This is the first instalment in a series of diaries from Alice Lowe on the making of Prevenge.
It’s mid-December 2015 and I’ve got a month to work on the edit of Prevenge before I give birth. We shot a month ago, in Cardiff: I’ve spent Hallowe’en in Cardiff before, and I knew it would be interesting. Everyone was dressed as absolutely crazy things. We filmed on the streets for one particular sequence. We were out at 8pm and I was worried people wouldn’t be drunk enough or in costumes yet, but it was one of the weirdest nights I’ve ever seen anywhere. People were coming and touching me because I was in this scary costume – these really tall men were coming up to me and sort of squaring up to me. I felt that I had to stay in character but it was actually quite scary.
That’s part of doing a low-budget film, you can just go and do it; so we got some really interesting textures. I wanted the freedom of a 70s filmmaking ethos, to learn how to be a filmmaker, seize the moment and follow it, just filming my character roaming the streets. I’d pitched the film as a female Taxi Driver, that element of a maverick, roaming character that is lonely – we don’t think of female characters as having the capacity for that existential angst.
Even with Sightseers, we had a debate about whether my character would be likeable enough – you never have that debate about a male character. “Is Travis Bickle likeable enough? Will he reflect badly on men?” I think people can deal with more empathy for that kind of female character than they think they can. People are definitely going to feel discomfort with my character in Prevenge because she doesn’t make the normal choices, but I’m excited about that. Especially this pregnant character roaming the streets, following people or trying to be anonymous in this city I don’t belong in.
Yes, I was pregnant when I directed the film and played the main character. I was quite conscious there would be a media focus on that aspect of the film when I came up with the idea. With this film, I wanted to talk about how primal and dramatic giving birth and having a child is, how existential it is that another human being comes out of a hole in you. Men have always made sci-fi about that idea, but why shouldn’t women, in a different way? There is something terrifying and godlike about making life, and it’s about time a woman owned that on screen. It’s often played as a comic thing, all the screaming and gripping her husband’s hand: that’s an external viewpoint of a woman who is feeling terrified and in pain. If you’re going to make a film about the alien, make it from the alien’s perspective not from the person who’s scared of the alien!
There is something terrifying and godlike about making life, and it’s about time a woman owned that on screen.
I had been quite quiet about it as an actress, I hadn’t even told lots of my close friends so having the story in Screen was certainly one way to let people know… But I was sick of having to make that choice about whether to tell people or not – I had some friends who said not to let producers know because they won’t hire you for fifteen years – even more as a director than an actress. When this project came about, I thought why should women have to keep it quiet that they’re pregnant? People should help you achieve within the constraints, whatever they are.
Actually, it’s been really useful, because people tend to be really nice and helpful when you’re pregnant. It lends a maternal air, so people think, “I have to behave myself and not make trouble,” and that’s not something I’ve always had when I’m directing. People can be unruly on set, and I’ve thought at times “Is it because I’m female?” But there’s something in pregnancy hormones that makes you quite sedate; when something goes wrong, I’d say we’ll just have to do it in a different way, I didn’t stress out about it.
That’s another joy of low budget, you just go another way and see what you end up with. It’s a challenge: most people would set the film in one house, but I chose loads of locations. And murders, which means lots of SFX, which I wanted to be practical not VFX. It was mostly in camera and that was the biggest challenge, time-wise and making it convincing, using really controlled performances, cheating the realism, and static shots to conceal the effects – but it worked because I knew how I was going to approach it logistically. The first AD was worried it wouldn’t be possible, but after the first day he wasn’t worried any more. That’s the biggest compliment you could be given.
Actually, it’s been really useful, because people tend to be really nice and helpful when you’re pregnant.
And I wasn’t alone on set: my co-star Kate Dickie has a daughter. It was very interesting talking to her and asking her advice about being an actress. I loved her when she was in Red Road and then I hadn’t seen her on screen for a while – I think she was doing theatre. But now she’s doing loads of really interesting films. It’s reassuring to see that you can be seen on your own merits. I don’t know whether her taking time off coincided with having a kid, and whether she did or didn’t want to work. But I see that she’s getting really interesting work, and it frees you from being cast as an ingénue.
I’ve auditioned for pregnant characters recently and haven’t got it, and I’ve been told, “It’s because you’re pregnant.” I think it’s a continuity issue to be honest. I realised we couldn’t have done a much longer shoot because the bump was going to grow: I’m definitely bigger now than I was three weeks ago. But it is ridiculous, because there are non-pregnant characters and pregnant actors playing them – so why can’t you give me a bump or work around it in the same way?
I was a bit worried about insurance because I was doing some stunts: nothing really dangerous. But there were no issues. I think people are just scared of pregnancy, and scared that you might be ill and wouldn’t be able to come in, or wave the pregnancy flag and you might have special demands, and that might screw up filming. But I’d felt really well and felt like you know your own body and limitations. If there was anything that felt uncomfortable, I could say no because I was in charge. I feel really strong, my body’s doing what it’s supposed to do and so I let it get on with it. I did three nights of an Edinburgh show and people were really shocked, but there were several pregnant comedians doing shows in Edinburgh. Why wouldn’t you squeeze as much work out of the time before you have the baby, in the current financial climate?
I feel really strong, my body’s doing what it’s supposed to do and so I let it get on with it.
The visibility of pregnant women has to be a really good thing because it challenges the Victorian perception that you’re in your confinement. Some people will because they’re feeling ill or have complications and need to take it easy: all power to them. I spent the first three months in bed because I felt really crap, but that scared me into doing as much as I can afterwards, in case I can’t for the next three years. That’s been galvanising and exciting, it made me really fearless, I took on things that I might have turned down before. My body is creating a human, no project can be more complicated than that.