Nick Hornby’s fictionalised tv adaptation of Nina Stibbe’s bestselling book
Interview with S.J. Clarkson (Director)
If you just did a purely literal interpretation it wouldn’t necessarily make good telly. You need to take the spirit of the characters and keep true to that coreS.J. Clarkson
How did you become part of Love, Nina?
I had worked with Jamie Laurenson at See-Saw before, on Toast, which we did about five years ago. He sent the script to me and my agent - I was in New York at the time directing the pilot of Jessica Jones for Marvel, so it couldn’t have been more extreme from that world to this. It was a charming script and I went out and grabbed the book and started reading it. I thought Nick had done an incredibly good job of wrestling these letters home into this charming little piece. I thought this could be quite a lot of fun to make. I instantly thought about Helena and I knew that she had already read it and was interested in it and - having worked with her previously - it was an exciting prospect to get back together and reunite on Love, Nina.
What is it like working with Helena?
Helena is an incredibly special actor. She’s every bit as magical as you want her to be. She has an incredibly brilliant mind. She’s very smart and she interrogates everything, and I love that about her. We have a similar approach to how we tackle a script and to how we tackle stories and she has lots and lots of questions which I find a great challenge and incredibly exciting. Through her questioning, I get a greater insight into the character; she goes so deep into it and I think that’s what sets her apart. Helena asks leftfield questions of the character and that’s where she finds those beautiful nuances - those wonderful moments that maybe would get lost with other people.
Everything she does has a thought and makes it feel so fresh and so light and so true and so real. It really is as gift as a director to be able to work with someone like that. I can give her ideas and suggestions and she’ll take them and run with them.
How true did the piece stick to the book?
It’s really interesting when you do an adaptation because in many ways you want to honour the original material and make sure you capture the spirit of the book. Equally, it has to become its own thing, and if you just did a purely literal interpretation of it then it wouldn’t necessarily make good telly. You need to take the spirit of the characters and keep true to that core in everything you do.
Talk us through your role
For a director you have three key stages. There’s the prep which is where you imagine it, then the filming of it, where the ‘truck of compromise’ arrives daily, where you cling onto your ambition and the vision you had all those months back. Then there’s the edit, where you piece together what you managed to get on the day and you try to bring it back full circle to what the vision was. It’s an incredibly exciting and fulfilling experience.
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