily Lloyd, actor
They gave me a synopsis for the audition: “sexually precocious”. So my mother put me in a black leather skirt and a tight blue crocheted top. The casting director took one glance at me and said: “You look like jailbait. Go home and get changed.” Then she said: “But come back.” I blushed and returned in jeans.
David took me for lunch and said: “Would you like the part?” But I’d just spooned some soup into my mouth and it didn’t register. Then he said: “I’d like you to have the part.” It still didn’t register, so he said: “Emily, you’ve got the part!” And the soup went all over the table.
The first day of filming was on my 16th birthday. We only had six weeks to get it done so it was quite gruelling. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day. I’d been given a yellow Sony Walkman for my birthday and I’d lie there in my hotel room listening to Tina Turner to get to sleep.
The first time I saw the film, I thought: “My nose looks very big.” But it’s a lovely film and I like my character. Playing her as free-spirited wasn’t hard, but there was also sadness and pain, when she finds herself pregnant.
The success was overwhelming. I went to Hollywood and one agent wanted to buy me a horse. My mum told me: “But darling, we’ve only got a small back garden.” I was inundated and there was no one out there to protect me. My mum says, in retrospect, she wishes she’d gone out there. But, you know, I was hanging out with the Brat Pack, Matt Dillon, going to barbecues with Brad Pitt. All of that, at 16, can’t be bad really.