The Beginning of a New Age

Stephan Elliot's 'Easy Virtue'

by Matt Mazur

19 May 2009


I was intrigued by your use of mirrors...

I was intrigued by your use of mirrors – there are a few scenes that are shown through this reflective point of view. What is the significance of these mirrors for you?

Elliot: “Hitchcock had shot this film in 1928, as a silent film, which was a disaster, to try and do Noël Coward as a silent film. When I eventually saw the Hitchcock film I was just kind of disappointed, because he wasn’t ‘Hitchcock’ yet. Kind of like Coward wasn’t ‘Coward’ yet when he wrote it. So a part of me, from a visual point of view, all the way through, thought ‘OK, Hitchcock is only on his second film, what would the older Hitchcock have done?’ And the reflective work is pure Hitchcock. Its me doing a nod to the future Hitchcock, if he would have had a chance to re-direct it again, how he would have handled it.”

Were there any other elements you borrowed from the original?

Elliot: “No, it’s a kid with a camera.”

Jobbins: “He took the denouement of the courtroom, when things get a bit more complicated, he basically did half of the film as the courtroom drama with Larita, in court, talking about it…”

Elliot: “In the play, they talk about ‘my husband was in court, I told you I was acquitted, murder trial’. It’s three lines in the play, Hitchcock made that pretty much the film.”

I wasn’t familiar with Coward, or the play, going into the film, and I was expecting a broad comedy, I think. Then, by the end of it, it takes a really dark turn and this is a bit shocking…How do you think audiences will react to this?

Elliot: When we had our first actual screening for financiers, when we actually got to Colin’s war speech, which is where the film flips, flips, and does a complete back somersault, the tension was actually too much. I had to get up and leave the room. I actually couldn’t stand watching it with an audience because I would think ‘I don’t know if you can ever get them back’. Finally, it was in Toronto when that moment came and I thought ‘fuck it I have to sit this out’, and I sat there, and it’s mad, literally like nails in a coffin, thinking ‘are we going to get through this?’ It was pretty bold, but we get through it. And more than that, again, that classic ‘Hitch’ at the end of it where you’ve got John and Larita making love and Ben holds the dog up over himself. The explosion of laughter that happens then is so big and that is simple stress relief. What Hitch would learn to do brilliantly is let them off the hook. We didn’t know until a couple of screenings, if we were going to get away with it, but now I know that we can get away with it.

Jobbins: It stops them being caricatures, too; otherwise, Mrs. Whittaker would just be a harridan trying to undermine her son’s heart, which is bad. But in fact, she’s fighting for something that means something to her, which is her position in her society and her position in the family, and the heritage and the connectedness. And what she sees as being the head of the household and her responsibility, that’s really compassionate, I think you can feel for her.”

Elliot: “I feel for her! In the play I didn’t feel for her. Everyone really feels for Kristin’s character in this one…”

Jobbins: “She was a bit of a hysteric in the play, so…”

The Whittakers are going through a financial crisis, which mirrors what is going on now and we’re also in a war now, so how do these modern elements make their way into your script?

Jobbins: “The times are very similar and a lot of that is implicit in the play, written in 24, first performed in 26, that it wasn’t a recession heading towards the world, it was a Great Depression, and winding up, there’s a real sense of hysteria coming. Coming out of a war with new technology, the first chemical warfare, people really damaged by the shocking changes of it, the resultant unpopular government, a world that’s still arguing with the United Nations, people leaving the country…the situation is so similar. What he wants you to do is compare the two generations of women, one who, technically, just by the way she is born is losing everything, and the other coming into the future was going to haveeverything. That’s what he wanted to do. It was just very timely for us. It felt a bit peculiar at the beginning, because we didn’t know how it was going to air out, but I think people actually really relate to that stress.” [Jobbins pauses to further inspect my maroon mirrored-patent leather Dior oxfords, gleaming wickedly in the afternoon sunlight] “Those shoes are brilliant. Look! They’ve got red in them! And green!”

Elliot: “They match Marius’ pants!”

If I had children I would probably love these shoes more than my children.

Jobbins: (laughing) “I have children and I love your shoes more than my children!”

* * *

Elliot cracked he was looking forward to being “unemployed after today” and he still skies three months a year, according to his bio. Easy Virtue opens in limited release on May 22.

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