Trudie Styler: 'Shakespeare gave guys the best roles'

The producer and activist, whose film 'Filth' is up for five British Independent Film awards, is tapping into the industry's neglected female talent. Adam Sherwin meets Trudie Styler

Most movie producers would be happy with five nominations for their latest hit at tonight's British Independent Film Awards – but Trudie Styler is still not satisfied.

"Why isn't Filth nominated for best film too?" the film-maker and environmental activist asks of the controversial Irvine Welsh adaptation, which stars best-actor nominee James McAvoy as a bullying, sexually abusive detective. "It's been a huge box-office success, but in the end I think they wouldn't like to see it win Best Film because of its gritty, boundary-pushing nature."

Pushing boundaries is something Styler doesn't shrink from, whether urging governments to recognise the rights of the Amazon's indigenous peoples, in her campaigns alongside rock-star husband Sting, or challenging the yawning deficit in women who wield studio power in Hollywood.

Women make up 25 per cent of producers and only 9 per cent of the directors on the top 250 US films of 2012. In the field of cinematography, the figure is barely 4 per cent. Which is why Styler, 59, and Celine Rattray, an Oxford maths graduate who ran the Mandalay Vision production house in Hollywood, teamed up to form Maven Pictures, an independent company seeking films which primarily showcase female talent.

"There is a paucity of women in film, and Celine and I seek to redress that," said Styler from Maven's London offices, based in an elegant £5m townhouse overlooking St James's Park. "We need to encourage more women to write roles for other women. The great substantive roles aren't being written for women, and aren't being produced and directed by women."

Shakespeare is partly to blame. "It's a historical problem. He wrote the best roles for the guys. I went to see [Jude Law's] Henry V last night and there is barely one and a half scenes with women in amid these fantastic male roles."

Ageism and sexism are mutually reinforced. Ms Styler said: "There's still this idea that women are over by the time they are 40 so that they can't play the love interest opposite a 50-year-old man. George Clooney is 52 but he's always on the arm of a thirtysomething actress. He gets Vera Farmiga. You don't get a 50-year-old woman on the arm of a 30-year-old guy."

Styler reels off a slate of Maven productions in the works with an array of leading ladies. "Amy Adams [Bafta-winning actress] brought me Object of Beauty, a Steve Martin novel. We're developing it with Amy, and Steve will be in it."

"Sarah Jessica Parker came to us and said I want you to think about something for me," she says and the result is A Fair Marriage, which will star the Sex and the City actress as a wife who finds a new online identity when she discovers her husband's adultery. Cate Blanchett is lined up to star in Cancer Vixen, the true story of a Manhattan cartoonist for The New Yorker who was diagnosed with breast cancer just as she was about to get married. Julie Delpy will write the screenplay.

Independent films struggle to get the green light (Rattray, a former McKinsey & Co consultant, handles the minefield of financing) and may never produce huge returns. But Maven lures talent with the promise of something more elusive – Oscar gold. "[Distribution company] Fox Searchlight is always looking for smaller films with awards potential," Styler said. "Your big movie stars who've been in blockbusters generating a lot of dollars are looking for the meatier, substantive roles that they think will make the awards season."

Filth, for which Styler is up for the Production award on Sunday night, is, she admits, a rare shot of testosterone in the Maven schedule. "Filth is not female-driven, but I've always liked bad-boy movies. We had a hilarious time getting Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels together with Guy Ritchie."

Styler, born in Worcestershire, studied drama at the Bristol Old Vic before acting in repertory theatres then winning roles in television series including Poldark. She carved a career in production after meeting Sting, with whom she has four children, including a daughter, Mickey, who is an actress. She helped launch the careers of Ritchie and the Bafta-winning Duncan Jones (Moon) at her first company, Xingu Films, and remains a hands-on producer.

"I'm very good at keeping my eye out for actors. With Filth I helped in the post-production, I did the film colour correction and sound design in Germany. As a producer I'm quite nurturing, I like working with inexperienced, unseasoned directors."

She mentors the interns who work at Maven's New York office, telling them "go out and make your own films. The internet has made it so much easier to produce and make films for tiny budgets."

Her campaigning and celluloid worlds combined in Crude, a 2009 documentary chronicling a group of indigenous people in Ecuador that have had their homeland devastated by oil drilling. Styler regularly travels from the couple's New York base to Ecuador to help in a Rainforest Fund project to build safe access to drinking water for families in the oil-affected areas.

She is an ambassador for Unicef, and admits it can be "a very useful thing to have fame and celebrity" for awareness-raising. "We can all sneer at Katy Perry [appointed a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador last week] and say, 'What does she know?' That may be something that's been applied to me in the past, but 30 years on I'm still doing what I can to help the indigenous peoples with their campaigns versus their respective governments."

There remains unfinished business on the stage, however, for Styler, who appeared in a New York production of Chekhov's The Seagull in the summer. She is hoping to play Guinevere in Savage Love, a feminist reinterpretation of the Camelot story by Pam Gems, a friend of Styler's who died in 2011. Guinevere is at war with husband King Arthur and on trial for her life over her affair with Lancelot in the play, which Styler plans to stage in the UK next year.

Sting and Styler first met in 1982, their ensuing relationship ending his marriage to actress Frances Tomelty. Since then, the couple have become one of the longest-standing partnerships in showbusiness. Do they critique each other's work? "I'm not a musician but I offer him an audience, a pair of ears," she said. "He's written a musical [The Last Ship] so I've got a bit more to offer on that."

Sting became a regular at The Seagull. "He came to see it about 10 times. He had been playing at the New York Public Theatre nearby. He would sit in all areas of the theatre. So if he was right at the back next to the speaker he would say, 'On this line you might want to pitch it up.' We do listen to each other and are delighted to support each other."

Might Maven Pictures snap up the movie rights to The Last Ship, Sting's Tyneside-set musical now headed for the Broadway stage? "That might be a step too far," she laughs.

Curriculum vitae

1954 Born on 6 January in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Studies drama at Bristol Old Vic & becomes leading actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

1977 Wins role in BBC Poldark series.

1982 Begins relationship with Sting. They marry in 1992.

1988 Launches the Rainforest Foundation (now Rainforest Fund), devoted to protecting rainforests and their indigenous peoples.

1998 Produces Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (2000).

2000 Wins Human Rights Champion Award from Amnesty International.

2005 Appointed Unicef Ambassador.

2011 Forms New York-based Maven Pictures with Celine Rattray.

2013 Filth nominated in five categories at the British Independent Film Awards.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith