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

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
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.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders