Mike Leigh

All or Nothing

Interviewed by Jason Best

Given that you work entirely from improvisation, how did you create "All or Nothing"?

A film like this is developed through a very long rehearsal period. We rehearsed for six months before we shot anything.

Did the actors draw on real-life people for their characters?

You would take it for granted that what a novelist had done is made people up and in various ways drawn from sources that he or she had experienced. And basically that's what we do. We are fiction makers. We make up characters and we make up stories. That's our job.

We give birth to these characters and give birth to their world and relationships, and we build it in a completely three-dimensional way. Obviously what we bring into existence is a great deal more complex than the stuff you see in the film. If the stuff you see in the film has any resonance, it's because the rest of it's there - the iceberg's there, even if you only see the tip.

How do you then develop the actors' improvisations into a shooting script?

Having worked at the characters for ages, the actors can go into character and do a wonderful improvisation that might go on for one or two hours non-stop. That doesn't give you a scene. That merely suggests a scene. My job is to distil that into something that happens in a few minutes and says just as much. And indeed says more, because obviously my job is also to inject things into it and edit things out, and to open up stuff that's dormant.

Does the film have a political message?

I defy anyone to walk away from any of my films and say exactly what the message is. I never have been concerned with making black and white, simplistic message films that leave you in no doubt as to what I want you to think. I'm far more concerned that you come away from a film such as this reflecting on the way we live from various points of view.

Would you say the film is open-ended?

The events of the film come to their dramatic conclusions, but I always think it's important for the audience to walk away from the film with stuff to work with, to think about, to wonder what happened next, and argue about and reflect on. For me, the film you can happily walk away from and never think about again is not as good value as the one that you take with you and deal with, and savour the flavour for some more time to come.