When director Andrew Haigh read the 1987 novel “Strangers” by Taichi Yamada, he knew the premise of a man’s new romance mystically reconnecting him to his long-dead parents was a story with the potential to be “entirely universal,” as he puts it in the exclusive featurette above.
“Just being able to have a conversation with them as equals at a certain time, that was so fascinating to me. And I couldn’t help but think that everybody would want to have that conversation with their parents if they could,” the British filmmaker told IndieWire in advance of “All of Us Strangers” screening at AFI Fest on Saturday, October 28.
Since its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, Haigh said the Searchlight Pictures release has proven to speak “to children, to parents, to gay people, to straight people,” said Haigh. “And speak to all of them in a way that it works for all of those people without it being bland.”
One major change from the novel is making its central romance queer, with pensive screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) falling for his arresting neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal). “It is about a gay relationship and I’m not embarrassed about that or making any qualms about that,” Haigh said. “It was important that that felt really authentic at the same time, but still tell something wider.”
Claire Foy and Jamie Bell round out the tiny cast as Adam’s parents, but “it was a strangely long [casting] process for what is only four people in the whole film,” said Haigh. “Just speaking to them, you realized that they were prepared to throw everything they had into it. And that’s just a dream as a director because it doesn’t always happen. It really doesn’t. So the fact they wanted to made me really confident going in.”
The hardest role to cast was Harry. “We went around the world, we spoke to people in Brazil and we spoke to people in France,” he said. “We really tried to be quite open about who [Harry] would be. And then Paul came along and it was like, ‘Well, okay, there you go.’ He’s a great actor and he’s wonderful and why wouldn’t we cast him. It would be insane. You only have to meet him to know that he’s essentially a movie star. You can feel it in his bones.”
Best Actor nominee Mescal (“Aftersun”) was happy to take the supporting role to Scott’s lead. “He was so excited about working with Andrew and also knowing that he was the supporting character to Andrew,” said the filmmaker. “There’s lots of actors all obsessed by their own ego, about who is the most important. And everyone understood what this film was and who it was circling around.”
For Haigh, Scott felt like the only choice for Adam. The director is 50 and the actor is 47, which gave the two men a certain shorthand. “He’s a man of a certain generation like me. And we both grew up gay and there was a lot of stuff that was coming out about that for both of us,” he said . “We bonded as you do often with people when you’ve had the same experience or a similar experience.”
The specificity to which Haigh alludes is being a queer Gen Xer who must come to terms with their sexuality during the AIDS crisis. “Obviously, things have got so much better,” he said. “But all of that pain that a generation of people felt growing up, that hasn’t all vanished, that pain is still there, it’s still lurking. The world might’ve forgotten how we were treated, but we haven’t forgotten how we were treated and how we felt. We’re so good at pretending we’re ok now, and not rocking the boat, and not saying to people, ‘Do you remember how you used to make me feel back then?’ Because nobody wants to be made to feel guilty, let’s face it.”
Haigh said the buzz around “All of Us Strangers, a film so personal to the filmmaker that part of it was shot in his childhood home, has exceeded his expectations. “The reaction has been good to most of the work I’ve done. But I feel like some films don’t break out into much more of a conversation. I made ‘Lean on Pete,’ it got good reviews, but no one ended up talking about it, and it just disappeared and vanished,” said Haigh. “This film has broken through whatever that little bubble is to people to start to talk about it. So I’m just really grateful because it doesn’t happen all the time. Even if the film is good, it doesn’t happen all the time. So I’m just pleased that people are wanting to talk about it.”