Rich Weston was born Richard Martin Thompson on the 24th of September, 1991. I know because I requested him, like a song on a jukebox. At three years old I was already bored and needed someone to hang out with, so my mum and dad obliged me. He basically owes his existence to me. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Despite all that he turned out to be a right cunt to yours truly: the usual formulation that one sibling gets the looks and the other the brains turned out to be true, except as well as looks he also got the talent, charisma, ambition, drive, more Facebook friends and the more interesting mental illnesses. And he ended up with brains, too.
These days, Rich is an actor and independent film director. His latest film, The Young, is his biggest project yet. Since he lives about 180 miles away from me at the moment, we sat down over IM for an hour-long conversation that could have run a lot longer if we hadn’t had our respective vices waiting independently for us.
As such, I’m typing this after ingesting far too much of certain things, but fortunately I edited the interview as early as my third glass of crappy cheap merlot, so it should somewhat accurately reflect what took place. It’s probably a bit headier than my previous interview, but I hope you enjoy it all the same.
Implicate Disorder: I’d like to start off with a question about The Young. What was it about the post-apocalyptic setting that made it a good format for the story you wanted to tell?
Richard Weston: I’ve always been obsessed with the Western, and I’ve often thought the premise of a post-apocalyptic world gives the same freedom. In the landscape, in the atmosphere. That feeling of sparsity.
ID: I got that impression from seeing the film. Does sparsity imply lawlessness, freedom, fear? And if so, do you think this has certain implications for the way human societies are now urban-orientated?
RW: With sparsity comes uncertainty. The further apart things are, both fear and freedom manifest. It’s an infant civilisation still teething and exploring what that space means. What’s different in the cities in the real world is how dense everything is. When you want something, you have to squeeze in and compete. If you come off the beaten path suddenly you’re hit with the truth of it all. I hate city centres.
ID: Was manipulation and implication of space something you consciously strove for? If so, was this a cinematographic concern?
RW: The films that captured me the best were those that explored landscapes, personifying them extensively. The Searchers and The Grapes Of Wrath are two of the best examples. The world depicted in The Young is quite barren, but I wanted to find beauty in the space left behind. I wanted to show people what would be left behind. So when the light came through so vividly, I hoped people would put a colour to it. Or when they’re moving through the forest and over all the deserted fields, people could get lost in it. The greyscale helped in that. So space was definitely something that needed to be manipulated.
ID: What interests me is that both Ford and yourself were raised Catholic. The utilisation of space, landscapes, emptiness, these things seem to lend an almost cathedral-esque quality to even the lighter scenes. Do you think this sort of filmic kenosis, which can also be found in Tarkovsky, has any kind of metaphysical influence, either consciously or subconsciously?
RW: It’s interesting because I remember being very scared in Paddy’s Wigwam in Liverpool for the first time. It was the new millenium and all the primary schools in there were singing the same song ‘Christ Be Our Light‘. I started crying during the song because it got me thinking about all the things I’d do to hurt Jesus accidentally. Where I used to be terrified, I think of those places as huge domes for imagination. I used to follow a set of strict rules and since then I’ve become an atheist. I did slip into verité quite a lot during the process, and a lot of the landscape is haunting. I suppose the complete lack of a creator is a force in itself, really. A sense of wanting. Trying to re-establish my own faith without boundaries.
ID: If The Young can be said to have a cosmology where god is absent, it’s telling that the event, the apocalypse, that might have meant the death of god, is also absent, at least in as much as it’s never explicitly stated. Is the Sears character demiurgic in that sense? Or Cael? Or am I reading too much into it?
RW: The name of the film came from Thatcher’s speech about the youth of today being the future of tomorrow. Because the people in the film are born into such a volatile habitat, there’s a lack of god. I was only just really getting into Blake during the writing of the film and maybe got a little obsessed with the mythology during it. Cael is a little like the anti-Albion, and Sears represents an inherent power. The place is pretty desolate and it’s a time for people to look for messiahs or similar figures to lead them. So for those in the “comfort” of the The Front they have Sears, and those in the wild see Cael. I suppose you could so far as to call the split in power the closest they come to religions. The authority and the lack of it.
ID: There’s a character in Jim Jarmusch’s acid(ish) western, Dead Man (which also has a grayscale aesthetic and is not unknown for its glacial landscape photography) called William Blake. Coincidental to The Young, or…?
RW: I don’t think Dead Man had a direct influence on the film but it certainly made a big impression on me. I wasn’t very happy with my reference to Blake in the latter stages of the film, because I originally set out to make it more of a background component. I think Dead Man was more involved in the imagery of Blake as opposed to something like the Four Zoas. Which I was more inclined towards.
ID: I suspected that might have been the case. Aside from Ford and Blake, what other influences were there on The Young and on your work in general? From film or literature, I mean.
RW: Tarkovsky is a huge influence, purely because it doesn’t write any rules but made some entirely new ones. I don’t mean by throwing out all film theory and all the foundations of how to make a scene, but the elaboration in the shots and their transitions. Mirror was a stream of consciousness. Because I played Cael and directed the film, a lot of the shots came from Cael’s view on the world. I think this is one of the reasons the character would be more suited to the title ‘the lead’ from the end product. El Topo is similar in that way, with Jodorowsky both master and commander. In terms of story and precedent, Peckinpah was hugely influential. The story of The Young is so similar to that of The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett. So quite a mixed bunch for different reasons.
ID: You’re also an actor, of course. What sort of practical theories have you gravitated towards, and what would you recommend in terms of reading material for younger actors starting out right now?
RW: I’ve gravitated towards a method, certainly. I find it very helpful to create improvisations based on memories of the characters both implicit and explicit in the script. I find this helps to move towards a character as opposed to establishing one straight away. Too often people set out how to play their character so early on, but I really do believe you never have the full story with someone unless you find the intricacies.
ID: More of an evolution than a set template?
RW: More of an evolution, yes. I think it is very important to make acting more practical than studied, so you’re not stuck in the actor’s mind for too long. But reading material I’d suggest is: “The Feeling Of What Happens” by Damasio for self study, and then anything from Jean Benedetti to start looking into dramatic theory. Training is almost certainly the best option, I think.
ID: One last question before we wrap up: what music have you been listening to lately?
RW: Lately I’ve been listening to Patti Smith, Cash and Ella Fitzgerald
ID: Richard Weston, thank you very much for your time.
The Young is available to download here.