Roger Michell is a film, theatre and television director. His film credits include Notting Hill, The Mother and Changing Lanes. He also directed the award-winning BBC TV mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia. His latest film, Venus, written by Hanif Kureishi, is released on 26 January. Aged 50, he lives in north London.
Hanif belies his public persona of being an enfant terrible by actually being rather a sensitive man. He's quite shy and extremely perceptive.
We first met at the Royal Court in the late 1970s, where we were both working at the time. We didn't come into contact with each other again until the early 1990s when I was asked to direct The Buddha of Suburbia for the BBC. I knew and liked Hanif's book and was very excited. The BBC gave us an office in which to write the script. Hanif had a bad back at the time, so a lot of the work process involved him lying around on the floor drinking bottles of Guinness.
He couldn't really remember lots of bits of the book and whenever we approached a scene, he'd be enthusiastic for a moment and then end up by saying "as in book", meaning the scene would simply unfold as in the book, which has subsequently become a catch phrase between us. What I learnt from Hanif during that period is the joy of carelessness about the work. It's a paradox because one is incredibly careful and passionate about the work that we do together, but there is a kind of irreverence.
Pretty soon after that we adapted Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray into a screenplay and then a bit later we did The Mother and then Venus.
We see each other a lot when we're working together. We often meet in a café at the top of Portobello Road where we'll have lunch. We discuss the machinations of our personal lives very frankly, and in some ways I discuss things more intimately with Hanif than I do with anyone else. I think probably the same is true of him.
He's quite a lazy writer, but has such a wonderful, odd vision of the world that it's worth the lashings and the beatings that have to go on to drag this material out of him. I'm constantly demanding more from him and say things such as "This is shit, go and do it again." He goes and does it. I'm sure he minds, but it means that the final product gets better and better and better. We probably did about 30 drafts of Venus.
Our relationship is like a sadomasochistic marriage in some respects. We know that some bits are going to be very, very difficult to achieve, but we have enough confidence and trust and pleasure in each other now to go through the process without undue pain.
However irritating he can be, and he can be the master of irritation, my feelings of affection and admiration are now so ingrained by the years that we've spent working together that they always in the balance win over my desire to throttle him.
Hanif Kureishi is a novelist, screenwriter, playwright and film-maker. His screenplay for the film My Beautiful Laundrette was nominated for an Academy Award. His novel, The Buddha of Suburbia, won the Whitbread First Novel Award. His other novels include The Black Album and Gabriel's Gift. Aged 51, he lives with his partner in West London.
We became friends when Roger was given Buddha of Suburbia to direct. I was quite ill at that time. I was lying around on the floor, taking a lot of painkillers, but I really liked his company. Roger's very intelligent and has a good sense of humour. I can make him laugh, which I like. He's also tough. You can't write any old bollocks. He goes: "This is really crap". And
I go: "Is it really?" And he goes "Yeah" and I redo it.
I'm sensible enough to know that the only way to get anything decent is to work and work over it. It does upset you. You think: "I worked really hard on that and now you're saying it's crap." But you live with it and you carry on. The best thing about him is that he's so critical of what we do. It's also the worst thing because it's so annoying.
We're like a functional marriage in that we have very serious disagreements about all sorts of things but keep going. We are mature guys and realise that the disagreements are part of the process. We argue all the time. You can't write a film if you are lying to the other person. If he says "This is really crap" I'm not going to run away and never see him again.
Venus is about these two old blokes stumbling around together. We're obviously not 75, but the film is partly about our friendship. During the making of it, there was all the terror of dealing with Peter O'Toole who's such a grand man and famous actor and so difficult to understand. It was the same when we did The Buddha of Suburbia and worked with David Bowie, who did the music. We would go to his studio in Switzerland and be standing outside going: "You tell him it's got to be slower, or more this or more that." And the other one would be going: "You tell him." We were like school kids.
We don't socialise together a lot. When we're together we're mostly working, or on a publicity trip around the world. We sit in the back of limousines together - these two boys wearing no socks sitting in this limo in Los Angeles just laughing at what we're doing there. It seems absurd to us. We like the same kind of music, we like drinking and we like food. When we were in LA recently he took me on a really great drive around town.
Roger irritates the arse off me, but not as much as I irritate him. He can be very dismissive of something that I think is a terrific idea and a really good opening for a movie. My whole being irritates him, but he obviously loves me, too. He's been a very good friend. He's rather paternal actually, although he's younger than me. I think of him as being wiser than I am, more experienced and not as daft.Reuse content