Rob Holding of New Zealand’s Rhema (Christian radio network) got the chance to interview Amazing Grace director Michael Apted about the film. Amazing Grace will hit the cinemas of New Zealand soon.
Rob: Michael Apted is best known as the director of the new movie Amazing Grace. He joins us on the phone. Michael, welcome to the program.
Michael: Thank you very much.
Rob: Michael, why did you pick Amazing Grace to direct?
Michael: It started in a weird way, because I’d been looking for ages to find a political story to make a film about, something that I thought could shine a different sort of light on politics, and present politics as something, you know, worthwhile, and something that could achieve things, and I’d never really been able to find a subject. I was disappointed with the cynicism that surrounded politics, although I could fully understand why people felt that.
But then this script came along, and this script came more to me as a biopic, and it was very much more weighted in terms of Wilberforce’s faith issue, than necessarily the politics or the anti-slavery. And so I persuaded them to slightly tweak it a bit and put the politics in the middle of it. I thought that would also very much dramatise the issues of faith and also make Wilberforce much more active character in the story and also allow us to play around with time a bit and not just tell a life from beginning to end, which can be very hard to keep the energy in a film going like that.
Rob: And a little more acceptable to the non-Christians, because I know the early scripts were very very Christian focused, weren’t they?
Michael: Yes, that’s true. I thought it’s such a great story, and I was so interested in his spirituality, because I think that’s one of the disasters of the modern world, that religion and politics have become so disconnected. You know, where are the Mandelas and the Martin Luther Kings and the Gandhis and all this sort of stuff. People either use religion as their political basis or they have no kind of spiritual sense at all in their political life; and here was a character who managed to live in both worlds to great effect. So I did want to find a wider audience than just say a faith-based audience to tell this story.
Rob: How hard is it for you ? you call yourself an agnostic? That’s true, is it?
Rob: So how hard is it for you to actually bring out the full Christian side of the story?
Michael: It’s not hard at all. I mean, I recognize it and I admire it, and I thought his was a life of great courage and great will, what he did. It isn’t difficult at all for me to understand that and to celebrate it.
But I do feel as a storyteller that I want to get more than that into the film. And that’s very important, and the most important thing to some people. But I wanted to get a kind of broader view of the character and a broader view of the world than that. But it isn’t difficult to express that at all.
Rob: loan Gruffudd must have been a marvelous actor to direct – he’s had experience in that realm with the Poldark series, hasn’t he?
Michael: Yes, he has. I was lucky with him, because it was kind of essential to me that the main characters in the film were young, it seemed to me a genuine Camelot story, like a Kennedy story if you will, young people with great spirit taking on the establishment. And to do that they really had to cast it young. But it’s hard to find young actors who have any box office heat, but loan does have ? with the Fantastic Four. So that made it easier for me to convince the studio to cast it young.
Rob: Of course when you talk about the Camelot side, I’m sitting there going “Where do I recognize this guy from?” – of course he was Lancelot in King Arthur.
Michael: Yeah, there you go. [laugh]
Rob: What is it about the Wilberforce story that personally inspires you?
Michael: There’s tons of it really, but I suppose at the end of the day how I look at my life is, would I have the will, would I have the courage, to just stick at something in the way he did, and just simply not give up on it, and to be so convinced of the moral right of what he was doing that he just wouldn’t let it alone, although everybody was telling him to leave it alone, and he wasn’t getting anywhere with him. I think he’s a marvelous role model for anybody
Rob: The subject of slavery comes up, and there’s actually more slavery, apparently, in the world today than there was 200 years ago.
Michael: Yeah, frightening isn’t it?
Rob: Do you think people are going to get that message, out of the movie? That they need to do something?
Michael: Not get it out of the film, but they get it, I think, out of the press and the publicity. There was a thing called Amazing Change, which is a big outreach that the American distributors did about the film. They were saying to people, don’t watch this film and think slavery’s been dealt with; it hasn’t. Slavery is never dealt with; slavery’s always with us, in every civilization there’s ever been. And it’s with us now, and be alive to it, be aware to it, sort of educate yourself to what’s going on, and then maybe in a tiny way you can help make things better. So that’s really the follow-up of the film, the press on the film, the writing about the film, that message isn’t really contained within the film.