The Making of ‘Lady Macbeth’: Interview with DIrector William Oldroyd


Not every indie film with little money can deliver what was intended. It happens due to, again, the budget and even time that’s not sufficient to be creative enough. However, watching William Oldroyd’s brilliant “Lady Macbeth” made with a budget of just three hundred and fifty thousands pounds, turns Mr. Oldroyd’s first feature film into pure masterpiece. Honestly speaking, that praise is not because of the interview I had with the filmmaker or with the lead actress, Florence Pugh at Sundance, but just the movie, which I hope you will have a chance to see.

“Lady Macbeth” follows Katherine, a young woman who’s sold to a much older man to be married with. All that she knew was how to fight, fight and fight. Knowing that, there is nobody out there to stand for her, the woman begins a passionate affair with Sebastian, who will ally with her in her darkest plan. However, some things do not turn the way it could have been expected… But for somebody like Lady Macbeth, or if you wish Katherine, nothing will matter as long as the final result, you, I sincerely hope, will learn after watching it.

During William Oldroyd’s promotional visit to Toronto for the film that opened this Friday, I had the great pleasure to sit down with him at the TIFF Bell Light Box’s lounge to discuss his critically acclaimed film which will bring many awards down the road.

MOVIEMOVESME: “Lady Macbeth” is your first feature movie, and a tough subject matter to tackle. Why was this your first choice to make a movie about?

William Oldroyd: Really, it was Katherine who drew me into this. I just loved this set of characters from Nikolai Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth”. The setup from it, quite eventually, a young woman trapped in marriage who starts an affair and then it stops. We have seen this story before.  What she did next is that starts fighting back and that was very thrilling. So I really wanted to look at that. I wanted to do it with Alice who I though was great. She wrote a screenplay. So, that’s what it is.

MOVIEMOVESME: Thanks for mentioning Alice Birch, as it’s another thing I am interested in. Can you talk about your collaboration with her, your way of seeing Lady Macbeth and her as a female when the screenplay was written?

William Oldroyd: I think what Alice breathed into it is why Katherine does what she does. When you read the book, there is not so much justification for Katherine’s actions, but more about her deeds. What Alice breathes into it is to give us best possible understanding of why Katherine would act this way or what is it that drives her to do things this way, so we may emphasize that. And we just kept it together as she wrote the screenplay, then we were very honest with each other. It was a very organic relationship.

MOVIEMOVESME: Another interesting thing about Lady Macbeth is that people won’t know whether to like or dislike her. I wonder how do you see Katherine.

William Oldroyd: She is not a villain or villainous in my mind. I think she is simply a young woman who wants to be free. But we would not act the same way and we would not do what Katherine does for that matter. But it’s preservation and self survival.

MOVIEMOVESME: “Lady Macbeth” is a great movie for many reasons. But one of that reason is Florence Pugh’s brilliant performance as well as Cosmo Jarvish, who will blow away the audiences mind.

William Oldroyd: We opened the casting for everybody, regardless of the background. It was very important for us to put best actors in these roles. It was my first feature film so it was a good option for me to meet as many actresses as possible. Because I really like working with actors, so it gave me an opportunity to meet them. You don’t often get to meet them unless you have this kind of a project. We cast Florence and Naomi about the same time. But we knew that we need to get Florence into position before we would cast Sebastian. We cast Florence and then we cast Sebastian. So we watched them playing together. One of the excercise of the rehearsal was they must have rest of them to fight with each other. So we saw what the chemistry was. So I spoke with Florence and asked who did she like or could go along with. So that became the process of consideration as well. And when I met Cosmo, he was so intriguing, enigmatic, strong, powerful and greatly charismatic. And I felt like he could be a great match for Florence.

MOVIEMOVESME: There is one particular scene that’s stuck in my mind, and I am sure will be discussed by the viewers as well, which is the dinner scene. I wonder with your experience as a stage director, how did that help to have filmmaking and playtelling skills to direct that particular scene?

William Oldroyd: Well, I think it’s about giving actors as much freedom as possible in the way which they want to play. So we had some rehearsals and whether they could try ideas out so we thought it useful. And we put a camera depending where they needed to be. It is powerfully written scene, so in a way we knew the scene worked on the page. The actors intuited this very strong and they got it. So we just needed to find a way to shoot it economically but effectively. And that was one of the scenes when the editor felt it came together the best. It just seemed to have worked and we loved it.

MOVIEMOVESME: Talking about editing. It would be great to learn about its process as well. When did you come to the realization that, “This is it. The movie is ready.”

William Oldroyd: Well, the editor would say, “you never finish the film but you abandon it.” You will always keep making changes whenever you come back with new rules, you always change something.  And for me, I abandoned the film on the 5th of February, and I think we abandoned it in a good state. It felt like we were happy with the way it was working. The rhythm was good. The performance was one of the best. It was just working as a whole. The editor was on the set with us, so he was assembling the film as he went through. We were shooting it in order. So at the end of the third week, we had a rough assembling of first three quarters of the film. Going to our last week, we knew what we needed to pick up if we wanted to make any changes. And I also knew what we needed to hit in the last week of the film, which was a dramatic part of the film. Having Nick there, our editor on the shoot was so useful. So then when we got to editing, we did not have enough surprises. We did not have enough money to reshoot. We had to make sure that we had it all covered before we left the location.

MOVIEMOVESME: Another thing I want the reader or even viewer to appreciate is, the power of indie film, acknowledging that how difficult it is to make an indie movie with limited funding. So I wonder how were you able to sell your idea and get enough funds for “Lady Macbeth”?

William Oldroyd: We applied to Credit of England who have a million pounds every two years to make three films. And three millions pounds divided by three. So we had three hundred and fifty thousand to make our film. And there were three hundred applications and three hundred film projects applied to those three places. And we had to go through a series of interviews with forty people, then eighteen, then we were down to eight people and five and finally three that would greenlight who would get to make. So that took a year and a half. And then we shot the film as you can see. So the money was always in place regardless of which actor we had or consideration of funding. We did not have to go to raise money. It was always there. But again, it was not very much. It forced us to be really creative without choices. Because we knew we did not have a lot of money and had to justify every single decision we made.

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