How I Live Now: 'It's too dark for America'

Director Kevin Macdonald has made his first teenage romance, but How I Live Now has far more in common with The Road than it does with Twilight, he tells Kaleem Aftab

It's a drizzly day and Kevin Macdonald is sitting under a canopy on the side of a road in Virginia Water, near Ascot. An army truck is being reversed away from a rock that has been strategically placed in the road. Looking at a series of monitors, Macdonald asks for the shot to be played in reverse, to make it look like as though the truck is crashing. It's the magic of movies, or as Macdonald says, "It's how you have to shoot a car-crash scene when you're on a budget."

The director has wanted to adapt Meg Rosoff's award-winning young-adult novel, How I Live Now, for a long time. Not your typical teen tale, it tells the story of Daisy, a young American, who comes to stay with her eccentric cousins on a country estate in England for the summer. So far, so light, romantic comedy – and then World War III breaks out.

The dystopian tale is more reminiscent of The Road and Blindness than it is of Twilight. Macdonald likens it to The Hunger Games, but How I Live is a far tougher, genre-crossing proposition than that Jennifer Lawrence hit. "It's not made for a huge budget," says Macdonald. "I deliberately didn't want to have American money in it and have that pressure of it having to make $50m in the first weekend. This is very much a film for Europe; for Britain, I think. It's too dark for America."

The book breaks taboos as the two cousins – Daisy, 15 and Edmond 16 –fall in love. "Originally I wanted to cast 15 and 16-year-olds and couldn't find them," says Macdonald. Instead, he cast Saoirse Ronan, 19, star of The Lovely Bones and Hanna and George MacKay, 21, a rising London-born star who has three films coming out in the space of a week – For Those in Peril and Sunshine on Leith as well as How I Live Now. Macdonald lucked out with his lovers: "What happened during the course of film, and I'm hoping that I'm not speaking out of turn, is that they fell in love and it was very easy. It was Saoirse's first proper boyfriend and, in a way, I think she was living through the same thing that the character is going through. I suspected what was going on but they kept it very quiet.

"It was awkward doing the sex scenes," he adds. "I have not done that many. I remember before I made The Last King of Scotland, it was my first drama and I was lucky enough to get a masterclass from Danny Boyle. He gave me the best advice. He said, 'Take all of the eroticism and romance out of it and reduce it down to a series of mechanical moves. Make it like a series of dance moves.' And that is sort of what we did."

Of the central romance, Ronan says, "I hope it's not too controversial. It happens to people everywhere. The thing is, they are related by blood, but they haven't grown up together and they have never met before. She has a strong attraction to him, but he is socially awkward and more in touch with nature. That bugs her because she's not like that. A big part of the story is about the deep love these two young people have for each other."

Macdonald made his name with documentaries, One Day in September on the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and Touching the Void about a failed attempt to scale the Siula Grande in the Andes. The success of his first feature film, The Last King of Scotland, for which Forest Whitaker, as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, won the Best Actor Oscar, saw Hollywood come calling. He had less success condensing the six-part BBC TV serial State of Play into a Washington DC-set feature film starring Russell Crowe and with his historical epic The Eagle about the Roman invasion of Britain. He followed them with a couple more documentaries – the user-generated Life in a Day and Marley, about the reggae star.

It was partly as a reaction to this back catalogue that Macdonald was attracted to adapting How I Live Now. "What made me want to do this film, was to have a female lead, and make a female love story. All the films I've made, including the documentaries, are quite male. I love the idea of working with kids and talking about love. Ultimately, it's a simple love story, which goes wrong. At the end I want you to want these two people to be together. You want it to be right."

For Macdonald, the secret was to make the kind of film that he would have wanted to see when he was a teenager. "I'm proud of the film because I think it is complicated and breaking taboos. It's not the normal fare that teenagers are being offered. When I was that age I would have loved this film. I would have responded to the fact that it is not like anything else and that it represents the complexity of what you're going through as a teenager – that point where everything is new and exciting but also devastating. The first time you have sex, drugs, drink on your own, without parents. All those things that are not normally represented in mainstream film."

'How I Live Now' is released on Friday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried